Summoning Moral Courage

June 2, 2020

A Message from BZC’s Dharma Teachers

Black lives have once more been taken. We are heartbroken and sickened by murders that are the latest expressions of a culture of white supremacy that from our nation’s inception has sown violence into its soil. We must speak their names – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery – each torn without the slightest cause from this world, as were so many of their ancestors before them.

Yet it is not enough to speak of these horrific deaths alone when racialized structures ensure black bodies are dying at disproportionate rates in the COVID pandemic. These too are names that should be known, should be spoken for having been unjustly denied their birthright to breathe freely in a country that so boldly claims freedom as its foremost, unassailable value.

It is not enough even to speak their names without recognizing how unemployment too is tearing disproportionately through communities of color. The pain this will cause is still untold. Nor is it enough without recognizing that those who grasp white privilege too often take little responsibility for confused, racialized fears that lead them to pick up the phone and call upon the very racist structures that steal the lives of innocents.

It is not enough to speak of even this without saying clearly that every person who benefits from the racial hierarchy of our nation must take responsibility for these fears, this hatred, this confusion as it arises in minds and behavior, and contributes to the logic and landscape that allows a man to be slain by a knee to the neck before the whole of the world.

As Buddhists, it is not enough to speak of greed, hatred, and delusion as abstractions. They must be named in their historic specificity, as they show up in the lives of this nation. We must name white supremacy as a deluded form of hatred that benefits and fuels the greed of those with power in our racialized society.

In not naming these poisons clearly, whether for fear of politics or offense, we break our own precepts. In abstraction, we are liars. In abstraction, we are thieves. In abstraction, we are killers. In abstraction, we reveal our greed and intoxication with a world that lays privilege at our feet. It is not enough to speak of greed, hatred, and delusion. Every day we must name and work to end the mindsets, behaviors, and institutions that continue to take the lives of our beloved human family.

Whether speaking in religious abstractions or not at all, moral superiority and spiritual aloofness cannot be afforded in our current age.  This is not a time for dualism, not a time for separation, not a time to believe in the delusion of an individual, separate self. It is the silence of those who hold themselves beyond the fray while benefiting from racialized supremacy that forges the conditions for seizing the breath of black people everywhere.

The body of our nation is on fire with greed and hatred and so our streets are on fire with grief and rage. When so many nonviolent gatherings and takings of knees are ignored and berated year after year, who would be surprised when the “enough already” bursts and shatters our cities.

When it comes to the Bodhisattva’s vow of compassionate liberation for all beings, is this a rarified path of fantastical tales woven in the dharma hall? Or is ours a path borne of the unflinching courage to clarify and uproot the causes of violence endemic to our country?

Our community must remain committed to the work of recognizing, clarifying, renouncing, healing, and correcting the racial harm that runs in the blood of our bodies and our nation. With the support of our Buddhist ancestors, may we devote ourselves to the healing of a society so painfully out of harmony with the Dharma. May we endeavor to realize in our bodies, psyches, institutions, systems, and culture, the love we know at base is the interconnected fabric of life itself.

We as a nation must admit and renounce white supremacy once and for all, and summon a moral imagination that paints the first strokes of a different world. Whether such a world can ever unfold will surely pivot on our taking of responsibility for our past, on our honesty about this moment, and most certainly on a shared moral courage toward a future that holds the possibility of a true home for us all.

Kosen Gregory Snyder
Dharma Teacher & Senior Priest, Brooklyn Zen Center

Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin
Dharma Teacher & Senior Lay Practitioner, Brooklyn Zen Center