August 2012

August 3, 2012

Dear Beloved POC Sangha!

After the launch of the
our Sangha Newsletter this past June,  I am excited to now present our updated website!  Please take a look and find a wealth of resources including volunteering information and sign-up forms; articles to learn more about the dharma; teacher calendar and bios; ways to stay in touch with the sangha, and more.  Browse our new site here:  Deep bows and metta to Amanda Navarro, who made this website update possible through designing and supporting the project for our sangha. 

About the People of Color Sangha:
We meet THURSDAYS at East Bay Meditation Center, 2147 Broadway, in downtown Oakland, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm. We usually do a half hour of silent meditation, with instructions for beginners, followed by a Dharma talk and community gathering.

We come together as a community of people of color for meditation, practice and resilience, to support the struggle and provide a balm to sooth our continued work forward. Bell Hooks says, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

We carry this spirit forward in gathering people of color in community each Thursday for the POC Sangha.  Join us!


AUGUST 9: Arisika Razik 

Arisika Razak, MPH, Health Care Administration, U.C. Berkeley 1978; Certified Nurse Midwife, U.C. San Francisco 1979; Performance Artist, Spiritual dancer, Community healing, Women’s health, Ritual and ceremony for individuals and groups, Diversity training, and Embodying the sacred.

AUGUST 16: Spring Washam, Leadership Sangha/Core Teacher

Spring Washam is a meditation and dharma teacher based in Oakland, California. She has studied meditation and Buddhist philosophy since 1997 in various traditions. After many years of teacher training with Dr. Jack Kornfield she is a new dharma teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Spring is one of the founding members and core teachers at the East Bay Meditation Center and leads the weekly sitting group for people of color. Spring is considered a pioneer in bringing mindfulness based healing practices into diverse communities. Also considered a curandera, Spring studies indigenous healing practices and works with students individually from around the world. She currently leads healing and meditation retreats throughout the United States. To contact her directly visit her website at

AUGUST 23: Spring Washam

AUGUST 30: Spring Washam


Deep appreciation to all of our teachers and volunteers for your generosity! We wouldn’t be here without you!  The google Teacher Calendar can be accessed anytime online at:




  • Subscribe to the EBMC POC Sangha Newsletter –  the Newsletter is a monthly email with information about our weekly sitting group and other sangha-related announcements.  Subscribe by joining the google groups here:  You will  receive an invitation to the group and must accept before you can receive messages.
  • EBMC’s Second Annual 24-hour Dharma-thon Saturday August 25, 2012 – 9:00 am to Sunday August 26, 2012 – 9:00 am   Help raise money for EBMC from now until August and join us August 25-26 for 24hrs of Sitting and Walking meditation, Yoga, Chanting, Music, Spoken Word, Martial Arts, and more! For more information, see: you have announcements you’d like to share with the POC Sangha, please reply to this message.


WE NEED NEW VOLUNTEERS! Volunteers make our space happen! Volunteering is a great way to get to know the Sangha, to have a more active role in co-creating our community, and to experience the practice of service to the Dharma.

Shenaaz will be conducting trainings covering various jobs such as opening/closing the center, counting the dana, set-up and clean-up and other tasks that are required to run the sangha.  If you would like to participate in a training, please complete this google form here:

If you have questions, please contact Shenaaz at

Thank you to all that continue to help informally. This training is a step towards creating a structure of receiving and providing support for one another.


PLEASE ARRIVE BEFORE 7 to minimize disruption and as a gesture of respect to the rest of the Sangha.

The EBMC tries to be a TOTALLY FRAGRANCE-FREE space. WHY? Because fragrances make some members of our community sick, and we want to be a truly inclusive, accessible community. Being fragrance-free is an act of love for the Sangha. For support on being fragrance-free, see these resources “Femme of Colour Fragrance Free Realness”,  “How to be Fragrance Free,” and check out this extensive list of fragrance-free products on the EBMC web site. You can also bring your questions and concerns to Shenaaz.

The teachings are regarded as priceless. So they are offered without a fee. You are invited to support the teachings and our efforts by contributing voluntary donations (the practice of “Dana”) for the expenses of the meditation center and the support of the teachers.

UPCOMING CLASSES AND  RETREATS                      

Coming into Wholeness as Multiracial – with Michele Benzamin-Miki

Saturday August 11, 2012 – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm 

A rare opportunity to gather, understand and appreciate your ‘Multiracial Experience,’ and delve deep into your multi-colorful heart’s expression and celebrate it in context to this ever changing, rapidly growing world, still in its adolescence in regards to tolerance and acceptance of differences and diversity.  Through meditation skills, and guided and interactive process work that take the forms of guided imagery, NLP modalities, self hypnosis, story-telling and writing exercises, you can set your mind free, and come to wholeness inside yourself. This leads to a more expressive and integrated you within your relationships, and in your actions and communication, and presence.                                                                                                                                                                      Read more and register here:


Healing the Sacred Feminine – A daylong for Women of Color with with Spring Washam

Sunday September 02, 2012 – 10:00 am to 5:00 pm 

n the beginning the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine resided together in a concept we call the Universal One, or, simply, harmony. The wounding began with division, and the healing is just beginning. In this daylong we will explore a time when all things feminine were recognized as a powerful part of creation. We will honor our ancestry and unite as sisters doing our work together. Healing of the Sacred Feminine and taking her into the everyday is the only answer. We can begin the healing process through forgiveness, self compassion and connection with one another.
Read more and register here:



Buddha is Culture – Larry Yang, Huffington Post, 6/19/2012

Towards a Multicultural Buddhist Practice

The three “jewels” or the Three Refuges is one of the core elements of Buddhist spiritual practice connected to all Buddhist traditions. In this series, the Refuges of Buddha’s Teachings — the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha — are explored through the lens of culture and cultural experience. These Refuges were offered by the Buddha to create safety and sense of spiritual home so that each practitioner can be invited to relax into the present moment of one’s Life, to be able to explore what this Life is for us, and to cultivate the Life we really wish to live. Even the word “Refuge” has a connotation, a feeling, of a safe haven wherein to go. It is said that when we invoke the Refuges, as happens in the beginning of meditation retreats or practice sessions, there is always someone else in the world taking on the Refuges at exactly the same moment. Across cultures, the intentions to create peacefulness and safety in the world are that prevalent.

And the Buddha is about Culture.

The Buddha’s expression about Freedom and Awakening has always been about culture, about diversity, and about the infinite variations in human experience with all the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of this life. This remains a controversial issue within some Buddhist circles, including my home lineage of Buddhist practice. It may be different for other Buddhist traditions, but within communities of Vipassana or Insight Meditation, there is sometimes a predisposition to idealize the aspirations of spiritual practice, and to assume that the highest intention is to transcend the vicissitudes of this life, to somehow obviate the sorrows of this lifetime so that we only experience the pleasant, peaceful or sublime. I have heard dharma teachers bemoan conversations in diversity and culture, and say something like “Why do we dwell on our differences? The point of practice is to see our similarities.”

In taking Refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the possibility of freedom from greed, liberation from hatred and awakening from delusion — this is one of the ways that “Enlightenment” is languaged. We do not take refuge in some deity or power that is mythical or higher than ourselves. We take faith and confidence that this path is possible because Siddhartha Gotama (the Buddha’s name at birth), as a human being, was able to model that potential for our humanity. We take refuge in a spiritual practice that is deeply human.

And in that humanness, is the invitation to explore one of the central questions of being human: “Who am I?” This leads to a progressive inquiry of “Who am I really?” There is no succinct answer that can be generalized for everyone’s experience. Each person needs to find their own answers in their own life. And one’s cultural experience — whether it be race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, orientation, age, physical ability, or any other human characteristic or experience — is part of that exploration. Nothing of our humanity is outside of those questions; nothing in one’s life is not worth one’s attention and mindfulness. And, this exploration does not stop with those two recurring queries, because those questions lead to the deeper inquiries of “Who are WE?” and “Who are WE really?” “Who are we as a spiritual community?” “Who are we collectively — in our family, in our close circles, in our culture?”

Sometimes, however, the exploration of culture and identity within dharma circles has a tarnished reputation. It is expressed that using the experiences of culture and identity is in contradiction to the teachings of emptiness, shunyata, or non-self, anatta. This reasoning can lead to a dismissal of cultural experience within one’s individual personal mindfulness practice and the collective awareness practice of a community. A further attachment to this view can discredit the exploration of multicultural experience as “not really dharma practice,” or even as divisive and leading to more separation and suffering, rather than less. This is the reflexive reaction of cultural unconsciousness. It is the inability of the cultural unconsciousness to be aware of itself, that is, unable to be aware that culture is a human experience — thereby pushing it away, ignoring it, or denying it in a multitude of ways.

These have been the views that disparage the need for culturally-specific retreats, like retreats for communities of color, and the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) communities. And even if there is not an active dismissal of the need of diverse communities to explore spiritual teachings in a culturally congruent way, there can be a passivity that often arises in the mainstream culture, that diversity and culture is “not my problem but someone else’s issue.”

None of us can bypass cultural experience. It is part of each human existence and to not be mindful and deeply aware of our cultural characteristics will prevent a deeper experience of interconnection and relatedness, which is critically important to experiencing that which is beyond the ego. We go through our cultural experience; we go through the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of this lifetime; we cannot go around them. We go deep into the layers of our experience to see what is beyond it. We cannot simply say that it doesn’t exist, or isn’t important, or isn’t the Dharma. All of it is the Dharma.

And why is the Buddha all about culture? Because the Buddha recognized the importance of culture as a path to freedom. In the Vinaya, one of the primary scriptures of the Buddha’s Teachings, there is this story:

The occasion was this. There were two monastics called Yamelu and Tekula. They were of brahmin stock, and they had fine voices and a fine delivery. They asked the Blessed One: “Lord, now the monastics are of various names, of various races, variously born, having gone forth from various clans. They spoil the word of the Blessed One by using their own language. Let us render the words of the Buddha into classical metre.” The Buddha, the Blessed One, rebuked them: “Misguided men, how can you say ‘Let us render the words of the Buddha into classical metre?’ This will not rouse faith in the faithless or increase faith in the faithful; rather it will keep the faithless without faith and harm some of the faithful.” Having rebuked them, he addressed the monastics thus: “Monastics, the word of the Buddha is not to be rendered into classical metre. Whoever does so commits an offence of wrongdoing. I allow the words of the Buddha to be learnt in one’s own language.

Why is this story so relevant? In it, there were two monastics of the dominant culture and class who were concerned that the teachings of the Buddha were being “spoiled” by people who were different from them forming the Dharma into their own cultural experience. They wanted to codify the spiritual teachings into a single cultural expression. But the Buddha replied in no uncertain terms that they were “misguided” and allowed the “words of the Buddha to be learnt in one’s own language.” That last phrase is critical to understanding the deeper level of the Buddha’s intention.
The Buddha lived in a historical time before the written script. This means that all communication was done through oral language. The ability for oral language to cross cultural borders was extremely difficult. This made language a determinant of culture — if you departed from the land of your own language and went to a region in which there was another language you effectively entered a different culture. Language was equivalent of culture. Underlying the message of the Buddha’s words was that it is misguided to offer the teachings in only one cultural form, and that he allows that the teachings be offered within the context of one’s own culture. In our present day, this can be seen so beautifully in the photographs below of recent culturally-specific practice communities:

2011 People of Color retreat at Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA

2012 LGBT retreat at Garrison Institute, Garrison, NY

The Buddha is about Culture.

The next segment of this series will be about how the Dharma has always been about Culture.


wishing you ease,