Sunday, February 2, 2014

Buddhist privilege

"A bhikkhu who has left behind all action,
Shaking off the dust of former deeds.
The stable one, unselfish, steady,
Has no need to address people."

I used the "find a random sutta" function at Access to Insight, and this is where I landed. It's ironic because for a while I have been frustrated with self-professed Buddhists who far too frequently share what I view to be a rather elitist attitude.

Particularly when it comes to issues such as race and sexuality. And recognizing the risk in me saying this, I find that it's most often white people who express unconsciously (and I do believe that for the most part it is unconscious) this elitism in their Buddhist practice.

But the danger within this elitism is indifference. The above passage, the Kamma Sutta from The Udana, I believe feeds this notion of indifference.

"Are you saying the Buddha was wrong?" "Are you saying Buddhism is elitist?" "Are you suggesting I lack compassion?"

These are often the responses I get whenever I bring such matters up. It's a defensive reflex because most of us don't want to think of ourselves as being, well, wrong.

But if you're a lay practitioner and you think the above passage represents what Buddhism is all about, then I say, yes, you are wrong.

The Buddha had a wide variety of audiences. He was also extraordinarily skilled at speaking to his various audiences in ways that allowed his listeners to hear what they needed to hear.

In the Kamma Sutta, we are reading about a monk deep in meditation confronting the physical pain he's experiencing while sustaining his meditative state - undisturbed and persistent. It is something this monk faces on his own, there can be no others to lead him on this journey. The very nature of this journey requires one to remove oneself from the distractions of lay society. A monk in these circumstances does not need anyone else, has no need to address other people.

But that's a monk. And I doubt I have more than just a few monks among my readers. The majority of you are like me - lay people struggling to do our best to be as harmless as possible.

The Buddha was not speaking to us in the Kamma Sutta. We can listen to what he is saying here, but it must be with skillful ears. Because I am not a monk, have no intention of becoming a monk, I must live in this world. I cannot become withdrawn from this world because that would make me indifferent to the suffering of others.

I need to feel the world.

And this is why I become frustrated with people who say things with intellectual import such as, "Race is a fabrication, a construct that is empty." They say this with a conviction that this is how we become a non-racial society, how we go beyond racism - just keep repeating that it's only a construct of the mind and all we need to do is realize that and it goes away.

It doesn't work like that. Because racism and homophobia and sexism and patriarchy and white privilege are all real. They are real because not enough people are willing (or don't know how) to dismantle the institutions that sustain them, because not enough people recognize how they benefit from the continuing existence of these institutions, because too many Buddhists view the practice as an academic exercise rather than a way of living and thinking.

And breathing.

It's been a long time since I've written anything in this blog. There are many reasons why, some of which remain hidden from me. But I am going to ease myself back into this. I hope I can regain some of my irreverent wit that made my blog enjoyable for others to read. I know I enjoyed it.

The reason I started this blog was I wanted an open venue to process my journey with Buddhism, to share my thoughts and experiences from a somewhat different perspective that I thought might not just benefit me, but others also. I wanted it to be fun and not pedantic.

I'll get there. It's time I come back. So look out bitches.


  1. Good post and glad you're coming back to blogging.

  2. "...look out bitches"? Really. Good content here but your closing screams of male privilege, whether intended or not.

    1. Perhaps gay male privilege. It was intended as a snap, no malice.

  3. Glad to see you back. Your's was one of the first buddhism related blogs I started reading when I began exploring Buddhism. Looking forward to more posts.

    1. Thank you! I hope I can keep it up, we shall see.