The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness by Rhonda V. Magee. TarcherPerigee, September 2019, $27, 368 pp., hardcover
Much has been written on the lack of diversity in Buddhist circles. This book by law professor and mindfulness teacher Rhonda Magee is a nuanced look at the complexities of race, white supremacy, and bias in American society, and offers mindfulness practices to explore our biases and beliefs. Through personal stories Magee shows that race is not only a spectrum of experiences but also something that is done rather than something that is. The work to heal ourselves, and in turn society, must be an ongoing practice. (See p. 40.)
Sculpting the Buddha Within: The Life and Thought of Shinjo Ito by Shuri Kido. Wisdom Publications, September 2019, $19.95, 288 pp., paper
This is the first definitive biography of Shinjo Ito (1906-1989), the Japanese founder of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist community. Shinjo already had an established career as an aeronautical engineer and a family when he ordained as a Shingon monk in his thirties, later rising to the rank of acharya (master). Despite personal hardship and the backdrop of World War II, Shinjo’s growing sangha—today with more than a million members worldwide—centered itself on the Nirvana Sutra’s teaching that we all have a chance at liberation by cultivating our buddhanature.
Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World by Pema Chödrön. Shambhala Publications, October 2019, $22.95, 192 pp., hardcover
In her first book in six years, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön reminds us that the act of turning toward our suffering is the first necessary step for
committing to the path of bodhicitta—the desire to awaken for our own sake and all beings. The book includes timely chapters on polarization and not losing heart despite chronic societal challenges, while clear instructions for sitting meditation and tonglen (“sending and receiving”) provide practical steps to get started on, or recommit to, the path to awakening. (See p. 36.)
Buddhism and Whiteness: Critical Reflections edited by George Yancy and Emily McRae. Lexington Books, May 2019, $115, 380 pp., hardcover
With essays from more than 15 thinkers, including Tricycle contributing editor Charles Johnson, this book offers new scholarly ideas on Buddhism’s equal access to liberation in the context of the persistent racism experienced in America and beyond. The editors write in the introduction that “racism or white supremacy is like the water in which we all swim”—though only some of us notice that we’re submerged. Contributors from across traditions, who also draw on feminist and cultural studies in addition to race theory, ask whether we can use Buddhist philosophy to put an end to racism and white supremacy just as we apply teachings to cut through our sense of “self.”
WHAT WE’RE REREADING
With economic inequality on the rise and systems of inherited advantage and disadvantage dominating global discussions, there is much to learn from Indian statesman and social reformer Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s landmark 1936 book, The Annihilation of Caste.
Ambedkar, who would later draft India’s constitution, was born a Mahar, one of the “untouchable” castes that grouped together make up the Dalits and constitute 17 percent of India’s population. As a boy, he had to sit on a burlap sack at the back of his class and was beaten if he accidentally touched a higher-caste classmate. Dalits faced widespread oppression and violence while awaiting perhaps their only chance to escape—a higher rebirth (or in Ambedkar’s family’s case, a job with the only “equal opportunity” employer, the Indian government).
Writing that “political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny,” Ambedkar argued that political reforms would fail without a strong foundation of social reform. Time has proven him right; although caste discrimination was legally banned in 1950, the practice continues today.
After decades of demonstrations calling for equal access to clean water and Hindu temples, representation in the courts, and other rights afforded higher-caste Indians, Ambedkar decided to convert to Buddhism to escape the discriminatory system. In 1956, he and nearly 500,000 Dalits from around India took refuge in the three jewels, starting a movement that continues today with the number of converts now in the millions.
In a new era of political turbulence, The Annihilation of Caste reminds us of social reform’s integral role in opposing inequality.
—Eliza Rockefeller, Special Projects Editor
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