The murder of George Floyd strikes the hearts and minds of so many with feelings of outrage, sadness, and grief, all the more that it was undeniably so overt, as if such actions were somehow acceptable. It is only because of the courage of the young woman who recorded it all, that the truth of the matter is unavoidably and forever there in front of our eyes, removing any illusion that the killing was somehow defensible or due to any action on the part of Mr. Floyd.
Perhaps even more devastating and telling is that this continuing and blatant disregard for our common humanity no longer astonishes us. This incident, like that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and too many others, brings into sharp relief the tragic reality of racism and the historical legacy of enslavement of Africans and others in our country. It highlights the Buddha’s teachings about the mind’s capacity to experience both the highest good and also the greatest evil.
All actions have their genesis in our hearts and minds. The light of awareness is in this moment shining brightly upon the tragic manifestations of hatred, ignorance and delusion that led to the death of George Floyd. Delusion blames others, creates enemies, and fosters disconnection, sustaining the illusion of separateness upon which war, racism, and injustice rest. True lasting change will only come when we awaken that sense of personal and shared responsibility and compassion for all.
For white people in our sanghas, there is a responsibility to educate ourselves about the historic and current expressions of racism and oppression so that we can be a positive force for the good. We are called upon to see and come close to the magnitude of the suffering before us, and not turn away once again as if these devastating events are singular occurrences. It is not enough to practice loving-kindness and compassion in the solitude of our meditation; we can all strive to have them manifest in our actions, actively seeking ways to address the immediacy of the suffering as well as its many underlying causes.
The same qualities that the Buddha taught as the basis for Awakening can be applied to our service in the world. It is time to bring consistently and persistently mindful awareness, keen discernment, energetic response, intense interest, a foundation of calm and steadiness, and a spaciousness that can hold it all. In telling the truth and helping others in whatever way we can, we are cultivating all these qualities in ourselves; and by cultivating them in ourselves, we develop the inner resources and resilience to effectively be of help to others.
This is the charge we must all answer and the work each of us must engage and do. All of us at IMS continue to be committed to the dharma of justice, equity, inclusion and freedom. May all beings with no exceptions be safe and free from danger and harm. May all be at peace.
Narayan Helen Liebenson
* Tools for education are available on the IMS website’s Diversity Resources page.