By Matt Kaplan, 2021 Resident
In late June of 2021, I went to Southern Dharma to do my final project for a Masters degree in Reconciliation and Peacebuilding. I developed the project, entitled “Peace Processes for Building Beloved Community,” based upon six “Peace Processes” - Listening, Emotions, Empathy, Dialogue, Critical Thinking, and Going Forth - all centered around processing content related to healing racism, aimed at building healthier communities.
This project sought to fill a gap in convert American Buddhism, partly addressed by Engaged Buddhism, emphasizing relational practices, rather than just individual meditation. This is a way to connect the “inner and outer,” potentially leading to more effective peacebuilding strategies - and Sangha development. Reconciliation, which Dr. King referred to as “the aftermath of nonviolence,” is both a process and a goal, like: “peace by peaceful means” (Johan Galtung); “we make the road by walking” (Myles Horton & Paulo Freire); “we build the road and the road builds us” (Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement); and “peace is every step” (Nhat Hanh). Therefore, rather than “achieving” reconciliation at some future time, we can start here and now, building more sustainable, durable, and resilient communities through relevant practices - with the help of spiritual friends (Pali: kalyana mitta).
After arriving, I had little more than a week until we would begin the project. It was good to be back, having sat a couple of retreats here before, and also a couple online - one of which took place in the spring with Donald Rothberg on “Buddhist Practice and Transforming Racism Inside and Outside.” It turned out he would be leading another retreat on the same theme during the first weekend I was there, this time for the board and staff. In no way had I fully integrated all the material from the earlier retreat, so I felt really fortunate to get to participate again. That retreat served as an excellent primer for the project sessions to come. Rothberg names the “importance of community, including both smaller communities that can be supportive home bases, relatively free of ‘shame and blame,’ for transformative practice, and the larger, emerging ‘beloved community.’” That resonated with me and was similar to what we would be trying to do later.
On July 1st, we had our first session of “Beloved Community.” Our core material was a report called “Making the Invisible Visible: Healing Racism in Our Buddhist Communities,” which contained many personal statements from practitioners and teachers. Although we had a curriculum and I had a rough idea of how it would go, it turned out that all six sessions became adaptations of what was originally planned. Most of the first session focused on coming up with group agreements - basically a conversation about the type of space we would like to create, for safety and supporting each other. Next, we read about The Beloved Community, listened to part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (as a Dharma talk), and read about Sangha by Thich Nhat Hanh - then we envisioned our own Beloved Community. Over time, the sessions proceeded smoothly enough, touching on Peace Processes and other curriculum, including Joanna Macy’s “Truth Mandala,” ARISE Sangha’s “Gatha for Healing Racial, Systemic, and Social Inequity,” and Kingian Nonviolence, both steps and principles.
In addition to the important practice we were doing, I loved being in the mountains, with Dharma friends, connecting with nature, simpler living, and meditation. It’s quite a blessing to get to experience these conditions, for the time getting to step out of a much crazier world - to then return with more clarity and energy for engagement. I believe the world needs our practices, more mindfulness and compassion for dealing with the complexity of issues, rather than full-time escape. My hope is that we can grow and develop these practices, drawing upon the energy of our time, moving us closer to Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.
Creating Whole and Beloved Communities does not arise just because we want them to, or because we think we deserve them, or because we think that this is the way things should be, nor does it happen overnight. It happens through the diligence and consistency of difficult work, constant compassion, and always our highest intentions embodied by Wise Effort and the entire Eightfold Path ... from all communities, to work on ourselves over time, so that we can work on ourselves together. - Larry Yang, “Sangha is Culture”
Matt Kaplan resides in the Southeast and has sat many retreats in different traditions, with affinity for Vipassana and Zen. He is completing an MA Reconciliation and Peacebuilding degree and is currently exploring restorative practices, folk schools, and critical pedagogy.