Gatha for Healing Racial, Systemic and Social Inequity
Aware of the suffering caused by racial, systemic, and social inequities, we commit ourselves, individually and as a community, to understanding the roots of these inequities, and to transforming this suffering into compassion, understanding, and love in action.
As a global community of practitioners, we are aware of the disproportionate racial violence and oppression committed by institutions and by individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, against African Americans, Indigenous peoples and people of color across the United States and beyond.
We know that by looking deeply as individuals and as a community, we can engage the collective wisdom and energy of the Sangha to be our foundation for Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, and Right Insight. These are the practices leading to nondiscrimination, non-harming, and non-self, which heal ourselves and the world.
The above gatha, developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, in response to racial injustices, came to my awareness in June 2020 after I shared with a group I sat with, how difficult it was for me, coping with the pain and trauma of the murder of George Floyd, and my learning more about how racism has been and continues to be built into our codes and laws and our institutions. A very kind sangha member sent this gatha to me, which I was so grateful for and immediately shared with my teacher. My teacher made a decision to include this gatha in our formal sangha meetings as a chant after sitting.
This was comforting, to sit with a group of people who were willing to sit with this gatha, to explore how we may be contributing to this painful system of racism. This did not last too long however as some sangha members were not all comfortable with this gatha being chanted. It was soon replaced with a less uncomfortable version, eliminating the words African American and Indigenous people.
Since the murder of George Floyd I have been sitting with the enquiry of why is it we continue to have these race difficulties in America, and the rest of the world, after 401 years of enslavement of Black people and many more years of theft of lands of Indigenous peoples? And as Buddhists, a group of people who have taken vows for truth seeking and embracing reality, why do we as Buddhist endorse racism and have such difficulty sitting with our own discomfort that arises when the topic of race comes up? Yes I did say endorse racism, because if a gatha which asks us to acknowledge our awareness “of the disproportionate racial violence and oppression committed by institutions and by individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, against African Americans, Indigenous peoples and people of color across the United States and beyond”, causes us so much discomfort that we cannot repeat this in the sangha, then yes, we are uncomfortable to deal with the fact of racism and as such are complicit. And I say we, because I even as Black woman must acknowledge my role in upholding this system, and I too must acknowledge how I have played a role in the perpetuation of this system. This is the journey of a bodhisattva. I must face truth. This system did not sustain itself by itself for 401 years. We all played a role and it’s time for us each to recognize our parts so that this system may be dismantled. This system of racism is not only an atrocity for Blacks, Indigenous and Peoples of color (BIPOC) but it’s also an atrocity for white people. As Buddhist practitioners we know the interconnectedness of everything. We know there is no oppressed without the oppressor and thus the oppressor needs liberation as much as the oppressed. We vow daily to save all sentient beings. That includes ourselves whether we are oppressing or being oppressed. We all need saving and your liberation is intrinsically tied to my liberation. So, I say this selfishly as well, since this system cannot be dismantled until we each own our part in sustaining it. We each must face truth.
So, we must ask ourselves, how have I contributed, participated, benefitted, encouraged or helped to sustain this system which holds one race superior and another inferior? What is my role? How have I participated in the system of white supremacy by consciously or unconsciously choosing where to live based on the absence of Black neighbors? How have I been an agent of white supremacy by feeling a little threatened when I see a Black man on the corner, or immediately lock my car windows and door if a Black man approaches my car? How have I supported this system by refusing to acknowledge that this system even exists? How have I refused to acknowledge that there are discriminatory practices in our banking system, our policing, in our prison system, our schools, our health system and even in our sanghas? How do I benefit from this system of white supremacy? How have I refused to even educate myself about the existence of this system by my denial? And how is my refusal to even educate myself causing more suffering?
There can be no freedom, until all beings are free. This is not about freeing Black People or Indigenous people or Peoples of color (BIPOC). This is about freeing all beings, including white people. We must all acknowledge our own suffering, our pain, our shame, and sit with this so that we all can heal, so we all can be liberated. I personally feel shame for not educating myself and learning more about the systemic nature of racism, not understanding more about how, despite a few Black people breaking out of the system, the system is designed in such a way that it is really not possible for the masses to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I feel pain and shame for not understanding how poverty has been criminalized and how it is so easy for a BIPOC to be incarcerated. I feel shame for allowing my own brainwashing and participation as a Black woman in the system of white supremacy, in simple things as being automatically fearful of a Black bodied man on the corner. I feel pain as I investigate the atrocities of slavery, not just intellectually but have been sitting with the loss of dignity for so many beings, the murder and lynching of so many beings and the continuous murder of so many Black bodied people. I shudder to think that I too may have the capacity to rip another mother’s baby from her arms and throw that baby in a fire. I shudder at my capacity for hate. But I sit. I cry and I sit. Vowing to save all beings, starting with myself.
I invite us all as bodhisattvas, to explore our own suffering. Embody this suffering, because it is through our bodies that we will find liberation. There is no other way. And we all know that if one being is suffering, there is no liberation. But if we are unconscious of how we are feeling in our bodies, how racism is impacting our own body, unconscious of how we are harming other beings, how can we save all beings? All beings include you, and includes your sangha members. So, let’s educate ourselves about systemic racism. That is the least we can do: become more aware. And the let’s sit with the discomfort. Instead of discarding this gatha because it causes some discomfort; enquire as to why does this gatha cause so much discomfort, and take refuge in that discomfort. There is no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind-consciousness; but it’s only through this body that we can realize this emptiness. Lets liberate ourselves by embracing the discomfort of our role in systemic racism. Liberate ourselves from preconditioned beliefs. Liberate ourselves from denial. Liberate yourself so that we can all be free, and we can each or all truly participate in nondiscrimination, non-harming, and non-self, which heal ourselves and the world.
In gassho with love, Kogetsu