I try to go early to help set up the rows of folding chairs and lay the zafu and the zabutons, the cushions and the mats. If it is useful, I am a greeter, someone who checks off names, hands out material or suggests nametags, whatever the teacher asks for. If it is convenient for Mahogany, the event planner, she will take over just before the class begins.
Once in awhile I register for a class and am wait listed. Ego might ask what is this about? I am a monthly donor, I practice dana, or “Generosity”; I help; I care, I…I…I. But I knows this is EBMC practicing its commitment to inclusivity and diversity. I can attend any function once that commitment has been met.
“About EBMC” on their website tells me programs are for the widest possible audience. For example, some programs are specifically for People of Color, or the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex & Same-Gender Loving Communities. “This provides a safe space for individuals who daily confront the effects of oppression, racism, or homophobia and heterosexism in their lives, and who therefore may choose to initially avoid mixed programs.” I like being in a space that consciously chooses to be inclusive and diverse.
The desire to be more than an onlooker in such a community could be rooted in my teaching years in the Los Angeles Unified School District at Alain Leroy Locke High School, an inner-city school built in response to the Watts Riots. I was a white teacher in a black community. One memory, in particular, continues to reconnect me to oppression and racism. I taught sports writing, so I often went with students to athletic events at other high schools. The Locke High Saints had an all-black basketball team and when it traveled to suburban parts of Los Angeles, I would take student reporters to cover games. On the way to Westchester High School, we passed a Locke Saint pulled over by the police, his body pressed against the side of his car. I recognized him as one of my students and yet I drove by, not stopping to intervene in what appeared to be harassment based on color. This happened in mid-1970. I have not forgotten.
Teaching at Locke loosened any certainties I had. I learned lessons I might not have learned; the first one – to laugh at myself. The second, there is no “Black Student” there are only young men and women who call themselves by their first names with “dog” added. “Phill-dog” and “Trav-dog,” and out of respect, because I was the teacher, I was Ritt-dog.
At East Bay Meditation Center, I am not the teacher with built in power; we are all equal. Our teachers are frequently people of color. I sit among learners, many of whom are much younger, but always we are an inclusive and diverse group.
I am not at EBMC so I can “feel good” about my “goodness” or to make reparation for an act of cowardice. I want my Buddhist practice to include the fact that I am white, educated and economically advantaged. I don’t want meditation to be me closing my eyes to the ramifications of race and gender. I want to examine the cultural formulations that influence my responses – anything that keeps me from being present and responsive to others who have historically been represented as “less than” because history in schools was written by educated, middle and upper class European and European American men to justify the dominance of middle and upper class European and European American men. This is the worldview I was taught, but I want a better vision.
Larry Yang writes about training to undo oppressing and being oppressed -- we have all been the perpetrator and the victim -- as “the journey towards narrowing the experience of separation.” Following these principles in his training, I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and to increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means. I commit to examining with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings. I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, age, physical or economic differences. **
Mine is that path of inclusivity and diversity each time I register to attend a class or meditate at EBMC as well as each time I am wait listed.
*EBMC is moving to 285 17th Street near Harrison and three blocks from the 19th Street BART Station.
**On the website www.eastbaymeditation.org is a PDF document by Larry Yang, Directing the Mind Toward Practices in Diversity