A QUARTERLY FOR BLACK LESBIANS AND ALLIES
Black, Lesbian, & Buddhist...Say What? by Z. Bediako
Note: This series does not delve into the history or tenets of Buddhism. The purpose is for Black women to share a small part of their journey within the Buddhist faith.
Monica has practiced Tibetan Buddhism for the past three years and attends a Buddhist temple in Columbus, Ohio. At twenty-eight, she is studying to be a Reiki practitioner and massage therapist. Monica is the co-facilitator of Hey Girl Hey, a monthly discussion group for queer women of color in Columbus and Cincinnati.
My Introduction. I heard about Buddhism during my last year of high school in my world religions class and while taking yoga. I was re-introduced to Buddhism while serving in AmeriCorps. During that time, I was trying to find a place to attend meditation on a regular basis and discovered a Zen meditation group.
What attracts me to Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, is the notion of showing compassion for all living things. Humans, plants, animals—anything. Another thing that connects with my spirit about Buddhism is that we can look within ourselves for love, inner peace, and healing. Meditation, prayers, and offerings help to manifest those things.
Luckily, my family is extremely small. It is my mom and uncle (who I do not have much contact with). When my grandmother was alive, she was really receptive of me being a Buddhist. My grandmother was the one who encouraged me to find a spiritual home. When I told her about the offering sessions I attended or how amazing the meditation session was, she was thrilled and suggested that I had found my spiritual home. She was a huge supporter. My mom is pretty open to me being Buddhist. She actually came to my refuge ceremony two years ago. All in all, my immediate family has been greatly supportive.
My Buddhism. I practice the Tibet form of Buddhism. I usually meditate one to three times a week. To be honest, my practice ebbs and flows. The number of times I do a certain prayer or meditation is not what connects me, it is the fact that I am present and my heart open during those times that’s most important. My Background. I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school for all twelve years of schooling. I researched a couple of African spiritual traditions while in college, but I was Unitarian Universalist before Buddhist. There are many similarities to draw from with all these religious backgrounds—prayer and offering to a higher being, and opening oneself to God’s message. What drew my spirit to Buddhism is how deceptively simple it is. I can do meditation and prayer anywhere at anytime. The challenge is to remain in the present moment and to not fall into judgment or be critical of a situation or person, especially when a situation is challenging or painful. Buddhism pushes me to resolve challenges with love and honesty, which differs from my religious upbringing.
My Identity. From my perspective, love, compassion, and awareness are at the center of all Buddhist teachings. Meditation encourages self-love and self-care, which has helped me accept myself as a Black lesbian woman. My Relationships. Many of the women I’ve dated have come from a Christian background. Many of them embraced me as a Buddhist and had mad questions about my faith, mainly for the simple fact that they had never interacted with a Black lesbian who spiritually identified as Buddhist. One woman I dated for a few months was a practicing Christian and grew up in the Christian church. She had a hard time envisioning two people of different faiths being in a relationship. I explained to her that my path to being closer to God was just another way of developing a spiritual (continued on next page...)
“From my perspective, love, compassion, and awareness are at the center of all Buddhist teachings.” www.ResPublishing.com
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path. It was not a wrong way or even a right way—it was another. A way that my spirit feels called to. I would like to date someone who meditates and prays on a regular basis. I would like to date someone who is actively working on her spiritual journey. Currently, I am single. I cannot say either way how this would affect a future relationship. My Opinion. I feel there is a lack of visibility of Buddhists of color in the West, especially queer Buddhists of color. I met a good friend of mine through the temple we both attend. But, at my temple, there have not been any attempts (that I know of) to diversify/actively connect with people of color and queer people of color. Though not an initiative at my temple, that has not made me shy away from the temple or my faith. I try to make myself more visible at the temple by being more active in some of the roles at the Columbus Karma Thegsum Choling Buddhist Meditation Center, such as leading meditation or being a greeter. By doing so, I want to show others within and outside the temple that we exist and are visible. There are some queer people who attend the temple I belong to. It seems that they are pretty receptive to queerness. In terms of supporting policies as gay marriage, I’m not certain about that. Daily Support. One major Buddhist principle that supports me daily is The Four Immeasurables Prayer. Depending on what sect one belongs to—and/or what internet results show—the wording may differ. Here is how
it has been taught to me: “May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering; may all sentient beings never be separated from the happiness that knows no suffering; may all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and anger, that hold some close and others distant.” This prayer helps me when I am going through a difficult time with work, family, exes/former lovers, personal issues, etc. It helps me step outside of my feelings and see how all of us are connected. To be honest, I do fall short sometimes. However, this prayer encourages me to heal even when I resist. The Benefits. The biggest offering that Buddhism can offer to Black queer folks is meditation. Many of us look for inner peace in external validation—through relationships, material wealth, jobs, etc.—not realizing that inner peace is within us all the time and there is enough for everyone. For me, meditation nourishes and heals me in ways that the external world cannot. Meditation helps me to think about where my thoughts and actions stem from and how to be compassionate to myself, which helps me be compassionate to all creatures. My Advice. I would encourage others to research Buddhism and ask questions about it. Seek others who follow Buddhism and see what their journey is like. Always ask, always be present, and always have an open heart. •
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4 reSOUND - Issue 4 of 4 for 2012