I intended to write about freedom today, using Independence Day as a springboard. As I started to write, I kept feeling a nudge in my heart and a tug in my gut to expand my musings beyond the topic of liberation in general, to include the recent killings of two African-American men by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. And now, five Dallas police officers are dead from sniper attacks as revenge over despair about the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police officers. A man involved in the ambush was killed using an explosive delivered by a robot. As I sat down to write, I realized I could not continue without reflecting upon my experience of shock, numbness, rage, and eventually tearful heartbreak. Not again. Not again!
I tried to continue writing about freedom, but as is often the case in a world of polarities, I found that I couldn’t write about freedom without also reflecting on the ways that I, as an African-American don’t always feel free and that we as a country are not yet free even though this nation declared its “independence” 240 years ago.
How do I tie together centuries old brutality against African-Americans, Independence Day, liberation, and the Dharma?
It was Independence Day earlier this week: July 4th. All around the country, people celebrated. Some attended parties and concerts. Others barbecued or went to fairs. Some took advantage of holiday sales and went shopping. Still others spent the day at the beach and enjoyed firework displays. In the weeks leading up to July 4th, I began reflecting upon the historical events that led to the 13 colonies gaining independence from the British Empire in 1776 through protests and then a violent revolution. I was reminded, as I am every year around this time that both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were based upon and inspired by the Great Law of Peace – the oral constitution that bound the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Great Law of Peace was a living, breathing document that embodied so much of what the Buddha taught about the true nature of reality, including the inter-connectedness of all life. Inter-being is at the core of all Buddhist teachings and we can see the truth of this all around us. From the First Nations people who created the Great Law of Peace, which the Founding Fathers appropriated in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to African slave labor that amassed the capital that financed the industrial revolution, to Asians who toiled to build this nations railroads. This web of life also extends to the trees that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, to the wolves that regenerate nature’s ecosystems, and to honeybees that pollinate the plants that comprise so much of our dietary staples.
Our practice of mindfulness is about bringing our receptive awareness to our lives moment to moment, being aware of what is arising within us, as well as around us, in our intersecting communities. By bringing our awareness in contact with reality, we come to know in an embodied way that all life, all phenomena, are marvelously interwoven and that the internal and the external reflect one another.
Recognizing the inter-being of all things, we see the fractal nature of life. That inside each of us lives each of us. The Buddha said “within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.”
Is this a path toward true liberation, truly seeing and knowing our inter-connectedness in this fathom-long body?
Perhaps by deepening our awareness of this truth, we will come to celebrate our interdependence instead of our independence, and know that our freedom and our peace depend on it.
As I reflect on the recent violence in our country, I see the soil is being tilled – must be tilled – before new seeds are planted. We are unearthing what has been buried for hundreds of years – racism and the belief in separation. Although it looks like things are falling apart, the country, the world, is actually looking to re-unite. In order for this to happen, things that have been buried need to be unearthed so we can see them clearly, make contact with them in an embodied way.
Our practice of mindfulness can be our refuge during these difficult times. It can support us in pulling up the weeds and old seeds of aversion and delusion, and cultivating more wholesome seeds of love, compassion and awareness of our inter-being. The planting of these new seeds will support us in creating the peaceful world we aspire to live in.
Yours in the Dharma,