Buddhism is a natural foundation for racial justice activism. In fact, the Buddha was quoted as saying, “I teach only two things: suffering and the end of suffering.”
As I continue to learn more about the pervasive racial suffering in the United States, and slowly embrace some crucial, ongoing steps toward its potential end, I’m grateful for the simple yet powerful symmetry between Buddhist mindfulness practices and racial justice work.
To become aware of suffering is to recognize that suffering is happening. That’s also Buddhism’s First Noble Truth. To become aware of systemic racial suffering, driven by capitalistic ambitions that birth policies that spawn racism, one must first become willing to see it and hear it.
A heart that is touched by noticing widespread racial suffering will inevitably be curious about the causes of such suffering. Peeling back the layers of people’s pain in order to see the triggering actions, words, and policies that are at play, is essentially Buddhism’s Second Noble Truth.
As your heart continues to soften in the face of both awareness of racial suffering and its causes, the most natural next step is to feel motivated to want to help end the suffering: to do your part in helping to liberate the victims of racial injustice, not as some “white savior” but as someone moved to extend their white privilege to those without it.
Such motivation is more than merely “wishing something could be done to stop these injustices,” but embracing–through careful observations–that these causes of racial injustices can, in fact, be eradicated. That’s the Third Noble Truth. Liberation is possible!
The Fourth Noble Truth delineates a roadmap for attacking and defeating the causes of suffering. That roadmap is the Noble Eightfold Path, and each step involves thinking, talking, and acting differently in order to bear the fruit of liberation from suffering.
Racial justice requires ongoing, deliberate steps that mirror the mindfulness practices lining the Noble Eightfold Path:
- Right View. A mindset that’s deeply grounded in the aforementioned Four Noble Truths. For the potential racial justice activist, this involves softening the heart in the manner described above.
- Right Thinking (or Intent). The practice of intending to be liberated from suffering, and to liberate others, through words and actions. There can be no sustainable, difference-making racial justice activism without a pure agenda of liberation for all who suffer.
- Right Speech. The practice of loving, truthful, and helpful speech. Savvy activism necessitates learning what this sounds like in action, and being willing to participate in uncomfortable conversations.
- Right Action. The practice of behaviors grounded in, and guided by, non-violence, gratitude, generosity, loving/kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, equanimity, sexual virtue, taking in healthy nutriments, and self care. These behaviors reinforce each other and reduce a lot of intersectional suffering in multiple directions, starting with your own.
- Right Livelihood. The practice of engaging in work that protects all beings and the earth from harm and promotes liberation. The justice seeker is compelled to fully examine the nature of their particular business affairs or employment, and how they are contributing to others’ suffering or reducing it.
- Right Diligence (or Effort). The practice of developing positive skills for ongoing growth, such as virtue, concentration, and wisdom, along with unlearning harmful habits such as craving, aversion, and delusion. The earlier steps of the Eightfold Path help the justice advocate become more disciplined in such healthy efforts.
- Right Mindfulness: The practice of continuously observing, without judgement, the impermanence, dissatisfaction, and selflessness of all created things. An activist who becomes consistent in practicing mindfulness takes the weight of the world off of their shoulders, gets their ego out of their way, and is less likely to become discouraged, bitter, or burned out.
- Right Concentration. The practice of deep focus on a single object or changing objects, bearing the fruit of seeing their true nature of impermanence, dissatisfaction, and selflessness. An activist who practices the previous steps develops the stamina and capacity to keep their sights on what’s truly at stake, and on the need for specific policy and culture changes concerning racial injustices.
These mindful activism behaviors don’t grow into fullness over night. There are no quick fixes; only deliberate, skillful steps in the direction of liberation. It’s a happy and harmonious way to live in community with others.