May. 17th, 2011

As a Zen Buddhist and a feminist, I think Zen could have a lot to say on the ideas of privilege and social hierarchy; however, I've yet to see anyone write or speak about this topic. Indeed, it feels like privilege has been completely overlooked in Zen, despite how obvious the connections seem.

Essentially, my fundamental thesis is this: to deny privilege is to deny the dharma. It is to deny the existence of the chain of cause & effect, to deny the interleaving of all things, to deny the doctrine of no-self. To be blind to privilege is to center yourself in the universe and shout at the top of your lungs "I am me and I am special among all things in the Universe".

You cannot escape the role of privilege in your life if you are to acknowledge that form is emptiness, to acknowledge the role of the infinite wheel of cause and effect in our every triumph and failure. Our place in the kyriarchy is a part of the momentum we each have and it it affects every action we take. Clearly, you cannot hide from your own privilege by invoking the idea of no-self. Zen does not say "we are all identical". It says that all things have buddha-nature. We are not "all one", we are "not one, not two".

In my own Sangha, I feel that the teachers have erred too much on the side of treating everyone as "one" and have put the burden on students who don't have a high place in the hierarchy to rise above the ones that do in order to merely participate in the community. That's how power imbalances always play out when not explicitly addressed. The momentum of karma is towards continued bigotry and oppression and, like all karma, its dismantling should be a part of Zen practice.

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Mx. Pre-sheaf

April 2012

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