ARISE Letter to the Community: An Update Awakening Through Race, Intersectionality, and Social Equity

Dear Beloved Family,

‘We are here to awaken to the illusion of our separateness.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

As we experience and witness increasingly difficult and uncertain times inspired by the illusion of separation, we are urgently called to heed Thay’s teaching. With this, comes the challenge to meet these times where we are with compassion, heal from them, stand up against oppression, utilize our practices, share and be with one another, and take action with peace, solidity and friendliness. In these times, the Three Jewels remind us that we can seek refuge in ourselves and in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Looking deeply and healing from the seeds of separation of racism and oppression is ever present, critical, and urgent. This is the work of our ARISE Sangha, Awakening Through Race, Intersectionality* and Social Equity. We wish to offer an update of our work and offer gratitude. We are grateful for our work together and see that this work, this awareness and healing process, is one that is deeply embedded and interwoven in the fabric of all our lives and invite all of you, all of us, our greater Sangha, to join in this healing journey. Thay reminds us, we are all his continuation -- what we do now touches our ancestors, us, and our future generations.

Emergence of ARISE

ARISE Sangha, a community of lay practitioners and monastics, emerged after a series of offerings to the community during 2015. The first was held in July 2015 at the Northern California Sangha Facilitators gathering where dialogue about race, power and privilege in our sanghas was explored.  In September 2015, a panel presentation in New York City, Where Spirit And Action Meet, explored the role of spirit in action for racial justice. In October 2015, Racial Equity was explored with personal stories and open dialogue, with the four-fold community present, at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California. The energy of the response to these offerings and the collective desire to understand and heal the wounds of racial, class, and other separations gave rise to the formation of the ARISE Sangha.

Our Vision

We aspire to engage the Plum Village community worldwide in the work of healing the wounds of racial injustice and social inequity, beginning with looking deeply within ourselves. We seek a worldwide Manyfold Community that is consciously and committedly engaged in the work of transformation and healing of racial injustice and social inequity. In so doing, we aspire to nourish and protect Beloved Community, shared vision of our teacher Thay Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our Manyfold Community and beyond.

Community Survey

We reached out to you, our community, in a survey to help determine where to focus efforts.  In that survey, we received 284 responses. Seventy-two people (25%) identified as people of color, 211 (67%) identified as white, and 22 (8%) did not identify racial/ethnic identity.

To the question of ‘what our work should be about’, the two top mutual responses are:

·      Actively encouraging all of our sanghas to take on this work to deepen their practice

·      Actively finding ways to support a greater presence of people of color (POC) within the OI/Sangha leadership

These results suggest that while there is much awareness of the need for us to address racial separation in our sanghas, there remains much work ahead of us to heal, understand/educate, and transform not only ourselves individually, but ourselves as a mahasangha. We recognize that our mahasangha is a reflection of our greater society, exhibiting the same seeds and fruits of separation. In these times, it is imperative that we look deeply to understand the roots of systemic and conditioned racism and to heal and transform individually and as a mahasangha. This is a loving offering to the greater society, and can begin to transform world.

A Path for Healing – Call to Action

A path for this healing journey, included in our Core Mission, is articulated by Marisela Gomez and Valerie Brown in a Call to Action with the five points below.

Engage in a process of understanding and building Beloved Community by:

·    Creating safe and loving spaces for people of color to heal from the trauma of racial injustice and inequity;

·    Looking deeply at and addressing the under-representation of people of color and low-income people in our individual Sanghas and the collective Sangha;

·    Creating safe and loving spaces for white allies of people of color to engage in looking deeply, understanding, and healing from implicit bias and other forms of discrimination;

·    Creating safe and loving spaces for white allies to understand the systemic legacy of racial inequity and to provide opportunities for learning and practice;

·    Creating safe and loving spaces for people of color and white allies to come together to look deeply and engage in healing together.

While People of Color (POC) retreats have been held at Deer Park Monastery, Blue Cliff Monastery and elsewhere, and POC Sanghas exist in Brooklyn, NY; Escondido, Los Angeles, Oakland, CA; and Baltimore, MD, even more are encouraged and necessary. Recently, dedicated circles of White Awareness study groups and White Awareness Sanghas have emerged and are examples of actions taken toward this healing process. We recognize the urgent call to action to continue this work and expand throughout our mahasangha. 

Your Involvement/Our Involvement: What is Next?

Where will we go from here? How can you be a part of this ongoing healing journey?

In keeping with the ARISE Vision and from community response: first, we encourage everyone to look deeply to identify the signs and symptoms, the apparent and not so apparent wounds of racial injustice and social inequity within ourselves. We encourage everyone to actively take on this work to deepen our practice.

Second, individually, in Sangha, and in taking action in the world, we encourage everyone and our Sanghas to consciously and committedly engage in the collective work of transformation and healing of racial injustice and social inequity. 

Third, we invite everyone to review silently, read aloud, and meditate on the top Community Responses and Path for Healing/Call to Action above. By doing so, we are beginning anew with the intention and practice of Thay’s call for “waking up from the illusion of our separateness.” What next steps will each of us take?

For these top Community Responses and Path for Healing/Call to Action, we are aware that guidance and support may be needed along the way for this journey. The ARISE core group, over the coming year, will be looking more closely at ways to support local sanghas and individuals as we actively engage in healing from wounds of racial and social inequity: love in action.

We know many of us are engaged in this work, this love in action, in the world and there are many beautiful sharings taking place in our mahasangha. Recent examples include the Global Day of Prayer, Love Letters, Women’s March on Washington, practices during the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and honoring of Black History Month.  

We also wish to create an ARISE network, so please share with us what you may already be doing or planning to do in your local community…yes, we are all a cell in the sangha body of ARISE!

In closing, we offer the Three Jewels below. We are also adding our Gatha for Healing, Racial, Systemic and Social Inequity; an extract of our Vision and Purpose Statement; recent ARISE action; and our website.

With deep gratitude,

ARISE Core Community Members

Valerie Brown

Marisela Gomez

Antoinette Gonzalez

Lyn Fine

Brian BK Kimmel

Victoria Mausisa

Sister Ocean

Jo-Ann Rosen

Jon Salunga

Sister Peace

Kaira Jewel-Lingo

John Bell

* Intersectionality – refers to how different forms of discrimination can combine, interact and overlap.  Different forms of discrimination include genderraceclassabilitysexual orientationreligioncasteage, nationality and others.  The term, intersectionality, was developed by Kimberle Crenshaw and can be used to understand how systemic injustice and social inequity occur on a multi-dimensional basis.


1)  Our Gatha for Healing Racial, Systemic and Social Inequity

2)  An extract of our Vision & Purpose Statement.  (Full version can be found on our website)

3)  ARISE Action

4)  Our website:

The Three Jewels

Thich Nhat Hanh
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

1 take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.
1 take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and of love.
1 take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness.

Dwelling in the refuge of Buddha, l see clearly the path of light and beauty in the world. 
Dwelling in the refuge of Dharma, l learn to open many doors on the path of transformation.
Dwelling in the refuge of Sangha, I am supported by its shining light that keeps my practice free of obstacles.

Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself, I aspire to help all people recognize their own awakened nature and realize the mind of love. 
Taking refuge in the Dharma in myself, I aspire to help all people grasp the way of practice and walk together on the path of liberation. 
Taking refuge in the Sangha in myself, I aspire to help all people build fourfold communities and encourage the transformation of all beings.