Race in American Buddhism

zenju earthlyn manuel
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel interviewed at Tricycle.com

This week Sam Mowe over at Tricycle interviewed Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, who I recognized from her days at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

It is an interview that everyone should read, perhaps twice. Reading about her moves from the Church of Christ to Soka Gakai, and finally Zen, a great sense of spiritual tolerance and openness comes through. She doesn’t say “I realized that the Church of Christ was wrong and then that Soka Gaka was wrong…” But instead that both simply didn’t have the resources to nurture her spiritual growth at certain times.

On the other hand, when asked how being a black woman has informed her dharma practice, she states:

The insurmountable oppression, discrimination, and hatred directed at dark people comprise a thick workbook for Buddha’s teachings. When I walk out my door, it is guaranteed that someone or something will let me know that my dark skin is not good enough or let me know that I am not welcome. All I have to do is look at a billboard, be followed around in the store, or have the clerk smile to everyone but me. So, every moment the depth of my practice as a black woman in the Dharma is one that requires deep-sea diving and unbroken awareness.

These words articulate the experience of a person of color in the Dharma, and in America as well as any I have ever seen. And it is very, very upsetting to read that this is the experience of a fellow Dharma practitioner, a fellow human being. I would be interested to read your thoughts about the article and the state of race in American Buddhism and America (and the world) more generally.

(For the full interview, click here)

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