Rev. angel Kyodo williams | Beyond idiot compassion

Rev. angel: Yes, I have experienced universal cosmic love, total acceptance from the universe, yes. It’s not because there’s a universe out there that loves me because I’m so special or unique or whatever. It’s because through meditation I connect to the I AM that is the universe. So of course the universe loves me; I’m part of it. I have a total right to be here and to live my life and figure it out. I feel it in meditation, in simply being; not in reflecting, or unpacking; just being.

The MOON: How do you do that?

Rev. angel: It’s really just surrendering and not trying to do anything else. Letting go of our transactional attitudes, such as “I have this much time to do X number of things,” or “I need to sit here now and figure this out,” and so on. Those are by-products, but they’re not the purpose, which is just to sit and be—in acceptance.

My “five minutes a day” remark refers to the collective energy—if huge numbers of people meditated for even five minutes a day, we’d see profound changes on the planet—but I also advocate deep practice, which enables us to more fully experience that love, trust and acceptance. Afterwards, the five minute practice can be a maintenance routine—we just reconnect with the knowing that we discovered through deep practice.

There are many types of deep practice—longer periods of meditation, centering prayer, communing with nature, going for a long run—whatever really enables you to accept yourself and have deep trust in who you are as a work in progress, perfect as it is right now. Living for even five minutes a day without the burden of constantly reconstructing and fortifying the idea of self is where that powerful sense of love and acceptance from the universe comes from.

Meditation is a very paradoxical experience. There’s a very beginning aspect to it in which you’re really just on the way to meditation. Then we hit a sort of plateau where we run out of the chatter of what we want to get out of it. Then we get bored, and then we surrender to being bored—and that’s when we really start meditating. We give up on all of our self-constructed fixations, and then we’re able to go deep. The space of acceptance opens up and then the value of the five minutes really opens up.

The MOON:  Why are momentary glimpses into the interconnectedness of all things so powerful, when they are often just glimpses?

Rev. angel:  I think they’re powerful because they open a window into a possibility that heretofore we were unaware of. Don’t laugh, but when I got my iPhone, I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve got the future in my hand!” It opened up possibilities I’d never even considered before. Similarly, these glimpses into the Oneness shed a light and invigorate a hope that I think we all come in with, but our experience of life and our wrong view of life, starts to beat down. We stop even hoping for the possibility of profound peace. We tell ourselves “it’s just a pipe dream.  The closest I might get is a piña colada on a beach.” If that’s all there is, we lose hope. So these glimpses are an opportunity to tap into hopefulness—which is profound, because it’s implies not only hopefulness for ourselves, but for our entire society. All is not lost.

The MOON: Buddhism in the United States has largely attracted white Americans. Why do you think this is so? Why hasn’t Buddhism appealed to more people of color?

Rev. angel:  I think the West in general, and the United States in particular, is very good at commodifying things—that is, eating everything up and spitting it back out as something to be sold. I felt that has happened in Buddhism, where what was manifesting across the West was an upper middle-class, white-dominated practice—extraordinarily so. Zen is particularly guilty of it.  But I feel that if you really touch down into the depths of the dharma, you can’t help but see that we are also called to address the social imbalances, injustices and disturbances that exist in the larger cultural field called America.

What took root as Buddhism in this country are really the elitist Buddhist practices, not the populist forms. What got commodified as sexy to the mainstream culture were Zen and Vajrayana Buddhism and Insight Meditation. And there’s a lot of picking and choosing and selective interpretations of the teachings so that we can avoid the things in us that need to change. For example, we’re driving our very fancy cars to our very expensive retreats to talk about truth and suffering. Very few people can actually afford to participate in this kind of Buddhism.

In other Buddhist countries, lay people don’t regularly participate in retreats; that’s for the monks. Laypeople give dana, donations of their own generosity, to support the monks in their practice because monks support the community with their spiritual practice in a way that lay people don’t.

We don’t have that context here in America, so we’ve made the justification that charging people out their left ear for retreats is the way to learn and practice Buddhism. The dharma has been threaded through the vehicle of both sharing knowledge and making money. I think it’s treading some dicey ground that inevitably calls into question its authenticity because it’s unlikely that you’ll give teachings that alienate your paying audience. And who can afford to go? Forget the cost of the retreat; who can afford to take off work? Not folks of color, who are largely stratified along socio-economic lines. They simply couldn’t afford to engage the dharma.

I hear people of privilege say, “Well, if you really wanted to study the dharma you’d give up everything you had.” Meanwhile, they had to give up their ride in their Mercedes and come in their Lexus. This is a different kind of giving up. This is a topic that is not understood among white Buddhist practitioners in America and so they continue to perpetuate what was already a systemically unjust system that stratifies people by socio-economic status.

The MOON:  Do you feel that there’s an awareness of the problem in the Buddhist community and that people are willing to address it?



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