Sunday, January 15, 2017

Buddhism and Human Dignity

This week, one of my editors wrote to ask if I would like to do a second draft of an article I wrote several months ago about racism in Buddhist circles. I responded that I would like to, but I do not have time.

The truth is, I'm tired of debating with white Buddhists in America about why human dignity matters, about why we have a responsibility to speak and act against oppression. In the past week I have seen furious online debate among white men about... well, I'm not really sure. Whether or not Buddhist communities should ban Trump supporters? Only that's not really what the debate is about, because no one in an administrative branch is making that claim.

I am tired.

I am tired because I stay up late at night thinking about whether or not I need to stockpile Plan B, because even though my partner and I do not want children, I lie there thinking about a time, a nightmarish time in the future in which I have been raped but am not legally allowed to have an abortion. I think about what I will do for healthcare-- what 20 million people, including my friends with HIV and mental health conditions-- will do for healthcare. I think about the flyers in Spanish posted up around my campus educating the undocumented workers about their rights in the coming months. I think about what China's newspapers are saying.

I know I could enter this debate from several angles. I could enter it theologically, with Buddhist terminology. I could argue about what compassion and the Bodhisattva vow mean. I could talk about cutting through delusion. Or I could enter it academically and historically. I could cite all of the historians who have shown that Buddhism is constantly evolving, that it has meant different things to different people in different cultures and times. I could lay out a theoretically framework with the five main purposes of any religion-- something like community, expression of locality, connection to death, moral education, and psychological and physical help, and then I could argue that the Buddhist traditions we have inherited have not always tried to fulfill these, that individual practitioners find alternate routes towards meaning and fulfillment outside of Buddhism, especially when the issue is politics and sexuality.

I am not going to do this because I don't think this is a question of religion or politics. It is not about Christianity or Buddhism; it is not about being a democrat or a republican. It is about how we value human dignity, and how to go about preserving and fighting for the dignity of all people.

Audre Lord wrote, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." We could engage this "debate" on theological grounds, but the problem with engaging in that debate is that we all lose from the beginning. We all lose because that debate assumes that the dignity, the right to autonomy and safety of female, black, brown, queer and disabled bodies, must and should be justified by Buddhist terminology; in doing so, it assumes that Buddhist terminology is more important than the inalienable rights of humans. It assumes that Buddhism is more important than bodily integrity.

I will not place Buddhism above people.

So until I see men fighting for my right and the right of others to bodily integrity-- in conversation or on the street, by protesting, by writing, in whatever way they feel most skilled--, until I see that I will not make this a theological argument. Once I see you fighting for the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, queer and disabled people, then I will talk to you about emptiness, about the Bodhisttava vow, about compassion.



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