The Black Lives Matter Flag--To Hang Or Not to Hang?
12:33AM Jun 23, 2023
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
black lives matter
This is June 19 2023. That's Juneteenth. And I'd like to talk about the trustees decision in the fall of 2021, to display a Black Lives Matter, flag at the center, and then more to the point, and then their reversal of that decision in their recent biannual meeting, that is that their meeting in earlier this month. In that meeting, I urged them not to hang the flag. And now I'd like to give my reasons for that. But first, let me acknowledge that I do see value in publicly displaying the Black Lives Matter flag
on churches and temples,
and houses and other buildings, it conveys a vital message. The police take the lives of black people too often, when it's not called for
The reports of police killings of black men, usually it's men just don't stop week after week, month after month. The killings keep happening.
It's just sickening. maddening. Now those
who would counter this position with by saying, well, white lives matter to us, of course, da, all lives matter. But it's the disproportionality of which Black people are gunned down by police and not just it's not just the killings, but the the whole criminal justice system that is biased against African Americans. There's so much research to show this harsher sentences handed out to African Americans, the number of death sentences
it's a crime.
What's been going on? It's a grave reminder, the Black Lives Matter flag is a grave reminder of racial injustice that still hasn't healed in this country.
So I'm sympathetic to that. How can the police our public servants paid
through our tax dollars keep doing this the the display of Black Lives Matter flag certainly has practical value. It's saying we stand with those who acknowledge and protest racial inequality in the criminal justice system. We can influence passers by who see the flag you can make them think because they can see that that matter of police violence, maybe they don't recognize it themselves and they can start waking up to it. Or if they already are aware of this, then it can reinforce their feeling of solidarity with others with religious communities.
But it does
in the Nani vada unavoidably reinforce a paradigm of us versus them unless he's really I think the the, the central issue that that told me toward not displaying the flag, why not display it given all of the value it has the social and political value it has. And this is this is how I understand it there. There is a difference between the intention of Displaying the flag. That is, it's it's signaling a cry of social justice, racial equality. So that's the intention. And but then there is the perception by others. There would be those who see it as a political position. Those in favor of hanging the flag said it's not political. It's, it's an expression of social justice, the need for social vices to correct something that's way out of whack. But then others can see it as political and politics divides. Could it could ask, as far as the value of hanging a flag like that, why not? A rainbow flag asserting the rights of LGBTQ community? Or how about displaying the flag of Ukraine, asserting the sovereign rights of those people? No doubt most Sangha members would be sympathetic to what these flags symbolizes to the green flag. rainbow flag dislike the Black Lives Matter flag most of our Sangha would, would be behind that. But wait, maybe not every Sangha member do we as an institution want to, to declare publicly, in effect, that their beliefs are wrong? That is those who don't align with those positions? Is that the way to change people's minds? And by the way, we're too we too, have hung a Black Lives Matter flag. When would we have ever felt it was time to remove it? Will it be permanent? If anything is permanent? But wouldn't it be up for years? I mean, unfortunately, I don't see this is something that we're going to get free of anytime soon.
In our in our chant that we do affirming faith in mind, there is this line, just let those fond opinions go.
On the homepage of Zen Center's website says something like Zen is not a belief system. It's a practice.
And there were those at the meeting earlier this month at the trustees meeting. Who made the point that it's not our activity, it's our activities that count, not our public stance. In fact, I remember one person who was had been very active in seeing through racism committee say that she didn't. She wasn't in favor of hanging the flag because it too easily then leads to people thinking our work is done. Okay, well hang a flag. And now let's get about our go about our business and not be more active in this kind of work.
During the Vietnam War, Roshi Kapleau Rose opposition to it came to be known among some of those in the Sangha. In fact, just as a sidebar here, I learned only a few years ago that this was the core issue that got him got between Yasutani Roshi and Roshi Kapleau Yasutani Roshi was in favor of the Vietnam War. Here, you can make that what you want, but I'm sure that his conditioning was such that he feared that if same domino theory that if if the Vietnam went to the communist regime, then it would just spread and I think he just saw he was so alarmed at the prospect act of this is what he saw as this anti religious system of communism that he was in favor of. And he said, let's, let's do that. And then he objected very strongly to Roshi Kapleau, taking the opposite position. And I was told by Hugh Curran who was caught between the two going back literally going back and forth between Yasutani Roshi and Phillip Kapleau, that this was the real issue that caused a very, very painful break between them. So, Roshi Kapleau, definitely was against the war, but he stopped short of voicing that opinion publicly.
Again, affirming faith in mind, if you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions, pro and con.
to get to the real, the real core of this, what distinguishes Zen as I see it, what distinguishes Zen from other religions, or other are the Dharma what distinguishes the Dharma from other religions is that it came forth from the Buddha's realization of the formlessness of form. Through his enlightenment, the Buddha experienced directly the non substantiality of this world of phenomena.
teaching is that of
Other religions teach oneness, of course, and and actually so does, so does Buddhism. But Buddha's teaching Zen teaching, rests in nothingness as the essential nature of reality.
you can even call it in modern, contemporary terms, it's our brand, if you will.
It's our face
the original face.
Certainly, the Black
Lives Matter flag displaying it or not displaying it is something reasonable intelligent people can disagree about in the in the in that trustees meeting. I said, this is pretty much a no lose issue. And I won't be awfully disappointed whichever the trustees decide. By the way, I'm not a trustee. So I was asked to just a weigh in on it. Before the Trustees voted.
Yes, xencenter does display flags, but they're Dharma flags. They're not political. I don't see how that anyone could take them as political statements. You're not setting up sides
and they rotate the change. There's the kind of a basic one that is up. When others are in which is the three pillars, logo, the three pillars of practice teaching and enlightenment. We also have a flag showing the wheel of the Dharma. We have a nights or mornings when there is ducks on offered. We have a flag showing the ducks on bail. There's another flag that shows what's called the endless knot which is a symbol of the interdependence of all existence.
there is the circle the end so and so this calligraphic circle that represents essential reality. The utter completeness of our essential nature
The perfection of our essential nature the formlessness of form, there it is again
wouldn't it be a shame if
flags other than these Darma flags, if other flags announcing positions that could be seen as political left some people feeling unwelcome at the center. They might even these flags might even turn them away from the center. From and in doing so, turn them away from this, your practice that reveals the non dual nature of reality. The practice, we want to open the center to people who will do the practice which is really what it's all about. What What an irony would be if flags that symbolizing equality like Black Lives Matter flag include inclusivity left people feeling excluded anyone feeling excluded?
You know, the
the ultimate inclusivity is no flag.
Someone in the in the meeting
his appreciation of this. No position. He he related how in recent years I want I'm giving teisho I would sometimes say something critical about Trump in teisho. And it would make him wince.
Because he said, he looked to the center to be a wretched refuge from sides.
For all the noble intentions behind flags, symbols of Black Lives Matter and the rainbow flag and Ukraine all they are
And so there was a good long discussion in the meeting about the pros and cons of it.
the Trustees voted to reverse their earlier decision to hang the flag.
So yes, I salute
churches and synagogues and other institutions for hanging the Black Lives Matter flag for signaling their commitment to racial justice and other forms of, of equality and justice.
is unique, I think, in pointing us to what is beyond all that, even beyond all that. The Chinese Zen Master Yunmen known in Japan is AMone in a koan in the Blue Cliff Record, he famously said, even a precious thing isn't as good as nothing
that's where I landed on all this.
It was close.
In my mind, it was almost a wash. There's a lot to be said for hanging these these flags that could be The provocative majority of trustees did agree. So thanks for listening and sign off