Buddhism, Racism, and Independence

This week Jeff H guided our reflections, returning to the topic of racial justice from a Buddhist perspective, and anchoring the discussions with a podcast titled “Racism and Independence” by Jack Kornfield that seems to have been recorded this year but was in fact from the 1990s. Jack starts with the context of our celebration of Independence Day a few weeks earlier and illuminates how the history of racism and prejudice in this nation directly contradicts our instilled ideals of freedom and independence. Jack weaves Buddhist teachings into an examination of some of the root causes of suffering in America and challenges us to use the Dhamma to lessen suffering.

The link to Jack Kornfield’s talk is here:

Below are Jeff’s notes from the talk:

I found the talk I am going to play on the Heart Wisdom Podcast with a date of June 26, 2020. In the talk, titled “Racism and Independence”, Jack Kornfield mentions Rodney King speaking to a crowd. The second time I played it I realized that the talk was probably from 1991 or 1992, as Rodney King died in 2012. Although the talk is nearly 30 years old it is just as relevant today, partly due to Jack Kornfield’s timeless wisdom. Sadly, the talk is still relevant because many things have not changed over the course of the intervening years for people with black and brown bodies.

Jack explores the American meaning of independence and freedom, and contrasts it to the reality of our history of aggression, genocide, racism and greed. This is not a flag-waving, happy time Dharma talk. Jack challenges us a look at the “greatest wound in American society”, racism, and to use Buddhist teachings to work towards healing America. Jack also candidly explores his own racism and other forms of racism.

Jack Kornfield repeatedly states that the small sense of self is the basis of all fear. Independence can be interpreted as being separate from others, in which case it leads to suffering. This type of independence in its extreme is isolation.

Jack discusses two domains or Buddhist vehicles for freedom:
• The first domain for freedom is letting go
• Letting go – through practices of generosity, integrity, virtue and kindness
• A kind of sacrifice – giving up greed for generosity and kindness
• The second domain for freedom is realizing an underlying shift of identity
• A shift away from identifying with money, belongings, status, body and mind
• Realizing that all boundaries are not real

Jack reminds us that real independence can be achieved by realizing interdependence.

A quote that really resonated with me:

Let us bear in mind that a society will not be judged by the standards attained by its wealthiest and most privileged members, but by the quality of life it is able to ensure for the weakest of them.