How do Buddhist in North American justify buying stolen Native American land for their monasteries? I would think it’s bad Kamma to buy anything that was stolen. At the very least these monastics should acknowledge the land belongs to local Native American people. We still live here
PS: I’m very, very happy the Dhamma has come to the land of the Red Man. But that doesn’t change this ethical dilemma and ignorance isn’t an acceptable excuse.
I have heard some monasteries do land acknowledgements but yeah that’s pretty rare. It’s tricky because … well, White Fragility™️. An uncomfortable audience is difficult to teach.
I’d rather flip it around and make a monastery a place where “community support” and “mutual aid” are actual practices, not just empty words. Surely actual e.g. food drives (like @ayyasoma’s pandemic relief efforts) are worth more than some virtue signaling.
Do you mean any land in the USA? Or particular lands that first peoples wish not to be sold? I am curious about your perspective. I am from Australia and we have the same situation here. Bhante @sujato has been a great advocate and influence in acknowledging the first peoples here in all talks and so on.
There would be no monasteries in Australia if this was taken as the case.
However, the land was not stolen by the monastics.
At Dhammasara we have tried to make connections with the local indigenous women and they are happy that we are here and custodians of the land. We have let them know they are welcome. Sadly not only was their land stolen, but also their culture and language. As much as we would like to know more about the land and how we can work with it as forest monastics (ie dyeing and making requisites), places we shouldn’t go etc. they didn’t have much knowledge of their own. I was able to share my dyeing experiments with them.
As I think more about this I would think intent would come into play. I know it’s not the intent for any monastic to cause harm or suffering. But yet this has been the result of of colonization and the subsequent loss of land, language and culture. How about making amends by first acknowledging the harm and then by helping local indigenous communities. There is still a lot of intergenerational pain in indigenous communities and just having people acknowledge that would go a long ways toward healing.
It would include all land on Turtle Island aka North America. No tribe here would have ever given up their land unless forced to. Plus all the treaties that were signed were under duress and the indigenous peoples who signed treaties had no idea what was in them or even had a concept of land ownership.
It’s wonderful that monastics in Australia acknowledged the Aboriginal peoples connection to the land their monasteries are on.
Just so the Vinaya issue is clear: monastics don’t actually do the buying of land (typically). Monasteries are (usually) purchased by a group of lay supporters who establish a non-profit to administer the place. The nonprofit then invites monastics to reside there. The monks and nuns (again, typically) don’t own the place.
I know that the monastics didn’t steal the land but instead bought stolen land. As I mentioned I know it wasn’t the monastics intent to cause harm. I’m also happy you sought out indigenous peoples to connect with.
Thanks so much for bringing this up. I can’t agree more, it’s crucial to acknowledge the traditional custodians, and in Australia at least, to acknowledge that the custodianship was never relinquished.
Even more than the US, our legal system is based on a fiction, and our nation was built on the spoils of invasion and the displacement and deprivation of the rightful owners. And that is not something that belongs in the past, it is being enacted in the present as well.
As far as I know, most forest monasteries in Australia have do at least something to acknowledge the traditional owners, and have sought out contacts and engagement with indigenous folk. Certainly this was the case both at Santi and at Bodhinyana, and as Ayya Pasanna mentioned, at Dhammasara. There’ve been aboriginal teachers at the BSWA, for example, and we offer material support for local indigenous communities, too. Of course that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be doing much more, just that there is a start.
It was at one such community discussion that I overheard someone asking if they could borrow a book from the indigenous center, and after some discussion, it was agreed. They said, “boomerang”—It’ll come back. And that’s how I learned about the indigenous concept of kamma!
I’ve been asked to represent the Australian Sangha Association to endorse the Uluru Statement on behalf of our Sangha, and there will be other Buddhist representation too.
For folks from countries (like the US) where land acknowledgements are not common… They are not at all about virtue signaling. Making a public recognition of the history of the land you are on is a common thing in many cultures, including the first nations/indigenous people of North America. In Canada now many public events will often have a land acknowledgement at the beginning.
That being said, it is only a starting point for reconciliation. A related practice is mentioning the treaty under which the land is being shared, or if no treaty was ever signed then it will often be acknowledged as the “unceded land” of such and such a community. This is an important way for everyone to remember that all citizens have a role to play in fulfillment of treaties.
Ven. Bhikkhu Sujato your comments warms my heart. Thank you for all you’ve done for the Aboriginal people is Australia! Thanks for the link to the Uluru statement which I’ll read tonight.
It would be nice if the people in America would acknowledge the pain and suffering that colonization brought to my people. Right now in American we are in a dark period of white nationalism where states are passing laws prohibiting schools from teaching Native American genocide and the slavery of my black sisters and brothers because it may hurt some white kids feeling or make them feel guilty about being white. One state, Alabama even has a law against saying namaste or teaching meditation.
“Another amendment said: “School personnel may not use any techniques that involve hypnosis, the induction of a dissociative mental state, guided imagery, meditation, or any aspect of eastern philosophy and religious training.”
I really wish you wouldn’t use this kind of language! It’s a toxic idea that has been disseminated in the culture for the very worst of reasons, and used, I think, without really following through the implications.
Virtue signalling is the foundation of morality. It is literally how morality is created, shared, and supported in communities. The endgame of problematizing “virtue signalling” is to eliminate morality. Notice how many voices decry virtue signalling, but no-one seems to have a problem with “vice signalling”.
Signal your virtues, folks. Get it out there. Tell people about the good things you’ve done, or that you’d like to do. Create a groundswell of ethical conduct. Don’t keep your morality silent, because when you do, you leave the space open for immorality to be heard.
Buddhist rituals like dana offerings, pujas, undertaking precepts: these are all communally-sanctioned forms of virtue signalling. The idea of anumodana is to say it loud and proud, to celebrate with joy the virtue that you have undertaken. Never be ashamed of doing good, and don’t be shy to share your goodness with others. It’s not cringe, it’s glorious.
(Philosophical note: the underpinnings of the campaign against “virtue signalling” by the right in the US ultimately stems from René Girard, one of the favorite philosophers of extreme right pseudo-intellectuals like Peter Thiel. Girad was a French anthropological philosopher of religion from a Catholic background. His primary thesis was “mimesis”, the idea that human culture was based on mimicry of others; more specifically, that we want something because we see that others want it. The extreme right wants to dismantle morality in pursuit of absolute wealth and domination or elimination of the other. Their understanding of mimesis teaches them that communities are moral because members of the community positively indicate their morality to others, which creates prestige and pleasure for those who are recognized as doing good. This in turn creates a desire in others to also do good so that they too will be looked up to and respected—an aspect of doing good that the Buddha frequently referred to and praised in the Suttas. The inexorable conclusion follows that if you want to promote evil, stop people from signalling virtue.)
In New Zealand we actually have made some (admittedly rather imperfect) attempts to honour the treaty between the Māori and the British Crown, signed in 1840. In common with most indigenous peoples, the Māori identity is intimately connected with the land, and it has become common to acknowledge the land one is on, the people who have taken care of it, and one’s own connection with the land, when opening meetings of almost any sort.
It’s a small thing, but as a country we are now at a stage where if this is not done, it seems a little odd. It’s rituals like these, along with other symbolism such as flags, anthems, etc, that actually forge a sense of community.
You are entitled to your beliefs Bhante @sujato, but I don’t take back anything I said. I was just expressing my opinion, and echoing what I’ve heard from others. I think it’s important that Western Buddhists recognize what a culturally liberal echo chamber they are swimming in at times (and the rest of your post only strengthens my concerns). We are all going to inevitably deal with the discomfort of ppl expresssing different social and political views (“I really wish you wouldn’t use this kind of language!”).
I’m not going to argue about this topic further, because it will just become a distraction from the topic at hand, which is about Native Americans and monasteries.