by Larry Ward
It is a miracle to be born. It is also a miracle to be born as a person of color. While it is true that most of the people in the world are people of color, it has rarely been seen as a miracle but rather as an overwhelming burden and devastating curse. Attending the People of Color Retreat at Deer Park Monastery was a deep joy for me. It was healing to practice with such a multicultural Sangha.
It is a rainy day here in Asheville, North Carolina. The city is surrounded by fog; the air is thick and it is often difﬁcult to see clearly. I catch only glimpses of the green trees through the large raindrops that are nourishing the earth. My journey with the spiritual aspects of being a person of color has been like today’s weather––a lot of fog interspersed with glimpses of clarity.
While growing up in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, my greatest resource on my journey as a person of color were my parents and the inspiring men and women of the civil rights movement. My parents taught me to be respectful of everyone regardless of their color. They taught me to love my African American roots. They taught me the value of living a spiritual life. Through their storytelling, they also taught me the pain of discrimination, prejudice, and racism.
The inspiring heroes of the civil rights movement taught me to ﬁnd my own dreams and discover my own courage in fulﬁlling the task of social justice. They taught me to think globally, as discrimination and prejudice know no borders. They taught me to act with compassion on behalf of the whole society.
Discovering a path of practice, supported by my teacher and the Sangha, has and continues to bring me deep healing and transformation which penetrates every ﬁber of my being and brings me peace, freedom, and understanding. This has come about through the continuous practice of recognizing and embracing my suffering, my anger, and my fear as a person of color. I have come face to face with the self-esteem complex in the seeds of my psyche and the collective psyche of our society. I have become more intimate with the pain of being devalued, threatened, and harmed; in so doing I have become more connected with the despair of my ancestors.
Through the practice of looking deeply I was astonished to discover how much hurt there was in every cell of my body. When the tears come I know they are the tears of my ancestors that are my self. I have learned to practice recognizing and embracing the gifts and positive energies of my ancestors that reside in every cell of my body. I am learning to heal the negative patterns and energies that I have inherited. When the sadness of the wounds of time rises up within me, I go to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as my refuge. I can truly say that through the practices the Buddha taught, my tears have become Dharma rain, nourishing my compassion for myself, my race, and all people.
I have discovered that my transformation and healing is the transformation and healing of my ancestors. I have learned that the roots of exercising bigotry towards others often mask a profound doubt in one’s own value, worth, and dignity. I have come to see that racism and discrimination at their roots are manifestations of the three poisons of which the Buddha spoke: hatred, greed, and ignorance. The practice of the mindfulness trainings are my raft over this ocean of disease. I am learning not to add to my suffering by caring for my body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.
This does not mean that all of my habits of mind and body that cause me and those around me to suffer have been removed. Nor does it mean that our society is rid of the mind of violence, hatred, and ignorance. It does mean that I feel safe and unafraid with my practice, my teacher, my family, and my Sangha supporting me. I enjoy sitting, lying, and walking meditation as they refresh my body and my mind. I participate in days of mindfulness and retreats whenever possible. This nourishment keeps me from losing hope in myself and hope in humanity.
Yes, it is a miracle to be born. It is also a miracle to be born as a person of color. I am touched by the miracle of all peoples, all places, and all times as I come home to the miracle that is myself.
Larry Ward, True Great Sound, received lamp transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh in 2001. Living in Asheville, North Carolina, he and his wife, Peggy Rowe, are co-directors of The Lotus Institute, which shares Thay’s teachings throughout the world. They live on four acres of land where they plan to build a lay practice center.