What does it mean to be Black and Buddhist? In an altogether inspiriting anthology titled Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom, African American teachers from different Buddhist traditions tell stories of how race and Buddhist practice have intersected in their lives. The voices that rise from the pages of this book are diverse, unapologetic, and show us not only the promise of the Buddha’s teachings to empower those facing racial discrimination but also the way that Black Buddhists are enriching the Dharma for all of us. One such voice is Sebene Selassie, an Insight Meditation teacher, who narrates her own liberating journey in the chapter “Turning Toward Myself.”
Remembering all the twists and turns of the sometimes bumpy road to freedom, Sebene Selassie writes, “My relationships with Blackness and Buddhism have been complex, even fraught, but often profound. Buddhism allows me to see the ever-changing being that I am. Blackness assures me that there is a glorious ancestry within me. They both espouse joy and freedom”
Selassie guides us through her contemplations by considering the knots and tangles of several entwining identities, “Blackness and Buddhism teach me to love my multiplicities, to love myself.” Then she recounts how her freedom was suppressed by intolerance and prejudice, “I understand how racism teaches you to turn away from yourself. I did it for years. Turning toward myself required study and practice.” This illuminates the emancipating potential of the Dharma that can break our mental prisons and show us the path to true liberation.
One of the pivotal parts of Selassie’s journey was learning from the wisdom of Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Bell Hooks. For her, these writers ignited an internal revolution when she fused their work with the spiritual way of buddhadharma, the way of awakening. She writes, “I turned toward Buddhism and Blackness at the same time. I am forever grateful for that synchronicity. Buddhism taught me to embrace every part of myself. That’s what the Dharma invites — a turning toward the truth of this body.”
Selassie concludes with this thought, “One of the Primary teachings I have understood from the Dharma is not to be in contention with reality. This is a core teaching for liberation. Suffering (dukkha) comes from wanting things to be other than what they are…. But what if we don’t see things as they are but only as we’ve been taught to see them? We know that race is a construct, an invention of racism. Race was created to justify imperialism and the slave trade. Blackness is not intrinsic to anyone. Blackness is definitely not monolithic. Yet, Blackness — entwined with the enslavement of Africans, colonization of the continent, and the subjugation of a massive diaspora — has become an indelible concept.”
Complement Black and Buddhist with Ruth King’s insights on how to be mindful of race, unravel the deep web of our subconscious programming, and contribute to a culture of care with integrity and openness.