Embracing Liberation for All BZC’s Commitment to Justice, Equity, and Radical Inclusivity

With humans no differences of birth
Make a distinctive mark in them.
Nor in the hairs nor in the head
Nor in the ears nor in the eyes
Nor in the mouth nor in the nose
Nor in the lips nor in the brows;…
Nor in the hands nor in the feet…
Nor in their color or in voice:
Here birth makes no distinctive mark
As with the other kinds of birth….
-Gautama Buddha, from an early scripture

Racism touches our lives in innumerable ways, and Berkeley Zen Center is not immune. Even with the best of intentions, any of us can act and speak in ways that harm or exclude others. Or we are ignorant of the ways in which our organizational structure and practice itself may be unwelcoming to particular groups of people. With a commitment to being an open and inclusive sangha, a group has formed to develop ways to both understand and address racism within ourselves, our sangha and the larger world. We warmly welcome BZC members of all races to join us for meetings, which happen approximately monthly.

As Abbot Hozan has written in Is This Buddhism? The Oneness of Spiritual Liberation and Social Justice:

…the work of social justice, the deconstruction of systemic oppression based on race, caste, and gender, is at the heart of Buddhism. The Buddha and all the great teachers counsel us to look at the workings of our mind, our habits, and our preconceptions.

Activities we are currently pursuing include:

  • Reading groups to explore the connection between Buddhist practice and racism
  • We have made the language in our Affirmation of Welcome and other rituals more inclusive
  • Developing ways to discern and avoid words or actions that divide, separate or exclude people based on race or other aspects of their identity, rather than connect and include, whether intended or not, when they occur at Berkeley Zen Center
  • Promoting inclusivity through changing or adapting our organizational/leadership structure by building our awareness though study and open discussion of how the activities, forms and atmosphere of our temple and practice impact newcomers and current members of our sangha who are not part of the dominant culture
  • Building awareness and responding to inequities in our wider community:
    • Offering bag lunches and basic supplies to unhoused neighbors in Berkeley and beyond
    • Writing letters to people incarcerated in the Alameda County jail
  • Recommending books on the intersection of race and Buddhism, which are for sale at our BookShop.org.

Our efforts are a work in progress. We are dedicated and committed to building the path to an anti-racism sangha by walking it together. This page is being updated regularly.

BZC has a Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) sitting group that meets weekly on Mondays at 6:30 pm. For more information contact bipoc@berkeleyzencenter.org.

For more information, please contact Heather Sarantis (heather.sarantis@berkeleyzencenter.org), Karen Sundheim (ksundheim@gmail.com), or Mary Duryee (maduryee@icloud.com).