At the first-ever gathering of Buddhist teachers of black African descent, held at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, two panels of leading Buddhist teachers took questions about what it means to be a black Buddhist in America today.
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In this in-depth interview with Emergence Magazine, Reverend angel Kyodo Williams reflects on our widespread crisis of story, the failure of institutional religions to offer a new way forward, and her philosophy of Radical Dharma—a path to individual and collective liberation.
Rev. angel Kyodo Williams doesn’t like stereotypes. That’s not entirely surprising, since she also seems to enjoy shattering them. She’s a black queer woman in an American Buddhist tradition often steered by white men; a Buddhist operating in activist circles of mostly Christians and Jews; a leader of the Religious Left who doesn’t use the word “God.”
When I previously interviewed Rev. angel, for the January 2014 issue of The MOON, I was taken with several of her statements. “The only way the world is going to change the way we want it to is for us to show up in that same way,” she said. “If we want sustainability in the world, we have to live in sustainable ways. If we want peace in the world, we have to live in peaceful ways. If we want justice in the world, we have to be just in all our dealings.”
Zen teacher angel Kyodo Williams and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg will discuss challenging questions about the relationship between personal and social transformation. The central message of Radical Dharma is that personal and social transformation must be brought together, with an extra emphasis on those who have been historically marginalized. Do I have that right
I’m a New Yorker. I lived in Fort Greene and had a little sitting group, an offshoot of my main practice home of Village Zendo. Not in the sense of tomorrow, but I’m hopeful that the seed has been planted, that the irrelevance of the systems that continue to privilege small groups of people is laid bare now. We’re in this wonderful moment of going, “Oh, this doesn’t work. There are no winners in this.”
When Being Black came out in 2000, I was chagrined by what I had done. Being Black author angel Kyodo Williams speaks about the evolution of diversity in American Buddhism and her work to promote inclusivity in Buddhism across communities
Zen teacher, activist, and author of Being Black and Radical Dharma Rev. angel Kyodo Williams describes how nurturing a sense of inner well-being results in outward action that doesn’t feel like a struggle.
Rev. angel helps us understand that we don’t have ‘personal’ experiences because we’re all connected. So when yet another black child, teenager, or young person is killed, the response should be fierce. But if it’s rooted in love and that love is connected with a deep touching into our suffering, whatever the reaction, there’s no wish for the destruction of life or for the suffering of others. Love has a wish for the deconstruction of that which is false and that which harms. That’s the right place to go. Love never expresses itself as wishing harm.
We all get handed these stories, right? Every one of us—we’re born into a family, a time, a region, a culture. We get handed a story about what we look like. As we express our capacities we get stories about whether we are more or less capable. Not only do we get individual stories, but we also get collective stories. We miss a great deal when we only pay attention to the story that’s been handed to us and we’re not intimately connected to the deeper story of who we really are—as Buddhists say before our mother was born. We come encoded with a deep memory of who we’ve always been but when we arrive on the scene our focus is turned toward the external. We forget we have that operating information about who we always are.