“Buddhism was a process; one did not need to delude oneself or pretend to be other than oneself, and one did not have to become completely passive in order to embrace the notion of peace.” Jan Willis, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist, One Woman’s Spiritual Journey, p. 201
These are lessons she learned from experience. Having grown up Baptist, she enjoyed its fellowship and community, but it was always tinged with fear of the KKK. She held no illusions of her own safety. Spending time in India and Nepal showed her Buddhism in action and in exile.
Her remarks speak to the importance of authenticity. Willis understands the pain of rejection and fakery. Pretending to be other than oneself is exhausting. And an enormous waste of time and energy. The problem isn’t “What if they reject me?” No. The problem is “They love this person I am pretending to be. How much of my integrity am I willing to sacrifice to maintain their approval?”
I have felt compelled to leave various friendships and organizations over time. It is my firm conviction that you don’t know where the expectations/boundaries are until you violate them. Then, suddenly, people will come out of the woodwork to correct you and inform you of “your place.” Such organizations are seldom, if ever, worth the price of admission. To be rejected honestly is comparatively refreshing as opposed to having a manufactured persona accepted and admired. My needs and values of my twenties do not bear any resemblance to the ones I have today. Remaining true to the values of a Cindy who no longer exists is very empty.
Willis’ remarks also speak to having a “self.” What is this self? In Buddhism, it can be debated whether such a thing exists. But, being black, she can address this from the position of having her self reviled simply due to the color of her skin, an essentially meaningless, superficial feature. She is not arguing against its existence.
One problem Buddhism in America has is how it came from Asian masters directly into white middle- and upper-class America. Debating whether or not one has a self is a fine academic debate, devoid of meaning and real-life application. But violate those selfless expectations by advocating for a sangha community of color and watch how quickly people are put in their places. Also, I saw an article about “white trash Buddhists” in a Buddhist magazine. The author expressed some of the same frustrations I have: the cost and inconvenience of going on sesshins, dathuns, etc. Even poor whites have a rough time dealing with some of the unspoken expectations. You don’t know what the expectations are until you are incapable of or unwilling to live up to them.
I am uninterested in participating in relationships/organizations that require me to delude myself or be fake to ensure my continued acceptance. One thing this past year from hell has done for me is to simplify my life, involuntarily at times. I only have so much energy and I refuse to use what little I have to nurture connections that will be a never-ending drain on my psychic energy. I’m just too tired to pretend to be someone else.