Where is Your Bodhi Tree?
When Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi Tree, he was protesting the conundrum of sickness, old age and death. Having been protected his whole life from such things, they appeared as options or solvable problems, not unavoidable outcomes. As an activist sits in silence in front of the riot police, he sat down refusing to move until the answer was delivered.
This cornerstone protest was a dazzling success. Siddhartha crossed the endless river of internal chatter to see that we are all one. He rose to know, to teach, to demonstrate Interconnectedness. He saw that we are birthing, aging, dying, rejuvenating all the time in one massive infinite movement. In this profound knowing, he stood to live fully awake. He taught those who were unable to sit in singular seeking. He taught all those who applied, one way or another. But, as with all great teachers, not five minutes after they are gone, entropy sets in.
He had told them clearly to destroy all images of him and we can all see how that turned out. He told them to “Be a Light unto Yourself.” Yet they huddled in consensus and built emboldened hierarchies. They insisted on sects and lineage. They separated, dressed in different colors and sparred for importance. They were human beings who had not yet seen the truth of Interconnectedness. They chose the simple natural action – to build fences, defend ideas and cluster in like-mindedness.
Spring, 2004, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw sat under her own Bodhi Tree. She surveyed the ghettos, the tribes, the gangs. She saw that people are actually composites and to separate by race, politics, economics is, not just an illusion, but counterproductive to humanity’s wellbeing. She called it, Intersectionality. Equality demands by its very definition, that it must apply to all, in all ways.
Summer, 2009, the U.S. Congressional Committee interviewed Judge Sonia Sotomayor for a seat on the Supreme Court. They asked her, would she make judgments as a woman or as a Latina? From her own state of knowing, she told them they could not be separated.
February 1, 2014, I was fortunate to take the principles of Engaged Buddhism to The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ+ national conference in the U.S. I gave out Rubik’s cubes with all the colors separated and asked them to consider how much better it looks when all colors show on every side.
Though we are complex, integrated beings, we have constructed ideas and myths that separate us. The preference for sameness is our ultimate oppressor. True equality means the full integration of age, class, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. No one is equal until everyone is equal. It is time to expand from, “my rights,” to “our rights.” It is time to move from, “I am somebody,” to “We are somebody.” It is time to demonstrate the fundamental realization of Interconnectedness.
Zoe Nicholson has been standing in front of a room and in the public square with one message, WAKE UP. And with each day, each event, each year, waking up to something new has led to a dynamic life that unfolded sharply, quickly, deeply. Marching against the Vietnam War in 1968; organizing opposition to the California Briggs Initiative, working in the American Women’s Movement, fasting for the ERA; NOW liaison for the National Equality March. In the middle of these decades of activism, Zoe formally studied Buddhism for 12 years and was initiated as a Buddhist monk and teacher, January 24, 1989. Leaving the ashram and silent meditation, she continued her passionate practice as an Engaged Buddhist.
Along the way, Zoe has advised fasters and those risking arrest, always steadfast in embracing non-violent direct action. She is inspired by Alice Paul, Grace Lee Boggs, the 13 Grandmothers and His Holiness the Dalia Lama. Speaking to one or 10,000, from Texas A&M to Purdue about life as prayerful practice, her spirit is always available, her meditation is activism. Using social justice, equality activism and servant-leadership, Zoe continues her lifelong call to Occupy Self, Occupy Service, Occupy Compassion.