Walking Towards Freedom Together

The earliest Buddhist sangha openly included men and women of all races, social classes, and gender identities and preferences. Such inclusivity within a community was radical at that time in human history; but the Buddha’s quest was for freedom from the inner forces of wanting and not-wanting, which when unchecked lead to great suffering for both oneself and others. And he understood that our minds and hearts are embedded in, expressive of, and limited by our culture, as much as by our psychology and our biology. Mindfully exploring our perceptions and biases allows us to see ourselves and our world more honestly, and, thereby, to act more wisely and compassionately––to decrease the pain caused by separation and “othering.” With this same understanding, since our own Sangha’s inception in the mid-1990s, we too have been committed to inclusivity. We see self-awareness and cultural awareness as essential parts of the path to liberation, harmony, and happiness.

This spring we are happy to be offering two new programs to deepen our growing awareness of the sources of the racial divide in our nation—what W.E.B. DuBois referred to as “the color line.” On Saturday morning, May 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon, Valley Insight teacher Subha Srinivasan will begin a four-week Mindfulness/Metta Series for People of Color.

For sangha members who identify as White, on Wednesday, June 7, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., we will begin a monthly education and discussion series called “Mindfully Exploring Race Together.” You can read more details about these programs in the separate announcements in this newsletter. Both have the intention of creating a safe place in which to strengthen our understanding of the Four Noble Truths, including the Eightfold Path, as a basis for liberating ourselves from the divide.

To transform yourself is to transform your world.
— Bhikkhu Analayo, from a Dhamma talk

The feelings of safety and belonging, which can be cultivated in self-identified racial affinity groups, can support mindfulness in its growing ability to know, monitor, and guide our behavior and our understanding. The resulting insights steady and clarify our hearts, fostering a conjoining of wisdom and compassion, an unshakable support for our “living a life in the Dharma.” Two of our recently deceased sangha members, Claudia Brandenburg and Ann Raynolds, have been inspirational models in showing us how to grow wakefulness into all aspects of life. Both women were firmly committed to racial equity and justice: Claudia in her work as a social worker and organizer in inner city Philadelphia, and Ann in her lifetime commitment in Boston and in the Upper Valley, where in the months just before her death, she helped found the first chapter of the NAACP in Vermont. We dedicate our new programs to them and to the growing consciousness and caring in our Valley Insight Sangha.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind, made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.

Dhammapada 1–2 (Fronsdal)

Our Diversity Policy: Valley Insight Meditation Society is committed to offering a safe, welcoming environment for people of all races, cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes, religions, abilities and ages in which to practice meditation and to explore the ideas put forth in the Buddha’s teachings. We recognize that all people hold unexamined beliefs, assumptions, fears and prejudices about others, and especially about those who seem different from themselves, and we acknowledge that these beliefs are a great source of suffering for individuals and societies. We strive for inclusivity, kindness, and generosity toward all, in our programs and in our hearts.

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