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Zen Community of Oregon Teacher's Response to the Recent Injustices in America

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can walk together.” – Lila Watson

I can’t breathe. These are the last words spoken by George Floyd as he died at the hands of a police officer. These were the last words spoken by Eric Garner years earlier as he died at the hands of a police officer. I can’t breathe. These words evoke our collective situation. If one per-son can’t breathe, none of us can. Oppression takes our breath away. When people of color in our communities are dying at the hands of police or of anyone—we can’t breathe. We can’t breathe fully as long as we are participating in and perpetuating systems of oppression and in-stitutionalized racism.

As Zen Community of Oregon teachers and leaders we are distressed and deeply saddened by the killings of African-Americans by police and others.

Most grievous is that these tragic events are not isolated incidents. They are part of a systemic injustice in the United States that is rooted in centuries of slavery and segregation, and mani-fested in continued economic and social exclusion, inferior education, mass incarceration and ongoing violence against African-Americans and other people of color. This is a collective trau-ma that we are all affected by.

The Buddhist teachings are grounded in a clear recognition of suffering, an ethical commitment to non-harming and an understanding of interdependence: We can’t separate our personal heal-ing and transformation from that of our larger society. The historic and continued suffering of people of color in this country—of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinxs, Asian Ameri-cans and others—is our collective suffering. The harm caused daily is our collective responsibil-ity. Once we see this suffering, our freedom unfolds as we respond with a wise and compas-sionate heart.

Our practice empowers us to respond. First, our practice empowers us to pause. To get pre-sent. To be aware of our own biases. To feel this body, to acknowledge what we are feeling, to honor the complex emotions we are experiencing at this time (from grief, to anger, to rage, to guilt, to numbness, to confusion, to doubt). Our practice is a life boat. Practice empowers us to clear our mind, to open our heart, to touch into our resourcefulness, the reservoir of peace, clari-ty and kindness at our core. It is from the spacious, quiet, open mind that creative compassion-ate action stems.

And then we respond however we can. What can this body, heart and mind do now? Call a friend. Offer support. Take refuge in community. Talk about how you are feeling with transpar-ency and openness. Continue to educate yourself about the systems of oppression and harm that operate in our society and world. And for some it is a priority to take thoughtful and non-violent action. Stay connected to the truth. Practice loving kindness and compassion, keep your heart open and send prayers of healing and peace to all those directly affected by violence, to all those suffering injustice, to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Au-brey, and to the many victims whose names and stories we do not know.

We must work for change. In ourselves, in our communities and in our society.

Our collective aspiration within the Zen Buddhist tradition is to become a truly inclusive commu-nity. In this process we are committed to honestly and bravely uncovering the ways we create separation and unintentionally replicate patterns of inequity and harm. In that same spirit, we are committed to engaging with other faith and social justice groups in support of undoing rac-ism throughout our society.

Since their inception, the Buddhist teachings and practices have been explicitly devoted to lib-eration. In his time the Buddha was a revolutionary voice against racism and the caste system: “Not by caste, race, or creed, or birth is one noble, but by heart alone is one a noble being.” The Buddhist trainings in mindfulness, wisdom and compassion, create the grounds for wise speech and wise action. These teachings and practices free our hearts from greed, prejudice and hate and serve an essential role in societal healing, and in the awakening of all.

In response to tragedy, grief, and anger, we see the seeds of profound possibilities for healing the wounds of separation and building communities based on respect and love. We plan to offer opportunities this week for Sangha members to create community, share stories and reactions and grieve together. More information about these opportunities is forthcoming.

We offer prayers for healing and peace.

Zen Community of Oregon Teachers

Jan Chozen Bays, Roshi

Hogen Bays, Roshi

Abby Mushin Terris, Sangha Jewel Temple (Corvallis, OR)

Kim Hoben Hansen, North Shore Zendo (Vancouver, BC)

Larry Fuho Trussell

Nancy Kodo Conover

Adam Jogen Salzberg

Patrick Bansho Green

Laura Jomon Martin

Dharma Holders

Ed Gensho Welsh-Kavan

Amy Kisei Costenbader

Darah Shonin Ashton

Danney Soten Lynch

Sara Shinei Monial

Nan Kyoko Whitaker-Emrich