Opening a Conversation on Compassion and Justice: A Letter to the Columbus KTC Community

Dear Dharma Friends: 
It has been a difficult week for many in our dharma family.  Recovering from the difficulties and fears of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we now are confronted with the terrible reminders of how deeply the poisons of attachment, ignorance and aversion run through our human family and human society.  

The killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis this past week was a senseless act that brutalized and destroyed many lives. The protests and civil unrest that followed was an outpouring of passion and anger that after 400 years, the scourge of racism is still part of hearts and minds on the American continent.

Our dharma community was founded on principles of inner and outer peace and non-violence, and like all people of goodwill we reject the philosophy of superiority and hatred that makes these senseless acts all too common in our world. But we also recognize that racism is not just an action or feeling of hatred aimed toward individuals, but that it also can arise as a passive complicity within a system that perpetuates oppression for some while preserving power for others. 

It is this systemic racism we must now address, if we are to make any meaningful progress on the path to peace and justice for all. 

In Buddhism we are asked to look within ourselves and call our our faults and failings – and our prejudices – as they arise and, owning up to them, vow to reject them utterly and replace them with actions of love.

This demands that we as individuals and as a community be willing to see our own reactivity – our own willing choice to feel superior to others and place our needs above theirs – and to pledge to team up with the downtrodden and the oppressed against our *real* enemy – selfish grasping and egotism. 

Other people are not our enemies; it is our own egoistic grasping that’s to blame. 

The word for arrogance in Tibetan is “Nga Gyal” – literally “I, Victorious!” In a world of such duality, when one person wins, another person must lose. This zero-sum game keeps both oppressor and oppressed in bondage to anger and egotism that has no end. 

The Buddha’s Way is a way of abandoning hatred for love. We must look within ourselves and continuously challenge ourselves and our prejudices if we are ever to know peace. 

“Hate never once dispelled hate.
“Only love dispels hate.
“This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.
“You too shall pass away.
“Knowing this, how can you quarrel?”

By remembering hatred and our tendency to negatively judge others as a common enemy, may we defeat hatred wherever we see it in ourselves, and enter into genuine conversation so we can truly know the needs of others.

May we find the ways to have the painful conversations we need to have to bring our broken and hurting society into the light. May we shine in any and every way we can.

With prayers and wishes for healing,

Lama Kathy