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Social Justice Resources

Just as we never master the practices of meditation and lovingkindness, but always find that there’s more to experience, more to learn, and more to awaken to, the practice of learning about the conditions that form our world is ongoing. The study of social justice and the collective action that is the expression of compassion for the suffering of the world can be thought of in Buddhist terms as the study of conditionality. “Because of this, this arises,” taught the Buddha, pointing to how everything we experience arises from actions in the past and their results in the present.

This page offers a selection of resources that bring together Buddhist and social justice practice, both from within Buddhist communities, and from teachers and groups we find resonant with the core values of the Dharma. These lists are truly just a beginning, as any resource list is. In this time of global crisis, we offer it in support of spiritual community and toward the cultivation of wise action in service of all beings.

Resources: Dharma & Social Justice

The practice is not just about our own personal awakening, enlightenment, or freedom. The path is not just about personal salvation. It is about our collective journey and transformation toward a shared experience of wisdom and tenderness. … The creation of peace in the world, which so desperately needs it, is no different than the creation of peace within ourselves. —Larry Yang, Awakening Together

At the heart of the Buddha’s instructions for mindfulness in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the invitation to observe the body, heart, and mind “internally, externally, and both internally and externally.” This discourse of the Buddha guides most of our retreats at Spirit Rock and provides a foundation for our practice. As Spirit Rock teacher Larry Yang emphasizes, internal mindfulness brings awareness to our individual sensations, feelings, and experience, while external mindfulness brings awareness to the sensations, feelings, and experience of others.

Mindfulness of others is the basis of compassion and sympathetic joy, the expressions of mettā, or lovingkindness, that arise when we truly feel with another person’s suffering or well-being. In contemporary culture, the movement toward social justice can be thought of as an active expression of compassion. As Insight Meditation practitioners, we explore the Buddha’s profound practice of mindfulness and clear seeing, and have the opportunity to bring our full hearts and the strength of our practice to bear on the suffering that haunts the lives of so many in our communities and beyond.

Social justice is not separate from the Dharma, but is an expanded focus for our practice, extending our meditation practice outward from the “internal” realm of personal healing and insight into the “external” realm of collective healing and liberation. As the great civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” This expression of individual interdependence with the world of suffering beings is resonant with the Buddhist vision of the bodhisattva, the inspired practitioner who vows to awaken in order to support the liberation of all beings.

At the heart of the Dharma is the understanding that present experience arises based on past conditions, and that our own and others’ actions have contributed to creating this moment, with all its joys and sorrows. As we always do, we bring whatever privileges we each carry in our culture and the strengths we cultivate in individual practice to bear on these heavy but ultimately workable social conditions.

To seek collective liberation with the same passion we have brought to the path of individual healing is to recognize our interdependence with all beings. May our practice and study be for the benefit of all.

Books by and including Spirit Rock & Insight Meditation teachers & guest teachers

Ajahn Amaro & Ajahn Pasanno, The Dhamma and the Real World (2016)

The ‘system’ gains more momentum when we decide we don’t want to deal with it, that things are hopeless. With social action work, we have to be patient, discerning, equanimous. We have to be willing to try and to fail. We have to recognize that sometimes things will work and sometimes they won’t. And that they always work out in ways we may never have conceived.

Ajahn Pasanno, “Laying the Foundation for Social Action” (24)

Bonnie Duran, "Race, racism and the dharma" in H. G. Baldoquin (Ed.), Dharma, color, and culture: New voices in western Buddhism (2004)

The Dharma is the most important source of insight and inspiration to me as I heal from racism and discrimination and as I work towards social justice.

Bonnie Duran, “Race, Racism, and the Dharma” (165)

Donald Rothberg, The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World (2006)

If the path of spiritual transformation is not socially informed, it too is at risk. There is the irony of attempting to overcome self-centeredness through spiritual practice while ignoring the cries of the world, of living in a protected spiritual home while the rest of the world is burning.

Donald Rothberg, The Engaged Spiritual Life (5)

Thanissara & Kitissaro, Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism (2014)

Thanissara, Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth—The Buddha's Life and Message through Feminine Eyes (2020)

An inner ethic is an evolutionary step beyond social pressure and religious morals. Once awakened, this sense of conscience will inevitably put us at odds with the exploitative paradigm of our culture.

Thanissara & Kitissaro, Listening to the Heart (248)

Larry Yang, Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community (2014)

Our Dharma practice invites us to stand in community, solidarity, and connection with all of our collective joys and pain, in order that we may heal and awaken together to a greater sense of freedom.

Larry Yang, Awakening Together (130)

Ruth King, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out (2018)

The world’s heart is on fire, and race is at its core. What’s happening in the world today is the result of past actions. The bitter racial seeds from past beliefs and actions are blooming all around us, reflecting not only a division of the races that is rooted in ignorance and hate but also, and more sorely, a division of heart.

Racism is a heart disease. How we think and respond is at the core of racial suffering and racial healing. If we cannot think clearly and respond wisely, we will continue to damage the world’s heart.

Ruth King, Mindful of Race (4)

Watch a short video of Ruth King at Spirit Rock, taken in May 2020

Spring Washam, A Fierce Heart (2017)

We began with a silent meditation, and during the meditation, a large riot began to erupt a block away. Helicopters were flying overhead and police were shouting at protestors loudly on bullhorns. A volunteer approached me quietly during the meditation to ask if she could close the windows. Tear gas was beginning to slowly seep in.

Spring Washam, A Fierce Heart (150)

Sebene Selassie, You Belong: A Call for Connection (2020)

Belonging includes understanding our histories, addressing our conditioning, facing our shadows, and loving ourselves, each other, everything. We belong to it all.⁣ 

Sometimes we cling to the harmony of belonging — to avoid the inevitable challenges and despair of belonging to each other (aka bypass).⁣ And sometimes we get lost in the complexity of belonging — sidelining the truth of our inherent interconnection for some point in time when we've finally finished grappling with our fraught past and present.⁣ 

This is the paradox of absolute truth (we are not separate) and relative truth (we are not the same).

Sebene Selassie, discussing You Belong (Instagram)

Rev. angel Kyodo williams & Lama Rod Owens, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (2016)

We bring the integration into society, into how we inhabit the environment, into our sanghas and communities, into how we see and treat people, and into how we let ourselves be seen. If we can do that, we come back more awake.

Rev. angel Kyodo williams & Lama Rod Owens, Radical Dharma (xxix)

Lama Rod Owens, Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger (2020)

I am defining “anger” as the mental and physical tension we experience between being emotionally hurt and determining a strategy of self-care to tend to the hurt. From this tension, aversion and rigidity arise, resulting in the expression of aggression, whose energetic force distracts us from self-care into self-protection, often resulting in violence. Anger and rage are expressions of the same experience of being hurt, and the tension from needing to care for ourselves while also trying to figure out how to be safe.

Lama Rod Owens, Love and Rage

Rhonda Magee, The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness (2019)

Because there are so many rivers of pain joining and forming the ocean of racial suffering in our times, personal awareness practices are essential for racial justice work. In order for real change to occur, we must be able to examine our own experiences, discover the “situated” nature of our perspectives, and understand the ways that race and racism are mere cultural constructions.

Rhonda Magee, The Inner Work of Racial Justice (7)

Online writing & resources primarily addressed to white people

Oren Jay Sofer, “10 Things White People Can Do To Work For Racial Justice

Tara Brach, “Facing My White Privilege”

Ruth King, The Untold (excerpt from Mindful of Race)

Courtney Ariel, “For Our White Friends Desiring To Be Allies”

Rod Meade Sperry, “Beyond Privilege: A Q&A with Rev. angel Kyodo williams”

Will Kabat-Zinn, “A Note on Grief and Action”

Lori Lakin Hutcherson, “What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege”

Cory Collins, “What Is White Privilege, Really?” 

Rev. angel Kyodo williams, “Where Will You Stand?”

Online writing on the intersections between Buddhism and social justice

Pamela Ayo Yetunde, “Buddhism in the Age of #BlackLivesMatter”

Do You Know Your True Face? By Lama Rod Owens

Ruth King, “Healing the Broken Body of Sangha”

Jack Kornfield, “Moral Action and the Dharma”

Sharon Salzberg and Rev. angel Kyodo williams, “Love Everyone: A Guide for Spiritual Activists”

Andrea Miller, “There Is a Path That Frees Us from Suffering: A Profile of Gina Sharpe

Study & Training Organizations

East Bay Meditation Center (founded by Spirit Rock Teacher Council members Larry Yang, Spring Washam, and others)

Our mission is to foster liberation, personal and interpersonal healing, social action, and inclusive community building. We offer mindfulness practices and teachings on wisdom and compassion from Buddhist and other spiritual traditions. Rooted in our commitment to diversity, we operate with transparent democratic governance, generosity-based economics, and environmental sustainability.

Buddhist Peace Fellowship

At Buddhist Peace Fellowship, we come together from multiple lineages, Buddhist and otherwise. We support bold, creative, loving actions to block systemic harm, while building collaborative tools that give us the strength to be with our suffering, in order to transform towards liberation.

White Awake (founded by practitioners from Insight Meditation Community of Washington, supported by Spirit Rock teacher Tara Brach, and The Work That Reconnects, with Joanna Macy)

In the current historical moment, with multiple crises coming to a head, white people have a pressing need to understand our true nature and how that nature is different from who we are socialized and manipulated to be. To fully engage with the demands of social change, people who are socially categorized as “white” need an identity more substantial than capitalist consumer or prized citizens of an oppressive nation state. We need to know ourselves as children of this earth, humans among other humans, with an undeniable stake in building a just and life sustaining society that works for all.

Education for Racial Equity (advised by Spirit Rock teacher Konda Mason)

We believe that having an informed analysis and a holistic skillset to address structural racism and white supremacy is essential for engaging in multi-racial and multi-cultural collaboration, solidarity, and community-building on the planet.

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