What is Stolen in Mappō Empire Buddhism? A Black-Pacific Meditation
by Fredrick Douglas Kakinami Cloyd
You should study the green mountains, using numerous worlds as your standard. You should clearly examine the green mountains’ walking and your own walking.
—Zen Master Dōgen, Mountains and Waters Sutra (Sansuikyō)
As we practice embodying the time of Kaliyuga, Mo-Fa, Mappō, how are we to take up this great practice and the self/no-self? And in investigating such common Buddhist terms as compassion and wisdom and emptiness and kindness, how stinted do these become in a Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal stolen by the culture/times in which we live? How are we, then, to examine our own walking?
Mindfulness has sometimes been translated as a practice of ‘remembering.’ In practice, what is often being practiced is a phantom dharma. Remembering is very stunted without cultural history and memory. Life is just about ideology and emotions. No Time is present. Only the present is present, without past or future. If we recognize this, then perhaps there would not be so much complacency, ignorance and resulting violence. The spirit of investigation that Shakyamuni Buddha and other masters have suggested we do, is severely restricted by unexamined nationalism in practices. In so doing, the other forms of oppression come into play and even made superior. Buddhists often use terms like ‘simplicity’ or ‘child-like enlightened mind’ or ‘straightforwardness’ and other such ways to avoid the real fact of power struggle and history in everyday action and our sense of self and other in our quest to see through that duality. From the beginning this is delusion.
Iolani, Sapapali’i, Guåhån, Olongapo, Angeles City, Koza, Tokyo, Kure, Yokohama, Inchon. Kichij’on. Jedju-do, Seoul, Dien Bien Phu, Saigon, Arnhem Land, Seattle, San Francisco. Places of a so-named Pacific have had traditions stolen by, taken by, and forgotten and used by the dominant global cultures. In so doing, the people of places have changed in alignment. Or there is risk of bodily life, limb, and health when resisting dominant moves to annihilate memories of place and culture. Everywhere this is so. How do we respond to pratītyasamutpāda (co-dependent arising), as we embody it in Buddha Dharma Sangha?
In each of those Asian nations, as well as in the West (including Europe), the first translators of Buddhism were mainly the elites of each place, who were socially privileged (race, ethnicity, gender, caste, etc.). What forms of violence within the structure of dharma-language priorities, create-construct what is ignored or considered ‘Not-Buddhist,’ laying ground for the maintaining of the status quo and called this a magnanimous spiritual practice? Shakyamuni resisted orthodoxy. What ways do we create practice while we destroy? I venture to say that these are forms of stealing that we must face in the great hall of mirrors.
In the United States and Japan, co-linked in multiple and contested Pacific military security pacts, especially, we practice as embodied aspects of the mirror-hall of global north empire-lands. For myself, having been born and experienced life in occupied Japan into the present, as both Black-American and Japanese, have seen the differences and changes between cultures that collapse together cohesively in Japan and the United States, to create societies unable to think, unable to recognize, and centered around ease and comfort while practicing violence. The ease and comfort that we seek and maintain, matches the bourgeois security and comforts that empire seeks to internalize into us. It is planets away from Master Dōgen’s Ease and Comfort put forth to us in his teachings. Far from the Peace that Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of. The trappings of Nirvana and the inability to face up to conflict and diversity and internalized notions of self and societies match up perfectly in ‘Empire Buddhism.’ In assimilation, stealing happens. How do we practice then?
Equanimity as a goal, can become a further practice of ignorance precisely because of its vision of balance being stolen by Empire (western metaphysical): balancing of the scales. It becomes a form of backing off, of repression, retreating to an inward-looking space. Actions become watered down. As alienated modern people, it is a familiar place to go. The mountains and the waters cannot be seen except when we are sitting in it or feeling it in a certain place. In this instance, the green mountain stands still, they do not walk. It is not only ‘human’ but social-historical. It has been taught to people in social engineering. But if we feel that everything is impermanent, what is the use of a ‘social-historical?’
When impermanence is made transcendental, then impermanence colludes with progress. Progress is a western idea used to colonize the brown bodies of the world. If these are not thought in Buddha Dharma, how is change and impermanence understood and practiced without examination? And without examination, does an idea not collude with an empire that assimilates people to itself, allowing for oppressions in the name of evolving, in the name of the unified nation with a single high identity. That single identity is usually aligned with the socially privileged, not those who have been systematically excluded, demoted, or killed with the shrugging of the shoulders in quick succession with the expression “oh well, they weren’t strong enough, smart enough, progressed enough, modern enough, buddhist enough.”
I feel that mindful action is stunted and fragmented in our efforts to follow some of the other admonishments of Buddhist teachers to simply do this, simply do that. However even more so, I think that Empire Buddhism limits its actions to person-to-person affairs and effects, as well as a heavy reliance on certain insights and awarenesses that are not socially relevant to fight oppression. Individualism has stolen our relationships with each other. If Buddhism thinks to become a missionary activity where the world comes on board, it still must face up to its own historical violences and wars as well as inaction and escape in the midst of conflicts. Since these are eternal questions of any part of living in the world, what then must we do in samsara and dukkha? I would say that skillful means needs to become more seriously considered.
For skillful means to be cultivated, the repertoire must widen to include our unexamined notions of life, of histories that have been stolen and hidden. Buddhism often hides from itself because of its adoption of certain tenets and perspectives at the expense of others that may be forgotten and refused. Often, Buddhism maintains its own internalized oppression and carries on quite ossified views of its own premises, forgetting the Buddha’s admonishments—not clearly investigating the mountains and the waters as skillfully as one may be able.
Are our investigations limited by our cultures and times, or do we limit our cultures and times ourselves? We and they, are the forgotten, the refused ideas, people, voices, communities that fall into the silence. At what point are dharma practitioners responsible for that silent space that meditative practices and our everyday cares and time alone cannot fathom at this moment? When are these silent spaces, not just that which makes itself clearly recognizable, a result of conditionings that we must see?
When is our need for security and comfort seen not as progress on the dharma but investigated as middle-class values that have been what we were truly hoping for, disguised as spiritual desire for enlightenment? In giving up desire and enlightenment, what place is history besides the morass of dukkha and the wheel that practitioners often easily relegate to ‘the same ol’ story’ and to be ignored?
Certain post-structural and decolonizing movements, as well as some artists and thinkers working from that wave of disturbing dominations in the present, have quite a bit to teach Buddhist practitioners in the empire-lands. Language, in religions and transnational migrations of ideas, steal and use to suit the purpose of dominance and how creative and powerful modes can counter it. What we must remember is that our practice is guided by our teachers, yet are our own.
When we examine green mountains walking, not making our own walking separate, what comes forth? I think to examine the blind spots of our own lineages and practices is quite useful in bringing vibrant energy to a very shrunken and stunted array of Buddhist practices now proliferating. Why can’t practice include the investigation of language-assumptions, to see the tendency of psychologizing or making Buddhist terms into colonial metaphysical ideas, and to see the tendency to either make ourselves middle-class or special and outside-of something.
In order to do this, we must begin to understand self as something more than a dharma practitioner and to realize ourselves as dharma practitioners within and without histories. Not taking and taking are conditions of living in Empire. How shall we live as embodiments of this delusion? In walking, walk. Green mountains laugh. The waters see. When?
Fredrick Douglas Kakinami Cloyd has been a dharma practitioner since 1983. His first teacher was Philip Kapleau Roshi at the Rochester Zen Center, as well as being one of the first persons in Colorado to be at the forefront of the original Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He received a Masters degree in postcolonial cultural anthropology in San Francisco. He is currently working on publishing his auto-ethnographic project entitled: Dream of the Water Children: A Black Pacific Memory Journal. He has been published in Kartika Review, Oakland Word, The Pacific Reader, and Nikkei Heritage (National Japanese American Historical Society Journal) and has been the subject of numerous interviews for numerous cable television, radio programs, newspapers and journals since 1975.