Making refuge together

Making refuge together

At the end of July 2017, the Mangalam Center hosted a weekend-long event to gather thought leaders at the intersection of social justice and Buddhism. The speakers on the culminating public panel of the event lent their commentary to the current trends of mainstream, white-dominant mindfulness. They put forth the concept of making refuge as a more inclusive practice of modern-day Buddhism,  acknowledging the systems of oppression that result in some groups of people being more vulnerable than others, and the inherent need for safety of all, especially those who have been marginalized. They criticized mainstream mindfulness, as practiced today, as having been reduced to a technique for stress-reduction and increasing one’s happiness. They further expanded by naming that this wave of mindfulness has been dismissive of the the need for safety within one’s body and environment as primary, before these other needs can be sought out. Thus, the first speaker, Edwin Ng, introduced the term “making refuge”, co-developed with Zack Walsh, as a “collective task of building the conditions of trust and safety necessary for living and dying well together. “

The other speakers included: Mangalam Center Director, Jack Petranker, Mushim Ikeda from the East Bay Meditation Center, Dawn Haney of Buddhist Peace Fellowship, scholar and Zen Buddhist priest Doshin Nathan Woods, Buddhist scholar Zack Walsh, SFSU Professor of Management, Ronald Purser,  Zen Buddhist author, David Loy, and Peter Doran, author, who claimed the concept of “Mindful Commons”. The panelists explored the various ways to make refuge collectively through creating safe spaces for “refuges of joy”, where people can find a felt sense of safety, expansion, and freedom within their bodies, and within the physical space around them. Finding freedom within one’s body was named as an act of political resistance to oppression, which can make people feel contracted and tense in their bodies. The focus also turned toward de-centering Buddhist practices away from white supremacist dominant ideology and re-centering them around Asian and Asian-American Buddhist practices. The overarching sentiment pointed to the need to connect the individual transformative practices with those of social transformation so that mindfulness does not continue to bypass systemic factors within our social and ecological landscape. As the closing chant stated, “we recognize refuge as shared, found in all traditions and cultures, made through connection to all beings and the great earth.”

As we continue to contemplate what emerged from the gathering, we’d love to hear from our community at Mangalam Center: 1) what practices are you finding to make refuge for yourself, those who are suffering around you, and within our ecosystem? And, 2) what are the specific ways you view individual and collective transformation as being linked? If you chime in via Facebook or Instagram, please use the hashtag #makingrefuge and/or #refugetogether so that we can compile your responses.

We look forward to continuing to build Mangalam as a place of making refuge, and we are grateful to each one of you for being a part of our community.

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