The Dalit Buddhist Revolution in North America

From the pain come the dream
From the dream come the vision
From the vision come the people
From the people come the power
From this power come the change
—Peter Gabriel

There is a new vision being born out of this pain, a vision that replaces perfectionism with liberation, a vision that bridges individual poverty with shared resources, a vision that defeats privilege and prejudice with equality, a vision that overcomes isolation with human warmth and connection. It’s the Dalit Buddhist Revolution in America. The Dalit Revolution is also a Bhakti Revolution, a revolution of love and celebration with all sentient beings. This will take many years and much hard work, but I’m going to find a way to do this no matter how long it takes.

From Dec. 19: “I have really had it with Buddhism for the rich. I am not putting up with this anymore, whether it’s Nalandabodhi, or Shambhala, or Spirit Rock, or a Zen retreat centre. It’s time for the Dalit Buddhist Revolution in North America. Working class Buddhists of North America need to come to grips with the situation and establish a site through which we can advocate and provide for ourselves as members of the sangha, even start our own sangha if necessary.”

We have our own wisdom and our own voice. We are the teachers we’ve been waiting for.

Thanks to B. R. Ambedkar, 90% of the Buddhists in India are Dalits, poor people formerly labeled the “untouchable” caste. Tantra was practiced by outcastes and radicals who lived on the margins of Buddhist and Hindu society.

Today, Buddhism and other kinds of Yoga are practiced only by the upper middle class, and at more advanced levels, by the rich. Buddhism should be accessible to the poor, the queer, the racialized, the addicted, the disabled, people who can’t sit still for long periods of time, people who just don’t fit in a typical Buddhist sangha or yoga practice centre. There should be a practice and a place for us.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer who inspired the Modern Buddhist Movement and campaigned against social discrimination of Dalits, women and labour.

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Dear Nalandabodhi: I am a working class, low-income sangha member who lives in public housing in Halifax. It really concerns me that Nalandabodhi has “sangha retreats” that only take place in the western half of North America, Seattle in particular. So now “the Sangha” consists of those people who are wealthy enough to fly coast-to-coast to attend a retreat. That means that “the Sangha” that DPR considers to be his students are those who can afford high-cost air travel, two-weeks stay in a hotel, buying food in restaurants for two weeks, and the cost of the retreat; in other words, rich people. What about those members of the sangha who can’t afford a coast-to-coast flight, or who can’t afford to fly at all? who can’t afford two weeks in a hotel? who can’t afford to take two weeks out of work for a retreat? Are we members of “the sangha”? Do we count at all? Do you get any part of this?

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Setting up international retreats in distant locales creates privilege for people who can afford to fly all over the globe. It sets up two classes of sangha members: those who can afford to go on retreats with the teacher and those who can’t. And it’s not just Seattle, it’s Banff, and India and Nepal, and other locations where people go to receive teachings directly from the teacher. So it sets up an elite group within the sangha can afford to be close to the teacher, and it leaves the rest of us behind.

“According to the Buddha, we are all fundamentally equal, regardless of social standing, wealth, ethnicity, race, gender, or whom we love. The only basis of judgment is our actions. Therefore, in the Buddhist world, there should be no glass ceilings to break through. There should be no immigration quotas or second-class citizens. If the communities we’re developing are not truly open and inclusive, they won’t be strong, vibrant, or enduring.”
– Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

be well,
Shaun Bartone
Lecturer,  Sc. Social Work
Dalhousie University
PhD. program ABD, Sociology
UNB Fredericton

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