DC Buddhists for Racial Justice
Back in May, when representatives from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship were invited to speak at the first U.S. Buddhist Delegation to the White House, we brought a few creative bonus activities for before and after the conference — including handmade banners with pointed spiritual-political messages.
Returning to Washington DC in September, this time with local Buddhists in the area, our numbers doubled in support of this visual message: The Karma of Slavery Is Heavy. I Vow To Work For Racial Justice.
But it was more than just a show of solidarity. This was a means of connection. Slowly, we are finding each other. And to what end?
Our ultimate aim with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is not merely the satisfaction of showing up on the right side of history. It’s learning to make collective offerings that change karmic outcomes. Influencing material reality toward peace and justice. Helping to transform history itself.
In order to do that, we need to build community, and we need to trust each other. In order to trust each other, we need to share stories, build analysis, and find space together.
Out on Pennsylvania Avenue, we were blessed to hear wisdom from area bodhisattvas. Local practitioner Ayesha Ali — member of Ekoji Buddhist Temple in the Shin lineage, as well as practitioner in the People of Color and LGBTQ sanghas of Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW) — spoke powerfully about her experiences as a lifelong militant, mother to a Black son, and mindful navigator of the dangers and frustrations of police and medical establishments. How can mindfulness support Black practitioners confronting anti-Blackness: subtle and extreme, lethal and mundane?
Aaron Goggans — founder and writer of The Well Examined Life, organizer with Black Lives Matter DC/Maryland/Virginia chapter, and Board member of the Washington Peace Center — offered a deeply reflective, on-the-ground perspective of his encounters with Baltimore’s uprisings following the police killing of Freddie Gray.
And IMCW teacher La Sarmiento guided us through a beautiful public meditation — the kind of practice that slows the pace of passersby, pausing to listen. Here’s La to tell us about it in their own wise words.
Centering Down For Racial Justice
Though I participate in marches for causes I believe in, I don’t identify as an activist. Growing up, a survival strategy for me as a gender non-conforming person of color was to assimilate and to not draw attention to myself by speaking out. Though I know I carry a lot of rage about all that’s messed up in the world, I often keep it in check. So to be a part of an action that created an intersection between my spirituality and support of racial justice was an opportunity to find a powerful expression for my outrage with this issue.
I began by inviting folks to settle into a posture that is upright yet relaxed, to take a few deep breaths to fully arrive, and to let go of any worries or concerns of the day. I asked that they turn their attention inward with the intention to become aware of the state of their body (sensations), heart (feelings/emotions), and mind (thoughts) and to meet whatever they find with as much compassion and kindness as they could with the reminder that it’s not what’s happening that matters, it’s our relationship to it.
In the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, I could feel a strong, powerful presence being generated by this “street sangha”, which became an anchor for the whirl of activity that surrounded it.
I then offered a translation of the Metta (Lovingkindness) Sutta by my teacher Caitriona Reed that beautifully describes a way to be a loving, compassionate presence in the world for all beings. My intention here was, in the midst of all that is challenging and difficult in the world, to cultivate a heart that is ready for anything: the good, bad, and the ugly. This is counter to our habitual tendency to shut down, to be aggressive, and to destroy. Instead it is an invitation to stay engaged and connected.
I then created space for 15 minutes of silence for folks to continue reflecting on or offering well wishes to ALL beings and to do so by energetically emanating that care and love outwards to those around us and beyond:
“May all beings be happy, peaceful,
and free from suffering.
May all beings be safe and protected
from inner and outer harm.”
I closed with Howard Thurman’s poem “How Good It is To Center Down”, which speaks to the deep necessity to stop the madness that permeates our existence so that we can ask the most important questions to eventually guide us to wisdom, compassion, and justice.
Afterwards, I felt a palpable spaciousness within me affirming that introspection, collective presence, and the emanation of lovingkindness can be a powerful support to working for racial justice so that all beings may live with the dignity and respect that is our birthright.
La Sarmiento is a proud genderqueer, pilipino-american, chocolate chip cookie-making, canoe-paddling, uke-playing servant of the dharma from Washington, DC who wishes freedom and awakening for all beings.