Shugen Roshi: Well, thank you everybody for being here. It’s really great to have almost every seat filled, and also I just want to acknowledge that there are a group of people who are live-streaming, and so, hey there [waving to live-stream camera]. So, I just wanted to very briefly say hello and welcome. I already said enough, probably, for the day [laughter]. I wanted to let other voices speak here. But I really did just want to thank you for being here and welcome to this, and so we can get started.
And Tanya Bonner and Daisen Holeman are going to be facilitating this discussion, and so I just wanted to introduce them since they may not be known to all of you, but they should be. Tanya has been practicing, starting with the Zen Center of New York City in 2006 and also has been practicing up here. She’s a social policy and media consultant based out of the city, and she helps grassroots and non-for-profit and faith-based organizations craft effective social justice initiatives, including making sure that those demonstrate cultural competence. She’s a policy creator and dismantler, a social justice advocate, writer, MBA, filmmaker, and former daily newspaper reporter. She’s written blog posts on social justice issues and has reported and written on law-enforcement for over 10 years. And she has bragging rights to having gone to the same high school as Michelle Obama [laughter, clapping]. I wish I could say that! So, welcome, and thank you, Tanya.
Daisen is a student, and has been studying here for a number of years. He studied for many years with Eido Shimano Roshi at Dai Bosatsu. He was born in North Carolina and raised in the South. He was married and has two sons who are in college. He lives in Philadelphia and comes up here frequently, even just for a Sunday morning. He received Jukai with Eido Roshi in 2005, and then discontinued studying with him in 2010 and then shortly thereafter began studying here. He’s a Partner at a computer consultancy, has Bachelor of Engineering and Computer Science from Cornell, and a Master’s in Computer Science from University of Virginia. And he began studying the Dharma as a teenager, even in the South, especially because of the South. So welcome to both of you. Thanks for leading us off here.
Tanya: Thank you. Can everybody hear me ok? So, we’re going to start out with Zuiko, who is my… I call her my spirit monastic [laughter], and she’s going to basically tell us a little bit about what we mean by BFoD—Beyond Fear of Differences—sort of give you a little bit of what that means and the mission and goal of BFoD and how it works. She’s going to describe some of those changes that have been taking place in MRO as a result of BFoD. Thank you, Zuiko.
Zuiko: So, if you were to ask, What is Beyond Fear of Differences? I think one of the best answers that I could give you is that timeline on the wall. Another way of talking about
Beyond Fear of Differences is it’s studying and examining power, privilege, and oppression as Dharma practice and training. So, not “in the context of the Dharma” or “through the lens of the Dharma” but actually “as Dharma practice and training.” And as far as the mission and vision of Beyond Fear of Differences, we are in the midst of it right at this very moment, doing our mission and vision work. So, from the timeline you can see sort of when we began that process [missing words, inaudible recording], and at the end of that day we realized that the next step in the mission vision process was to actually hear from the Sangha, right, so [in the past] we would have just come up with the mission and vision and said “Hey everybody, here it is!” And what we’ve been learning in the work is we actually need to hear from the Sangha, from the people who are going to be impacted by what the mission vision is have to be a part of helping to create it. So that’s one way of talking about how Beyond Fear of Differences is changing the culture here at the monastery and in the order.
I’ll give you a short large example and a short small example of how things have shifted. So, when I was the Program Coordinator, the way that we would program the calendar is I would go over the the abbott’s desk and say we have a gap on this date and this date and this date and they would say, how about we do A, B, and C, and that was how we programmed retreats at the monastery. Now we have a Programming Committee, which is made up of people from Beyond Fear of Differences and the Program Coordinator and some of the monastics, and so we’re not unilaterally making program decisions—that the abbot’s not unilaterally making program decisions anymore, but it’s a process and people are involved in that process and it makes… what we’re discovering is that it actually makes it richer. Our program offerings I think are getting better and better. And so that’s one way that things have changed.
And then—if I may—a very small example of how things have changed was ([to Shugen] yes, I meant to ask you about this beforehand—just send up the red flag if you need to) when Shugen Roshi was rejoining the ZMM Beyond Fear of Differences group, we had a meeting scheduled for 1:30, and during lunch Shugen Roshi went to Gikon and said, “I think we should meet at 1:15.” And Gikon went around and said, “Shugen wants to meet at 1:15.” So we met at 1:15, and Karen wasn’t there because the meeting was scheduled for 1:30. And so we started the meeting at 1:15, and a couple of us were feeling like really uncomfortable and finally we were just like, “You can’t just change the meeting time by yourself” [laughter]. And it sounds so insignificant, but it’s not, you know. For Shugen to be in a space where he is not dictating, you know, when the meeting is starting or making a change, it’s very small and it’s also very large. So I just think those are a couple ways to think about how things are changing.
Tanya: Yes, definitely. And we’re going to have more information about the way BFoD is structured, including the committees, after this panel, after the day. So you will know what areas that you can probably engage in this effort. But in keeping with what Zuiko brought up… I also wanted to say, the first time that each of you would speak if you could just introduce yourselves by your name and your gender pronouns.
Zuiko: Oh, oh I forgot. Yes, sorry. Zuiko. My pronouns are she/they.
Tanya: Yes, and I wanted to piggyback on what Zuiko was speaking about in terms of how things have shifted and in terms of how you’ve had to adjust, Shugen, in this shift – this culture shift – and I wanted to ask, you know, you’ve been with MRO for over 30 years, and so you’ve seen the way things were and I wanted you to just describe for us your journey, witnessing these changes and how that’s impacted you, on a personal level… as an abbot, and also on a personal level. How has it been for you navigating these institutional changes here at MRO?
Shugen: Umm, how long you got [laughter]?
Tanya: 5 minutes
Shugen: Right, or less. I’m going to shoot for less.
Zuiko: Shugen, can you do your pronouns?
Shugen: I’m sorry. I’m Shugen, he/him. Well, you know, the stories Zuiko told kind of encapsulate this in the sense that when this began, and I was in the city, this was something that had been in me since childhood, in a certain sense, and had a lot to do actually with my leaving the South. But when I really wanted to start doing something like this, and started Beyond Fear of Differences in the city, it was really just me. I was just thinking, we should do this, we’re going to do this, this is what we’re going to do. And ‘cause that was how I had trained. It was how pretty much things had happened, you know, in my experience of training. It was the model that my teacher had given to me. And, umm, so that’s what I did. And there were a lot of things that I learned in that because I was by myself in many ways initiating it, and so doing all that work. But there were so many things that I needed to be learning, and I wasn’t because I was doing it that way. And so, I felt that doing this was essential. I mean it was essential to me because I felt like not doing this was just not tenable within myself but also I felt that as a Sangha that this was something we needed to do and that has only become more and more clear and emphatic over the years. But what some of those things I really needed to be learning was how, not just to work with other people, but to realize how limited I am within my own mind and body and my own perspective and experience, and that that then becomes what I have to offer, which is limited. And also my own learning experience then becomes very limited. So in the process of beginning to open things up, I mean there was huge amounts of fear and anxiety and trepidation. I imagined everything was just going to become anarchy, and God knows what’s going to happen next, and, you know, I’m going to be the ruination of this lineage, and my teacher’s going to come back and haunt me. Because I feel – Getting here today and offering the talk that I just gave has been a long long process because I take seriously the role that I’m in, I love this Dharma as much as life itself, and I love you the Sangha because they’re really inseparable, because there’s no Dharma without you. And so I feel that responsibility very very keenly and heavily. And so, to do something which was not what my teacher did, to do something that is not happening – that has not happened, really, and that’s not so much a boast as kind of a lamentation – that it’s not happened and it isn’t really happening too much – was scary as hell. But I also felt a kind of inexorable imperative to continue to kind of bumble my way forward. And what I feel like I have discovered is all of you [gesturing to panel] and possibilities that I would never have dreamt of and have had conversations and have had my eyes opened in ways that I might have sensed was possible but never really knew. I’ve had the whole shift of the attention turned back to myself, which wasn’t entirely how I intended – what I was thinking when I was starting this thing, in terms of the whole really paradigm shift in the whole discussion and examination of race and racism in this country. I mean it’s really changed dramatically over the last few decades, at least from my experience.
Tanya: Shugen, can you give us a specific example of, during this BFoD work, and it could be something recent or earlier, where you sort of challenged or sort of stood as an obstacle to something that wanted to get done and then you had to sort of evaluate yourself and come to this realization that things needed to go a different way. Something specific where you can tell us—where it was real for you, where there was a moment where you were like this is changing, I don’t want it to change.
Shugen: Yeah, I think when that moment [pointing to timeline]—that meeting that we had, not “the incident”, but “the moment” [laughing]…
Tanya: We’ll get to that later [laughing].
Shugen: … that we talk about there on the board where I think this group really met… we kind of came to a crisis point where we realized—I realized—that fundamentally things had to shift in ways that I didn’t fully appreciate. I’d been hearing you say these things to me, but hadn’t really been taking them in, and understanding the real implications of that, in terms of questions relating to power, to leadership, and envisioning those in ways that I couldn’t quite envision. I didn’t know what that would actually look like, and that really in a way have played out in the Program Committee, within the Communication Committee, where I’m not a part of all of those committees, I’m not making the decisions on all of those committees, and those committees are having impact. They’re making decisions that are having impact, and so really sort of stepping into that whole new… I mean, the model has been that the teacher is the religious leader and the organizational leader, they’re the president of the organization, they have their hands on all the finances, and all the organization, and all of the teaching. I mean that’s the model. It’s a little bit of a—we hope—benign dictatorship… we hope benign. And that’s just not a good idea, on all kinds of levels, but within this work it’s decidedly not a good idea. And so, it’s really letting go and relinquishing into not even knowing what that was going to become but really trusting that it had to happen and trusting us—you guys [gesturing to the panel]—in this process.
Tanya: Thank you so much. That was great. Now, in keeping with this theme of changes and how BFoD is changing MRO, I wanted to move on to Jordan. Now, many of you know her—she’s a law student extraordinaire, she’s also a Thai fisher-person pants model for the brochure, you’ve probably seen her. And what some of you probably don’t know is that she is the first Black Person to complete a yearlong residency here, at Zen Mountain Monastery, and that’s an amazing achievement. So I wanted to talk to you though because you wrote a really compelling, eye-opening account of your experience being a resident here at ZMM. And I would like you to talk a little bit about that experience and then tell us how BFoD is making a difference in the residency program, and how it could have made a difference for you.
Jordan: My name is Jordan, she/her pronouns. I completed a year of residency here shortly after I graduated from undergrad. And the journey getting here was I wasn’t ready for the world. I knew I wanted to be in the world, I wanted to go to law school, but I was just completely burnt out, and I knew I needed to take time but I couldn’t put it in those words. So many people asked like, why do you want to do this thing? My family was very worried about me coming to the mountains, to a monastery. I grew up in the Baptist Church, so like Black Baptist folks are like, no monasteries—don’t drink the Kool Aid! But there was something where I knew that I needed to be here, but I couldn’t quite say why. And I got here, nervous my first day, green, and just… probably knees shaking. But I was really ready to jump into the practice, and I didn’t quite know what that meant or what that was going to require of me. But I found myself in a sea of white faces, much like I have in a lot of my life, going to a predominantly white institution in undergrad and just being in the world. And it hit me in the face, right away. I wasn’t here for more than maybe three weeks before the violence of whiteness—the really subtle violence of whiteness—hit me in the face. And I really had to figure out, oh boy, is this really where… like, am I going to be able to do it? I know I want to do this practice, but can I actually survive in this community? Who do I go to? Where do I turn? The teachers are all white. How can I possibly… how can they possibly understand what I’m experiencing in this community? And I struggled for a long time with it. I often think about, how did it actually happen? I don’t know. I have no idea. But I think the practice really grounded me and kind of just beating at the door, and letting Shugen know in so many different ways over and over again, something’s not right, something is missing. And him listening every time. Going in and just giving him hell over and over again, and him listening and listening, and missing it, and not hearing some things, and doing that too with lots of other people in the Sangha, so not just Shugen. And I was the Registrar, so that was like I was the face of the monastery in this really interesting way. So often I would meet people and they would meet me… we’d spoken on the phone a number of times, and they would be surprised that I was Black. And I know this because they would tell me—they had the confidence to actually say that to me and think that that was okay and not think that there was something peculiar about that. And that would happen over and over again. And I knew that it was something different, I mean, I wasn’t here alone—Ra’Shaun and I actually started together, which I often think like it was a glitch in the Matrix [laughter] that the two of us ended up here at the same time, and we both wanted to stay for a year, and it was happening, and like, the walls weren’t falling down.
Tanya: Ra’Shaun is also Black, if you don’t know him.
Jordan: Right, Ra’Shaun is a Black guy. We both started the same month. He didn’t finish his year, but he made it through a long period. But for him too, I think about him now, and think about how I often felt like this place couldn’t actually hold his pain and his suffering and him having expressed that in different ways, like, “I just can’t go to the teachers. I can’t give them my suffering and ask them how to deal with it because they could not imagine the life that I’ve lived because I’m a Black man in this country.”
Tanya: So, how would BFoD have made a difference? Do you think that this process that we’re doing now—how could that have created a different experience for you and Ra’Shaun?
Jordan: I mean, for me, it would have made all the difference, like sitting today in the Zendo listening to Shugen… I mean, there have been so many times during my residency I’ve been sitting listening during the Teisho, and I’ve just wanted to get the fuck out of there. I wanted to leave because I was just like, what does this white guy talking about? He does not see something, and he’s definitely not seeing what I’m experiencing. In the narrative that Tanya mentioned, you know, when we first started meeting all of us, it was me and a bunch of white folks. So it was like, ok, here we are [laughter]. And it was over and over again this shock, “You experienced that? That’s what happened here? We’re all really nice white people, like how could that happen?” And I kind of got to my wits end and was like, ok, I have to lay it all out there, like I have to just spill my guts and say how each and every one of you have hurt me by virtue of your whiteness, your racism coming out and hurting me. And it was a really scary journey to like write all of that to think, like, ok, I’m going to send this to people, and they’re going to read it and then I’m going to have to see them again, but in so many ways, here we are now. We can each come to each other and say, this is happening without… there may still be shock, but I think now it’s kind of transformed to, oh right, that’s happening and I don’t see it. I’m doing that thing and I don’t see it. And for me, I think that’s been the difference—being able to say, “Hojin, you’ve hurt me,” and Hojin can just hold on to that without defending herself or even saying I’m sorry but just holding my pain. That I think—or I know—keeps me coming back and lets me know I can keep coming back to her with my pain, and that she can come to me with pain. And that happening over and over again between all of us in different ways.
Tanya: Excellent. I mean it was a beautiful letter. Thank you so much for sharing that with us [to Jordan]. I mean, I cried… I was reading it, it was amazing. And thank you for putting your authentic self—we talk about Authenticity—thank you for putting your authentic self out there with that letter.
Now, Gikon, I wanted to bring you in because you have a lot of experience being “the only one”—being on the board of MRO and being in many spaces early on in this process of BFoD. Can you just talk a little about what your experience has been, as a Senior, as a Board Member, being here in the very beginning of this.
Gikon: Yeah, you know, I’ll answer it this way. I think part of sort of my own evolution developing a certain amount of consciousness around race had to do with the fact that I often, as I think a lot of non-Black, non-Latino, non-Native People of Color, I’m often positioned as white. I’ve often had friends say, “We don’t see you as Indian, we just see you as white.” So it’s something I’ve just internalized. So I think a lot of my own evolution has been noticing that, noticing the privileges that affords me but also the costs that come with it. So I think before I could really see race as it operates, let’s say here, I had to see how it’s operating in myself. And I had sort of started that before the original BFoD way way back at Fire Lotus started, but it was definitely a part of it. I had always found myself in a group—a small group, a flawed group, but a group of committed practitioners who were really investigating this, and we did this work just amongst ourselves for at least a couple of years before launching a program—a very flawed program for the Temple, but we did a lot of work. And that work I think really helped me move along and notice myself as a racialized person moving through this world, as opposed to all the ways I would try to ignore that in order to keep this sort of proxy privilege of this like being white by allowance, so to speak.
I don’t know if that quite hits your question, but I just wanted to mention one of the things that Jordan said that really stood out for me when she was talking about Ra’Shaun and his level of pain. You know, I think a lot of the work that I’ve noticed and I’ve experienced in BFoD has been difficult for People of Color in BFoD because it has to come out of our pain. And it’s often a pattern of injury and then us making people aware of that injury, which in and of itself is difficult, and involves a lot of exposure – well, it first involves that original injury, then a lot of exposure having to talk about it to the people that have injured you, and then having to sort of stay in that conversation, stay in that, stay in that, work with it, work with it, until a real dialogue is possible, and then until some kind of change or reconciliation happens. So I think that’s probably what stands out for me the most about the BFoD work is the fact that’s it’s painful, but the pain can be used in a way that’s ultimately for good.
Tanya: Thank you so much. And with that, thank you for taking us in this direction because we want to kind of move in now to a discussion about some of the challenges that we faced in BFoD, and the fact that we’re here on this stage together still tells you that there’s something beyond the challenge, and it’s ok. We shall survive. [singing] I will survive! like, like… I’m sorry but… And so, what we’re going to do is I’m gonna, I want to ask you—we’re gonna get to what we call “the Incident,” “the troubles,” “the moment,” whatever you want to call it. And we’re going to start with Karen, if you can kind of tell us—this was the first time, so you all have some context, this was the first time we had met without a facilitator. We didn’t have an outside facilitator. Gokan and Chikei, who’s not here, had done a wonderful job of facilitating that meeting together. And “the Incident” happened. And so, Karen, if you could take us through that and tell us a little bit about what happened and we’re all going to discuss. And I’m going to ask Daisen, Joshin, myself will be part of this to talk a little about what happened.
Jinfu: Yeah, so this was our first meeting without facilitators, and I remember being aware of the…
Zuiko: Oh, Karen, could you do your pronouns?
Jinfu: Oh, Karen Jinfu, she/her. I was feeling bored how many times I had used the word and described how resistant I was to this work and I was listening to other white people in the group talk about this resistance, or it kind of showing up, you know, as being the last one to do something or, you know, demonstrating that it wasn’t quite that important, you know, like people were involved but this and it was really like being stuck. And I felt like there was a moment of silence, and then Daisen said something that really to me named what was happening right there in the room, and it was like, I don’t remember exactly the words, but the way I heard it was like, ‘There’s this chasm, and there are these white people who are kind of asleep and the People of Color are responding with an urgency to something that’s really happening,” and I was excited by being able to see what was happening. And then I started to kind of think out loud, which often doesn’t work out so well, and I was trying to find a way… how do I get there to a place that’s more compassionate and more empathic. Why, what is in the way here? And so I started to talk about what is very automatically a connection for me is with animals, but also just any life that is subjected to what I would consider a very violent, dominance of human beings, and I’m a human being. So I was sort of struggling with this, so let me look at white supremacy in relationship to this work. So that was kind of what was happening internally. But I started to talk about the compassion for animals and it was… I could almost hear the thud of how it landed, and you used the word injury (gesturing to Gikon), which I think is a good one, so it was very harmful. I was, um, you know I didn’t feel defensive and nobody was attacking me in any way. People were very direct. I think pretty much everyone in the group, the People of Color gave me feedback. Tanya kept me on the hot seat for a really long time I’m not quite sure how long but it felt like an eternity. And I was anxious, but also, like what happened? I had this notion internally of what I was saying, and how could it land like that? And clearly it had, so to me I think that broke open something that was sort of festering or building within the group—his kind of discrepancy or gap. And then it got expanded in the Basecamp thread, and it was this particular issue but many other issues, and it was very very intense. And I made an attempt to make amends at that point for what I had done, but I don’t think it really settled—it didn’t like integrate—until we met again. And it was just clear for me to simply say that what I said was racist, and I apologized. And it seemed to be uncomplicated at that point.
Tanya: Yes, I can say that for myself, what I heard when you [gesturing to Jinfu] spoke about that—I heard “I can have empathy for animals but I can’t gather the same urgency for you, as a human being.” And that really hurt. That’s how it landed for me. And so that was the issue for me, and one of the things that I said was, you know… Karen reached out and said “Oh you know, I…”—she apologized over email to certain people and I was well that’s not how I want my apology. We’re individual people. I’m not Daisen. I’m not Joshin. I’m not Jordan. I am Tanya, and I’m a different person, and I need my apology. You need to speak to me, we need to speak as human to human and have a conversation. And she did that, and we had that conversation. I wanted to ask Joshin because…
Joshin: Because I had to leave the room because I was crying…
Tanya: Describe what happened, because we all had different reactions. This is the nature of this work. Describe how it landed for you, and your reaction to it.
Joshin: Joshin, and my pronouns are she and her. So Jinfu’s comment landed like a punch in the stomach. And so I still get emotional about it, which is why they’re holding on to me. And it was so bad that I ended up leaving the room, because at first when you start to cry you think you’re going to hold it together and then I just realized there was no holding it, and I ended up going out of the room, hysterically crying. And Zuiko came out to me, and I still can’t really, I guess, explain—maybe you don’t have to explain—but it felt… it felt really bad. And I wasn’t expecting it. And maybe that’s part of it.
Tanya: We can hear her out crying in the hallway. It was in this room. It was in this very room, and we can hear her. And I was, we were all just, yeah…
Joshin: Yeah, I was like bawling. I didn’t know what was going on in the room. And then Zuiko came out, and I said, “Zuiko, I can’t… I can’t do this. This is harder than I signed up for. I don’t want to do this anymore.” And she said, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to.” And I said, “Good. I’m out.” And, I said, “I can’t go back in that room” ‘cause the room just became hostile territory to me. And, so I started walking up and down the mountain because I had all this, uh, emotion and I needed to get it out. And a mountain is a good place for that. So I walked up the mountain and down the mountain, and the whole time I was just like, “I’m out! I’m out! I don’t ever have to do this anti-racist work again! Yay!” I was just going up the mountain and down the mountain. And then on one of the ups or downs, I said, “Ah fuck. I gotta go back. I gotta go back.” And I didn’t… not sure how far back I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to come back into the room. And I think it was only like, I dunno, like 15 or 20 minutes left to the meeting, and I walked back in. I didn’t know what I was walking back in to, um, everyone was very quiet, I think. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t good. It didn’t end good. The conversations that we had amongst each other afterward… I immediately reached out just to the People of Color on email because I did not want to talk to anybody that was white about this on Basecamp…
Tanya: … which is the communication tool that we use to talk to each other, and schedule meetings and things like that, so…
Joshin: Yeah, and I just wanted to—I immediately started by apologizing for crying, which I think everyone told me I didn’t have to, but I did anyway because, um, for me… I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a Person of Color in a group of People of Color. I have to be representing with them. I’m always down for the cause, and I’m like I wasn’t representing with you guys. I left you guys out there alone, having to talk and explain, and I was out crying, I was the weak link, you know, we weren’t together…
Jordan: … which you were not, by the way… you were not.
Joshin: … yeah, but that’s how it feels, that’s how it feels. You feel like, you know, you’re in this together, and you… you broke the chain, you know. So, we got through it. And that’s, I think, the most important part is that I really really did want to walk away, and that was not the first time that I wanted to walk away, and that I came back, and I think it is a Dharma practice.
Tanya: Yes, yes, by all means. And, Daisen, did you have anything to add, in terms of that moment? In terms of your experience?
Daisen: Sure. And this is an example of patriarchy in moderation, by the way – this is an example of the way things shouldn’t be – you’re doing a great job [to Tanya]
Tanya: Thank you.
Daisen: So for me, the experience of being associated with animals…
Tanya: … and also, say your name and pronouns, Daisen.
Daisen: I am Daisen. He/him. That was a… an interesting moment for me. I have experienced being associated with animals my entire life. And, um, it’s not acceptable. And, so I was very curious to see the group I was with because I am interested in Dharma for a lot of reasons, but one of them is I’m hoping, as I’ve always said, to find friendship—I’m wondering, can I be friends with white people. And, in many ways, this group I think is the most enlightened group of white people that I’ve ever been around, and I’m still being associated with animals. And I have to say this because my life – I am just like everybody else. I mean it is absolutely clear, in this body, that I’m just like everybody else. So, um, I enjoyed that conversation. And I think that, if I can say, one of the big things to me was the pain that I saw in Jinfu was… I mean, she’s a human being. The pain I saw in Joshin… it was the same pain. So that meant to me that we had to continue working, that there was a possibility. But I’m still amazed a little bit that the amount of work even with the most enlightened white people I’ve ever met in my life… open-minded, sincere… racism is deep.
Tanya: And we’re still here. Jinfu—I apologize, I was calling you Karen…
Jinfu: Either way.
Tanya: You’re still here [to Jinfu]. So, it’s possible—to have these moments, to be uncomfortable, and to be accountable for those moments with each other—that’s also another one of our values which is accountability—and get past it. And I want to thank you, you know, for just sticking with this work, and not letting that deter you and think that I can’t do this. And she’s been a wonderful member of the Communications Committee with us, and doing some great work on that committee, so thank you so much, and we’re glad that you’re still here with us.
I want to move on to Gokan. Gokan—I call Gokan the bouncer of the Sangha [laughter]. He’s tall, he sits in the front… yeah, so… However, Gokan also represents… like, you’re a white man in this Sangha, you have been here a long time, you’ve seen how things were before, and you’re in the midst of all these things that are trying to change. One of the things that, in one of our planning meetings, you were very authentic—again, one of our values—and courageous—one of our values—in acknowledging that you were uncomfortable with how things were changing and the prospect of how much more they will change in the future due to the BFoD. Please tell us about these feelings and why you stuck with this, ‘cause you’re still here too. Still here! [laughter]
Gokan: My name is Gokan, he/him. Um, I’m still uncomfortable a lot of the time, or some of the time. You know, someone after lunch… I ran into them in the locker room, and they were saying like I really have mixed feelings about this BFoD stuff, and I was like, yeah, I do too. And I was thinking, I’m not sure it’s mixed feelings, it’s just like different feelings at different times, and a lot of different feelings. And I feel like, I’m still here, and I haven’t been a very good member of the group for a while. But I’m still here. And I feel like I guess I’m here because I love you guys, and hearing from some of you guys your particular stories—and your stories here—is kind of intolerable. And I’m also still in it ‘cause I have, over the different things I’ve participated in, you know, I’ve seen how transformative this has been for me, seeing things about myself… seeing my racism. It took me a while to be able to name that. I had some help with that. And seeing that, to be able to start seeing that particular conditioning that I have…
Tanya: Can you talk about it as a white man, specifically, in this moment looking at this work and looking at the issues that we’ve talked about—how has this impacted you as a white man, doing this work today, having to deal with these issues and having systems, that have probably supported you, be questioned and possibly dismantled? What has that process been because I know that you’ve expressed some trepidation about it and can you talk a little bit about that specifically? About your own personal experience?
Gokan: I mean, I feel like I’m still in the middle of it. There have been times in our meetings where, you know, it feels like a lot of what’s being asked for is change, here. And I feel very… I feel personally threatened by that and also just protective of this place and this practice as we do it here. And so, like, what’s being… is that being threatened? I guess I feel like I can… watching that, and seeing that as things change, things are still ok [laughter]. And things are better in some cases [laughter].
Tanya: It’s possible.
Gokan: I’ve been watching carefully [laughter].
Tanya: We see you! Ok, so I wanna talk, ‘cause I wanna draw in some other people—Meiju, Shoan, Hojin… what have been for the white folks in BFoD and on this panel… what have been some of the greatest challenges for you in doing this work? You know, if you have any examples of moments when it was really hard and… what is this work like for white people doing this work—BFoD? Anybody can jump in, whoever wants to.
Hojin: Speaking… Hojin, She, Her, Hermit… [laughter] Yeah, it totally took me back into my own family, and my own ancestry, and the world of silence, and not speaking about any of this as it was on our television and in newspapers and I’m a young girl, and just the silence—turning off the TV, and the silence, as a young girl, and just the silence that fell. When I was asked to do this I was already coming from the rupture of Ryushin leaving so I thought, let’s just go for the whole extravaganza, that’s what practice is about—taking down every boundary and it’s not the ones I choose, and so I saw this as a great larger thing that I had not much to do with because I felt secluded like the Buddha. I was in sort of a protected environment, and so I didn’t know at all what I was in for. I was leveled the first day of just seven of us getting together. I was like I don’t know if I can take this, and I kept coming back to myself like, “Well what is there to protect? What do you want to save? What’s more important?” All of these good questions came up. Also at the same time, we weren’t hating each other. I could feel the real care and wanting to get along all through it and so that needed to be trusted. I would often fall silent. I hadn’t quite stepped into my role. I didn’t want a role. I wanted a rock more than a role (to crawl under). And they kept saying, “And the teachers… ? We wanna hear… and they have to… ” And I was just like I don’t want this. I don’t want to be this. Go away. So I stayed, and there was one moment in a meeting where I just couldn’t hold it anymore. I had just had to speak about my family and just let out what was happening inside. I couldn’t even sit with my white group. We were working on—[takes hat off] the heat is coming—we were working with what are we dealing with, and I couldn’t access anything. I felt everything, I listened to everything, I read every Basecamp thread, the articles, so I wasn’t not participating, but I couldn’t bring out anything, and slowly, like clay, you get malleable, and like zazen, you trust something and things start to open, and you feel the valve just pulsing, open and close, open and close, and yet it’s getting more, larger in some ways.
Tanya: Thank you, thank you so much. Meiju? And Shoan? Would you like to add anything?
Meiju: I was just thinking about the “nice white people” like you’re living amongst… I’m a nice white person. I’m an empath—I think of myself as an empath, I’m a therapist, and the places where I couldn’t feel and the mirrors… the other… the huge part of the injury with that story with “the incident” was silence of the other white people in the group, myself included. We processed as white people, and I think in a mixed group, what some of that was, but for me the freeze—it wasn’t just not being able to speak, but not being able to feel deeply. This has happened—and that was a particularly striking moment—but this has happened over and over in smaller ways where often on the faces or in the voice or in the email threads, it is my Dharma Siblings of Color who are expressing anger, expressing pain, and when I would feel the gap, in myself… well first it made me start to wonder, and then I think there was an experience of feeling more. There was an article that Tanya [shared], I don’t remember what it was called, something about sociopathy, like the sociopathy of white supremacy, and because I’m a therapist I have this idea of what sociopathic means, but really the ability to be in such a shut down place, it’s like… So for me the hardest part has been noticing not feeling, and now the better hard part is noticing feeling, and like how much pain. So that’s sort of like the joy inside the scar. I just feel like I get my life.
Tanya: Shoan, would you like to add anything to that?
Shoan: So, I think that we have to… for me, being white… Shoan, my pronouns are she/her. … to just assume that we’re racist, and that we’re not racist because we’re bad but because we are part of this society and culture and it’s been in the water, so to speak. And so for me that was, and continues to be, the hard part—to see that despite my liberal beliefs, and progressive politics, and good intentions, and friends who are People of Color… despite all of that, racist ideas and racist views are in me, I give birth to them, and that the subtlety of them is so invisible that… I will cause harm—so that’s another thing to know—I will act from that. I will act from that because I don’t see it, it’s not clear to me and in doing that I will cause harm. And so to courageously move forward in the work, knowing all of those things—so, my racism is real, it’s going to be revealed, and I will act from those racist views and racist ideas because they’re unconscious and I can’t completely see them, and that’s going to be reflected back to me so many times in the work that we’ve done together. That was so painful, excruciating, nauseating—like kill-me-now painful—and the possibility of a great opening, release.
Tanya: She had to have lunch with me, y’all.
Shoan: Yeah, I did [laughs]. I did… So that’s been the hard part, and inevitable, and not for the faint of heart, and yet it’s ok. I mean, I feel like as practitioners, we’re so well… It’s like feeling the impossibility of it and then stepping forward into it. Knowing the suffering of it, and then stepping forward into it. That’s our training actually.
Tanya: Very good. Now, Zuiko… when we were talking about this idea of doing this timeline, a historical timeline of BFoD, Zuiko volunteered to do this. She was set up y’all. She was set up [laughter]. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience of… we had this idea—oh I’m going to just outline the history of BFoD. What happened?
Zuiko: I just want to say how ironic and how chagrined I am—my senior thesis was on the politics of narrative, so I’m like, really? Wow, I guess my senior year was a long time ago. So we were meeting about the format of the Forum and Hojin and I were like we should have a visual timeline so we don’t have to spend time—to waste panel time—talking about the history of BFoD, so we presented that, and Tanya was like, “Who’s going to write the timeline?” And I was like, I’ll write the timeline. I’ll just look back through my notes, the minutes, and the calendars, pick all the “important stuff,” and that’ll be the timeline. And Tanya was like, “Well I have sort of different…” and I was like, “Great! I’ll share the Google Doc with you and you just fill… like you know.” And so it was like popcorn. I would open the Google Doc and there’s Tanya’s comments—oh okay—and there’s a couple of Gikon’s comments, and then Jordan’s comments, and then I was like… I emailed the white people and I was like, “Hey, it’s happening again—the People of Color are really putting themselves out there and really making themselves vulnerable and taking the risk, like, get in there. Tell how it was. And it was amazing. You know, every story is about power. Every single story is about power. And so these “official narratives,” these “official histories,” of our country, the MRO, of BFoD… and to see that with every new note, the history was becoming richer, and truer, and more complex, and amazing. We would open the document and I would be like, really? Even in the notes it was like, “I didn’t know this happened!” It was like we were learning our own history together. I didn’t understand in the beginning. [To Tanya] You were like, “We’re going to talk about the timeline,” and I was like, “Why are we talking about the timeline?” And now I’m like, oh, the timeline.
Tanya: It was a great project for us. We learned together how power controls the narrative. The experiences that we relate may not be actually the experience. As you can see from Jordan’s comments about her residency experience—what you see in the brochure, that wasn’t what she talked about. So this is why it’s important. Diversity really matters in making sure that the richness of all of our experiences is out there. Now, with just about 5 minutes… oh, sorry… yes, by all means.
Daisen: I just wanted to make a comment about what Meiju and Shoan said, because I’m still on this personal sharing. Shoan said that she has found racism to be embedded. And Meiju said that she found that it was difficult for her to care, which is the primary experience that I have of racism—is a lack of caring. So in friendship there is caring. So that is the.. like the basics of it.
Tanya: Thank you. Thank you for that. Now with about 5 minutes left, we wanted to get into the future, talk about what BFoD… what is this going to mean for MRO. I guess I want to start with you, Shugen, because being the abbot here, is BFoD just a phase? Or will it be a real conduit of change for MRO? Is this just something we’re doing right now and then we’re not going to do it tomorrow?
Shugen: Well we won’t do it once we’ve fixed this, we won’t do it anymore [laughter]. So originally, I was thinking of this like an aspect—not a project, that trivializes it, but an aspect—of what we were going to do for those who were interested, and it would sort of be a sidecar along the main thing which was, you know, Zen training, and that’s really what’s changed completely, and that’s not of my own doing. I have been shown over and over again and told and presented with the reality that because of so much of what you’ve heard here, and what many of you know, that this is so ubiquitous within us and within our culture, and what I was talking about in the talk, that it has to be… it is what we’re doing, and we’re either doing it with our eyes open or we’re doing it with our eyes closed. We’re either doing it in a way that is alleviating or we’re doing it in a way that’s not. Not doing it is not an option, because it is who were are, our conditioning, our culture. And so that’s really what’s changed is seeing it not only as something larger than just a project but something that is already here and has been here all along, but hasn’t been functioning—I haven’t been functioning—consciously within it—it being racism, it being discrepancies and abuses of power, and so that’s where I say… I’ve said to this group before, I really feel that if we do not do this, we become irrelevant as practitioners. We will not be practicing in the future, I really believe that. I feel like we will not have a Sangha in the future—not a Sangha that is worth having, in a certain sense, that’s meaningful. I feel that as individuals we will not be actually doing what we think we’re doing, which is Dharma practice. And so that’s really changed a lot.
Tanya: So you heard it from the abbot—we’re doing this! We’re doing this!
So, the last question is, why should they get involved? Why is it important then? Since we’re doing this for the rest of you to get involved, anybody can chime in on this one.
Shugen: Let me just pick up on what Daisen said, because this is about caring. One of the things that’s been most helpful for me, you know—I told you at breakfast, Tanya—that over these years I have come to feel so much love and affection towards you and respect. It’s the love of you, my love for you, particularly those of you that I have not known, not seen, not acted well towards, consciously and unconsciously, that has been so important to me, because it’s personal. I have felt strongly about this for so long in my life but it was because of living in a segregated world; it was not as personal as it should be, as it needed to be.
Zuiko: Part of what’s been surprising to me about the work is… there can be a sense that I’ve had that I’m doing this to do good, I’m doing this for others, and I think that more recently, I have been really feeling the impact of this work in my own healing, in my own life, as a white person, and as a person. There are aspects of what I’ve considered to be my personality—which is perfectionistic and controlling, and makes me really good at some things and really terrible at some relational things. It’s within this work that I have been able to start to really work with that in a real way that has changed things—that I have been able to ask for help, I have been able to ask for support, particularly from the white people in the group, about things that I’m going through. That has been really transformative of what I have thought of as my own personal karma, my personality, and things that cause me personal suffering. To see that I’m re-humanizing myself in this work—that’s been really amazing and surprising and healing.
Jinfu: I also feel like I love the people in this group. So the relationships get so I care about people personally. But I also think in terms of what about the people I don’t know. I now feel like I’ve got just throngs of white people generation after generation behind me and every time I say or do something there’s this kind of influence that comes through. And I think a lot of it is not violence towards people, it’s the turning a blind eye, turning the television off—come on kids, go over here, let’s not look. Let’s not be a part of that. Everything is okay with us. That’s happening over there. And I feel that’s the thing that presses on me that I have to… so that’s a really hard thing to wake up from, but I think that’s the not caring. It’s a kind of self protective, don’t look. So I became a person who doesn’t see. So I feel that is a big part of what the practice is.
Tanya: Any last thoughts from anyone before we move onto an opportunity to hear from you?
Jordan: Thinking about what BFoD means for the future I think everybody said this a little bit but—this isn’t at all separate from the Dharma. I could not practice without this. My practice became alive through this work, and just me working on the cushion and all of this coming up, and the practice has really carried me. When we think about our Sangha and what it looks like, it is very white, and I think we imagine a really diverse Sangha, but a diverse Sangha wouldn’t be the answer if we don’t really think about the structures. [To Shugen] So much of what you were talking about today in your talk, of really hitting at those institutional things that get to us, because we are an institution made up of people who’ve lived in this world and who are just drenching in all of the… are drenched in all of the “isms” and the effects of them… So for me this work really means the monastery, the Sangha, the MRO, the Temple, being a place where every single person, no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak, no matter how their body moves and their body works, that they can come here and they can practice and they can be liberated. I get excited about that. The marginalized people in this country who can find practice and maybe find a refuge here. I hope for them and wish that they can find a practice, and if it’s here, great, I’m really excited, but we’ve gotta do this work if we’re gonna liberate each other and ourselves.
Tanya: That was beautiful. And I wanted to also say that we talked a lot up here about race and race related things, but this work involves so many things. We’re looking at gender, we’re looking at people who are gender nonconforming. One of the things that we brought here that you might all want to think about looking at is there is a guide that was created for temples and meditation centers and retreat centers called “Developing Trans*Competence” [written by Chance Krempasky, Audrey Renson, and Finn Jogen Schubert] so we want to be able to have a Sangha that’s open and welcoming to everyone regardless of their positioning and we want to work with you in making sure this is the place where they feel welcome and comfortable. Just so you know we’re looking at all of these different issues.
So what we’re going to do now—in your row you have some note cards—what we want you to do is write down whatever questions that have come to you as a result of looking at this timeline, listening to us. If you have a question, please write that question down. We’re going to take a break, then what we’re going to do is we’re going to come back and we’re going to take about five of those questions. Because of time we can’t obviously answer every question. But we’re going to take every one of your questions and we’re going to answer those questions, okay, it may not be answered right now, but those questions will be answered, so please, whatever questions you have about this process, please write them down, so that we can make sure we address them.
Zuiko: The livestream people, if you have questions that you want to write in, please write them in the chat box and we will transcribe them, so please do that. There’ll be a way through the Ango and maybe even beyond where we’re taking up your questions through podcasts and blog posts and so on, so we’re going to take everything.
And if you haven’t signed in, please—there’s two laptops right outside—please sign in with your name and email address. And livestream people, please sign in in the chat box, so that we can… we have follow-up materials that are going to go out after today, but we can’t send them if you don’t sign in, so please sign in.
Tanya: And we want to hear your questions, and we want to be able to respond to you, and possibly engage with you on another level, so we’ll break for about 10 minutes, ok, and we’ll be back to answer your questions.
[Ten minute break]
Jordan: Thank you for all of the questions and comments. So we have a plethora of questions, and we all realized that getting to five of them would almost be impossible, and we did say, we’re going to look through all of them and address them each in different ways, so that will happen,—your questions have not been thrown into a bucket in vain. But I’m going to kind of do an umbrella answering of some of the themes that I noticed about language, and then Gikon’s going to do another umbrella. So some of the language questions that I saw was the use of POC—People of Color, why we all said our pronouns, white supremacy’s been said a lot—Shugen mentioned that a lot in his talk this morning.
So I’ll start with pronouns. Gender is this really dynamic experience that each of us have. In the beginning of our lives we’re born and we’re given this gender at birth. That kind of goes along with us through our lives, but that just isn’t how we experience gender actually, in real life, in real time. The gender binary that there’s a man, and there’s a woman, it just isn’t that way. We don’t experience gender that way. We’re kind of like stars in the sky and our gender just happens to be whatever it is that we feel in the moment. So our pronouns—we use them everywhere. We generally give a person a pronoun based on our assumptions about how they look, how they dress, how they speak, and that’s incredibly problematic because you can’t determine a person’s gender or their pronouns by looking at them. You only know a person’s gender or their pronouns by asking them, or when they tell you. One of the things that I’ve been trying within my life is when I introduce myself—my name and my pronouns—and asking the same, because there’s no other way for me to know. So we’ve begun doing that as well with one another—saying our name and our pronouns—because there’s no other way to know. And I think for a lot of people it might be difficult. It might seem awkward or weird, but I think particularly in this community, there’s a bunch of Japanese names that we use and we respect them, and so many of us have no connection to those words and those syllables, but we respect them and we use them all the time, and I like to think about it in that context. So that’s about pronouns.
POC—I have no idea when that became a part of the lexicon but it’s this umbrella term. POC stands for People of Color. I often say Black People and People of Color because of the location that Black People have in this country—the very particular experience that people with Black bodies have in this country—and I often make that distinction. Some people only identify themselves as Black and not as a Person of Color. I often describe myself as a Black Person because I have a particular experience in this country as a Black Person, but I think it’s one of those terms where we try and include all of us in the bundle because it’s so difficult to name each of us individually, because we all are trying to find space because whiteness takes up a lot of space. So, People of Color. And I think for some people that term is new, you may have never heard it, it may feel awkward again, but it is one of those terms that is often used to capture the reality of people who aren’t white.
White supremacy—it’s another one of those words that I’m beginning to use a lot more because it really does catch people’s attention in a way that I think racism doesn’t. I often think racism—people kind of turn their ears off to that word. With white supremacy, they’re “Well, what are you talking about?” White supremacy in racism, white supremacy in every other form of oppression really work together. White supremacy is the gas that keeps the vehicle of oppression going, because it is this idea of dominance, this idea of superiority, and it works and functions in every aspect of our lives—the idea that white is the normal, or the baseline, and that really does create this world where if you aren’t white, then you are pushed to the margins. If you don’t aspire to whiteness, you are agitating and you need to be pushed aside. So when we talk about white supremacy it’s one of those terms that really captures the violence that comes from oppression as it moves through our lives and the institutions with which we move through throughout the day, in the many parts of our lives—at work, at school, in our friendships, in our homes, in our intimate relationship—white supremacy is always there telling us to be a particular way. And it does not liberate us at all. It is binding us in a way that hurts us more and more, and then we go on to hurt more people around us.
Zuiko: [whispering to Jordan] And it’s not just telling white people how to be; it’s telling everybody how to be.
Jordan: [Hojin gesturing a talking hand playfully towards Zuiko] And it’s not just telling white people how to be; it’s telling everybody how to be [laughing]. It is everywhere telling you, you should be this way or that way. White supremacy doesn’t just negatively affect me; it negatively affects white people. I think about when I hear white men say that they feel silenced in this work, and I raise my eyebrow and I think, “There, that’s what I’m screaming for. I can’t speak and you have the floor but you also don’t feel like you have the room to speak, even though everyone is listening to you.” So white supremacy affects people at the top—the people at the top of this fake hierarchy. Even the white man feels incredible pressure to be one way, to be a particular way in order to succeed, to reach happiness. I think we have a lot of white men walking around the world who are incredibly hurt and sad and don’t know what to do because they are trying to be something that the world is telling them that they need to be but they don’t.
Gikon: I have a few questions here from, I’m assuming, white members of the group today of y’all. And I think, maybe… There are two questions here—one maybe that it’s for the People of Color on here, and one maybe for the white people. So let me just start with this one here: “As a white heterosexual woman, I want to connect with the People of Color and LGBTQ members of the Sangha. It’s very hard to get access to you. I want to be able to talk openly about issues of race and gender (and I’m sort of concising it as I go along) however whenever I try to speak about race it often comes out wrong, maybe I’m nervous. I don’t want to be silent and relegated to silence, and I don’t want to pretend it isn’t there. I want to learn and grow through contact, however I blunder and make mistakes, which are racist. I’m sorry, and I want intimacy with you.” So I think, maybe, I just wanted to… Since there are People of Color up here… Maybe we could talk about that. How should white people approach us? Maybe I think that is a question a lot of white people have, and I think there’s maybe a lot of the same fears.
Daisen: What I love about it is that—that question is genuine good. That question is the answer. I don’t have much to say about it other than that that is touching. That’s what we want. I mean, that’s what I want. Within the Black community, I feel showered in love. I don’t know if it’s my particular familial instance. I know that it is—some of it is that—but there’s a lot to be received, both ways. I’ve experienced racism that is probably extreme, I think, maybe, I don’t know. Most people don’t seem to have… most Black People haven’t experienced the racism that I have experienced. But when, let’s say if I walk into a restaurant, and I am met with vile, anger, viciousness, the pain in your face is amazing to me, because to hate like that hurts, and it’s so obvious—and the idea that that’s better is curious. But that question, that was like a love question!
Tanya: I want to also say, Bryan Stevenson—who actually opened up the lynching museum in Alabama—talked about the ways that we can get closer—the same question that was asked—and one of the things he mentioned was proximity: that we have to get in proximity together. Because part of the problem is that we’re here for one specific thing and then we go back to our segregated neighborhoods, or in our communities, and then we’re no longer around each other any more. So I think that we as a Sangha have to find ways to get us more in proximity together—even in activities that may be outside of this paradigm. That’s gonna be very, very, very, very, very, very important for us to really get to know each other. And I’ll also say: we’re just humans like you. I just want to talk about the movie yesterday, you know, the movie that came out yesterday, or the song or whatever, or the food, or whatever. What you feel as a human connects you to another person, that’s what connects you to me. I think what some people feel sometimes is that there’s some type of other conversation content that needs to occur, and it’s just not true [laughs]. We all go through the same things in life. We have the same experiences. So let’s talk about those things.
Gikon: And I also just want to say, and I’m going to get onto the second question next, that part of our aspiration for BFoD is to make conversations like this possible, right, not… outside of retreats and programing and stuff like that, so that white people and People of Color, or men and women, or straight people and LGBTQ people, can actually have conversations where mistakes happen but there’s a culture that supports that, and that supports having those mistakes talked about, right, so that’s part of the work. So if you’re asking this question, in some ways you’ve already started doing that work.
The second question here is maybe for the white people here, and maybe more particularly for the teachers and for the senior monastics: “My personal feeling around BFoD ranges, some of it really resonates (and again I’m concising here) some of it I disagree with or have murky feelings around. My question then is—how do those who may disagree with the ideological, political understanding fit into our Sangha given the emphasis and support this work has taken?
Shugen: Yeah, it’s a great question. I was trying to introduce that at the end of the talk, and it also went out in the letter. To me one of the most interesting things that’s been voiced a lot this afternoon and that has been so much of my experience is that we have reactions to things all the time—there are sort of universal experiences that are so consistent amongst white people in relationship to racism: silence, fragility, defensiveness, numbness, denial, rationalization. As practitioners the question we should ask is “Why? Why am I having this level of reaction to this?” To me that’s the door that is beckoning us to enter and to wonder about. It’s expected, I think, as a white person—if you’re not feeling resistance, you’re probably not actually thinking about it yet or encountering it. We are programmed to be resistant. We are programmed to keep the thing going. If you don’t do anything, it keeps going. It’s kind of like delusion—if you don’t do anything, delusion keeps going. That’s how it’s been engineered. And so to do something means there will be disruption. There will be discomfort. Those are the signs. Like practice, you don’t have to love it all the time—you won’t. You don’t have to understand it all the time—you won’t, but there’s a kind of faith. And the faith here is… well, I think the faith is what you have to find. I can’t tell what that is. I can’t tell you why you should care. I can’t tell you why it should matter. I know for myself, but I think that’s part of it. But as a practitioner if I decide I don’t care, I should wonder about that. Shouldn’t I? I think I should.
Zuiko: I think also part of doing the work, for white people doing this work, is—when I hear the term political correctness, I wonder what does that mean? And sometimes I think it means, “I want to be able to sort of say anything I want whenever I want and have that be okay.” And so I think it’s helpful to think, in terms of skillfulness—like in the way we talk about skillfulness in our tradition, of time, place, position, degree. Part of doing the work is learning how to talk about this. So to go up to Tanya and be like, “Hi, my name is so-and-so. Can we talk about racism?” [Tanya shakes head and gestures “no,” laughter]. But I really need to talk about that. So what is the place, the situation where I can talk about my feelings and ask my questions and say the things that are actually on my mind. There is a place for that. That’s part of what we’re going to talk about in how to get involved. Where are those places? Just owning my own… it’s been a real journey of like being these two extremes of either white silence, freezing and not saying anything, or being like a bulldog, being angry and on people and scary. And so I feel like part of my development in this work is sort of this middle way of really being able to kind of meet people, because it’s a process. Wherever you are in the process is great. So I think part of the BFoD work is creating spaces to have the conversation that you need to happen to take that step further into things, and not kind of stay on the outside, and having to be scared.
Meiju: Not fully formed, but… I think it’s helpful and usually safe enough to come back to—it’s my feeling. There’s a lot of irritation that can come up in different forms, when I’m feeling something strong and I am challenged, and so that can come like being irritated at the people making me do this or the topic of the Dharma talk, and so I guess it goes back to the why. And really owning, like, this is my experience. And that there is a freedom—that’s sort of the joy—that there is a freedom in having it be mine.
Zuiko: So we’re going to move into the next part of the Forum which is really hearing from you. We’re going to do this through a particular exercise that Tanya has actually participated in several times in different contexts. And it’s taking up four very particular prompts, and writing your responses to them. That’s what the yellow sticky pads are for. And so we want to be able to hear from everyone. And we want you to actually be able to write down your actual real response to the prompt, so it can be anonymous.
“BFOD forum part 2” video on Zen Mountain Monastery livestream
Tanya: So, you’re answering these prompts, and this is all in relationship to BFoD, those on the livestream. So, what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna tell us, what are you afraid of? After hearing about this process, this BFoD process, what are you afraid of? What scares you, if anything? What are you angry about? Did anything elicit anger in you? Write that. What is it that you think you will need? What do you need? What do you need now? What do you think you will need in the future? And then, what are you hopeful about? After hearing about all this, what are you hopeful about? So, please, if you are on livestream, do the same thing.
Zuiko: Yeah, on the livestream, you can either type your responses in the chat box, but if you want it to be more anonymous than that, you can send an email to email@example.com. Or you can write them in your handwriting and post them from a post office not near where you live [laughter], or whatever you need to feel safe to actually say what’s on your mind, yeah. But we want to hear from you on the livestream, ok. And then, let’s come back at a quarter after and we’ll sort of go over in an overview way the ways to get involved and tell you about how we’re gonna follow up about that. Ok?
[People fill out sticky notes and put them on the wall under the prompts]
Zuiko: We’re gonna wrap up… I’ve never wanted to cry looking at a post-it until today. That’s amazing.
Tanya: That’s amazing!
Zuiko: Thank you [applause]. So, what’s gonna happen now, right, with all of these post-its? We’re actually going to transcribe them, and take in your feedback amongst ourselves and also reflect it back to you so that you can see actually where the Sangha is. And we’ll do this again next week at the Temple, so we’ll do this same exercise. So it might take us a little while, but we will report back to you about it. And we also just want to let you know about how to get involved, and how we’re gonna follow up with this. So if you signed in—please sign in—we’re going to send a follow-up email that has a survey about the Forum—how’d it go for you—and also a way to indicate all the different ways to get involved that you want to learn more about, so that we can get you on a list to find out about our Affinity Mentorship Program, and this is new and just launching. This is something that’s been happening informally—People of Color contacting people in the Sangha to ask questions about residency and, “What’s going on at the monastery up there,” and “I had this weird interaction, and I don’t know what to do about it”… So this has been happening informally and we’re going to formalize it. And that formal training students who identify as People of Color and/or LGBTQ are eligible to apply to be Affinity Mentors, and we’ll have an application process, and eventually we’ll have a listing on the website of photos and little bios so that people can go on the website and request an Affinity Mentor. So, you’re thinking about doing a residency, you’re thinking about coming to the monastery, you’re a student in active training, and you need someone to talk to… Because right now, all of our teachers and training staff are white, cisgender people. And so, that’s the Affinity Mentorship Program. We have programs and retreats coming up here and at the Temple. Sebene Selassie is going to be leading a retreat at the Temple on April 20th about cultural spiritual bypassing—that’s on the website. And we’re leading a retreat up here called, “The Undefended Heart: Practicing White Fragility,” which is a retreat for white people. We’re going to be doing that here in June—that’s also on the website. Affinity groups—so POC Affinity, LGBTQ Affinity, and White Affinity, here and at the Temple.
Shugen: Can you say a few words about why that’s important?
Zuiko: Yeah, so, some of this work is work that [groups] need to do amongst themselves… People of Color and white people and LGBTQ have different kinds of work that they need to do together with each other. And then there’s work that we need to all do together with each other. And so affinity groups are an important way to do that particular work that white people need to do, and that POC people need to do—it’s different—and so that’s what affinity groups are for. There is a white affinity group at the Temple called What Is Whiteness? Busan, where are you? Stand up. That’s Busan. If you have questions about the white affinity group at the Temple, you can talk to Busan. We have some handouts for that.
Jordan: Can you say why white people don’t need mentors the way that we’re talking about?
Zuiko: Yeah, I wish I had the actual email in front of me because it said it so well. We’re going to send an email out to students about the Affinity Mentorship Program. So the question is, like, “I’m a white, straight, cisgender person—can I be an Affinity Mentor?” Um, no! And the reason for that is because when you call the Training Office to speak to one of the teachers or one of the monks or a member of the training staff, you can be assured that you’ll be met by someone who shares your social identity. And so, the question may be, well like, why is that important? And that is a really super important, super rich question to ask. Why is it important to be met within your social identities? And I’d encourage you to listen to—we’ll send it in the Affinity Mentorship email—a link to Kyodo Williams’ talk where she addresses this specifically. But just as a… If you’re a white person, think about—if all of the teachers here were Black and all of the monastics were Black and most of the students and people who practice and train here were Black, and you were coming in to practice the Dharma, to sit on your cushion and turn deeply inside and be really vulnerable, and like studying yourself in this incredibly vulnerable way, what would that experience be like? Would you want someone who was white, straight, and cisgender that you could just be like, “Hi, I’m having this experience,” you know. So, to really reflect on that. Do you want to add anything to that?
Tanya: In terms of some of the BFoD work, as well, we have committees that we have set up to sort of help to steer things in a different direction—in a new direction. We have various committees, and in the survey you’ll see that we will ask you if you’re interested in probably participating in the committee work. And on the committee level, that’s where a lot of the… where the work is really done, and it’s where it happens. That’s how this forum happened, through the Communications Committee that we set up. So one of the things that we want to know from you is if you have an interest in, say, education, and how do we educate new residents and others that come in. Are you interested in that type of work? Do you have a background in that type of thing? Perhaps that’s a committee you might be interested in. If you have an interest in programming and you want to see different types of programming or have ideas about programming that can happen here, that probably could be a committee you may be interested in joining. This is as an example. So the survey will include all of those opportunities with explanations, and you’ll be able to let us know what you’re interested in. So we can then follow up with you and get you involved in this.
Zuiko: And also just to let you know, if you weren’t able to take in the timeline in detail, or if you want to take it in more closely, a link to a PDF of the timeline will go out in that follow-up email, as well as, we’re going to put Tanya’s proposal, which was referred to several times in the timeline, as supplemental material. So the follow-up email will contain both the link to the survey and some materials. So, livestream people, make sure that you signed in, in some form or fashion, so that we can follow up with you too. Any closing words?
Shugen: I just want to say thank you, to Tanya and Daisen, and all of you here sitting on this platform, without whom we would not be sitting here on this platform [Applause]. And to all of you, and those of you who are live-streaming, you know, the response of your physical presence and also the questions and these post-it notes is very heartening. And, you know, this is the easy part. What happens next is really where things change. It’s where we change. But there really is no other path forward. I mean, in a way, to me, that makes it all very simple—it doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it simple. When you don’t have an alternative, then it’s easier to be committed to the path that we do have, the one viable path that we do have. And I really feel deeply… And I feel like we have over the years, and through this work, established both a place of practice and training, a Sangha, and some roots—roots deep enough to both hold us and also to propel us forward into this. So I just feel very heartened, and hopeful… hopeful is not quite the right word, um, I mean I feel like it’s happening. It is happening, and I feel confident that what needs to be happening will continue to happen, and that we will be… our lives will be enlivened in ways we don’t even know yet. And to have that happen together is the greatest gift of all. So, thank you, everybody.
Zuiko: And feel free to take in [gesturing around the room, the timeline, values posters, and stickies], to read people’s responses too before you leave, and mingle and mix. If you have questions about how to get involved we’ll be here for a bit, so.
Shugen: There is also a white affinity group that has been functioning here, because we’re also thinking about where our local communities are focused, and so there’s upstate and there’s the city so we’re definitely going to be looking at how we can be bringing this forward, because this can’t just be intellectual, we have to be actually doing in this, and having conversations.
Hojin: We are going to have a forum again in the city next Sunday, so please join us again, or let people know, so we can bring it together, in both places.
[Question asked about where the 10 Values of BFoD can be found]
Zuiko: If you go to the Monastery website under programs—the Beyond Fear of Differences link—these are on there.
Hojin: Also there is a resource page, so some of the questions you asked—there are some excellent reading materials out there to get started, like What Does It Mean to Be White by Robin [Di Angelo]—that’s a good starting place, because, you’ll see, you’ll just go, “I was thinking about that,” and she’s like right there. There’s a lot of people like that. This is not news to us. It’s happening in many different ways, and in many different places.
Panel: Thank you, everybody. [Gashos, Applause]