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Choyin Rangdrol

Not A Black Thing At All . . .

I think, as Buddhists, we have an obligation to question skeptical presumptions and the proclivity to “problematize” the juxtaposition of two simple words, “Black Buddha.” When these two words prompt a knee jerk critique of oxymoron in our minds, we owe ourselves an investigation into the origins and presumed usefulness of such a reactive ideological posture. We cannot, in my opinion, present reactive views as informed Buddhist opinion while remaining oblivious to the unsettled nature of the platform supporting those views. We also cannot simply assume we are, “learning to free ourselves from suffering?” just because we think we are. We owe it to ourselves to more carefully consider whether the views we hold are part of the reason we cannot find freedom from suffering easily. And, whatever freedom we have found that comes via reactive critical deprecation of others is worthy of re-evaluation.

To that end, I understand and appreciate the heartfelt aspiration to cease suffering expressed in the previous writer’s questions: “Can't we just leave it there? Isn't that enough?” We could, but at the same time, we are also obliged to thoroughly investigate the nature of our mind as Buddha did for himself when went to the Bodhi Tree. Until that work is fully accomplished one’s liberation has no chance to be abundantly attained, and suffering will continue to cyclically churn until the edge of doom.

Fear and trepidation about Buddhist discourse is not freedom from suffering, like an ostrich is not freed by placing its head underground. Liberation comes from revealing and releasing the mind stuff behind one’s self-limiting views. The vast array of Buddhist philosophy, traditions, and practices speaks to this point exclusively.

The following is an example of the kind of discernment I speak of. I’ve tried to express it in the form of a response to the previous writer’s comment, “I'm concerned that people seem to want to transpose Afrocentricity and Buddhism. I'm worried.” Being “worried” is perhaps the most revealing part of the comment in terms of a call for further investigation inwardly rather than a dismissive critical analysis of someone else’s work. But for the sake of keeping things more open and less personal I’ll approach the “afrocentric” issue:

On page 8 of “Black Buddha” I wrote:
“The tenets of Buddhism do not accommodate a racialized interpretation of Buddhist teachings…For the purpose of this publication the phrase Black Buddha is intended more as a suggestive view rather than a racial line of demarcation.” I go on to make the point that that in Japan one often sees Buddha depicted as Japanese, in China he appears Chinese, in Tibet he is represented in male and female form as Tibetan, in Vietnam he appears Vietnamese, and so on. From this I deduce five important points: 1) A variety of race depictions of Buddha have been an occurring in Buddhism for quite some time, 2) the practice of depicting Buddha in the race of those who aspire to realize his philosophy and practice is widespread and time tested, 3) racialized Buddhist imagery has not impeded the spread nor substance of Buddhism’s mind stuff in these countries. Indeed, racialized Buddhist imagery has contributed significantly to the penetration of Buddhism into the national and cultural consciousness of diverse people throughout Asia and abroad. 4) Not only is racialized imagery not a threat to diversity but it has been a principal factor in diversifying Buddhism well beyond its origins in India, and 5) labels such as Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Thai Buddhism, American Buddhism and so on are accepted in the West without being seen as restrictive forms of centrism, threats to diversity in sanghas, “Asianization”, or unwise.

These points should not be lost if one is to understand the true conceptual mission of “Black Buddha.” One of its dynamic complexities is to strike our collective psychological knee with the rubber hammer of truth about the way we react presumptively. When this is done we can take note that such reactions occur in some people merely upon seeing the two words, Black Buddha, together in book title form. In essence, such presumptions, gone challenged, can be the very the mind stuff causing and perpetuating barriers in Buddhism, diversity, and openness. Nondualistic freedom is non-preferential in its view of people practicing Buddhism in one way or another. It does not support nor is it harmed by the pursuit of ceasing human suffering, “by any means necessary.” The goal of inner peace and peaceful coexistence with others is far more important than the “correct” approach to it. Without this openness the very path towards Buddhist peace becomes fraught with contention that is neither the Buddhist ideal nor useful in any secular way.

Without being stimulated to question unchallenged reactive presumptions it is possible for a person to remain unaware that they’re closely held views may harbor the very dualistic source of barriers diversity seeks to dissolve. This is particularly true with Buddhist leaders and diversity professionals who can, one the one hand, be deeply dedicated to ‘Buddhism for all’ while on the other hand harbor unquestioned presumptions that undermine the core of their dedicated work.

The point in this brief example is that the source and resolution of one’s worries can be inside rather than outside. As a teacher of Vajrayana Buddhism I further proposes that investigative discernment as an approach to nondual realization can let loose the balloon of sorrows forever. And, in the final analysis inner excavation of one’s own mind stuff is the core view of all the sutras and tantras without exception. In short, the complexity and conceptual mission of Black Buddha is not one of critiquing others. It is rather the sharing of a process I have deeply rummaged for the precious gems that lay within. The essence is a personal journey told in a suggestive and challenging paradigm on behalf of the abiding love and affection I have for humanity’s pursuit of the cessation of suffering.

To the extent this discussion continues to unfold within the consciousness of Buddhism in the West I am truly appreciative. All the years of rejection, scrutiny, and exclusion I have faced for my boldness of purpose now seems like a small price to pay as the jewel of sharing this discussion openly emerges.

Best regards to all,
Choyin Rangdrol

Tom

Choyin,

I have to say that I am resistant to much of what I understand you are saying. Perhaps, in part, it is because as a little boy I came to believe that Jesus was 6'-tall light-skinned with long, straight blond hair, just as he was depicted in the "photographs" and artwork I had seen, and as he was portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the movie "King of Kings." A recent analysis of people of his time tells us that Jesus is most likely to have been rather dark complected, about 5'4", with tightly curled black hair. Indeed, he looked Jewish and not so much like a stereotypical Laguna Beach surfer.

I think it is helpful if our images of famous historical religious figures are as valid as they can be. It bothers me when we persume to play with historical truth.

A thousand years ago, when Buddhism reached Tibet and China and Southeast Asia and Japan and Korea and Mongolia, people had a very vague idea of what Buddha may have looked like. If they adapted some of their own ideas of what attractiveness was in their depictions of Buddha, it is likely to have been inadvertant or from an innocent absense of information. East Asian people didn't travel nearly so much as Europeans. The Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures were forbiddingly insular a thousand years ago and are pretty closed off today. In other words, the East Asians have a valid excuse if their depictions of Buddha were not in keeping with what Buddha may have looked like based on his heritage.

We are in the 21st Century now. Just as it would not be appropriate to represent Abraham Lincoln as a short clean-shaven man with a wonderful smile, it does not seem appropriate to me for us to intentionally misrepresent the historical Buddha.

Besides, if we cannot easily accept Buddha for whatever he really might have looked like, then we make our task of finding relief from suffering unnecessarily more challenging.

chalip

Choyin... while you state that your mission is to challenge people to examine their reactive thoughts, I found much of what you said to be reactive. I would like to respond to a few of the comments you made (your words in italics).

Whatever freedom we have found that comes via reactive critical deprecation of others is worthy of re-evaluation.

I can’t speak for others who have made comments on this topic, but I wouldn’t categorize my comments as a critical deprecation of you or anyone else. You have a right to explore Black Buddha all you want. I would caution you against suggesting that those of us who choose not to read your book or explore Black Buddha with you are somehow “lesser practitioners” who are not in tune with the “reactive ideological posture” of our own minds.

I can choose not to read your book. This does not mean that I am running away from Buddhist discourse. I have the right to deal with my “self-limiting views” and my “reactive responses” in whatever way I choose. Personally, I choose to train in the preliminaries. I choose to read accounts of the life of Buddha. I choose to read sutras. I choose to focus on my practice with guidance from my teacher(s) and my Sangha. I see my practice as my route to liberation and freedom from suffering.

Being “worried” is perhaps the most revealing part of the comment in terms of a call for further investigation inwardly rather than a dismissive critical analysis of someone else’s work.

I did not make a dismissive critical analysis of your work. I state repeatedly that I haven’t read your book, and that I’m not making any comment about whether or not your theories are plausible or your statements are factual. I was very clear about what “worried” me about the review of your book. I believe my concerns were clearly stated. You have chosen not to address those points.

And so what I said I was worried about something. Are you above worry? You seem to suggest that "worry" is bad... a sign that the mind has gone amiss and needs investigation. My mind goes amiss on a daily basis. I'm learning to be fine with that.

In short, the complexity and conceptual mission of Black Buddha is not one of critiquing others. It is rather the sharing of a process I have deeply rummaged for the precious gems that lay within. The essence is a personal journey told in a suggestive and challenging paradigm on behalf of the abiding love and affection I have for humanity’s pursuit of the cessation of suffering.

You get to have your journey/process and I get to have mine. You proclaim an abiding love and affection for humanity’s pursuit of the cessation of suffering, but you suggest that the cessation of suffering has to happen through the exploration of your ideas and that those of us who don’t participate are ‘not stimulated,” “unchallenged,” “reactive,” and in need of “inward investigation."

To the extent this discussion continues to unfold within the consciousness of Buddhism in the West I am truly appreciative. All the years of rejection, scrutiny, and exclusion I have faced for my boldness of purpose now seems like a small price to pay as the jewel of sharing this discussion openly emerges.

I don’t think we are having a discussion. You came here to tell everyone who expressed an opinion that did not embrace your work that there is something wrong with them. You did so with subtlety... and under the guise of not getting "personal" you did get very personal, even somewhat arrogant in my opinion.

In the Black Buddhists Yahoo! group, you say:

I've given you an entry about black Buddha that I hope will draw people to your blog

While others might blog in the attempt to draw large audiences, that is not my intent here. I mostly started this blog because there weren't many people in my life outside the Sangha that I could talk to about Buddhism, and until recently I've been shy about getting to know people inside my Sangha. I wanted to share what was going on with me with others on a similar path who wouldn't look at my being Buddhist as something foreign or strange. I'm not looking for popularity. I'm not looking for lots of traffic. Because I'm human, because I have an ego, I often want people to like me... to value what I say. Even still, I don't blog for self-aggrandisement. I do my best to keep it real.

I hope that clarifies my intent. I appreciate the fact that you were trying to be supportive, and for that I am grateful.

friendly dragon

Brave Spirit - I greatly appreciate your blog and your generosity in sharing. The intent of the blackbuddhist egroup was to determine who and where were our brothers and sisters and to provide a forum for heartfelt discussion of practice, much in the spirit in which you have reflected upon and shared aspects of your journey. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible, in recognition that there are others with a discipline of spiritual practice including meditation who are not formally buddhists, as well as those of us who practice according to transmissions from diverse lineages and traditions - Theravadin, Mahayana, Vajrayana and Dzogchen etc each with their distinctive styles, methods and grades and levels of practice. All represent skillful means - HOW TO liberate ourselves and others from cycles of suffering.

It was to avoid exactly the kind of distracting discursiveness and polemic developing on your blog, that the focus of the eGroup changed.

We need to go beyond an intellectual understanding of dharma as you are discovering, by experiential knowledge of actual practice: testing the truth of it. To the extent that we are earnest, we embody the wisdom. without struggle manifest authentic presence in the world.

To Tom - from an informed scholar. Think of 'black' as an aesthetic and symbolic signifier rather than an ethnic or political one. I was in Uzbekistan in 1958 where I encountered Buddhists from Afghanistan, Anatolia [Turkey] Mongolia, Russia etc.The Black Russians were children whose fathers were Afro-Ams from the cotton growing south, who migrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930's. Not unique. Pushkin the celebrated Russian writer was like them of mixed origin.

The earliest sculptures of the Buddha are Gandhara - represent Greek encounter with the dharma - found in Swat and are distinctly Greek/European. You can ascertain this yourself, art historians data bank, view by date, provenance etc the various styles of representation in Buddhist art: www.aroter.org, click 'links' go to Himalayan Art a vast treasury in museums, galleries, and private collections from around the world.
A rich treasury. Enjoy.

Ashe with love and blessings.

Friendly Dragon

Choyin

Thank you for the integrity of your blog. I think it's good to stimulate and reveal resitance. It is part of our injury from slavery. The identity thing, the polemic, all of it remains equally empty. There are no sides, only confusion and the the exit from it. I've added my two cents and the responses have been what they are. Best wishes to you all as I return back to my cave.
Choyin
The Friendlier Dragon

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