Talking Race, Love, and Liberation
Igniting a long-overdue dialogue about how the legacy of racial injustice and white supremacy plays out in society at large and Buddhist communities in particular, this urgent call to action outlines a new dharma that takes into account the ways that racism and privilege prevent our collective awakening. The authors traveled around the country to spark an open conversation that brings together the Black prophetic tradition and the wisdom of the Dharma. Bridging the world of spirit and activism, they urge a compassionate response to the systemic, state-sanctioned violence and oppression that has persisted against black people since the slave era. With national attention focused on the recent killings of unarmed black citizens and the response of the Black-centered liberation groups such as Black Lives Matter, Radical Dharma demonstrates how social transformation and personal, spiritual liberation must be articulated and inextricably linked.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah represent a new voice in American Buddhism. Offering their own histories and experiences as illustrations of the types of challenges facing dharma practitioners and teachers who are different from those of the past five decades, they ask how teachings that transcend color, class, and caste are hindered by discrimination and the dynamics of power, shame, and ignorance. Their illuminating argument goes beyond a demand for the equality and inclusion of diverse populations to advancing a new dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies systems of suffering and prepares us to weigh the shortcomings not only of our own minds but also of our communities. They forge a path toward reconciliation and self-liberation that rests on radical honesty, a common ground where we can drop our need for perfection and propriety and speak as souls. In a society where profit rules, people’s value is determined by the color of their skin, and many voices—including queer voices—are silenced, Radical Dharma recasts the concepts of engaged spirituality, social transformation, inclusiveness, and healing.
About the Author
Rev. angel Kyodo williams is an author, activist, master trainer, and founder of the Center for Transformative Change. Her critically acclaimed first book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, was hailed as "an act of love" by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and "a classic" by Buddhist pioneer Jack Kornfield. Ordained as a Zen priest, she is one of the only two black women Zen "Senseis" or teachers. Her work has been widely covered, including in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Ms., and Essence. Lama Rod Owens is a graduate of Berry College, where he majored in English and speech communication. It was there that he began his work as a student activist and organizer. In 2011, he was authorized as a lama in the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism. He then moved to DC and ran his own center for over two years. Later, he returned to Boston to begin his divinity degree in Buddhist studies at Harvard Divinity School. Jasmine Syedullah holds a PhD in politics with a designated emphasis in feminist studies and history of consciousness from University of California, Santa Cruz, and a BA from Brown University in religious studies with a focus in Buddhist philosophy. Syedullah is currently a University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow and lectures on her work at colleges and universities throughout the country.
“It is rather astonishing that the Black tradition of continuous and endless enlightenment in this country produces its prophets as if bad laws, discrimination, horrors of financial inequality and so on, do not exist to blight the way. No wonder one often imagines the ancestors laughing. This is a book to grow on, to deepen over, to partner with. We are on a magnificent journey of liberation, every moment we are alive in this odd place that has yet to awaken to itself. And we are always, generation to generation, ready to travel. How cool is this?”
—Alice Walker, American novelist and poet
“Radical Dharma is a clear, honest testimony of the heart from three provocative leaders of our time. You may not always see things just as they do (I didn’t) or even feel like you fully understand it all (again, I didn’t) but that makes it even more important to read.”
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness
“Radical Dharma is both radical … and courageous. The authors build upon the growing understanding of the connection between personal and societal liberation. Radical Dharma unflinchingly turns this lens to this most challenging and critical nexus of racism and white supremacy. We whites on a spiritual path are lovingly challenged to get our butts off the mat, understanding that our personal liberation is impossible while we unconsciously enjoy the privileges of our skin color. Those in pain and enraged from the brutalities of oppression are lovingly challenged to get that we will never create a liberated society without attending to our own liberation. This is not an ‘easy’ book. Just like a Zen koan, Radical Dharma asks provocative questions rather than prescriptive answers, questions that unsettle, questions that challenge some of our most precious assumptions. Through personal stories and dialogue, we are invited on a powerful journey of spiritual and political awakening. Take the invitation!”
—Robert Gass, EdD, cofounder, Rockwood Leadership Institute and Social Transformation Project
“This is a moving and crucial book for anyone interested in the flourishing of the dharma in the West. Read it, sit with it and then get off the cushion and do something radical to make a difference.”
—Cheryl A. Giles, Francis Greenwood Peabody Senior Lecturer on Pastoral Care and Counseling at Harvard Divinity School, coeditor of The Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work, and Tibetan Buddhist practitioner
“Radical Dharma is a powerful and vulnerable circle held by three Dharma practitioners who are people of color. It is a beautiful and rare invitation to listen to how each transformed their pain. Some of this is familiar: no one sees me because of my weight. And some of this, for white people, will be new: What does it look like to truly sit with the pain caused by racism in your body? Radical Dharma demands that we step into the circle and ask: How do we restore our humanity? How do we transform ourselves and the world? In this book, Rev. angel Kyodo williams has created a powerful circle of truth around race and reconciliation. Sit, participate, and be broken open and transformed. Understand how the system of racism has traumatized all of us and how we need to heal individually and collectively.”
—Marianne Manilov, cofounder, Engage Network
"African-American and queer Buddhist teachers Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Lama Rod Owens, with Professor Jasmine Syedullah, have brought their brilliant minds and courageous hearts together in their book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (North Atlantic Books). They have also included the voices of other liberation-minded Buddhist practitioners, engaging them in conversations about what it should mean to practice Buddhism while bearing witness to police killings and mass incarcerations of Black people in the U.S. This combination of intersecting identities, talking in trialogue and in face-to-face conversations with complete strangers, makes Radical Dharma an unusual and fierce read."