The Dharma of Racism (Am I a Racist?)

White flowerI’m feeling very conflicted after hearing a dharma talk at my zen center today. The topic was the recent killings of nine African Americans in South Carolina last week by a white man. What happened in that church and what has been happening in this country, the light that is being shed on: the inequities to people of color.
The murdering of people of color.
The time is here and now. I bear witness to all this madness, every day, on my cushion. And, into the day, I carry this awareness with me. I’ve been working with taking my time and being present, really attentive, to whatever it is I am doing; eating, working, walking the dog, making love as well as listening to the cries of my brothers and sisters.

I don’t believe saying that the white race is solely responsible for the racism in this country is the answer. What we are capable of doing, and have been doing to one another, as a human race, since the dawn of time is incomprehensible.

I don’t know how I feel about being strongly encouraged to look at my own racism, in a dharma talk, at my zen center, is why I attend. What feels correct to me, is receiving the teachings of the Buddha, and then applying these teachings, practically, in my daily life, as I see appropriate.
To wake up.
Fundamentalism can happen anywhere, even with the best of intentions.
As long as we stay with what’s right vs. what’s wrong; we perpetuate duality.
And this implies that there is, in fact, at the end of the day, only one way.

I am far from done with sitting with all of this. I am willing to look at how I interact with people of color on a daily basis. I don’t know if I’m willing to have someone interpret the dharma and how it should be applied to an issue as deep and as complicated as racism.

I don’t know.
This is good.
“Not knowing (the first of the three tenets of a peacemaker), thereby giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe.”

In deep gassho to the nine men and women killed at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


  1. Ah Mary….these contemplations serve to make us dig deeper……I understand there is always karma involved, yet that does not excuse away the behavior as coarse as it is. I sense it is more remedial than punishment. There is a great quote by the Dalia Lama on my frig….”As a Buddhist, His Holiness may believe in karma, but one can mistakenly mix Eastern ideas of karma with Western ides of sin and punishment. Karma says that the present moment arises from conditions set in motion in the past, recent, or distant. Birth defects, killings, etc do not happen without cause, and hence are karmically conditioned. But, the child or people are not being punished, anymore than you are being punished if you get burned after putting your hand on a hot stovetop. Thinking that the baby or people are being punished allows you to dismiss its plight. Realizing that we are all karmically conditioned gives rise to compassion- hence the true teachings of the Dalia Lama”


    1. Oh Debra, thank you so much for this quote from H.H. This really points to the main issue for me about why yesterdays talk was so disturbing. It felt so heavily one sided. Implications being made that it’s the white persons karma to do the healing from centuries of racism and inequality. And, I don’t walk around saying, “well, that was their karma”.
      No – it doesn’t work like that. I don’t work like that. And, my understanding of karma is that it is ALL our causes and conditions that bring all of us to every moment of our lives.
      I’m keeping that quote!


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