Author Topic: Black, bisexual, Buddhist and not afraid to embrace who she is  (Read 1534 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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OAKLAND, Calif. — When Zenju Earthlyn Manuel goes to teach somewhere for the first time, she often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.

She doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.

And getting them to acknowledge that her body — her “manifestation,” as she calls it — is different and a part of her experience is crucial to her teaching. If our bodies are sources of suffering, then we ignore them at our peril.

“When I have held and embraced who I am, how I am embodied, it has become a source of enlightenment, of freedom,” she said from a sunny corner window seat in her living room. Draped in a black monk’s jacket, she is a stark contrast to the white walls and white upholstery of the rest of the room.

It is an idea that she unpacks in “The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender,” her second book of dharma, or Buddhist teachings, published in February by Wisdom Publications. In it, Manuel, who follows the Zen tradition, calls on Buddhists not to ignore those ways they may be different, whether it’s because of their color, gender or sexual orientation.

“These are the things you were born with,” she said, one hand resting on her chest. “Do you curl up and die or do you live with it?”

This idea — which she and others call a “multiplicity of oneness” — is somewhat controversial within Buddhism, where the teachings have tended to focus on moving beyond the physical to find the spiritual. But Manuel and a handful of other Western Buddhists — including a number of African-American teachers — are embracing the idea as crucial to enlightenment, a state free from anxiety that is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

“There are two truths in Buddhism; one is relative and one is absolute,” Manuel said. “We tend to want to be in the absolute, where we are all the same, we are all one. But that is not where our suffering lies. Our suffering lies in the relative truth, in how we are embodied. So we have to acknowledge and explore these bodies to experience the absolute truth, the truth that we are one from the source of life. We can’t skip it.”

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