Helping the George Floyd cause with advice on restraint

This is probably the best course of action, I think. Especially given the way the political stage is evolving, engaging in protests may not be particularly wise. We have some cynical political forces who are stepping in to create mayhem, and it isn’t always a safe place to be. In any case, the people who have the real influence are the political decision makers, the supervisors of police forces in the inner cities, and so on. If you are one of those people or have some influence over them, that’s where you can help politically IMO. Engage in the democratic process, but be smart about it, I guess is my advice.

Beyond that, I think we really need to find ways to reinforce empathy and wisdom in society because it’s becoming hard to find on all sides.

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I am in Madison, Wisconsin, only blocks from the state capitol where there have been nightly protest marches, combined with some breaking of storefront windows and looting of merchants. A kind of controlled chaos, with Madison police and the National Guard having joined up to patrol the Capitol District and to create a mass police force to keep the protests in check. My son is a grad student at UW-Madison, and he has a souvenir of a tear gas canister thrown at him by a cop as he was videoing the crowds.

See Killing of George Floyd - Wikipedia . Mr. Floyd was murdered by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Here’s something that Bhante Suddhaso posted on Facebook today:

As a Buddhist monk, it is my duty to directly state what is wholesome and what is unwholesome; what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is evil.

Therefore, to be perfectly clear:

Racism is evil.
Cruelty is evil.
Torture is evil.
Killing is evil.

There is no valid justification for racism, cruelty, torture, or killing - at any time, for any reason, under any circumstance.

The cruel, torturous murder of George Floyd is but one recent episode in a centuries-old story of evil acts perpetrated in this country under the guise of law enforcement. As a Buddhist monk, it is my duty to point out such evil atrocities as being just that.

This is not a “political” issue. This is a moral issue. And as a Buddhist monk, I will not back down from my duty to speak about morality.

May all beings be happy and free from oppression!

In the past two days, I have received numerous messages criticizing me for daring to openly state that racism is immoral and that police should stop killing black people (or anyone at all, for that matter). I have been told several times that a monk should keep to himself and not “pontificate” about morality.

To that end, I present a quote from the Buddha’s words:

“Monks, how is a person practising for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of others? Here, monks, a person refrains from killing living beings themselves, and also encourages others to refrain from killing living beings.” -AN 4.99

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PS thanks @Viveka that was very kind of you to say. :pray::smiley::pray:

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Sadhu, sadhu sadhu to Bante Suddhaso for articulating the bottom line so clearly. :pray:

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@Westbury08, just letting you know that I moved your thread to the Watercooler as it doesn’t invite text-based discussion of the suttas. :slight_smile:
The only other thing I can do is send loads of karunā into the terrible dukkha that’s around in your community.

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FYI This topic has been discussed a lot on the forum, and there are many great resources and references available :slight_smile:

Linking the search results for you below. I hope this helps :pray:
There are certainly many, many divergent opinions, views and interpretations. May you navigate them with wisdom :thaibuddha: :dharmawheel:

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/search?q=socially%20engaged%20Buddhism

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Actually this is is a common reaction, if we aren’t directly impacted by something or feel it’s beyond our control, we often go to the extreme of ‘checking out’ because it’s too hard or too complex. But there’s always something we can do, always always always, and yes sometimes that will mean just meditating alone… However, in a more worldly sense, waiting for an election is no guarantee anything good will happen either.

Influence is something we can exert from the bottom up, or wherever we are in the social scheme of things. Waiting for others to exert influence over our “betters” in the political classes can sometimes lead to people believing that they are disempowered and unable to contribute to society.

Whilst I take @Viveka’s point that we can’t “fix” all the world’s problems, and that people need to take care of themselves whilst engaging, so they don’t become exhausted or unwell, there are still many opportunities to “do something” even if we don’t leave the house, including simple activities like reading books about race or signing petitions.

I also saw the horror show that @UpasakaMichael referenced above on FB. Many interlocutors there were greatly disturbed that simply stating that racism and killing is bad should lead to such vile vitriol from supposed Buddhists. :face_vomiting: As Bhante Sujato said to me this morning, some people simply aren’t very good at their religion. True. But if Buddhists are even debating the merits of stating anti racist, anti violent views, then you have to wonder what has gone wrong… To me it’s unhelpful that so many Buddhists advocate for an idealised exaggerated detachment from issues that cause entrenched, systemic suffering in our world. I’m tired of hearing the facile argument “you can’t change the world” but we can, actually, have some influence, and that’s how we removed slavery and got things like women’s liberation happening. Sure we can’t fix everything, and sure, it might not fix all our problems and might not necessarily lead to awakening, but neither does eating toast for breakfast or buying your mum a present, but we still do it.

It’s interesting looking at the quality of conversation in Buddhist circles and looking elsewhere on the interwebs - call me näive and idealistic but you’d think that Buddhists would be at the forefront of kindness, compassion, using wisdom and knowledge to condemn views and actions that harm others, but no… instead—believe it or not—even light and fluffy fashion and lifestyle magazines manage to make Buddhists look ossified and coldly heartless as we grimly cling to our ancient texts in a solipsistic reverie of stasis! The fash mags, however, have no compunction about whether it’s right or proper to condemn violence and be an ally against racism, they give us spiritual types something to think about, oh the irony! ! Hello to my conceit of spiritual superiority; rigorously challenged by a fashion magazine designed for teen girls! :grimacing:

So, here are some very practical resources not from ancient Buddhists texts but from glossy fash mags :laughing::laughing::laughing: specific to supporting social justice against racist oppression that @Westbury08 and others might be interested in and that don’t necessarily involve protest. [EDIT I should just mention that these fashion mags are not my usual reading, just in case you’re wondering… but all came up from the google search “how to be an ally to BLM without protesting”]

First up is Teen Vogue (as an aside, I have to say teen Vogue seems to have come a long way from the glossy vapid magazine it was in my youth… I think maybe this demonstrates the literacy that younger generations have around social justice discourses and why they often feel that older generations sometimes just don’t “get it”). Here they advocate for things like contributing to bail funds, being informed and aware of police corruption and donating to victims families.

nme.com has an interesting list of things you can do if you can’t protest, such as signing petitions, supporting black businesses, following black leader’s social media accounts, being aware of disinformation and writing to your political representatives.

Even Elle Magazine has a plethora of self education materials on race, including the Australian indigenous context, as well as podcasts, hashtags and accounts to follow.

And another lifestyle magazine, Marie Claire discusses at length how to be a better ally to BIPOC people. Fascinating!

Sure some of these ideas may not be for everyone, some people might not care about these issues or want to do anything about them. But I hope these resources may be of use to some. It’s easy sometimes to forget that our ignorance is the biggest challenge to seeing clearly, to waking up to what is going on around us, and how we are participating in it, even without knowing. Ignorance/delusion is a root defilement, it’s not going to be easy to see what is wholesome or unwholesome, but if it’s beneficial to us and beneficial to others then hopefully we are on the right track.

EDIT: adding this image.

if youve ever wondered

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You misunderstand me… :slight_smile:

That is all. As long as actions are taken with compassion and awareness, and if a Buddhist, in alignment with the Buddhas words, it is ok. What is right for each of us, at this moment, is different, and it is also guaranteed to change over time.

However, to ignore suffering, or to use distractions to avoid having to face it, is indeed unskillful, and especially disappointing if coming from Buddhist practitioners.

Your list of resources is really great :slight_smile: , and I hope that some people find them useful, if they want to do something but weren’t sure how. However, no-one should feel compelled to do so. One is not a bad person, who will create bad kamma, if one doesn’t.

Standing and watching something happening, like in the getting beaten up example, is completely different if it occurs completely outside ones sphere… The wisdom of getting involved in the injustice of getting beaten up (violence), when the specific incident is nothing to do with you, when not in the same geographical area, or even country, requires different questions to be asked. Wise attention and wise effort need to be individually determined, according to the circumstances. Is violence and killing bad? - Yes. Should I actively or passively condone it? - No. In the case of person x kills person y, what should I do about it? - it depends.

So to be clear, I’m not saying it is right to be ‘engaged’ or right to be ‘disengaged’ in social justice. Rather, wise action is dependent on the conditions.

What we do completely agree upon, is that compassion is a bedrock of Buddhist practice. I’m just highlighting that how this is expressed, in individual circumstances, is variable.

I really don’t want to argue, and am disengaging from further discussion in this topic, as this is the only point I want to make. My comment just now comes from the desire that people are informed, and able to make decisions on how to act, but that no-one feels compelled or guilty or that their choice is bad, if, after conscious reflection, they decide not to.
Note - I fully realise that this is not your intention at all. I say this just in case…

May we all grow in wisdom and may all beings be free from suffering :pray:

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From Thanissara’s and Kittisaro’s newsletter, just in:

If we don’t know what to do right now, that’s OK. Allow all to be present within the night womb of unknowing potentiality. In this space, seed your most radical and courageous intention for undoing and healing racism, internally, externally, systemically.

I find myself contemplating how it would be to be able to act on and in the world, coming from a space of totally stable inner peace. :pray:

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Hi Paul, I don’t really understand what you are saying here. The privilege that a white person has due to the colour of their skin is inherent in the institutions of the USA. The reason why black people are disproportionately killed by police officers is due to structural racism in the police force. How does the privilege that one gets for free just by being white get reduced or eliminated by the white person doing “more renunciation, tightening up virtue and doing more kindfulness”? :confused:

A white person is still (massively) less likely to be knelt on and killed by an American police officer than a black person. And white person gets that privilege regardless of what they do in terms of renunciation and virtue. By doing nothing to address the structural racism of the institutions, a white person is just doing what is in their own best interest and maintaining their privilege. This seems counter-intuitive from a Buddhist point of view.

I think I must be missing something in your approach.

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This is a great talk happening now. I am very moved by Bhante Suddhaso and Ayya Soma working together to speak out against the killing of George Floyd in the face of criticism from Buddhists and others.
Bhante Suddhaso talks about the importance of monastics condemning killing and points to several relevant Suttas to show the Buddha’s approach. He rejects the label of politics. Ayya Soma here talks about her shame at not doing this talk sooner, waiting a week… because she since heard many more stories of police abuse in the last few days from their community members and now realises that their centre was not the safe space for black people that they thought it was because they had never felt comfortable to share those stories with them before. And how we need to use compassion to understand what’s going on and try to stop the suffering of minorities. Very moving and relevant dhamma talk.

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My comments were one American to another regarding this particular situation that is taking place. In America, we actually are disempowered in many ways, it’s not simply a belief. The democratic process is barely functional, but there are levers that can be pulled. People simply don’t pull them because they don’t realize they exist. Instead, they protest for a couple weeks and go back to their lives, and then all of the laws and institutional policies that cause the problems remain in place.

I lived for most of my adult life about an hour’s drive south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and I lived for a few weeks during an internship in downtown Minneapolis. It was a very jarring experience. The downtown is like a little oasis of corporate power and wealth. You can live there and walk to work in one office or another, and never need a car. All around the downtown is a ring of inner city ghetto, desperate poverty. And yes, it’s where the majority of the African Americans live. Homeless people would set up on the sidewalks outside the residential buildings to beg from the office workers. It was really disturbing to me. Honestly, I decided I’d rather not live in that world. It was quite eye opening.

But many people do, and they don’t see the poverty all around them because they never go into it. They stay on the freeways, driving in from middle-class suburbs if they don’t live downtown. They aren’t horrible, racist people, either. Minneapolis is actually one of the more progressive cities in America if you judge it by it’s political leaders, its art scene, etc. It just suffers from the same institutional problems the rest of country does. Police policies, ghettos, casting a blind eye to generational poverty, and so on. Those institutional structures that are invisible to people are where the efforts need to be placed.

Also, my comment about protesting now being unsafe is because what’s been happening for the past couple weeks isn’t normal even for America. Minneapolis was invaded by extremists and criminals, who perpetrated most of the fires and looting. Some of them had political motives (to discredit protestors) and some were simply trying to create mayhem. Other cities have been seeing similar things, probably driven by social media. Overall, I think protesting is a good way to bring issues into the public eye when it’s done right. America just seems to be sliding into a new level of disorder.

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Just because it helps me think about things, I’d like to see if I understand the structure of the issues being discussed. To capture this high level structure, I will massively simplify positons—I apologize in advance. I see no way to generalize without giving up that richness and nuance of the positions held.

Disclosure: I personally come down on the Engaged Buddhist, Engaged Social and Political Action side.

Starting Premises:

  • What happened to George Floyd, and the fact that the killing of black men by police officers is ongoing, is horrible.
  • We all value following the Buddha’s teachings.

While we might not all phrase it that way, I think we would all agree with those two premises.

Question:

  • As someone who follows the Buddha’s teachings, how do we respond to what happened to George Floyd?

Arguments against taking an engaged stance:

  • This engaged stance would not be following the Buddha’s teaching.
  • It would not be getting at the root causes of suffering.
  • It would be taking ourselves off the path of liberation.
  • Not having perfect knowledge of the situation and our internal state, we do not know if our
    actions/words/thoughts will actually help.

Arguments against taking a disengaged stance:

  • This disengaged stance would not be following the Buddha’s teaching.
  • Not taking an action is a myth – silence is an action.
  • Not taking an action is a privilege – we can only stay disengaged if the issue does not directly affect us.
  • Acting with compassion means taking action to fight violence and injustice.

There is then a whole secondary discussion, about what constitutes an action. I suspect, beyond the argument between engaged and disengaged, many of us live in this space. We want to help, we do what we can, and our struggle it not whether to act/speak out, but to try to figure out what we can do/say to help, and what actions/words might not be helpful.

Does that capture the structure of what we are discussing? Did I miss key categories of argument either for or against an engaged stance?

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I did post the article on Disengaged Buddhism by Lele while back. However, as I said in that discussion, I don’t think that Buddhists should remain totally disengaged. After all, the Buddha said we should not just restrain our actions, but actively help others, for example, in the story about the monk with dysentery. The various posts by Venerable Akaliko have many ways to do so. The teachings about not discussing politics were mainly addressed to monastics, not laypersons. But even the Buddha talked and gave advice to kings and other ksatriyas regarding society - so it is not an absolute rule. I think Buddhists (especially laypersons) should actively promote goodness in the world, not just practice for their own spiritual betterment in mind (indeed, the two goals are not separate, since promoting goodness in the world is a kind of dana).

That being said, there is a lot of different advice out there and a lot of things going on, and its easy to get caught up in all the anger and rage. I’ve seen Buddhist teachers (I won’t name names) talking about how anger and rage is skillful in the practice of Buddhadharma, and its a sad thing to see. I’m talking Buddhist teachers with major platforms like Tricycle and Lion’s Roar. I have Buddhist friends who defend violence, using utilitarian type arguments for violent revolution (which are not alien to Buddhism edit what I mean is, historically, Buddhists have used such arguments to promote violence). For me, this is not Buddhadharma, it is the opposite of it. So we need to be really careful what “action” we are promoting. These events are very emotional, and can whip up strong defilements.

And ultimately, it is important to keep the higher perspective in mind as well. There is no fixing samsara, there is no (ultimate) ending of suffering through social change, there will never be a perfect society. So the best thing we can do is transform ourselves. Now I know how this can sound in this type of discussion, it can sound like spiritual bypassing, defensive white privilege and a defense of the status quo. And it certainly can be used that way, don’t get me wrong (but so can all spiritual teachings). However, I’ve seen people recoil at the mere mention of this, as if it meant one was promoting pessimistic inaction.

That need not be the case. One can have a realistic dharmic perspective on politics and society (that it is always imperfect and can never truly satisfy our needs) and also promote social change for the better while also working on ourselves. Its a balancing act, and some people will land more on one side than the other. But I still think its an important thing to keep in mind, because so many of the horrors that were committed in the 21st century happened because of the idea of utopia here on earth. So many movements sough to transform society without first seeking to transform themselves. However, as the Buddha taught, this is impossible. In fact, it is when people transform themselves, that society becomes transformed (since it is made up of…those very people).

Anyways, this is my limited perspective as a white (Hispanic) Buddhist layperson living in the USA. Best thing we can do is help others as much as we can and stand up for what is right in a non-violent way.

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I am not sure if the Buddha have ever taught engaging or not engaging. Whatever we do, the criteria is the following:

"Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”

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This article by Ray Buckner was just published today:

I find it beautiful when they write:

Is this not a Buddhist call? As a white Buddhist, I write this in anger, solidarity, and grief. I write knowing that it is my responsibility as a white Buddhist, and white person, to confront the anti-black racism of this nation, and of my heart. It is no one else’s responsibility. It is my own.

It is both my and our responsibility to make this life livable for all sentient beings, and to confront, in particular, the racism endemic to this nation.

In Buddhism exists the concept of inter-being: there is this, and so there is that. Well, there is murder, and so there is protest. There is slavery, and so there is a racial hegemony. There is an empowered police state, and so there is abuse. There is black suffering, and so there is my suffering. For white people, it is all too easy to ignore these interconnections. It is too easy to ignore the pain that black people live with in this nation and the violence enacted against them. It is too easy to refuse the continued legacy of slavery and the ways the United States serves the white public and demeans all other racialized bodies. It is too easy to name “looting” as the problem and not the active denigration and violation of sentient black lives.

As Buddhists, we are taught to see clearly, or to try to. This is one of the core features of our path: how do we see clearly what is in front of us? As a white Buddhist, it is my responsibility to see clearly into the ills of racism that live within me, within my communities, and within this nation. It is my responsibility to see clearly into racism and the structures that uphold it. If I am not seeing clearly, I am obscured by the greed, hatred, and delusion that is racism — the denigration of black lives in this nation and the upholding and centering of white ones.

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For those who find themselves in this frame of mind: any and everything helps. There has never been a better time for Google.

I know that feeling of wanting to be the perfect Buddhist, of not wanting to think, say, or do anything that transgresses the teachings. And that is admirable and praise-worthy. But if that intention paralyzes us into non-action then it is has changed from helpful to harmful. And, sorry to say, we are not perfect Buddhists. But we try.

I invite everyone (and I’m doing this too), to look at why we feel moved to act or not act in these kinds of situations. Why are we afraid of doing the wrong thing? Why are paralyzed? Are we afraid of being criticized? Are we afraid of admitting we are imperfect, ignorant even, delusional? Are we afraid of being scrutinized for our views? Might we find some trace of greed, hate, and delusion in our hearts that we just can’t bear to confront? Why is this uncomfortable or overwhelming?

Ayya Soma said it well today… we might find there’s something we’re holding onto that we’re just not willing to let go, even if letting go might help numerous living beings and ourselves.

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Thank you for this very useful reflection. :pray:

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I am currently updating my course preps for a class I teach at the undergraduate level called Everyday International Relations. The course is built on the premise of the personal as the political. I am reading some new journal articles and found this quote from a recently published essay rather relevant and pertinent to this discussion:

“Any analysis that makes political life abundant triggers a broader challenge, however, of how to avoid making everything politically significant and thus deleting the distinctiveness of politics. If politics is everywhere and everything, does that imply it is nowhere and nothing? That is a risk indeed; the risk of disappearing politics. Yet, this risk of deleting politics altogether by seeing politics everywhere is also paradoxically the condition for creativity, for giving attention to imaginative modes of politics and inviting imaginative analytics. ‘The everyday’ is then a device for engaging with conceptions of politics that hold that everything and everywhere can be political, in yet unnamed ways, but without letting this slip into politics being nowhere or nothing.”

Xavier Guillaume and Jef Huysmans, “The Concept of ‘The Everyday’: Ephemeral Politics and the Abundance of Life,” Cooperation and Conflict (Vol. 54, No. 2, June 2019), p. 286.

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That was a beautiful reflection. And an important call to action.

I know for my wife and me, one of the most important things we feel we can do is make sure our 12 year old son knows what is going on. That he knows that as white people we have the privilege of viewing the police as allies in a time of trouble. I know parents of color who have to have very different conversations with their children, about keeping themselves safe from the police.

And there are people who get polarized online, who–when you sit down with them as a non-threatening friend–will listen thoughtfully to discussions of race and privilege. Even if you don’t convince them, you might open up a little more space in them to consider other viewpoints in the future.

I’m not particularly a go-to-protests guy by nature, so my actions tend to conversations and volunteering/support–my wife and I got together with a group of friends to sponsor a refugee, we donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center, we put together a Queer Family Game Night in town. If you don’t let yourself get caught up in “Oh, I could never do that” it’s amazing how many actions are available to even a middle class family of modest means.

I think one the most precious things Buddhists can try to bring to the table is to take strong actions without holding anger. To condemn the killings and the system that enabled them without hating the policemen. (Which is not to say they shouldn’t face justice.) To correct people holding racist views while loving them. Personally, I usually miss the boat and get pulled into anger. But what a great practice–confronting racism while keeping loving kindness and compassion in your heart.

As @Sumano nicely put it.

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