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
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.