Helping the George Floyd cause with advice on restraint

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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Are you even serious? No, honestly, are you even serious? Due to some circumstances in my life, which I am unfortunately not at liberty to disclose, I had to watch TONNES of videos of protests, riots, and lootings (no, not hand-picked by media). Like, very many of them, much more than an average person is watching nowadays.

I have seen absolutely normal people expressing their just outrage at racism, police brutality and unjust killings. I have seen political fanatics who forbade white people from speaking at the protests. I have seen police shooting at journalists and peaceful protesters just for the heck of it.

And then I saw a crowd of black people attacking a white guy. Two or three of them JUMPED on his back like a trampoline, one guy RODE A BYCICLE over him. Many more other people just kicked him, punched him, slapped him.

Another video featured a crowd attacking a guy for trying to protect a business from being looted. They kicked him with their feet while the onlookers were cheering, and when they finally fled the scene you could see that his arms and legs were bent at unnatural angles, this is how badly they beat him. I don’t know whether he has survived or not, but judging by what I saw his chances were rather slim.

In another video a black guy was literally STRANGLING a white guy for, and I quote, ‘not being an ally’. Strangling and beating a human being for having a different skin colour and ‘not being an ally’!

Many police officers got attacked in the last couple of days. As you surely know, four police officers were shot in St Louis, another 77-year-old BLACK ex-cop was shot to death by looters. A cop in Las Vegas, apparently shot by a protestor, in a critical condition after being shot in his head. A black transsexual person was attacked in Minneapolis, apparently for being transsexual, and her attackers didn’t exactly look like Aryan Brotherhood members.

And I watched many, MANY more videos of looting, fighting, shooting, burning in the last couple of days. I can safely tell you, any idea that white supremacists, right-wing activists, Putin, the Islamic State are a significant factor in rioting and looting is borderline delusional, it is borderline Flat Earth. If you choose to believe in this narrative, well, sure, go ahead.

I am sorry for this slightly offtopic post, but I am frankly fed up. Racism is horrible and should be fought against, and George Floyd’s death video was one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen in my life. He didn’t deserve to go like that. However, this sweeping anti-police sentiment, this lack of awareness that yes, racism by blacks against whites does exist, and yes, there are people who suffer from it. Maybe even RIGHT NOW.

I am surprised, I am amazed and I am almost brought to tears thinking that not a single time in this very thread has this anti-police sentiment (leading to police officers being attacked and shot at), this looting, this blatant anti-white racism (starting with ‘Black-owned business’ stickers up to this black guy strangling a white man for not being an ally) been called out. I hate that the Black people had to suffer and endure so much and I hat the way they are being treated now. But now, like right now, at this very moment, there are white people ridiculed and literally spat on for being white, there are police officers attacked for being police officers, there are businesses feeding families that are being looted for just being there and I have seen it with my own eyes.

If you want to protest, go and protest. Just do it safely, remember we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Do it peacefully. Do speak up against ANY racism, injustice, or violence you will encounter, no matter who it is directed against: gays, blacks, whites, puppies, lizzards, police officers, devas, demons, anyone.

I condemn all kinds of racism, discrimination, violence. I wish all living beings peace and well-being.

TRANS LIVES MATTER
POLICE LIVES MATTER
BLACK LIVES MATTER
WHITE LIVES MATTER
ALL LIVES MATTER

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I’m really sorry to hear that you had to watch so much of that shit and I hope you can get some time off soon. :heart:

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Yikes. :disappointed_relieved::disappointed_relieved::disappointed_relieved: That’s really heavy stuff you have to witness @Vstakan. I can’t imagine how gruelling that must be. My heart goes out to you and all those affected by the violence you are witnessing. Hopefully cooler heads and kinder hearts will eventually prevail. I echo venerable’s sentiment above and hope that you get some time off and have some support in coping with seeing such things.

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Thanks bhante. I am actually having a break from it today.
And honestly, I think some of that shit should be mandatory viewing for all mentally and physically healthy adults as it shows that a) racism is ugly, b) violence is ugly, c) prejudice and bias against whites and police officers does exist, even though less wide-spread than anti-black prejudice, and it leads to people dying or losing their livelihood, d) fighting for a good cause can lead to indescribable suffering of others if you let ignorance, anger and hatred overwhelm you.

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This thread has been very civilised and restrained, even in spite of the volatile emotional content :pray:

No need to get ‘personal’ now. The same things can be said with a little more care :pray:

Metta

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This speaks to a very core aspect of this issue of violence, racism, and the divisions in American society, and in other western societies.

@Sumano really hits the nail on the head when he asks this question. It strikes me that as students of Early Buddhism, we can appreciate this idea of dependent origination and related concepts, such as kamma and rebirth. The idea being that all things and behaviors are conditioned; they are best analysed as being products of cause and effect. When we see bad acts, bad outcomes and bad actors, we can step back and try to analyse what causes and conditions lead to these outcomes. I submit that the causes for the racism, for violence (police violence, intra-racial, and interracial) and for the divisions in our societies are not as easy to discern as is being portrayed. These causes and conditions are complex, and I worry that sometimes we oversimplify the causes for bad actions, and thus leave these conditions undiagnosed and untreated. I worry that many don’t speak out, and don’t act to remedy, insofar as it can be difficult to fully understand what the treatment plan for such a traumatic issue as systemic racism and violence might be. Taking a position on such a difficult issue can bring blowback and criticism, and people are normally averse to that.

As Buddhists, we may have a chance to truly participate not only in the diagnostic side of racism and violence in our communities, but in the treatment side. And, the treatments may not be as obvious as they might seem. At least in my immediate community, I want to be a part of a proper diagnosis, and more importantly, part of the correct treatment plan. As a Buddhist, I feel that I may (as many of us may feel) have something to offer in this area. But, I truly want a correct treatment plan. I want to truly see how the causes for such conflicts arise and how they can be mitigated. I submit that these causes and corrections are complex, and I hope that the following days and weeks bring about some insightful and wise discussion about this.

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Offered with much metta.

The idea that black people can’t be racist, and that white people can’t be victims of racism, is based on a specific definition of racism in which racism is viewed as a systemic issue, where whites as a whole have more power than blacks, whites benefit from privilege simply by being white, and blacks suffer systemic unfairness. In this view blacks can be prejudiced or bigoted, but they can’t be racists because racism is a systemic issue.

Others will use the term racism as synonomous with prejudice and bigotry.

Unfortunately, sometimes (particularly online) this argument is debated in terms of evidence. I don’t know any serious thinker who denies blacks can be prejudiced. The question is not one of evidence, it is one of definition. Should the word racism be used to refer to any cases of prejudice and bigotry, or should it refer specifically to systemic differences in privilege, treatment, and oppression between races.

Personally, I only use “racism” to refer to actions taking place within this systemic context. I find it a useful distinction. But I accept that others use it more generally to refer to any prejudice or bigotry.

Another issue that sometimes comes up in these conversations is the statement “all lives matter.” Many of us find that a problematic statement. It is not because we do not agree that all lives matter. It is because we want to name a specific systemic problem. In this case we want to highlight the ongoing problem with unarmed black men being killed by police.

Imagine you were to point out to me that women get paid less, and that women should be paid fairly, and I responded, “Everyone should be paid fairly.” You might both agree with my statement in absolute terms and fear I haven’t fully come to terms with the specific issue of women being paid fairly.

When I hear “all lives matter” I think “yes they do” and I also think “we need to focus on the specific problem of black men being killed right now.”

Thank you for reading. I hope my thoughts might add a little clarity to how the two sides of this discussion can both be acting in good faith, just from different perspectives.

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I am not pro-BLM and I think that the guilt and self-hatred that many whites feel in the West is frankly unhealthy, and can lead to cringe situations. It even comes down to applauding reverse racism.

Having said that, I think everyone is on edge on this issue, and that it is very difficult to have a calm and dispassionate discussion on this subject. I think it’s due to the times that are reviving identity issues in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies, which are becoming multi-conflictual.

The main thing, I think, is to wish everyone peace. To learn to take a step back. To disconnect from social networks which are really not healthy in times of crisis, which amplify everything.

:pray:

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Well said, sadhu!, my friend Jim. With each of your posts, a bit more dust falls from my eyes. Thank you.

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The issues are not being revived; they have never gone away. They were just ignored.

What you call identity issues are issues affecting flesh-and-blood people in ways that they have had no choice or say. And the causes for conflict have been building for centuries, so it’s no surprise that people have difficulty being calm and dispassionate. It’s a high bar to reach, and people can’t even reach it while driving in traffic and handling their road rage.

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This is such a difficult topic and people around our globalised world are smarting. :cry: I address myself to everyone:

This thread was started simply to ask about what we can do to help, whilst

It is so easy for threads of this type to become argumentative. :cry:
I think the trick to keeping things healthy is to stay in the grammatical third person, and to write “Buddhists …” or “Buddhism …” rather than “I …” or “My …”.

with respect and metta
:pray:

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