Bodhicitta and Racism – meditating on equanimity

Bodhicitta is the mind of enlightenment. It not merely the wish to help all sentient beings attain enlightenment, it is the firm decision to take every single one of them to that state.

This is obviously as inclusive as it gets. EVERYBODY is included in bodhicitta and the corresponding Bodhisattva vow. And the bodhisattva vow is taken by every practicing Mahayana Buddhist.

Buddhists are humans and therefore generally haven’t been able to integrate Bodhicitta in their lives, so the Tibetan Buddhist tradition advises starting with meditating on equanimity.

Equanimity is the start to Bodhicitta, and it doesn’t require any sort of faith, so it is a great practice for anybody who wants to face up to racism or prejudice in their own mind.

Meditating on equanimity starts with visualizing a friend, a stranger and an enemy. Observe the difference in how you feel about them. In my morning meditations, I often settle for visualizing someone who has recently hurt or offended me. If I can feel friendly towards them, I’m off to a good start of the day.

The aim of this practice is not indifference, but equal good will towards all three.

Racism has been much in the news lately. In the Netherlands we have been faced, again, with the consequences of the UN advice to change our pre-Christmas Sinterklaas-celebrations. The Dutch are used to feeling that they aren’t racist. This is an irrational feeling, as study after study shows that people of color or a non-default heritage have a harder time getting interviewed for jobs – let alone getting them.

I have also heard stories of office culture where calling people of Indonesian descent ‘peanut’ is accepted as normal. This is done without any sense that it might be derogatory. I hope, for an English language audience, that it is obvious that this sort of thing is not in fact innocent.

As I understand it, psychologically, racism centers on two things: prejudice and tribal thinking.

Prejudice: we organize our world into categories and anybody who doesn’t fit into those default boxes will have a harder time, simply because people won’t know how to respond. A Muslim manager, a female engineer, a classical musician with working class background: they will have a hard time fitting in. This affects even the people in those categories.

A woman who has, somehow, managed to become an engineer is not in fact all that more likely to help female colleagues than a male one. In order to survive psychologically, she is likely to have had to take on the culture of the group she has entered. At the same time she is of course a role model to other women and by helping redefine the role of engineer in more gender-neutral terms, she does have an impact on future generations.

Tribal thinking: us verses them. When a black man helps win a football game, he is ‘us’, so he will be applauded. When an otherwise similar black man gets shot by a white police officer, he is suddenly ‘them’. When he is in the ‘us’ category, we are likely to defend him, cry foul when he is obstructed by the opposing party etc. When he is ‘them’, even getting killed for wearing a hoody is not likely to get more than a shrug.

These two mechanisms interact. When a neighborhood vigilante shot an unarmed black neighborhood kid in the US a few years ago, my Facebook timeline filled up with responses from both sides.

I was most taken aback by the black kid who said that the kid who got shot should not have worn a hoody, or had gold implanted in his teeth. He was conditioned to know that as a black kid, you simply can’t afford every fashion choice. He was conditioned to such an extent, that he would defend the guy who killed one of his own for no good reason. After all, merely the wearing of a hoody is not good enough excuse to kill anybody. This ought to be common sense.

So – these are deep conditionings we are dealing with. Prejudice – as a way of discriminating between categories – helps us navigate the world. Tribal thinking has kept us safe by our campfires ever since human beings had the knowledge of fire.

What do we do with that in a world where we need every possible human resource to survive without destroying our own planet or each other? We hebben die vrouwelijke ingenieur en de moslim manager nodig.

There are all kinds of answers and we cannot afford to ignore a single one. However, there is only one I have any expertise on: meditation.

If we want to apply the bodhicitta meditation to racism, we will need to be able to face up to the discomfort of facing up to our conditionings, our fears, our entitlement.

Here is my proposed meditation to soften our prejudices:

Imagine three examples of categories of people. Start with a white male, then two out of the following:

  • A woman
  • A transgender (male, female, other)
  • A gay person
  • A black person
  • A Muslim
  • A Jew
  • An Asian
  • Native American
  • An aboriginal
  • Some category that jumps out at you

Include at least one category of people that you are uncomfortable with, or have trouble relating to.

So imagine those three people and focus on them one at a time. Notice what kind of emotions, feelings and thoughts come up. You may even notice a bodily response.

At first try and notice this response without any sort of judgement. Don’t strengthen it by justifying it, nor try and fight it by opposing it. Just sit with it for as long as you can endure to. And yes, this can be uncomfortable.

To deepen the meditation, you can try and imagine these people’s lives. What is it like to grow up as a white male, a female, a Jew,  a Muslim etc? Try and be as realistic as you can. Be curious.

If you do this meditation several times, make sure to mix up the genders – except that white male. So imagine a black Muslim woman, not just a Muslim man. Do you think her perspective is heard?

BTW – I have had complaints that comments weren’t showing up on my blog. I know. It’s a technical thing. As a temporary solution I have installed a default theme for this blog – when I have the time I will find a more permanent fix.

One thought on “Bodhicitta and Racism – meditating on equanimity”

  1. [edited for length]
    The topic of racism is timely;
    a part of our Buddhist vows is to end illusion.
    Racism is certainly part of that illusion .

    As in contemplating racism the first practice for me is creating neutrality; or emptying our mind of its relationship to the content.

    I was knifed by a homeless man who happened to be black. It was at night and I was in a very dangerous black part of town .
    I took 14 stitches ;but For a long time my brain told me to fear homeless black men;
    that fear turned into an attitude ;
    and that attitude was reinforced by stereotypes until it became a neurosis
    Similar stories told by similar victims proved my fear was well founded
    I was right to feel this way ; I was in a culture of victims . We listened to hate radio because they aided and abetted our fear ;Numbers don’t lie we told ourselves
    we created “others” in fear .

    all during this time i was pretty miserable ; i was justified but miserable
    my direct experience was related to the trauma of the attack
    The incident kept repeating itself every time i was approached by what look like a homeless black man

    Truth of the incident kept eating at me ;
    which created greater fear so the reaoning went
    I would protect myself better
    Spiritual work
    Im the beginning of my spiritual self work ; i was reading that in all the great teachings that what we perceive as truth is just that …..only a perception
    so sure as the sun rises ; but wait a min ; thats only a perception
    ; a lie we tell time with ; another perception
    as time dosent exist only the Now so the flow of the great Tao tells us

    Love seems to be the key word here in all this protecting

    To heal myself of this imbalance and this dis -ease
    My first step is I have to be CURIOUS
    about what is happening

    to do this without thought took
    quieting the mind
    then through the mirror of my neutrality
    I had the opportunity to ask myself
    what i was fearful for
    the answer: ” My life” ..ok i need more answer

    However the fear never really goes away
    In time I’m struggling with the negativity ; finding myself desperate to feel good about myself choosing like minded company to socialize with ; people and a culture that agrees with me
    My work on self
    However in my spiritual work I’m discovering
    There is no form of anxiety that does not feel cut off from source ;
    and does not react somehow to it.

    The process of discovery
    OK so on one hand The mind now is telling me all black homeless men are dangerous
    and Its telling me I have no choice here but to fear
    and that fear is some sort of protection

    so in the mind. The fear keeps coming up for a reason
    its not letting me alone. Im now seeking healing
    i am embarrassed of my racists thoughts; shamed by them
    and the frustration that I have no choice .

    Be curious in healing;

    Notice how you feel

    I was tired of living in my prejudice and fear ; its energy of trauma was zapping me of my energy and creativity

    So.”what three pro active steps can I take for my process
    to overcome its fear based racism ?

    So through still points i go into the silence; I do this practicing a heart math technique call Quick coherence . Coherence by the way is the energy created when the heart is at peace ; its steady even and rhythmic as it It aligns with the chakras and assimilates with that with the vibration of nature in its peace and with the harmony of the universe in its spin .This energy by the way connects us as above so below
    its one of the great gifts of living
    Practicing Zen we attune to that connection; we are the clay ;
    through practice We have the potential to be light ;

    Keep going back witnessing your fear as other than your center
    eventually you’ll tire of its energy and see it has never served you
    then state your intent with it

    My connection to source now is even stronger when i encounter my triggers ;
    (aggressive black men panhandling) but it could be anything
    cancer ; heart disease and fear of death
    to be honest i rarely find myself in ghettos as my work hardly takes me there

    Racism will end in human consciousness with our practice of compassion one heart at a time
    Arguably that doesn’t immediately put food in their mouth; but it it does begin to heal the tenants of racism ;to take action and transformation in other venues like giving to the shelter ; or becoming involved in the politics of transformation and change.

    Thank you ///much love ///m

    Thank you ; Happy Holidays ///M

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