Hanuman Goleman began his meditation practice at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in 1989, when he was 13 years old. His parents had met at a meditation retreat, and it was under their guidance that Goleman and his brother, Gov, attended IMS’s first teen retreat. Led by Michele McDonald, Steve Smith, and Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita (1921-2016), the teen retreat became an annual IMS offering at the latter’s suggestion.
At IMS’s 40th anniversary celebration on July 9, Goleman gave the following talk in the wake of the violence that has gripped the country since the fatal shootings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and five police officers in Dallas.
It’s here at the Insight Meditation Society that I first came to know that my thoughts are not to be blindly believed. It’s here, through practicing the teachings of the Buddha, that I first understood that not all of the parts of me are consciously invited—that rather, I am built from moments. During some of the moments that make up my life I am aware enough to act from wisdom and compassion. The parts of me that these moments have built are kind and responsive, and allow me to see myself in others and others in myself. But sitting and walking here, I also looked honestly and saw that the majority of moments that have made me were reflexive emotional responses that strengthened my habits—both the beneficial habits I want to cultivate and the destructive habits that I do not want to feed. This is the place where I first saw that all mental and emotional patterns eventually fall apart and dissolve in the light of awareness. And that it is only when I am honest with myself that I can see those habits and address them. Sitting in the meditation hall and doing walking meditation here at IMS, I understood clearly that without being honest with myself I would continue to identify with and add to the mass of sticky habits.
At the end of a meditation retreat I feel that I have become a little more human, that I am slightly more familiar with the experience of being human. I understand it for myself and I also see more humanness in everyone with whom I have contact.
Sitting here, at IMS, we are shown how greed, hatred, and delusion have led to unwholesome actions in our own lives. This is why I want to take some time to talk about destructive emotions. In his first inaugural address, FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s clear that he was right. Philando Castile found that out when a police officer’s fear of a black man left him dead. Alton Sterling found that out when a police officer’s fear of a black man left him dead. The shooting of 14 people in Dallas, including the killing of five police officers, was also an action born of some mix of greed, hatred, and delusion.
Race is not real, yet it can control us. We now understand that race is an idea constructed by a power elite to justify the dehumanization of people in order to subjugate, exploit, enslave, and kill them without repercussion.
This type of justification can be seen in the French and British empires. Napoleon Bonaparte hired “scientific experts” to create “facts” that painted a picture of Africans as less than Europeans. “Facts” that were consciously manufactured to dehumanize. This was a common practice among the European powers. The echoes of these “facts” are in the stories that we tell ourselves when we cross the street to avoid a black person. They echo in the assumptions we make about a person from seeing the color of their skin.
The concept of race doesn’t hold up in the light of day, yet it is still an object to which the fear and ignorance that is a part of us all can attach. I do not want the racism inside of me, but it is from the system of which I am a part. I am a part of the system and the system is a part of me. Just like the rest of the ignorance and delusion and greed that makes up this person called Hanuman, the racism in me needs to have the light of awareness shine on it again and again each time it informs my thinking. Each time it takes the wheel and steers me towards fear and reaction without understanding and connection. Each time it draws on its centuries-old roots to dehumanize the beautiful person that I am looking at. This is my responsibility. I am the only one who can check my inner world. It is inside me that this system is alive, so it is inside me that I must root out the racism in the system. The presence, kindness, and cutting wisdom that are taught here at IMS are the tools to do that.
Racism is fundamental to our power structure and benefits white people every day. There is a lot of work to do to before we arrive at equality. Though it is not the whole journey, the inner work that happens here at IMS is a fundamental piece. It is a vital rung in the ladder that leads us all to freedom.
Inequality cannot stand in the real and true knowledge of human love. Fear evaporates in the face of recognition and connection. The work that happens here is the dispelling of ignorance. It is a foundation of moving forward toward the reality of unity.
This doesn’t mean that meditation is enough. We must be vigilant in recognizing our fearful impulses and shine the light on our ignorance. Then we need to become our understanding in the world. Our actions must embody our love and the humanness that we know in our bodies more and more with each moment of practice.
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