Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Way It Was (Part 1) - Black Women First

I've decided to write a series of posts titled, "The Way It was." The series will include my recollections on past situations that occurred during my evolution of Black Buddha. For example, many people don't know that black women were involved with leadership in the American Buddhist community long before I came on the scene.

For the sake of confidentiality I won't mention names. Suffice it to say for the most part that they had taken refuge from homophobia and misogyny in black culture. Early on Buddhism offered civility and peace to Lesbian and bisexual women who found little or no solace from the black Christian churches that infused judgement, criticism, and condemnation between them and the eyes of God. Interracial couples, mixed race commune dwellers, and biracial individuals were not uncommon either, primarily as a result of the Hippie movement's alternative to the radicalized Marxist/Leninist black power and black theology empowerment movements.

1960's-70's Indian and Tibetan gurus cultivated an affinity with peace loving hippies that endures as an understructure of convert Buddhism practiced today. American Buddhism is an Asian export catered to the American taste for Dharma-lite, an approach to Buddhism that quiets the nerves in non-offensive, non-confrontational, moderately spiritualized psycho-emotional "mental bites." Graduated change without the clamour of deep introspection and seizure like revelations is the rule of the day. Silent retreat is preferred by most except for the brave hearts who can endure the clashing of cymbals, pounding of drums, squealing horns and resonant mantric incantations of Tibetan egoistic beast slaying.

Voiceless black women and a smattering of men lay in the wash of this East/West symbiosis as it merged into definitive communities of American Buddhist traditions. Even as late as the mid nineties the term "Black Buddha" was seen as an offensive oxymoron while the unquestioned moniker "American Buddhism" forged on in a state of determined institutionalism.

The day I entered my first service to a Buddhist retreat center there was a young black woman sitting close to me at puja. She seemed upset as the lama approached her saying, "please don't leave." I never saw her again but the story was she had arrived with a black husband but was departing alone. Another interracial couple broke up while I was there and eventually my discussion of Black Buddha landed me on the "disinvited" list as well.

The American Buddhist environment was not a stable place for black love or lovers but for some black women its was better than eternal condemnation under God in African American Christendom. That's the way it was.