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Shambhala Sun | September 2014


There is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering

Insight teacher Gina Sharpe is working to create a truly inclusive sangha. The place to start, she says, is facing the truth that even Buddhist communities aren’t free from the suffering caused by racism. A profile by ANDREA MILLER.

Buddhist teacher Gina Sharpe once asked a student why she only attended meditation retreats that were specifically for people of color.

“Gina,” the woman answered, “I’m from the South. If I’m the only black person in a room of ninety-nine white people, there’s only one thing that’s going to happen.”

“What’s that?” Sharpe asked.

Then came the woman’s answer—graphic and powerful.

“A lynching,” she said.

Looking back, Sharpe pinpoints this as the moment when she “really got it.” While the white Buddhist community may be very sweet, very well intentioned, that doesn’t change people’s visceral experience. “It was nothing I could argue with,” Sharpe explains. “It’s an emotional wound that won’t heal.”

Originally from Jamaica, Sharpe has a complex heritage—white, black, and Chinese. “I’m so assimilated that I’m more comfortable than many people of color in a white world,” she acknowledges. As a Buddhist practitioner in the Insight Meditation tradition, she never had any qualms about attending retreats that were otherwise all white, and for a long time she didn’t entirely grasp how difficult it was for many people of color. Yet the first time she led a people of color retreat, she noticed an unfamiliar feeling of relaxation.

“I didn’t realize that when I’m not in a diverse place, there’s a certain amount of unconscious tension that I carry,” she says. When she practiced with other people of color, the tension dropped away.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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