blackness, Emptiness, Fa-Tsang, Franz Fanon, Hua-Yen Buddhism, interracial relationships, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Liberation, Paulo Freire, psycho-social, Psychology, racism, Revolution, Sexism, Social Change, Sunyata, Vimala Thakar, white
(I’m laughing at myself and that title, but, it’s fun.)
Paradoxically, we live in a deeply fracturing moment in human history that is immensely rife with possibilities for psych-social healing, transformation and liberation. On the one hand, as a human clan we find ourselves deeply entrenched in wars and conflicts of all kinds, creating clashes that are asking us to enter into new ways of being and relating. On the other lives that fact that … we are here; and as beings that have the ability to enter into transformative relationship, we can change the dangerous downhill course that we are traveling down.
Being born in 1972, right after the Civil Rights Movement and the civil disobedience of the 60’s, I have been extremely challenged throughout my life to live with a miraculous gift and a curse. I can proclaim this with confidence only because it has taken me 41 years to completely own it with grace and purpose. The gift, bestowed upon me and nurtured without rebuke from two great parents, is that I naturally am drawn into truly loving other people, no matter who they are and what their psycho-social location. The curse comes from the social expectations embedded in mainstream cultural programming that have not been acceptant of this type of unregulated openness (for obvious [?] reasons). Being an openly compassionate black man in America has been a struggle between my unabashed openness and the closed-minded disapproval of people who are averse to such openness.
Due to the socialized structure designed by the depths of unintelligible, divisive, thinking, I press on underneath the footprint of this label “black”. However idiotic this labeling is, it lives inherently interwoven into the fabric of infinite love that propels this brown body in motion (and all of the cosmos). Said another way, I walk through the world with constant awareness of my blackness and my emptiness; between the weight of ill manmade historical assumptions and the ineffable. Like an urban sprawling nightmare cradled within a picturesque landscape, we all, bear the responsibility (consciously and unconsciously) of walking non-dualistically between the sacred and the profane. The psychological objectification of otherness is absolutely profane (and violent), and keeps us further away from awakening to the absolutely sacred wonder inherited by every living thing.
As a practical matter of living these themes demonstratively, one cannot live either poles of this oneness in isolation. I can imagine how one could easily become so camped out in the psycho-physical mandates that they don’t take a glimpse into the infinite. I can further imagine how, as the weight of blackness can be overbearing at times, that sometimes these mandates don’t allow one that mind-altering gaze. Also, one can’t just be all blissed out on emptiness, the sacred, not attending to the reality of our physicality. [For the Buddha heads] As the Heart Sutra is noted as having the Buddha say, “Form is emptiness; Emptiness is form,” Fa-Tsang reiterates this in his explication of the Avatamsaka Sutra by stating:
“… real emptiness contains qualities permeating to the surface of existence. Seeing that form is empty produces great wisdom and not dwelling in birth-and-death; seeing that emptiness is form produces great compassion and not dwelling in nirvana. When form and emptiness are non-dual, compassion and wisdom are not different…”
For someone who, as a lifestyle, has chosen to live openly with all people, this has always been a juggling act. Social expectation bears so heavy on the human will to freedom. However, before we go any further with these sentiments, let me state matter of factly that this is not some wailing ballad about unrequited love, asking the world to accept my marginalized blackness under the banner of Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” As an individual that lives a life that is consciously aware of my kinship with the natural world, and how this mirrors the plurality of human relationship, I’m not interested in trumpeting the (not-so) obvious ubiquity. [For all the Astro heads] As an Aries (fiery independence) with Aquarius (freedom loving humanitarianism) rising and my moon in Cancer (sensitively nurturing) … this is about liberation … and I’m unwaveringly serious about it. Yet, when I go on talking about liberation, what am I referring to? To get a better scope of my ontological praxis, allow me to let you in on what has instigated my indignant torch-bearing liberation praxis.
I took it to heart the first time (1998) that I heard Jiddu Krishnamurti inform my wayfaring consciousness that “Truth is a pathless land” and that in order to come to true, independent, understanding of life that you have to be willing to throw off how society, and its various factions, comes to condition consciousness to see and live in a certain manner. Giving his listeners a view into this understanding Krishnamurti has said:
“Freedom, or liberation, is that state of mind which is essential for the discovery of any truth, any reality … If your mind is tethered to any conclusion, to any experience, to any form of knowledge or belief, it is not free; and such a mind cannot possibly perceive what is truth.”
Most of us in life are not really interested in truth, whatever that might be, but I think that in order for us to begin to view ways in which we can live markedly different from how we have been conditioned to, that we have to free ourselves from those divisive ideas that leave us in a world of violence (psychological and physical). When we are able to free ourselves from those limited perceptions and perspectives, we can awaken to allowing life, the preceding element of all of existence, to lead The Way. Giving voice to this possibility, Vimala Thakar teaches us:
“That perspective of life [as teacher] will be the foundation for a new human culture. Not those worn out theories that life is a struggle for the survival of the fittest and the mightiest, that the natural instinct is for ownership and possession, that violence is natural to human nature and so on. If we do not want to go round in a vicious circle, repeating the mistakes, committing the same crimes that have been committed in history … then a new dynamics of human relationships, a new perspective of life, a new science of living, a new human culture has to be evolved and developed.”
This sentiment expressed by Vimala is the crux of my life path and what I have committed myself to in my PhD work but if I allow her to pass the baton to Paulo Friere we’ll get more of a view of what leads my liberation praxis.
“The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a ‘circle of certainty’ within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
Now, there was a time that I was insecure about living this path of liberation as it appeared to me that many people were not as intensely interested in the possibilities of transformation as I am. I felt like a lone soldier sounding off about stuff people like as ideas but not really as lived realities. All of this changed when I started my PhD program at Pacifica Graduate Institute and began a more intimate partnership with my current girlfriend.
The beauty of how these two events coincided was a synchronistic moment that was louder than any that I had ever experienced in my short life (especially coming out of the tornado that I was in). I had taken a leap of faith, leaving an old worn out path and life, to land back in California within a school that embraced the mission of “tending the soul of the world” – reflecting my personal commitment to psycho-social transformation – and simultaneously began a relationship with a most beautiful woman that mirrors my transformative intention and passion.
Now when I say that she mirrors my transformative intention and passion I mean that as a lifestyle commitment, she is deeply engaged psycho-spiritually with her own embedded conditioning while also being able to compassionately stand in the fire of my own (and others) wounding. The beauty of this is that we are able to bring this intention to our movement together as partners as the fundamental basis – the absolute foundation – of our relationship. I feel immensely fortunate as most of our relationships tend to be about the need for secure comfort, revolving endlessly around pleasure, the lack thereof and the many issues that arise out of petty ego’s need for stroking. It’s not that these issues and niceties don’t exist in our relationship, it’s just that on a very fundamental level, we are not interested in being in relationship unless it has as its root, a transformative practice.
When looking at the strength of such a foundation – committed interpersonal transformative growth – the fact that she carries the burdening label of a “white” woman becomes a triviality. Yet, the beauty of her ability to sit within the understanding of her privilege, place it in dialogue with my personal and personalized marginalization, while being able to reflect the extents of her oppression as a woman and educate me on my male privilege (that I am at times blind to because of sitting in my own oppression) as we both explore the extents of our conditioning is such a striking rarity that to not bow to life in gratitude would be foolish.
Yet and still, more important than all of this, not only are we carriers of the historically conditioned oppression passed down through the generations but we, too, are carriers of the transformative possibility of human relationship. Our ability to mirror that possibility and expose its fruits to the world has transformative capabilities beyond what we can currently fathom. Accordingly, in “Black Skin, White Masks” Franz Fanon had this to say as a concluding statement:
“The Negro is not. Any more than the white man. Both must turn their backs on the inhuman voices which were those of their respective ancestors in order that authentic communication be possible. Before it can adopt a positive voice, freedom requires an effort at disalienation. At the beginning of his life, a man is always clotted, he is drowned in contingency. The tragedy of the man is that he was once a child. It is through the effort to recapture the self and to scrutinize the self, it is the through the lasting tension of their freedom that men will be able to create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world. Superiority? Inferiority? Why not the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to myself? Was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the YOU? At the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness.”
Living in this time of deep fracturing, while the world is moving at break-neck speed toward a destructive ending, as the extreme othering that has so violently pitted human against human in the name of religion, race, sexuality, class, gender, etc. “the quite simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other … ” is an inescapable prerequisite for the salvation of the human beings interrelationship with other animals and the natural realm (of which we are inextricably linked).
Vimala Thakar is one of the most important teachers in my life, and I only came to know of her through my girlfriend. Thus, it’s only fitting that I end with her visionary message:
“Transformation in human consciousness is the real challenge of this century. Either we grow out of this old, outworn consciousness, and become radically transformed, a human being unlabeled, belonging to the whole human family, learning to live in cooperation and friendship, or there is danger of total annihilation. This is not an academic discussion at all.” Vimala Thakar
No, this is not an academic discussion, but this is the work that me and my partner are committed to in our academic and professional lives, with and in the hope that we can inspire others to enter into this necessary revolution in our interrelatedness with all life.