SZBA Statement and Call to Action on Systemic Racism

What follows is the statement of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA), an organization of priests which I am a member. While my heart is deeply pained by recent (and centuries old) events in the news I’m really glad to see this statement being made.

Rev. Jisho and I have been offering classes on Systemic Racism for the past 3 months, and continue to study the issue ourselves and among our peers. I can’t recommend enough that every Buddhist practitioner – especially those of us who are white – study this issue as part of our practice. Racisim is the form that suffering takes on United States soil, and we can no longer continue to ignore it.

Racism is the first noble truth of the Buddha, if we apply the Dharma to the United States, not India (with all due respect), or another time and place. If we want to understand suffering in the United States, we have to understand the foundational role which race plays.

At present Zen Fields has an ongoing study of race where we meet once a month. We’ve been studying books including White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo and Radical Dharma, by Angel Kyodo Williams, as well as Tanahesi Coates’, “The Case for Reparations.” I invite you to join us in this study. Please reach out to me if you’d like to be a part of this ongoing discussion.

A recent Dharma talk I gave that included discussion of race can be found here on facebook. (It begins about 9 minutes in).

Here is the statement of the SZBA:

In deep grief over the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association acknowledges the deep-seated, systemic, and structural racism that poisons life in the United States of America. We vow to continue the work we are currently engaged in, and call for a fresh and coordinated effort to dismantle racism at every level of our culture, society, government, our Zen communities, and our own hearts.  Today, we see and hear the searing pain and anger of Black people, who have endured centuries of oppression in the United States and who, as a community, continue to suffer acts of violence and discrimination, including at the hands of law enforcement.  We grieve the disproportionate number of people of color who have died of the coronavirus, and see that many people of color performing essential functions of society are undervalued and oppressed economically. Those of us who are white fully avow our complicity in perpetuating this harm.  We look to the Dharma to support us as a community, and to inspire and inform our actions off the cushion. As Soto Zen Buddhist priests the Dharma is our guide as we sow the seeds of compassion and inclusion toward all people. We recognize the deeply embedded ways racism and white privilege deprive us of the world we have vowed to co-create with all beings. We vow to overcome racism in ourselves, our Sanghas, and our world. We call on all members of the SZBA to dig deeply into our own roles in institutionalized and systemic racism and engage in the following actions:

Center voices of color and their needs in our Zen communities. Without conscious centering, these voices and needs can get lost in our predominantly white-dominant spaces.

Reach out to your members of color and offer emotional, spiritual, and practical support. 

Commit to 49 days of meditation, ritual, and mourning for George Floyd and for all who suffer from systemic racism and other forms of injustice.

For these 49 days begin your services with the SZBA’s Statement of Recognition and Repentance. Include the statement in your monthly Full Moon Ceremony. 

Commit to amplifying the voices of Buddhists of Color, especially Black Buddhists, and their teachings. 

Speak directly about anti-racism with your Zen communities, through Dharma talks, workshops, and community discussions. Ask for feedback to make sure your message and actions strike the right note for people of color.

Engage your community members to make actionable plans for stepping up and speaking out, honoring Right Action and Right Speech. Create community accountability for these plans.

Listen deeply. Allow space, voice, and permission for anger and rage without judgment, guilt, or pressure to bypass these emotions. 

Reach out to Black clergy and Black social justice organizations in your community and offer your support. 

Have your communities commit to a series of brave, fierce conversations on race,  privilege, and bias.

Vow to hold ourselves, and our leaders, accountable.

Acknowledging the suffering racism causes, we commit to creating refuges for all who breathe, and for those who feel they cannot breathe. The SZBA acknowledges that we have not always been a refuge for Black and Brown people. We atone for this and we renew our vow to untangle racism’s tenacious tendrils and cultivate the blossoming of a new and better world. We will practice the humility that is essential to listening deeply and that leads to real and lasting change.  

With palms together, The SZBA Board
Tenku Ruff, President
Charlie Pokorny, Vice President
Chimyo Atkinson, Secretary
Dokai Georgesen, Treasurer
Mamta Prakash
Thomas Bruner
Gyozan Royce Johnson
Sosan Flynn
Koshin Paley Ellison
Marc Lesser
Inryū Bobbi Poncé-Barger

The DEIA Committee
Annalisa Castaldo, Committee Chair
Dokai Georgesen, Board Liaison
Genjo Conway
Ben Connelly
Robert Kaku Gunn
Ryuki Tom Hawkins
Tova Green
The Soto Zen Buddhist Association seeks to make Soto Zen practice available to everyone. We work to transform barriers based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, political affiliation, economic class, sexual orientation, age, and ability. We find harmony in both our differences and what we share.
Soto Zen Buddhist Association
The words Zen Fields and a signature stamp next to a spare ink pen outline of a meditator in a field


Subscribe to receive Dharma teachings and
Zen Fields updates to your in-box weekly!