By David MontgomeryJuly 21, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. CDT
Lama Rod Owens, 40, is a Buddhist teacher and activist. His new book is "Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger."
Can you tell the story of how Buddhism turned out to be the way [for you] to be an activist?
We can work socially for liberation, but there’s a different work that’s required for mental liberation. In Buddhism I saw that there’s an ultimate liberation that comes with a mental liberation. The ultimate liberation was an extension of the mental liberation that we cultivated through meditation. And so once I started learning and having experiences in ultimate liberation, I then began to bridge the social liberation work together with the ultimate liberation. Like, yes, social activism — but also spiritual activism. You’re working for freedom on both fronts.
Can mindfulness, which I think of as a spiritual practice, help with the kinds of things social activism deals with — for example, racial trauma?
Mindfulness, as it’s taught in the mainstream, will not be enough to undo trauma, racism and so forth. Buddhist mindfulness is about liberation through cultivating awareness and ethics. For me, we have to bring ethics back into secular mindfulness. Ethics means this is what is conducive to liberation, or another way of putting that is, this is what’s conducive to the reduction of violence. This is what is conducive to actually beginning to undo systematic white supremacy.
How do anger and rage connect with trauma and brokenheartedness?
Anger and rage are actually trying to point us to the trauma and the brokenheartedness. When I experience anger or rage, for me it’s a sign that I’m hurt and I’m hurting, and there’s a tension there. The tension between being hurt and wanting to take care of myself, that tension is what anger and rage really are. I relate this back to everything that’s going on right now. We’re just hurt. When people are out in the street marching, it doesn’t matter what it’s for. There are people marching for black lives and against police brutality. I see some similarities with the folks, earlier on in the pandemic, white folks who were going out, you know, demonstrating to open up everything. There is a similarity, which is hurt. People are hurt. People are scared. People are frustrated. I think we have to have the conversation to get into the hurt itself.
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