Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Loving, Healing, B-ing: A Comparison of three contemplative Social Justice Paradigms
Conclusions: Valarie Kaur’s Revolutionary Love model is a paradigm-shifting breakthrough in social justice work. Kaur’s is the first social justice paradigm, since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s principles of non-violent direct action and Thich Nhat Hanh’s non-violent engaged Buddhism, that offers an explicit teaching paradigm for relating to the unknown or ‘difficult’ Other and especially, for relating to a threatening and potentially oppressive “Opponent” in a humanistic and empathic way, as a practice of revolutionary love.
This is my initial comparison and evaluation of three Social Justice Paradigms that incorporate a contemplative practice component: Kaur’s Revolutionary Love, Healing Justice, and Block Build Be.
I have been familiar with Valarie Kaur’s Revolutionary Love project since 2017. The Revolutionary Love project is Kaur’s paradigm for social justice work. I will provide an outline of the basic principles of the Revolutionary Love project and compare it with two other social justice paradigms, the Healing Justice paradigm, and Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Block Build Be paradigm.
Valarie Kaur, an Asian American, began the Revolutionary Love project in 2001, after a family friend, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was the first person killed in a hate crime after September 11, 2001. Sodhi wore a turban, which the killer mistakenly identified as ‘Islamic’ when he was actually a Sikh. This was clearly a hate crime directed toward people of presumed Islamic heritage, and against Asian “foreigners”. Kaur began to document hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans, which resulted in the award-winning documentary film Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath. Since then, she has made films and led story-based campaigns on hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, marriage equality, and Internet freedom. Kaur is the founder of Groundswell Movement for faith-based organizing in the 21st century. She is also co-founder of Faithful Internet which organizes people of faith to protect net neutrality. She is currently the founder and director of the Revolutionary Love Project, a non-profit that produces tools, curricula and mass mobilizations aimed at reclaiming love as a force for justice. (info from Wikipedia, Valarie Kaur). Kaur’s debut book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, was published in June 2020.
Block Build Be
During my brief association with Buddhist Peace Fellowship in 2015, I also became familiar with Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Block, Build Be program, their paradigm for social justice work for the last decade. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship website describes the Block, Build, Be paradigm thus: “Block Build Be (BBB) is for activists, organizers, healers, and seekers who desire spiritual tools and community support to keep engaging in change work from a resourced place. This online [or in-person] retreat will help you to level up your transformative change work by braiding together the often-separate strands of blocking systemic harms, building creative alternatives, and being aligned with spiritual wisdom. You’ll get to feel how each of these expressions of activism is crucial in making the more beautiful and just worlds we dream of.”
After my brief tenure with Buddhist Peace Fellowship, I began exploring other social justice paradigms. I was particularly impressed by the Healing Justice paradigm.
The Healing Justice Paradigm was formulated by the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, dedicated to Charity Hicks, a black woman visionary leader, healer and nurse from Detroit. The Kindred Southern Healing Justice website explains the Healing Justice paradigm thus:
“The Healing Justice program was born in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in the shared struggle to fight the rise of post-9/11 fascism. We sought to map and elevate how our movements and communities build collective care, safety and protection for each other in the South.
From these deep roots, the political framework of healing justice was conceived, and one year later in 2006, the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective was formally launched. A southern-based Black feminist-led, multiracial, intergenerational collective of health practitioners, healers (energy, earth, body based traditions), therapists, birth workers and health justice organizers, Kindred was organized to intervene and respond to generational trauma and systemic oppression; to build community and survivor-led responses anchored in Southern traditions of resiliency; and to sustain our emotional, physical, spiritual, psychic and environmental well-being. We sought to transform the collective grief and trauma of our communities, and to challenge western medical models and public health systems that continued to be an extension of State control and policing on our communities. Kindred’s first activities, in partnership with Stone Circles, were held at the Southeast Social Forum in Durham, North Carolina in 2006. Our full public launch was at the first United States Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007.”
One example of the multi-faceted work that combines healing and activism for social justice can be seen in the Healing Clinic Collective, based in Oakland, California. http://www.healingcliniccollective.net
A. Revolutionary Love
Valarie Kaur has recently taken the Revolutionary Love project to a new stage by producing a home-study course on the paradigm called the Revolutionary Love Learning Hub. The course program can be done over a week with ten ‘chapters’, based on the chapters of her book, See No Stranger. The Course includes Kaur’s video lectures and educational materials. You can access the Revolutionary Love Learning Hub here:
The Learning Hub features a series of ten brief videos (no more than 2 minutes each) which introduce the principles and concepts of the paradigm through the ‘Revolutionary Love Compass.’ The Compass is a graphic guide to its three basic components, concerned with how we relate to “Others” (See No Stranger), “Opponents” (Tend the Wound) and “Ourselves” (Breath and Push). The stated goal of the Compass is to ‘learn about loving Others, Opponents and Ourselves.’
I worked through the Revolutionary Love Compass in one afternoon, watching each of the ten short videos. This was one of the few social justice paradigms that I had seen in recent year that placed the focus of social justice work and transformation on how we perceive and relate to the “Other” and moreover, to “Opponents.”
Much of the literature and practice of organizing and social justice work has tended to focus on building in-group solidarity, the “Us” who are organized against “Them”. “They” are the ‘Other’ and the ‘Opponent’, their laws, institutions, cultures and behaviour, which are typically labled as the ‘Other’ who is the ‘Opressor’ of ‘Us.‘ This is where Kaur’s model is a total departure from the typical ‘Us vs. Them’ social justice paradigm.’
Briefly, these three relational components each have three subcomponents:
Loving Others: See No Stranger
Loving Oppoenents: Tend the Wound
This is perhaps the most ‘revolutionary’ aspect of Kaur’s Revolutionary Love paradigm.
Loving Ourselves: Breathe and Push
The final component, relating to all others, is Joy: Joy is the gift of love. Joy returns us to everything good and beautiful and worth fighting for. It gives us energy for the long labor.
The fulll course is offered for $97, but you could just as easily work through the Learing Hub’s ten brief videos, read the book See No Stranger, watch her documentary and related YouTube videos, to get the gist of Kaur’s Revolutionary Love paradigm.
Advantages of the paradigm. The greatest strength of the Revolutionary Love paradigm is its explicit teachings on how to relate to unknown or ‘difficult’ others. It presents the ‘Other,’ and especially the “Opponent” (i.e. the Oppressor) as ‘a part of me that I do not know yet’. It urges the practitioner to “listen” to the Opponent, to ‘wonder’ about the Other and remain ‘curious’ about the Opponent. The task is to remain open to what matters to them, to find out what is at stake for the Other and the Opponent, rather than just focusing on what matters to Me/Us. Furthermore, Kaur defines the work of social justice as labour and that as Revolutionary Love activists we are committed to that emotional and social labour.
Kaur’s Revolutionary Love model incorporates simlar “healing justice” and contemplative practices for healing and resourcing the activist as the Healing Justice paradigm or the Block Build Be paradigm. A Buddhist or dharma practitioner could easily adapt the ‘breathe and push’ practices to their contemplative model of social justice work.
What is impressive about this Revolutionary Love Learning Hub is that it’s free, accessible and available to everyone, and distributed widely through various media on the web.This accessibility allows a doorway into her paradigm and begins to transform the way people engage in social justice work.
Disadvantages. The Revolutionary Love paradigm is primarily a web-based network that has localized in places as Groundswell. However, the paradigm is offered as a complete online video course that can be studied with a group or community anywhere. It can be practiced in any situation of localized or large-scale social justice work, by individuals, social justice groups and communities.
B. Healing Justice
I have not had a chance to participate in a Healing Justice organization, so I can only briefly describe what I see as its major components based on website information. My observation is that Healing Justice programs involve material, emotional and spiritual healing practices to counteract and transform racial and social injustice, developed by community-based healing practitioners and communities.
“The Kindred Collective’s Organizational Mission is to intervene, interrupt and transform generational trauma and violence in our southern communities and movements. We will do this by honoring and resourcing integrative healing traditions and practices as tools for our collective resiliency and survival. We are a collective of anti-oppression grassroots healers based in the traditions and practices of energy, body, earth based traditions, and birth workers grassroots health practitioners, social workers, nurses, counselors, cultural workers and organizers who are based in the South.”
The Healing Clinic Collective operates as a community-based collective in the Oakland-Bay Area. The focus is on building solidarity for Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous people and BIPOC Queers. The focus of Healing Justice in this community is on building identity-based solidarity, an “Us” that can resist and transform “Them”, the institutions and cultures of the Oppressors:
“To our Black & Brown communities, holding the grief of ongoing violence and murders at the hands of the police, we see you, we hear, we feel you.
We know that action is the way to transmute the grief and pain that we hold as we witness and experience this brutality, as we witness these disgusting expressions of humanity, inequity, racism, and the ongoing impacts of white supremacy, colonialism, institutional racism and the racist narratives pushed by white supremist media, politicians, hate groups and terrorists. We are committed to the ways that we support our communities, and hold our role in the rising of Black, Brown, AAPI, Indigenous, & QTGNC2 Spirit communities as sacred.”
Advantages of the paradigm: The Healing Justice paradigm has much to offer for healing both individuals and communities who suffer from violence, racism, ecnomic and social injustice.
Locality. The Healing Justice paradigm is community-based and local, centered within the communities that experience the trauma.The paradigm focuses on and builds on the indigenous strengths, talents and resources of the local community. It is culturally appropriate because it is grounded in the specific culture of the community. Because it is community-based, it targets social conditions that directly impact the community and empowers the community to tackle and transform those conditions. It employs creativity and the expressive arts as a process for healing and ‘reimagining’, for individual and communal transformation. The paradigm provides a vehicle for long-term and sustainable social justice work that leads to social transformation.
Disadvantages: The Healing Justice programs don’t appear to offer any explicit teaching for understanding and relating to the ‘Other’, who is not a part of “Us”. In particular, some versions of rhe Healing Justice paradigm propose an “Opponent” that is defined by implication as a “disgusting expression of humanity.” It appears to be based on a Solidarity model that poses an “Us” (variosuly defined) against a “Them”.
C. Block Build Be.
The Block, Build Be paradigm claims to be compiled from Buddhist dharma principles and practices, although it is not limited to Buddhists or dharma practitioners. The components of the program are not explained in detail on the website, but are related through a set of teachings and practices that are offered through in-person retreats, or since the onset of the COVID Pandemic in 2020, as an online-retreat.
Role in the Revolution Series: The Block Build Be online program offers a series of video interviews in which social justice activists, who have some connection to dharma teachings and practices, discuss how they define their “role in the revolution.” https://buddhist-peace-fellowship.teachable.com/p/whats-my-role. Enrollement in the course, which provides access to the videos, is a minimal charge of $39. I personally particapted in this online program when it was first offered online.
Block Build Be Retreats. Currently, the Block Build Be retreat is now being offered, “post-pandemic”, as an in-person retreat at the Land of Medicine Buddha in Santa Cruz, California, in October 2021.
Current Block Build Be Retreat offers the following activities:
• Immersion in the Block Build Be approach to social justice
• Teachings and techniques that you can bring into your political spaces to help (re)shape them.
• Chances to reflect on your strengths and challenges in movement work
• Experience in a spiritual-political setting where embodiment, stillness, and heart-tending aren’t seen as separate from the urgencies of struggle
• A variety of contemplative and healing practices
• Interactive workshops on a range of spiritual-political topics
• Lots of small group activities and opportunities to connect with members of your cohort
• A spacious schedule with ample breaks to honor the body, the only place where liberation can happen
Specifics of the upcoming in-person Block Build Be Retreat.
Vegetarian meals and shared-room or tent lodging included with registration
Sliding scale registration $75 – $3,000 with no one turned away for lack of funds (scholarship options in application)
Natural setting of redwood and eucalyptus forest with hiking trails
Singing, swimming, sharing in the beloved BIPOC community
Ample breaks to honor the body
The retreat is being held during Fire Season in Northern California, so if the fire and smoke pose a danger to retreatants, the in-person retreat will be cancelled. Furthermore, in compliance with Federal laws, the retreat is limited to those (BIPOC) who are residents of the United States and fully vaccinated.
BIPOC In-Person Retreat. This BBB retreat is for people who identify as members of the BIPOC community only.
“We believe we can experience freedom even as we live within oppressive systems. We don’t need to wait for our justice movements to win before we begin the work of healing and transforming ourselves and our communities. We choose to embrace dharma wisdom and other spiritual practices, connect with ancestors, reckon with trauma, relax our nervous systems, and create BIPOC spiritual community infused with political praxis. This retreat is for folks who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Keeping this retreat BIPOC-only will help us to create a container of greater safety and ease when moving through important conversations on race, ancestry, trauma, and the deep healing we know is possible.”
Buddhist Peace Fellowship describes its ‘purpose’ thus:
“The Buddhist Peace Fellowship shapes movements for ecological and social justice by sharing spiritual-political practices and resources. We come together from multiple lineages, Buddhist and otherwise, to support bold, creative, loving actions to block systemic harm, while building collaborative tools and gatherings that give us the strength to be with our suffering, in order to transform towards liberation.The Buddhist Peace Fellowship shapes movements for ecological and social justice by sharing spiritual-political practices and resources. We come together from multiple lineages, Buddhist and otherwise, to support bold, creative, loving actions to block systemic harm, while building collaborative tools and gatherings that give us the strength to be with our suffering, in order to transform towards liberation.”
The ‘Vision’ is described thus:
The Buddhist Peace Fellowship is a constellation of spiritual-political practitioners who, with guidance from the earth, ancestors and the Buddhadharma, seek to build a world where:
We take care of each other, addressing needs holistically and working generatively with conflict.
We honor the inherent and dynamic Buddha-nature in all beings, without hierarchy of worth.
We deeply know and exercise agency, consent, and responsibility in ourselves, our bodies, and our relationships.
The Dharma is practiced with reverence, grounded in lineage, and can be accessed by all.
Social movements to heal systemic harm are rooted in fierce compassion. Movements have the depth to embody paradox, while transforming power structures and moving us toward continual awakening.
Everyone, including and especially those living at the intersections of historic oppressions, is physically, emotionally, and spiritually free to live liberated lives.
Advantages of the Block Build Be paradigm: The Block Build Be paradigm is one of the few offered that has a specifically Buddhist, or dharma, perspective, and employs contemplative techniques developed within Western, particualry US-based Buddhist and dharma communities. Although it is offered to everyone regarldess of the participant’s relgious belief or practice, it is presented as connected to and in respect of its Asian Buddhist lineages.
The retreat model is the primarly vehicle for teaching and practice, and is thus limited to those who “qualify” to go on the retreat, who have the time, health and ability to travel to Northern California and/or the Bay Area for the designated weekend.
The Block Build Be model offers individual and communal spiritual healing techniques similar to the Healing Justice paradigm, except with a more narrow focus on specifically dharma-based spiritual and healing techniques.
The Block Build Be in-person retreat has been offered almost exclusively to members of BIPOC communities, but the online retreat and online program has also been offered to people of all racial and ethnic classifications.
Disadvantages of the Block Build Be paradigm:
Conclusions: Valarie Kaur’s Revolutionary Love model is a paradigm-shifting breakthrough in social justice work. Kaur’s is the first social justice paradigm, since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s principles of non-violent direct action and Thich Nhat Hanh’s non-violent engaged Buddhism, that offers an explicit teaching paradigm for relating to the unknown or ‘difficult’ Other and especially, for relating to a threatening and potentially oppressive “Opponent” in a humanistic and empathic way, as a practice of revolutioanry love.