Dharma continues to develop and spread all over the west. The work, wisdom, and vision of Asian teachers supporting westerners in their study and practice means that dharma is becoming more important in western countries. There are more centres and practice groups starting, more dharma organisations developing, more people training to teach and/or live monastic lives. Westerners are experiencing unprecedented access to dharma teachings. One has only to go to YouTube, Dharma Seed, Insight Timer, or any number of sangha and teacher websites to receive teachings on any number of dharma subjects that were unavailable until recently. While many of us have access to teachings and other resources, many others are still finding it difficult to participate in dharma communities.
Going for refugee to the three jewels of the Buddha, dharma and sangha are essential practices across nearly all traditions of Buddhism. However, the third jewel of the sangha seems to be the next great frontier of work for western Buddhism. Sangha means the community of practitioners. During the life of the Buddha, the sangha meant only the monastic community. However in the west, we understand sangha to be all practitioners in the community. The aim of a Buddhist community should be inclusivity. Inclusivity means that all people who sincerely wish to practise dharma have access to be in community with other practitioners. Accessibility means that Buddhist communities do whatever they can to remove obstacles that prevent practitioners from being in community.
The world is plagued by systems of power where some people are privileged while others are disprivileged based on some aspect of how a person is perceived in the world. These systems include patriarchy privileging men, racism privileging white people, ageism privileging and disprivileging people based on age, xenophobia which disprivileges immigrants, and ableism which disprivileges people with mental and physical capacities that do not match what is perceived as normal. The systems of power also function within our Buddhist communities, resulting in people of colour experiencing racism, women experiencing misogyny, transgender and gender-expansive people experiencing transphobia, and so on. This results in communities being exclusive rather than inclusive.
The bases of the Buddhas are love and compassion. To express the full extent of this love and compassion we must turn our attention to making our Buddhist communities more welcoming. To do this we must develop the vulnerability and courage to talk about the things that prevent true inclusivity. This panel features dharma practitioners sharing their experiences of the obstacles they encounter in Buddhist communities because of their race, gender expression, ability, and even class. The goal of this panel is start a conversation about how to make our communities more welcoming while addressing the issues that exclude those of us needing to practise in community.