Patriarchy Must Fall. Notes#1

It’s been hard to get to my writing. It’s just the sheer overwhelm of our planetary crisis underwritten by a crazed patriarchal, misogynistic, oligarchic, war mongering fiefdom who plot to have and control it all.

It’s the staggering daily venomous assault from the White House’s diseased diatribe. The mind boggling, inane English Tory cul-de-sac circling my homeland down the drain. The heart breaking callous death march of an unrepentant fossil fuel industry. The billions of animals suffering torture and sadistic killings in agro-factories. “Cry the Beloved Country” South Africa not having enough tears to heal the trauma, overturn corruption, or staunch the violence. The vile pedophilia of the Catholic Church. And, closer to home, the crumbling refuge in the Dharma for many who experienced betrayal at the outing of predatory male Buddhist teachers these last months. The litany goes on. The culmination being Kavanagh’s raging misogynistic elitism; his snarling, uncooperative belligerence in full contrast to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s dignified, impeccable, truth telling. That, finally, got me to this page.

The urgency of dethroning patriarchy, including Buddhist patriarchy, is clear. Both its external systems and, regardless of gender, our own internalisation of its de-sacralising, wounding impact. It’s time for those who keep the wheels turning, including our own allegiances, to step down and give over. If we had any illusions that patriarchy is beneficent, that is over. It’s unfettered display is clear. The curtains are pulled back on its misogynistic, patronising, predatory, raging, bankrupt and bankrupting underbelly in all its delinquent, exploitative, criminal, deadly, violent, greed and fear ridden paucity.  You doubt that? Then read “Trump Administration to Polluters: Earth is Doomed, So Go Hog Wild” here:

What is clear is that our worst human narcissistic impulse, now emboldened and given free reign over colossal political, legal, economic and broadcasting powers, is crushing all in its path, grabbing what it can while it can. Screw the children and grandchildren. The only focus is domination, receiving accolades, accumulating untold wealth, and for some, (you know who), to sadistically exact revenge and enact cruel abuse. For others, to establish Gilead’s theocratic rule. This has to be stopped, because either patriarchy falls or our ability to survive falls.

To decolonise ourselves from the imprint of patriarchy, it may be helpful to visit our long allegiance to the warrior archetype, or more exactly, the devolved warrior who is intent on conquering and domination. In its purity, the warrior impulse has clarity of intent, the hallmarks of which are compelling. The warrior has purpose, works to harness intention, energy, and force, has courage, determination, detachment and discipline. The warrior is also loyal to a cause, an ideal, a tribe. However, if not informed by wise consideration, empathetic resonance, and self reflection, the warrior can devolve into a blunt drive for power and use of violence compelled by a deep seated need to prove fealty to patriarchal tribes that serve shadow kings.

The monastic school I trained in for twelve years, the Thai Forest School of Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Chah, lionised the warrior path to enlightenment. It was a lifestyle based on renunciation and a demanding discipline, a rigorous daily schedule, weekly all night meditations, the observance of an intricate set of rules, and a life honed life to complete simplicity. The intention of the life style is to focus the mind inward to create the optimum context for awakening. While effective, bearing enduring fruits, it also, like all patriarchal religious systems, generated a number of complex shadows. In particular, the split between the “world” and “enlightenment.” This split goes back into the mists of time.

The Buddha, from the Kshatriya warrior caste, became the founder of one of the primary Axial Age religions that emerged in about 800–200 BCE in India, China, the Middle East, and Greece— all of which have seeded present-day religions. Axial age philosophy focused on individual salvation that merged with divinity and aimed for otherworldly transcendence. The idea that an individuated person could be divine or be saved by a divinity was probably radical in its time. It lifted consciousness from an earth bound tribal identity that was at the mercy of the caprices of nature whose threatening forces needed constant appeasement and sacrifice. Instead the Axial age of personal enlightenment enticed men to heights of the divine far from the confines of being a mere mortal.

However much a glorious promise, axial age religions seeded a profound split within the psyche due to the tendency to posit “salvation” and “nirvana” as apart from this world. While Buddhism dissolves this fundamental divide in texts like the Heart Sutra, this duality is still deeply embedded in a philosophical template that sees the world as samsara and therefore seductive and corrupting, rather than understanding samsara is generated from ignorance within the mind. This fundamental split, and the rise of a patriarchal —earth and female-averse— religious doctrine, set the template for our perilous situation where we now stand poised on the collapse of human civilisation and the destruction of our eco-systems.

Imprinted deep in the psyche is the view that the “world” is lesser, tempting, vulgar, or even as one of my male monastic teachers put it, a cesspit. Picking up the challenge, the warrior is one who reaches for the ethereal, while undertaking the heroic battle of bringing the body under control and very often, bringing women, the receptacle of men’s desire, under censure. The vaulted task of purging spirit from the temptations of the flesh and the world eventually led to a horrific and far reaching persecution and subjugation of women, who in medieval Europe came under the published Bull in 1485 of Pope “Innocent” VII Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of the Witches. The torture, burnings, hangings, disinheritance, inquisition, systematic degradation of women’s knowledge and healing capacities over hundreds of years has left a devastating legacy.

Carrying the cellular memory of such deeply negative projections onto her as well as the terror arising from this persecution, it has been immensely difficult for women to find their voice and their true role in society and for men to overcome their fear and distrust of, and even their contempt for women.

Anne Baring — Misogyny: The Origin & Effects of the Oppression of Women, from The Dream of the Cosmos, A Quest for Soul.

The war on women never stopped. On this day of writing, September 27th 2018, the witches hammer of venal, decrepit Republican patriarchs is being brought to bear against a lone, courageous, vulnerable woman, Dr Ford, who gives testimony to the ancient story all women know, that of being held hostage to the humiliation, violence and sexual abuse of men. While the man in question assumes his entitlement to rage with arrogant belligerence, displaying an inability to control his temper while arrogantly resisting cooperation, especially when questioned by women. He paints himself as the victim even as he uses his power to abuse. He is angry to be held accountable, and splutters with the injustice he feels that anyone should question his right to sit on the highest court in the land. It is a torturous, sickening spectacle, worthy of the inquisition, directly harking back to the the Papal Bull of the 1400’s.

Nature too, has not escaped the wrath, rape, extraction, and vindictive ire of man in his free reign to extract and dominate the Earth. The complete lack of respect for the rights of Mother nature is something we’ve all been party too. Every day, it goes without question that nature and her myriad species are at our service. This view harkens back to the 16th Century, with philosopher Francis Bacon and the ascendence of the rational and scientific mind.

Nature, bound in service, hounded in her wanderings, put on a rack, must be tortured for her secrets.
— Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626

The warrior that enables the hounding of nature, has an extraordinary dynamism, without it we would not have survived, brought about the comforts of our modern life, excelled in the fields of medicine, technology, exploration, or had the will to strive to fulfil our human potential. However, it has also thwarts us, where more often than not there is pressure to conform  and contribute to patriarchy. For men, the price of belonging is the evisceration of sensitivity, the shaming of emotion and feeling, and loyalty over and above everything else. For women, acquiescence, silence, a suppression of creativity, power, and intelligence are mandatory. For all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, the patriarchal duty saps our life force and exacts a never payable debt. For the planet and her species, they are under sentence of death.

The shadow-warrior, divorced from nature, fearful of women, distorted in their relationship to Eros, competitive and desiring to dominate, not only plays out in religious metaphors of old but has shaped our family, social, educational, political, and economic systems over millennia through the establishment of power pyramids: God (the god of our projections) over man, man (father) over women (mother), whiteness over colour, humans over nature and animals. At the top of the pyramid sits the lonely, stunted patriarch, the abusing priest, lama, teacher, the conniving shadow king or corporate oligarch guarding his obscene wealth, who humiliates others, who envies those who have joy and happiness, and who becomes dependent on sycophants.

The loyal warrior, who once desired to serve truth from a great sense of devotion and purity, is so easily hijacked by patriarchal “kings” who do not love, and do not care, and so use people as pawns in their games of acquisition. Powerful people, who initiate illegal wars, like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and are responsible for the deaths, injury and displacement of millions. They profit from obscene wealth and influence, while veterans from those same wars commit suicide because they can’t live with the internal desolation they experience on return home, when, in their agony, they are abandoned by the very state that was a predator of their youthful energy. In a devastating suicide note, Iraq veteran Daniel Somers said:

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day, a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body, it is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I cannot laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again.

The compelling need for belonging, and the need to be seen, accepted and blessed within the patriarchal dynamic, is an impossible loyalty. It mostly leads to abandonment. Instead of dutifully following these old well-worn pathways of loneliness and disconnection, it’s time to engage a loving imperative that doesn’t seek to conquer but to connect, empathise and nurture.

These days, as the air is sucked out by the march of death-dealing merchants of power who seem unstoppable, there is a radically different drum beat sounding persistently, clearly and beautifully in our hearts and souls. We hear the urgency in the air, the deep need to forgo a transcendent, abstracted metaphor that, while compelling, holds us to a desolate road where we throw away the world like an old rag. We want so badly to let go of our inner desolation compensated by a cannibalistic predatory capitalism that has brought Mother Nature to her knees.

The shift is happening. In the midst of our planetary calamity, a new world is being birthed. A world grounded in the sacred feminine, which respects and cooperates with nature, that understands interdependence, that is fast moving into a green economy and seeks creative, collaborative partnership rather than endless wars. A society that works for humans and is humanising, that puts empathy and social justice as central. A spirituality focused on the immanence of divinity, that works for collective awakening, that is engaged and responsive rather than overly focalised on the heroic individual and his personal transcendent enlightenment.

An awakening that radiates into all spheres of life with a blessed healing touch, that experiences the sacred within all beings, all mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, cities, peoples, each breath, all materiality. That works to uplift the whole. For this vision to be fully realised in all spheres, the shadow kings need to be toppled and the dedicated and loyal warrior needs to forgo the temptation of power and instead enter the path of love.

From Shadow-Warrior to Lover-Nurturer
Archetypes are shared collective energies that are transpersonal, but which focalise around powerful ideals that interact with the personal. These energies are held in the unconscious as well as in our individual and collective psyches. When we move into archetypal roles, for example parenting, leadership, teacher, we engage an energetic dynamic that taps a force beyond ourselves. It’s like we put on a mantle, for good or bad, which intensifies the personal through a collective charge. We can’t avoid archetypal energies, as they are continually interacting with our personal self. Once we touch into an archetype, the resonances of that transpersonal energy are available to us.

There are many different archetypal forms; understanding some of the primary ones can help us chart our journey. The template of Queen/King, Teacher, Warrior, Nurturer-Lover is useful for understanding the path of integration. As our awakening matures, we need to enter the realm of the lover-nurturer in order to move beyond the power fixation of the warrior. We will need to resolve our trauma and aversion with regard to the world and our embodiment, heal early relational wounding, and overcome distaste for the so-called mundane—and instead embrace the relational field in order to learn the difficult road of love.

But first, we have to be honest enough to recognise that our current path is not working. Something has to change. When we pause at that place of uncertainty, in a meditative and prayerful way, there’s a prompting from our inner intuitive intelligence. When we authentically align with this guidance, there is a response. This is a living and responsive universe. Signs will come, books or people, or an event we feel drawn to attend. The important thing, especially with the lover energy, is to stay open, inwardly soft and receptive.

The lover is not necessarily romantic or sexual love—though that is often a powerful doorway, nor love for one’s own, which is a good place to start—but the love that feels life deeply and cares for it, weeps for our callous disregard, and knows ultimately that life and our selves are one and the same. Often we open into deep love when the strategies of the mind soften, or even collapse, and we find ourselves vulnerable, as in illness or death or when we are in real need of help.

Once, when on pilgrimage around Mount Kailash in Tibet, I found myself suffering from a bout of serious altitude sickness as I neared the Dolma Pass, which is 19,000 feet. It was a dangerous situation where another another step was impossible with no way out. Unexpectedly, a young man showed up bringing a yak. My friends unceremoniously hauled me onto her back. As the yak and I ascended the pass together, I tuned in to her every breath. I felt myself merging with her body, her spirit and life force. Each breath was a miracle. As we neared the top, a flood of gratitude toward this patient brown shaggy haired yak completely flooded me. I vowed that I would be there, in any lifetime, if she needed me. Gratitude, real gratitude, is a sign that the lover energy is present.

In South Africa, warrior-turned-lover energy transported a whole country, through the presence of Mr. Nelson Mandela. He is someone who, embodying the wholesome male, moved through the warrior to embrace the lover, and in so doing become a benevolent and powerful teacher-king. Such was his regal power that he moved a whole nation through the excruciations of apartheid and its dismantling, into a level of consciousness rarely seen on the international stage.

In smaller ways, the lover energy appears to us in everyday experiences, not as something we buy, command, control, or manipulate, but often through the spontaneous and unexpected. It is not about who we are, what we’ve done, or whether we deserve to be loved. It is freely offered. The lover is the abundance, beauty, and nourishment of nature; the first daffodils in spring, the scent of a rose, the majesty of an ancient tree, the music that moves our bodies and gives wings to our souls. Whenever we are touched and find ourselves softening and connecting with a sense of faith in life, the lover is there. It appears in the  cherished companionship of friends, our smiles and laughter, the innocence of animals, the need to write a poem.

If the process of awakening is not informed by the energy of the lover, then those stunted at the warrior level are still caught conquering life. They will never really confer blessings on others and the world around them. The ability to truly bless comes to its fruition when we understand the pathway of release is through the sacred feminine. Here, we allow our self to feel our vulnerability and broken-hearted tenderness. We feel with others, the poignancy of their pain, and so cease to compete with them; instead we seek to befriend and help them, unlike the immature warrior who is attached to the power of control and aloofness of independence.

While control gives the warrior the illusion of being immune from the pain of the world, ultimately they are thwarted when stuck in an immature dependency on inauthentic affirmation, or as enablers of shadow kings. They become King Théoden of Rohan, in The Lord of the Rings, under the influence of Wormtongue. Alas, too many of our leaders are like this, outwardly grandiose and inwardly too feeble to really take the risks that the lover and nurturer takes in order to protect life. In the spiritual realm, they can be cardinals, lamas, priests, guru’s who brush aside pedophilia, sexual scandals, and the abuse of power, while ensuring the system they depend on is immune from valid criticism.

Decentralising our internal controller initiates us into the lover energy. Here, we open to life and allow ourselves to be deeply undone so we know the mind is not in charge. The heart is. This happens when we fall in love, which can be like liquid lightning that cracks open the heart. While we still have to mature that love, an important journey has begun. There are many ways into the heart. Whatever way, when we open to the Eros energy of life, its initial intoxication has to then be matured into a global and less personally focused compassion. If the integration of the lover energy as it matures into compassion is not undertaken consciously or successfully, then there’s the tendency to seek constant affirmation from those around, or be caught in compulsive behaviour, whether the drive to acquisition or more shadowy and harmful addictions and obsessions, or through invasive acts of sexual violation and abuse of power.

In Buddhist structures, when the relational field lacks psychological health, maturity, and safety, it can be rife with projective dynamics between monks, laywomen and nuns. The same in lay sanghas between teachers and their community. The feminine in her lack of authentic integrated power will seek attention and direction from the immature masculine, onto whom she’ll project un-lived needs. He, in turn, won’t be able to let those women be empowered, as this would eclipse his subtle control of their projections, off which he feeds. Including his feeding from their emotions, and in some cases, their bodies. There can also be a dynamic around elevated monks, lamas, or priests, who have no real, lived relationship with women. They nurture female disciples but would never allow them to take an equal, public seat of spiritual power. At the same time, women who court such relationships sometimes diminish their own potential and ability so as to preserve the fragile ego of immature men, who they manipulate, keeping them as boy-men.

Why does it take so long to ‘out’ these dynamics and especially abusive spiritual teachers? Clearly it’s not so simple to see. It’s also scary to speak out when there is collusion and co-dependency. There’s often fear, confusion, delusion, complex needs, idealisations, and secrets at work. Those who stand up first to speak out are often shammed or marginalised. It’s a thankless task. But speak out we must if we are to enable the Dharma to transition to the next generations free from these immature and abusive dynamics.

What we have witnessed in religious tradition, including contemporary spiritual transmission, and in the distorted and immature relational dynamic between the masculine and feminine in the Buddhist tradition –(this can also be applied to secular political, work and home life, where men and women interact)– is an inability to access the wholesome energy of the lover who has overcome their fear of the world, of women, the feminine, the body and its sexuality, feelings, emotions, and the complexity we meet within the personal field of relationship. This is not about blame, or “them,” but about us. About our painful journey into healing and maturity. About owning our fear of the Eros energy and the distorting ways we try to access it. It’s about learning to move beyond unhealthy dynamics and deconstruct systems that diminish and thwart us personally and collectively.

Re-enter the compassionate warrior.
Offering safe passage through the lover’s journey of maturation, is the seasoned warrior who informs the need for discipline, boundaries, respect, and is able to sustain the long haul of awakening built on the precept to doing no harm. The true warrior has humility. Where there has been harm, there is the ability to authentically acknowledge and apologise while seeking amends. Why is he willing to do that? Because he feels deep empathy, recognises when harm is done, and is willing to sacrifice the benefits of patriarchal belonging, a belonging which demands silence and complicity. The principle of truth and the active support of the feminine and women, who have been abused, can and must overcome allegiances to an ancient system of entitlement, which works to cover the tracks of abusers and sanctify them as heroic, misunderstood victims.

If we fail to mature the lover and warrior into nurturer-protector, we will be susceptible to ambivalence, passive aggression, deflection, and cynicism. We will be unable to transmute the narcissism of personal love into the energy of fierce compassion needed to protect a sustainable Earth. Without the strength of the warrior, we will be unable to sustain the tremendous undertaking of waking up in these immensely challenging times. Without the lover, we will be unable to feel and respond to the urgency of our times. Together, the warrior’s strength of focus, discipline, purpose, clarity, courage and determination combined with the lovers compassion, intuitive intelligence, deep resilience, passion, undying commitment and willingness to leap beyond conventions will provide wings to traverse the enormous territory ahead, eagle eyes to see precisely, and the enduring, stubborn persistence of an ox.

As we grow into balance and wholeness, healing the ancient wound of being ripped from the Sacred Feminine, which is long denied in patriarchal religions, we will find our authentic energy needed to serve life. We will be able to fully embody beloved community in order to meet the storms of our times. Like Mr. Mandela, we will be able to say with confidence, “it always seems impossible, until it is done.”

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This piece is the first of future ‘Patriarchy Must Fall’ pieces to follow. It has drawn from my book Time to Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for the Planet – A feminine view of the life and teachings of the Buddha. While using basic constructs from the book, this piece is updated.

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Notes From the Botswana Road

We traveled for nearly a week through the Greater Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, and Moremi parklands onto Savuti, the Place of Lions, over interminable dust, scree, and sand roads as if the vehicle was riding waves, up and down, rather than the earth. ThenC the landscape suddenly changed. The Botswana landscape is mostly flat, but this was different. The geology and contours weren’t dramatically different, but the feeling was. Small rocky hills and Baobab Trees encircled us heralding the arrival into a deeply sacred space. It felt ancient. When we explored, there was a painting on the rock from 4000 years ago. It was the simplest art. An Eland, Elephant, Oryx Antelope (or Gemsbok), and Snakes. Essential meat and medicine for survival.

Tsonxhwaa Hill, Savuti Marsh, Chobe National Park.

All through we had been traveling the lands of the San/ Bushman/  Khoisan “First Sitting There People” where we peeked through a timeless portal into a peoples who for 30,000+ years roamed this dry and brittle ground, rejoicing when the rains came. One day, bees invaded the camp looking for water. As we drove out, we saw the Oryx antelope dance. Rock, our Botswana guide, told us they felt the rains coming. And then the black water laden clouds swept in and dumped the rains. We weren’t prepared; our tents were washed out.

Once, a long time ago, when we were new to Southern Africa, an Elder Bushwoman told a friend that they, the San, were the peoples “on track.” That we, in contrast, in our modern world, were so off track, we didn’t know there was a track. She said that as they, the first peoples, crossed over from this world first, we would follow not so long after.

We all know we live under the terrifying shadow of a rapidly warming biosphere that is radically changing weather patterns and threatening sustainable life. Alongside this, the immensely destructive power in the hands of a few wracked by greed, hatred and delusion is endangering our collective well being. We have read and heard so many words and perspectives in response. We have anguished and put ourselves to task to try and step down the looming disasters. And while we must maintain hope and work for a sustainable, just, and equitable world, we too must remember, as the KhoiSan knew so well, that we are only dust on this ancient Earth. One day, the winds will blow our foot prints away too.
Kittisaro & Thanissara, notes from the Botswana road, 
Dharmagiri Ubuntu Tour July 2018

The Wind Intends to Take Away Our Footprints
Its name is ≠Koaxa, while the Europeans call it Haarfontein; and it was at Haarfontein that Smoke’s Man saw the wind. He saw the wind but thought it was a !kuerre-!kuerre bird, and therefore, he threw a stone at it, and it burst into wind, it burst out blowing, it blew hard, it blew fiercely. It raised the dust, and it flew away and went into a mountain hole: and he, Smoke’s Man, being afraid, went home. The wind was once a man, but he became a bird and wore feathers on his skin and went to live on a mountain. He became a bird and no longer walked, but he flew. He wakes up early and he leaves his mountain and he flies about, he flies about, about, about, about, as he flies to eat, and then he returns, he returns there to sleep; and because he feels that his feathers used to blow, he, too, blows. They were the wind and therefore they blew, and he, the son of the wind, is now a bird.
So said /Han≠kasso.

Leaving.
We are leaving.
Shredded and raw heart seeks calm shore.

We dream another shore waiting
and we need to know how to go.
Not flights of fancy
of awakenings’ glitz
floating eloquences
of enlightenment.
Tongue bright with witty rational
flowing from throat to head
shaping realities of transcendence
while in the core of burning samsara
swirling emotions
float free
on upward circling perceptions
divorcing themselves from our heart connection.

Ascenders into the light,
we descend before you.
An exhausted pile of bones
smouldering in cold ash
from words sliding sideways
in mega churches
preaching crazed dissonance non-union.

But here is the truth.
There is no heaven in the sky.
No nirvana apart from samsara.
No paradise virgin to your violence reward.
And no Planet B.

So sit the night patiently through
and gather your wayward mind.
Take up your own power
as in your heart
is the earth’s body
and all bodies,
the stars, mountains, oceans,
flowers, trees, cities and moon.

Sit until dawn, without flying to the light,
instead, plunge your life
into your unfathomable yearning
so you can be pulled to the intimacy
that this direct path heralds
within each beating heart
where every precious breath
redeems your lost soul.

And when preachers promise a far off place
challenge them
with your honest voice.

Can you dissolve walls of the mind
and into the undivided heart arrive
to stand up fierce
for our Earth
and her all living beings
?

Because from common ground
we move from birth into destiny
while death dream reality
and bone ash wait.

Because all is possibility
with no substance found.
Particles of no-thing-ness
transform into each other
in universal systems
of potentiality
where space, time, matter and light
forever melt like waking dreams.

The wind does thus when we die, our own wind blows; for we, who are human beings, make clouds when we die. Therefore, the wind does thus when we die, the wind makes dust, because it intends to blow, taking away our footprints, with which we had walked about while we still had nothing the matter with us; and our footprints, which the wind intends to blow away, would otherwise still lie plainly visible. For it would seem as if we still lived. Therefore, the wind intends to blow, taking away our footprints.
So said Dia!kwain.

Time with relentless harvesting
your precious human life
is short.
As all life
gathers proof of our faith
through the pilgrimage of the night
that tests the grounds of our being
so we may know
the measure of courage
and the wellspring of our heart,
from which we sip nectar.

Just as the brown, striped bug
drinks from the white elderflower,
and the orange, thin-winged butterfly
skips through ochre grasses,
and the grey, knowing wolves
move through cold, white snow,
and the rhinos through dry, bush veldt go
as lions stalk impala
along the river slow.

Slow is the Earth’s rhythm,
deep and unfathomable in our collective soul.
The rhythm of the days tick-tock,
winding through the web of our connection
of Internet consumption
where we search what we hope to know.

But to truly know is to not know.
And to not know
is so much evidence of where faith can go.

And even when the realms of empty space are exhausted, the realms of living beings are exhausted, the karmas of living beings are exhausted, and the afflictions of living beings are exhausted, we will still accord with this, our deepest heart, endlessly, continuously, without cease. Our body, speech and mind never weary of service to living beings and to this great Earth. So whispers our true heart.
                               Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha

 


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Extract from The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra by Thanissara, written at Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat KwaZulu Natal, 2013, which includes extracts from The First Bushman’s Path, stories, songs and testimonies of the /Xam by Alan James, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg 2001 SA.
Photos by Thanissara
KoiSan Community Painting – Garden Castle Drakensberg Park, Underberg.

From Jerusalem to Gaza

What psycho fest hunger game (the Capital voyeurs’ extraordinaire Ivanka & Jared called by.)
Bye bye those still hoping.

Dissonant (white dress floating, stars and stripes tin soldiers in step
to rogue captured state U.S.A.)
Grotesquery rendering so much endless…
so much,
so very much
Heart Breaking

(mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, babies for god’s sake.)

Shattered bodies, (designer bullets exploding in flesh, deliberately severing limbs, faces, disintegrating bone.)
Despair (in the world’s largest ghetto-prison.)
Rage (it will never end.)

Death. (Against this ‘fence’, oh impenetrable wall, there’s only death.)

& war crimes – future horror karma – stacking up on those doing live target practice,
(so very precisely, methodically)
and those who set the war dogs loose.
(They were once children too, they have mother’s. So very sad.)

While Tel Aviv’s bubble hurrah’s to a song contest
and sips cafe au lait as blood flows unnoticed
through these ancient streets that crave a return
of the ghosts from before.
Each stone remembers.

Where to from here Netanyahu, Sheldon, Donald?
And you power playing shadows behind the thrones, and you too,
ya’ll freakery’s longing for rapture.

Where are you taking us, all you shadow kings
with your twisted toxic war games.
Your $$$ billions can do nothing for your cold dead body.
You.will.die.too, and stand naked before her.

There is a deeper intelligence.
She flows and moves through our dreams.

She is with us always, breathing our breath, beating our heart…
Our lady of the night, who roams the Negev.
Who wanders her sacred lands, every inch of earth, oceans,
mountains, forests, valley’s, cities, jungles, stars, moon,
and that insect crawling she knows.

You are magnificent, so powerful, you know it all.
You were here before time began and will be here when it ends.

You, sweetest of hearts, most terrifying remover of poisons.

You listen so intimately into each being.
You know every living cell as your body.

I beg of you, have mercy on this terrible day, and for the times ahead.

heart

 

Syria: The March of Hate

Like many, I am aghast and struck by disbelief at the torturous and heinous destruction of Syria as the unconscionable slaughter and displacement of its people continues unabated. What was initially an internal revolutionary conflict against a despotic leader is now an insane slugging match between powerful nations and militia groups in their bitter struggle for dominance. It seems that “victory” will only be when all Syria’s citizens are dead, disappeared or rendered stateless; when its cities, homes, and infrastructure are completely flattened with nothing but dust remaining. That we, and the powerful global institutions meant to preserve civilization are paralyzed by this display of ceaseless barbarity is a terrible indictment of us as humans.

It’s not easy to know how to respond, particularly as an individual, but I appreciate that some on facebook still call us to bear witness. This deeply moving piece from the UK Sunday Times, published today (March 18th, 2018), appeared on my news feed. I wanted to share it on so we can get the measure of a country destroyed by greed, hatred, and ignorance as told by a regular young man who lived through its impact and is here to tell his story. We should take note that his story could be ours. That Syria could happen to any country at any time, especially in our era of extreme division, hate, and environmental destruction.

We increasingly stand only a hairs breadth away from political insanity, inhumane brutality, and wanton destruction. These days, despotic, unstable, psychopathic leaders could lead us into a nuclear holocaust, an interminable war, and for sure, can use their unfettered power to delay and reverse vital means to halt global warming which now threatens to collapse the very foundations of our human civilization. As we hurtle toward a profoundly uncertain future, we should take Syria as a warning.

The uprising on the streets of Damascus was initially exacerbated by an extreme drought due to the impact of our warming biosphere. By 2010, the drought had killed 80 percent of the country’s cattle due to 60 precent of its fertile land being lost. In Syria, we see how quickly societies can collapse when a population is undercut through dwindling resources, then is pushed up against each other by a dictatorial regime through the deliberate manipulation of false divisions for political ends. What is happening in Syria is a window into what can happen anywhere if the conditions are such that normal checks and balances and sane democratic governance is dismantled.

We may be able to donate towards those within Syria and we may be able to help refugees who are fleeing; we may choose to lobby politicians and humanitarian organizations, but we won’t be able to rescue Syria from the deadly grip of a war industry in collusion with autocrats who protect themselves at the expense of everyone else. However, what we can do is to deeply understand and enact our evolutionary task, which is succinctly summed up here by the Buddha, Hate is never overcome by hate, only through love is hate overcome. This is the eternal law.

Let us not harbour hatred. Instead, let us do what we can to challenge and overcome division, autocracy, brutish violence, and immoral acts, while engendering and building a relational field imbibed with intention, speech and action informed by authenticity, care for one another, kindness, generosity, and wise contemplation.
Thanissara

How the war in Syria destroyed my childhood idyll
in Eastern Ghouta


As the bombs rain down on the rebel-held area on the edge of Damascus, Steve Ali remembers the idyllic summers he and his friends spent there as children — and how their young lives were torn apart by Syria’s civil war.

In Syria, we don’t say, “Once upon a time …” We say, “There was and there wasn’t a long time ago …” So that is how I shall start my story here.

There was and there wasn’t a long time ago a boy called Mustafa who had a friend called Mahmoud. The most exciting challenge in Mustafa’s life was to climb the tallest oak tree in a field owned by Mahmoud’s family in Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta. The field was by the Barada river that ran all the way from Western Ghouta and across Damascus to Eastern Ghouta. From the top of this oak Mustafa felt like he could see the whole world. He loved to ride the bendy branches as the howling wind rocked them back and forth.

Mahmoud’s father would scold Mustafa. “Get down, you monkey! You’ll hurt yourself if you fall, son,” he’d shout, but Mustafa did not fall.

Mustafa and Mahmoud and their friends Samer, Ahmad, Amer, Rami and little Ziad were a tight summer crew. They played football in the long, wide field, through the emerald plants and the dark red soil. They chased each other through the trees. They planted vegetables, fed the farm animals, swam in the river and found adventures in the woods until the sun went down. Then they pulled aubergines and potatoes from the field and cooked them over an open fire under the moonlight. Then they rode back to the house on their bicycles.

Mahmoud’s older brother Karim was a teacher and sometimes he would manage to gather the scattered children into the house to teach them maths. He had kind, twinkly eyes and a warm heart and stealthy means to make the children laugh as they learnt that “numbers are important”. After lessons the whole family would sit in their large living room full of treasures, on a beautiful Persian rug that Mustafa thought looked like Aladdin’s flying carpet. They would share a picnic of traditional Syrian dishes made by Mahmoud’s adoring mother.

When the children were tired of running outside on the long summer days, they’d visit Samer, whose father was a master craftsman. Sometimes he would take the boys to his workshop in Hazeh where he taught them how to make wooden clocks. Each child had a role in the production line and at breaktime Samer’s mother would reward the little workers with sandwiches and a huge kettle of tea.

Ahmad wouldn’t come to the workshop. He was too shy. He preferred to work in his father’s florist’s, more excited by flowers than people. He would lecture Mustafa about orchids with a spark in his eye and a passion in his quiet little voice. Mustafa loved watching his friend leave his awkwardness to one side whenever he was able to be an authority on orchids.

Amer and Rami were brothers. The children were sometimes invited to their father’s factory in Hamoryah where he produced generators and electrical products. The boys fiddled with the machines and tools and broke them as often as they learnt how to get them going.

Little Ziad, the last of the gang, was from Douma. His dad had a convenience shop on the corner in the main square where he chatted and chain-smoked. Mustafa always warned him the smoking was very bad for his health and he always promised to quit but never did.

Many blissful summers in Eastern Ghouta and peaceful school years in Damascus passed. Mustafa and his friends laughed and argued, played and studied, and grew tall — even little Ziad. Eventually the crew split up to travel to different universities. The idyllic years of their childhood grew into their first days of adulthood. Then the war began. It was and it wasn’t a long time ago … the kind of slaughter that belonged in a savage ancient myth. Except this time it definitely was — and it was happening now. It was happening to me and everyone I’d ever loved.

None of us living in Damascus knew what was happening in the country at first. We lived under the relentless brainwashing machine of national television, where we were told that the rumours of torture and killing were lies to turn people against the government. We couldn’t imagine life being any other way than it had been when we were riding bicycles in the woods.

But soon everyone could smell the blood. The sickeningly dry and suffocating smell of burning flesh made it hard to breathe. As the conflict intensified, we all had to be identified as either a loyal supporter of the regime or the enemy. For them or against them. Damascus was turned into one massive fortress, crawling with army officers, with checkpoints on every street. Walls were painted with the regime’s flag and propaganda. Veiled figures walked the streets at night writing revolutionary phrases on walls. The regime responded by threatening to knock the walls of people’s houses down if they couldn’t keep them clean.

From my room at night I could hear the peal of cannons. My house would tremble as I watched the bombs like shooting stars in the distance. A walk to see friends would turn into a battlefield, running through bullets from armed soldiers and rebels, like something out of Mad Max. Bombings, explosions, assassinations and arbitrary arrests became the norm.

I was a student, so immune to being called up to shoot and gas Syrians my own age and younger. But soon young men my age were randomly pulled off university campuses and forced into uniform with a gun in their back and a threat to kill or be killed. So on March 13, 2013, I packed as lightly as possible, dressed as discreetly as I could and left my home for the last time.

I set off with the intention of passing through about 20 military checkpoints, including one known as the checkpoint of death. My ID card was torn, which would have signalled disloyalty and meant certain death. I slipped it into a clear plastic folder, masking the tear, and showed my passport instead wherever I could. At each checkpoint I was waved through, my heart beating in my mouth — until the final one.

An enormous, bald, armed man with huge bushy beard and a face from hell approached me and asked for my ID. He stared at the torn document for a long time and I knew my time was up. I was going to be taken away. I knew not where, except that I would not return. After what seemed like a short lifetime, he handed it back to me wordlessly and walked away. I have no idea why, to this day. I didn’t look back. Not long afterwards, I was in Turkey. I felt born again, but I had no idea how far away peace would be for me.

I walked across countries where Syrians were not welcome and there were no rights for refugees. I crossed seas in dinghies and I slept rough. I avoided arrest from ruthless police, dealt with unscrupulous, terrifying smugglers and nearly died of exposure. After three years, I finally arrived in the Calais Jungle refugee camp, where I lived for a year. By night I worked as a firefighter. It was a very flammable place, in every way. The French police tear-gassed and intimidated the traumatised population and threatened to bulldoze our shelters to the ground. Eventually they did.

I tried every possible death-defying way to get to London until one of them worked. I was sofa surfing while waiting for asylum. Then a friend asked me to do a panel show podcast called Global Pillage with some stand-up comedians who were doing a refugee season for TimePeace, an app that connects refugees with local people. Deborah, the host of the show, said she and her husband, Tom, were going away and needed a cat-sitter. I agreed immediately.

When they returned, we all stayed up for hours chatting, drinking tea and stroking Toast, their cat, in front of the fire. It was the loveliest night I’d had in a long time. Like something I would have done in Syria before the war. It felt … normal.

Afterwards, Deborah said that if I left it was clear that Toast would leave with me, so I should stay on in their spare room. I feel very lucky and grateful in every way to have met them. The sense of family we’ve developed and the calm stability that I have being there has meant I’ve found some of my old self. I’ve unpacked in more ways than one and made my bedroom my own space, like it was in Damascus. I haven’t had any room except a shelter in a refugee camp from the age of 20 to 25, so I love this one.

I make silver jewellery, so I got a desk from Freecycle and began collecting tools. As soon as I got my papers, I started selling my jewellery and called my company Road from Damascus, because I had my epiphany coming the other way.

Being granted asylum is like becoming a person again. Life is getting better and normality is returning. Recently, I was offered a job as an interpreter for a news agency. I speak Arabic, Turkish and English, and this is quite well-paid work for someone who loves languages. For the first time in years, I have an appetite for the future.

I wake up. My phone reminds me it is 1,808 days exactly since I left Damascus. Numbers matter. Karim taught me that, but now I understand what that means in a way perhaps he didn’t. I go to work at the news agency and I am distracted because it is my best friend’s 26th birthday, but he only lived 21 of them. Our university was bombed just after I escaped. We spoke the night before he was killed. He was making plans to join me.

I sit behind a desk, going through videos and reports. They come through thick and fast from Eastern Ghouta. The region is being bombed and devastated. I need to prepare for a report for the 6pm news on national American television. I interpret a speech from a man they call “The Tiger” — Brigadier Suheil Salman al-Hassan, commander of the government’s Tiger Forces. He is leading the attacks on Eastern Ghouta. I translate his words into English but they stick to the roof of my mouth. He says: “I promise, I will teach them a lesson, in combat and in fire. You won’t find a rescuer. And if you do, you will be rescued with water like boiling oil. You’ll be rescued with blood.”

I feel sick. Furious, devastated, sad, battered and broken. How much longer will this last? How much longer do my people have to suffer?

I can’t see the screens any more. My mind blocks the carnage with all the summers with Mahmoud, Samer, Ahmad, Amer, Rami and little Ziad. I can hear their laughter, feel the softness of the magic carpet, taste the roasted aubergines and smell the orchids. Every colour is vivid. A hundred images in a second, as if their lives are flashing before my eyes.

I realise my tea is cold. And I am numb. I have forgotten where I am. And remembered where I’ll never be again.

Mahmoud died in an airstrike when a bomb fell on the house with the big Persian rug that we had picnicked on so many times. His father was killed beside him.

Mahmoud’s older brother Karim, who taught us to love maths, came home to find his loved ones dead and his kind eyes stopped twinkling when he buried them and four more of his siblings. Not long afterwards, Karim’s warm heart stopped beating. He was shot in the head by a sniper.

Samer left his house full of wooden clocks one day and went to a protest to call time on Assad’s regime. He was arrested and so badly beaten by the police he was unrecognisable. When his father went to the police station to try to get his son back, he was arrested too. Neither of them has been seen again.

About a year after that, Samer’s mother who had made us so many sandwiches and big pots of tea was killed in an explosion alongside her seven-year-old daughter.

Shy Ahmad got on a bus to go to university one day. It was stopped at a checkpoint. They ripped his student card out of his hand and forced him into the military. Ahmad was killed in a battle and thrown into a large ditch with many other young, violently conscripted men. A young soldier who knew Ahmad recognised him while trying to cover his body with some soil. He contacted his family to let them know. There were no orchids on his grave.

Amer and Rami’s father’s generator factory was stormed by the regime. Everyone working there was arrested and the place was looted. Their father was accused of having connections with terrorists and put on trial. All his possessions and property were taken and he was sent to the notorious military prison of Sednaya, where later he was executed.

In response Amer and Rami joined the rebel forces. Amer got shot in one of the vicious battles during the siege. Rami saw his brother go down, ran directly into the line of fire to try to save him and was instantly shot dead.

Little Ziad, barely grown up at 20, tried to flee Syria with his family, who left their convenience store and everything they knew behind, but he was detained at a border. His father went back for him and paid someone he knew to get his son out. They took his money and sent him Ziad’s dead body. Soon after, Ziad’s father had his last cigarette and died of a heart attack.

And then there is me, Mustafa, nicknamed Steve by my Syrian friends, which is easier for my English ones. The only one left who can remember the tallest oak tree in the field in Ein Tarma in Eastern Ghouta.

I walk back to the desk and see a post from Hassan Akkad, a friend from Damascus who is now in London. “A few years from now, there will be a huge Hollywood film about Syria. It will tell the true story of the systematic torture and rape Assad’s troops used against millions of peaceful protestors to shut down the revolution. A film we will watch, weep and then say, ‘Never again’.”

It was and it is and it’s happening now — and every day nobody stops it. I feel as if I have climbed to the top of the oak tree again and I can see the whole of Ghouta from here. I can hear Mahmoud’s father’s voice in my head, warning me to be careful, but I am the lucky one. I did not fall.
Mustafa “Steve” Ali 

With appreciation to Nicholas Sebley for posting this article from The Times on facebook.

Donate: Preemptive Love Coalition:
Syria Crisis, Help Ghouta Families Survive

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Decolonizing Sangha Space

I wrote this article below that went on to be shortened, edited, and published in BuddhaDharma Spring 2018 edition where it is called Dismantling the Master’s House. Some friends have been using this longer piece as a guide for their work on race dynamics in their Sangha. They wanted to share it around more widely, so first I thought to blog it so they have it online.  I also thought that as this original version has more nuance and is a practice piece, it may be of interest to others. Thanissara.

Since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, some 500+ years ago, American society, built on the genocide of First Nation People and Trans Atlantic slave trade, has systematically advanced white, Euro-centric culture and economic entitlement at inordinate cost to people of color. Privileging “whiteness” generated a system that has been internalized by everyone. It manoeuvres us all along the scales of “good” self/people (privileged), and “bad” self/people (oppressed) generating a complex value system rooted in a grievous falsehood; that one racial group has more rights and worth than another. The Buddha clearly rejected this premise of racial superiority by ordaining all castes equally. In doing so, he demonstrated that equity and freedom is not just an internal realization, but also integral to the structure he constructed as essential for awakening, which is the Sangha.

Over the last decade or so, white, male led Sanghas, particularly in the U.S., have recognized the need to diversify, mostly as a result of outside pressure. To date, this has been happening while maintaining white centrality, partly due to first generation Western Buddhist teachers being white. However, we are now in a process that requires a far deeper exploration of how our contemporary Sanghas unwittingly replicate oppressive systems to the detriment of the Buddha’s original intention. As the toxic karmic results from a Euro-centric colonial past intensify around the world, it is becoming clear that for Buddhism to having meaning, it needs to empower a non-racist Sangha space as a ground for authentic awakening. This requires entering the curriculum of de-centralizing white supremacy. As this is a challenging process, reading this piece may be uncomfortable. If so, I invite entering this territory as a mindfulness and inquiry practice.
Notice how it lands in the body, and what thoughts and reactions arise as defences and judgments are activated
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Essentially, we are called to a journey that requires “Leaving the Master’s House,” a term, familiar to African Americans that was coined by Caribbean-American writer and Civil Rights activist Audre Lorde. It’s a term we as white people should now consider. It describes perfectly the construct of systemic power, which is further defined by bell hooks as imperialist, white, supremacist, capitalist Patriarchy. This power paradigm is woven into the institutions that shape society, the economies we live within, opportunities afforded or not, and the quality, and even length of life. In essence, it forms the very core of how we experience ourselves.
What privileges to you get from being in the “Master’s House?” How have you colluded with power for fear of being alienated from the Master’s House?

Being acculturated as white is to have continual affirmation that we are the norm and people of color are not. The dissonance between insider norm and invisible outsider is fuelled by a lack of awareness of how privileging whiteness wounds. The fact is violence underwrites racism and the social and economic engineering that enables it. The politics of segregation has so successfully alienated us from each other that instead of authentic and meaningful relationship, we settle for “normalizing” stereotypes that continually rip at our collective soul. The first thing we have to understand is that racial prejudice is not normal; it is learnt. This learning is accompanied by an emotional searing that has to do with fear of the other. For people of color in a dominant white society, this learning comes early, cuts deeply, and usually devastates the sense of worth and belonging. For whites there is also a learning, the fear of losing centrality. Violence projected from fear fuels and shapes implicit bias; the unconscious narratives, emotions, defences, and assumptions that shape our shared cultural space.
A true story: A woman sent her manuscript to 50 publishers, but has no response. She sends the exact same cover letter and ms in a male name. Seventeen publishers respond enthusiastically. How does this example apply to our own implicit bias, on the spectrum of privileged and marginalized, within our “imperialist, white, supremacist, capitalist Patriarchy?”

When I first saw a black man, I was about four years old. It was in the 1960’s when Jamaican and Asian Indian immigrants were fast arriving into West London where my family lived. I was with my mother in the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery. I stood in front of him, close up. I didn’t feel fear, only curiosity. I noticed his fingernails bitten right down, and his nervous stress. At about six years of age, when an Asian Indian family moved into our street, there were disapproving mutterings from parents, aunts and uncles. Something was wrong. “They have so many people crammed into that house.” One night I woke up screaming from a nightmare where I was caught in that house chased by a fierce bull I couldn’t escape. The perception of “them” as dangerous was lodged in my emergent heart by adult fear. I don’t know the source of my fear, but that my unconscious deposited fear in the house of the “other” is potent to understand.

When white centrality is threatened, people of color easily become receptacles of projected mistrust, alongside a whole range of complex reactions, from hatred and suspicion, to patronization and guilt. Being continually on the receiving end of such shadow energies means people of color experience their realities flattened and their stories, struggles and cultures, invisible.
How and when did you first experience racism? What resonance does that early learning have in your life?

Fear perpetuates racism and activates violence, like the predatory killings of African Americans by police, the ubiquitous acts of racial profiling, and ongoing theft of native lands. The abhorrence felt by witnesses, not directly threatened, often freezes into silence. A silence that is treacherously complicit. The struggle for many people of color is to break through that silence. This is easier done collectively. However, when movements like #Blacklivesmatter are turned into All Lives Matter it alleviates whites from having to speak out, while attempting to silence the black community and uphold the status quo. In Buddhist practice, while silent introspection is encouraged, it can inadvertently alienate those who struggle to find an inner cohesion that depends on collective truths being named. Truths like racism is real, it is violent, and it’s being perpetuated all the time.
As we practice with this truth, how have you experienced being complicit through silence? What is it like to speak out?

Naming uncomfortable racist truths in a predominately white space often provokes defensiveness; it requires a collective effort, which is why increased awareness in white Sanghas is vital. What I learnt in my two decades of work in South Africa is that engaging white fear is complex. Centuries of colonialism normalizes a schizoid dissonance that is devastating. For whites, that norm thinly veils the fear of being engulfed by black Africa, of not surviving. Although the context is different in the U.S., it’s similar in that racism emerges from a perceived threat to the separate identity of white entitlement. Paranoia and irrational racist beliefs are the currency of white belonging. A belonging that also injures whites. It shames empathy, distorts trust, and wounds sensitivity.
As you read this, notice how this lands in your body, what feelings and thoughts are activated?

I like to think I am not racist because I’m a meditator and have superior liberal views. That is until one day at a supermarket when an elderly Zulu man was struggling to free a shopping basket. He finally wrenched it free from the pile of metal just as I walked past. I took it, like the white Madam erroneously assuming he was a worker rather than a fellow shopper. An everyday incident easily shrugged off was a moment of shattering. My nice Buddhist veneer had not managed to halt the insidious inevitability of internalizing a basic racist assumption.
In what ways does your “niceness” and patronization deflect from internalized racist assumptions? How does that feel?

The humble journey for whites involves seeing the layers of internalized prejudice that defend against the obvious. The obvious being that we live in a deeply inequitable narrative where white skin is always seen as more worthy than black, brown, yellow, and red skin. Beneath the surface of skin there is a grievous injury to the collective soul of cultures buried and diminished through the pervasive favoring of a white Euro-centric world view that lionizes the frontier, independent, rational sense of self learnt through our history and educational systems.

How then, can cultures that have a vastly different way of knowing and being find traction? Especially when such knowing has equal, if not more value than the abstractions of Western civilization. For example, the wisdom of First Nation People who understand land is inseparable from our bodies, community, and spirituality,  as is the cosmos, and unseen elemental forces that humans need to be in ritual relationship with to maintain harmony. Or when, as I experienced in rural African communities, the correct response to a problem is not from the smartest, quickest, individual, but from a slower group discussion where everyone feels involved, comfortable, and included in the response. The point is to belong to each other, not to be the most right.
How does racial cultural arrogance, oppression, conditioning operate within you? How do you notice it operating in society?

Sangha processes laid out by the Buddha mirror the practice of group consensus and wise ways of knowing embodied by Elder Cultures. Our ability to access Buddhism is due solely to centuries of Asian transmission undertaken with care, dedication and sacrifice, which we don’t often respect. In its journey across continents, Buddhism undergoes adaptation; the same is true as it enters the West. We, however, are undertaking this at speed, and not always with care. This complex territory is not the focus of this article, but where it intersects is in our tendency to promote a rational Euro-centric view as superior, and therefore dominant, without much thought to the consequence. This keeps us in comfortable in the “Master’s House” where, alongside internalized racial prejudice, we assume a norm that becomes standardized in the forms, views and practices we feel represent a truer Buddhism. While this makes sense for a Western secular society, it may not for cultures that inhabit a felt-sense, relational experience of self rather than an overly individuated, idealized and abstracted one.
How do you feel having the norms of “our way of doing things” challenged? What, in your sangha, is assumed as unquestioned “tradition” that is in fact only several decades in the making?

In the 1980’s I trained as Buddhist nun in of the Forest School of Ajahn Chah in the UK. We were renovating an old Victorian house, which became the first Western monastery of that lineage. Some monks thought a large inverted V shaped beam in the structure at the center of the house was unnecessary. That is until they began to take it out, nearly bringing the whole roof down. When we prematurely pull out the bits and pieces we don’t like about Buddhism, we are likely doing a disservice for those who are already struggling to land into an eviscerated, soulless, overly cognitive Western paradigm. In the same way, as we approach deconstructing the norm of internalized racist oppression and white privilege, we tend to come from a place that is too fast, not careful enough. It’s true we need to challenge, but we tend to do so by overly politicizing and positioning, by being on script with political correctness, rather than moving into the place we really need to stay – the raw, lonely wound at the heart of the disembodied abstractions and the crazy-making splits inherent within the colonial world view we inherited and perpetuate.
How is it to be with our inner wounded emptiness, and not rescue, patronize, or manipulate, those less powerful (or more powerful) to make us comfortable?

Lorde’s statement, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” is a Zen Koan. How do we deconstruct our racially conditioned self when we only see through its limited prism? Perhaps begin with “I don’t know.” That is, of Zen, not the “I don’t know” as an excuse, but as a willingness to unlearn our colonized conditioning in order to hear something else. Sometimes when we leap to be white allies, we do so from confused motives. We need to feel better about ourselves. We want our Buddhist niceness, our very intelligent diagnostic, and our brave willingness to challenge authority to quickly alleviate an uncomfortable strain. When we shift quickly from insecurity to expedient solutions, strategies, and quick fixes, we land up perpetuating the root problem. We want the “other” to feel comfortable so we can be comfortable. Often we do this by asking people of color (or other marginalized groups) to settle for compromise rather than the radical realignment we know needs to happen. We want a diversity that populates our white world, our Buddhist institutions, and our hallowed practice paths, without too much impact.

Don’t get me wrong. The focus on diversity, and the cultivation of white allies is vital. At least it has been for me, and for many others. I appreciate the education, dialogue, inquiry and trainings. All of this is, however, is fast hurrying us to a cusp that has the potential to initiate a paradigm shift, which is the decentralizing of power, the dismantling of patriarchal hierarchy, and the decolonization of the mind, heart and body of Sangha. Such a process will transform the styles of practice we’ve deified and are comfortable with. It will also demand something hard, which is a high degree of self-honesty.

To see the conditioning of self is easier through the lens of non-self, which helps us understand that white supremacy is a construct that diminishes everyone. The Buddha articulated his enlightenment as the deconstruction of the house of self. “Your rafters have been broken down; your ridge pole is demolished too.”
What does it mean to you to deconstruct racist, patriarchal processes in the house of Sangha?

In the same way Buddhist male monastic hierarchy cannot authentically shape what a nuns’ community should look like, so white Buddhists are not the ones to dominate the shaping of a decolonized Sangha. This doesn’t mean that white teachers and Sangha members don’t have a vital, collaborative role. Where appropriate, and regardless of race, the weight of experience, realization, wisdom and depth compassion should have influence. There’s a balance here. In the formation of Sangha processes the Buddha taught both consensus and attunement to elders and teachers. But also, length of time in a Sangha, or visibility as a popular or charismatic teacher doesn’t necessarily translate into freedom from racial, sexist, or class bias. On the other hand, appropriate challenge, based in Dharma principles, from a white, male, or female teacher is not always racist or sexist. The giving of feedback, across race and hierarchy can be important for preserving a training or Dharma principle. Often, there is often a core confusion that plays out in dialogue across race. Whites tend to take critique personally while people of color can sometimes interpret it as part of a racist agenda.

While it is optimum to educate around how experience is perceived and interpreted differently due to racial (cultural, gender, class) conditionings, we can’t expect this work to be comfortable. We shouldn’t dread this, or think something has gone wrong because the controlled, peaceful spaces we associate with being faithful Buddhists are dislodged. Instead bewilderment, heightened emotions, indignation, misunderstandings, resentments, blame, and accusations, whether true or not, are signs something is going right. As centuries of injustice and distorted conditioning are unpackaged, how can it be any other way? Why, anyhow, should white patriarchal Sanghas maintain their comfort zones, their controlled calm spaces, when the norm for the marginalized is the experience of struggle as the direct result of those in the Master’s House refusing to give over power.
What does it mean to you to hand over power?

I love the teaching of Ajahn Chah when he said, “True but not right, right but not true.” Wherever we are in the spectrum of this dialogue, when we take fixed positions we miss something essential, which is the territory of the unbiased heart that relinquishes identification with self-view. Ultimately, this is the only space where real freedom lies. Aligned with that, we realize something truly authentic and liberating is happening; the deconstruction of white, patriarchal, hierarchal Buddhism is answering the imperative of the heart that rejects the agony of division.

The root cause of suffering is the heart dividing against its deeper alliance with all beings. When we cease to do this, then our unbroken hearts, attuned to the intelligence of the living Dharma, will hear a way through the tangle of delusion that perpetuates racism. Instead of staying stuck in a separatist, entitled, non-relevant paradigm we can pro-actively make bridges into the post-modern world that is calling us forward.

My experience of decolonized spaces, which for me reflect the Buddha’s original intention, is that while challenging, they are often dynamic, collectively intelligent, emotionally coherent, beautifully creative, deeply healing, and optimum for realizing our innate potential. Together, we have a chance to construct a different kind of Sangha house, one that supports a truly equitable ground for awakening. Without that, we will land up offering only a partial transmission to future generations.
In your wildest, hopeful dreams, what would a decolonized Sangha space feel, look, and be like?
What are some steps toward realizing that dream.

Thanissara, San Francisco, June 22nd, 2016.

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Wildlife On The Brink

This is reposted in response to the Trump rescinding the ban on importing hunting trophies. The original article is from Buddhistdoor

In 1994, soon after the collapse of the Apartheid state, my husband Kittisaro and I were invited to lead a series of Buddhist retreats in Botswana and South Africa. We had just left monastic training in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, where I had lived for 12 years and Kittisaro for 15 years as monastics. Nothing had prepared us for the sweeping landscapes of Southern Africa, with its vast expanses of golden grasses and squat bush trees of the undulating savannah. Most captivating, though, was the magnificence of the game reserves, where herds of elephant, buffalo, impala, flamingos, hippos, giraffes, the mighty lion, and a myriad of other large and small creatures roam, as they have for millions of years. It is thrilling, for example, to witness a massive rhino for the first time, content in its mud bath, its great horn raised heavenward.

Since then, we have been deeply involved with South Africa’s journey through the pernicious legacy of racism and the impact of a devastating AIDS pandemic. We launched and guided a Buddhist non-profit organization, built the Dharmagiri Insight Meditation Centre, initiated local welfare projects, and raised funds to secure a home for vulnerable children that is run by Sister Abegail Ntleko, author of the memoir Empty Hands and winner of the Unsung Hero Award presented by the Dalai Lama in 2009.

Helping to seed the Dharma in such an environment has been highly challenging, but one way we restore ourselves is by spending time at our local game reserve. Over the years, I have noticed that being in the presence of wildlife in its natural environment has the effect of regulating the nervous system, bringing body and mind into a restful parasympathetic state (rest and digest), and out of a stress-activated sympathetic state (flight, fight, or freeze.) For the most part, modern life keeps us in a heightened stress state, in which increasingly we never experience a deeper relaxed state. The loss of wilderness is the hidden cost of our unsustainable lifestyles. It also means we rarely feel the natural, integrated state of being that is possible when in contact with the ancient rhythms of nature.

Elephant in the wild, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo by Frederic Fasano
Elephant in the wild, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo by Frederic Fasano

Each year, we host Dharma practitioners on month-long retreats and the safari tours, which enable first-hand encounters with Africa’s wildlife in its natural habitat. On one tour, we drove to the Black Mfolozi River Valley with a small group. There, we walked mindfully from our vehicle to huddle behind a clump of bushes, from where we were able to observe six rhino in the dawn mist surrounded by a flock of delicate marshland birds, the white sacred ibis. While a truly transcendent and ageless scene, I felt a great poignancy as the rhino, sensing our presence, turned their mighty heads to shield their horns.

In the last decade, Africa has experienced the devastating and tragic decimation of its unique and resplendent wildlife through poaching that supplies growing demand for illegal wildlife parts and products. Due to this insatiable and destructive industry, wildlife trafficking has grown into a highly militarized mafia, dwarfing the teams of park rangers and overwhelming conservation efforts. While many major species are being decimated, the most endangered are rhino, elephant, and the Asian tiger. Kingpins, mostly from Asia, run this brutal trade in cahoots with vast networks of local and regional syndicates that bribe police and government officials, and indenture people, while generating a vastly corrupting influence that is changing the fabric of rural society in the region. It has also created a global wildlife crisis that is annihilating the noble lion, kingly elephant, magical tiger, mighty rhino, and numerous other rare species.

In the fight for preservation, it is important to educate oneself about the difference between true and false conservation. For example, the hunting industry has close ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobby groups in the United States that also promotes hunting safaris. I have been on many flights from Johannesburg direct to the US that are filled with NRA members in khaki bush gear, bragging about their kills. On one flight, I counted more than 30 adults, some with their children, lining up at a door in the Atlanta airport baggage claim to collect their rifles. These so-called brave feats are actually enabled by a canned hunting industry that undermines true wildlife conservation.

Leopard at night, Kruger National Park. Photo by Frederic Fasano
Leopard at night, Kruger National Park. Photo by Frederic Fasano

If you see lions in the wild, you experience the privilege of drawing near to their majesty and power. But to see them caged in small enclosures so they can be exploited for financial gain is a travesty. Lions are hand reared so that tourists can pet them as cubs, which is actually detrimental to their health. Well-meaning visitors are led to believe that cubs are being saved in such sanctuaries, but this is untrue. As they grow, they are hand fed by humans. One day, they will be called to a vehicle and trustingly they will go, but there, some tourist from Europe or America will set their gun sights and shoot, often injuring them first. For this supposed privilege, the “hunter” will pay thousands of dollars. Why? Is it so that the person can post pictures on Facebook of themselves on top of a sprawled lion carcass, or with a dead leopard draped around their neck?

As Dharma practitioners, the first precept, “I undertake the training to refrain from intentionally taking life,” means we protect life. Yes, it is true, in the name of conservation, animals need to be culled, but if a Zulu ranger has cause to shoot a lion—say in the event of it escaping into a populated area—he will drop to his knees to beg the lion’s forgiveness. He will honor the lion knowing that he has undertaken a grave act. This awareness is a million miles from the gleeful “big game” photos on social media that betray such a paucity of compassion.

The core issue here is that in our era of anthropogenic climate change, not only are we producing the conditions for extreme weather events and countless adverse side effects, we have initiated the sixth great extinction. The fate of countless species and the billions of animals reared and slaughtered for human consumption each week goes to the heart of our apocalyptic times. We simply fail to recognize that the earth and her species have the right to live outside our domain. We assume that all animals exist to serve, entertain, feed, and clothe us, and in the process we deny their evolutionary journey, social structures, feelings, needs, even their skin, flesh, blood, bile, and bones. Seeing beyond our human-centric perspective means understanding that we do not have the right to destroy sentient life.

We can avert this destruction by educating ourselves about the plight of wildlife and the numerous erroneous myths surrounding animal parts. We should not buy or use products derived from rhino horn, elephant tusk, lion and tiger bones, bear bile, and the like. Nor should we buy trinkets, fashion accessories, or other articles that include crocodile, alligator, python and other animal skins, fur, or bone. We should also avoid products that contribute to the decimation of wildlife habitats, for example palm oil (orangutans) and soya-fed meat (the Amazon).

Photo by Rickus Groenewald
Photo by Rickus Groenewald

The good news is that more people are beginning to wake up to this unfolding tragedy. Pressure is building on governments to halt the trade in wildlife, and conservationists increasingly include rural communities in economic programs as a key aspect of preservation. In 2015, after the much-publicized killing of Cecil the Lion by US national Walter Palmer, Botswana banned hunting, which sent an important message. But this is not enough if the huge markets in Asia do not respond by outlawing the sale of wildlife parts, while following through by enforcing stiffer penalties, such as the one given to Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai in 2012 in South Africa who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for masterminding a devastating poaching ring.

Ultimately, the political, economic, and social ills of our times are, in great part, the result of a colonial mindset that sees the world through the lens of acquisition. Buddhist practices have the potential to shift the view that objectifies and projects dominion over everything to the insight of Zen master Dogen: “Enlightenment is the intimacy of all things.” If we translate this wisdom into systemic change, it will go a long way to creating a sustainable world for our future. I truly hope that this future is one that allows us to share this beautiful Earth with our fast-diminishing wildlife.
Thanissara, March 2017.

Petitions:
Your Voice in the White House
Reinstate the Ban on Importing Trophies from Elephants 
Avaaz
Stop Trump’s Elephant Slaughter 
Change.org
Say NO to Trump’s Elephant & Lion Trophy Hunting

Full Moon Forgiveness in the Midst of Peril

I’ll try to keep this short-(ish). After all, time is a fast evaporating commodity in our runaway world with its apocalyptic fervour hanging over every social and political excruciation we consume with morning toast and tea. Of late, too much precious time is absorbed in the latest inane headlining affront to human dignity, too much toxic energy battling ghosts, gargoyles, and demons in the online stratosphere, and too many ah ha moments saving yet another revelatory, pithy, brilliant analysis to read later.

Yes, for sure it’s been a shadow dance of ginormous proportions over this last … how long ??? (What do you think, these days ten years inner process time is about one year in actual time?) Each long-short day, we warp speed plunge, again and again, into the heart aching depths of processing our human shadow as every piece of our hurt history explodes from the edges of long repressed, mouldering and distorting narratives now being aired in the full light of the sun (our conscious minds). All well and good actually.

Today we have the energy of the full moon leading into a historic solar eclipse on August 21st, which, astrologers say, is the finger of the universe burrowing down into America’s soul for some kind of Kingly death throes transition (God HELP us all!)

Meanwhile, in South Africa, (my other borrowed home base), as the August full moon draws out the currents of the subliminal, we’re in a turning point. (If anyone outside the thrall of THE tweets has noticed.) We have been long on the ropes due to State Capture, basically meaning the ANC, the great liberation party of Madiba (Mr. Mandela – please google) under Zuma (the president) and his overlords, the Guptas (continue with the googling)…… anyhow, to cut to the quick, Zuma is at the heart of a Coup d’État that has hemorrhaged money into very wrong pockets. So today the ANC are conducting a secret ballot to decide whether to pass a vote of no confidence on the President.

But with about six billionaires (Zillionaires??) now owning half the world’s resources; Zuma is small fry, though not for us in S.Africa of course. But, the overarching truth is that our time of global oligarchic, billionaire capture is killing our collective political, economic, social, and likely actual survival. Which means we have a David and Goliath battle on our hands to ensure a sustainable, just, and equitable world, a battle in disappearing time that we cannot, and should not, avoid.

But right now, in these next few weeks, there is an opportunity to shift into another gear. (I’ve finally managed to get to the main point, which I know I should have got to sooner.) This full moon of finer consciousness radiance, is a time to attune to the planetary forces that are interacting with our consciousness. In short, a portal has opened up.

So, this is a radical ‘to do’ practice. Forgive everyone.

(I know the problems with this statement, believe me!) But let’s just have a go. Forgive ourselves, the beautiful people that have it all, the asuras that are grabbing it all, the perpetrators, the abusers, the historic wrongs, the tiny handed one (hmm), the Zuma’s, the shrivelled billionaires, the pantheon of demons, the whole lot of aching hearts – the pain of it all. Let’s just take a pause and let go. Let go our resentments, our ‘look what they did’ narratives. Take a deep breath and let some air and light in. This moon energy will bring us the wings we need to help shift the energetic vibration of the planet.

In case you’re wondering, “has she gone looney” (I admit to a leaning into the lunar side of things), I’d like to say that the Buddha knew about full moons. The main events around his life and teachings happened on full moons for a reason. (I’ll just leave that there for now.) But more important than planetary influences is the Buddhas message to us. He diagnosed the cause of our ills as the fundamental greed, hatred, and delusion nestled right within the mind (that would be ALL our minds.) We are here right now for this global storm because we all carry responsibility. (Who has not grabbed, distorted, been hateful and deluded.)

So, picking up that practice lightly, here’s a way into the territory. However we understand, or do, prayer, meditation, chanting, compassion practice, sharing merit-blessings, ceremony, let’s do that the next few weeks (well actually whenever we can), but particularly now. Send out light, love, forgiveness to all hearts. Breathe into the whole mass of yuck with compassion, transcendent wisdom, and Eros cherishing that protects the tenderness of our collective vulnerability.

This isn’t idiot compassion. It doesn’t mean we now have permission for collective historical amnesia, or that we are excused and can carry on grabbing, harming, and violating. It doesn’t mean we won’t be held accountable (at least by karma, which is another inconvenient reality.) It doesn’t mean we don’t continue the struggle for a better, fairer, more just and beautiful world, or that we go stupid and abdicate from the biggest fight of our collective human history, which is addressing systemic injustices and arresting the wanton destruction of our eco-systems.

So that is what it doesn’t mean.

What it does mean I can’t exactly say right now. But what I trust is that the leap to conscious compassionate forgiveness, which is the giving over of our righteousness, blame, indignation, and wounds, has been done before with speculator outcomes. It was done by Mr. Mandela. Today, here in South Africa, as the radiance of this glorious full moon crosses the skies here at Dharmagiri-Mvuleni-Bamboo Mountain in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, on the south-east edge of the great Mother Continent of Africa, may Madiba’s spirit be with you South Africa. And may his courageous example inspire and lead us all in these perilous times.

full moon

 

Dharma & Climate Action