The Village Zendo People of Color Group

The Village Zendo People of Color Group

ZPI encourages reflections from retreat participants, staff, members & others touched by our work and doing similar work from around the world, as part of the practice of bearing witness. Willie J. Smith from from ZPI Affiliate Village Zendo in New York shares about the People of Color Group at their center.

Living the Three Tenets:

The People of Color group was established at the Village Zendo almost five years ago. The group meets Saturday mornings at 10:30, now on Zoom. Its current leaders are Karly Rodriguez and Willie Mukei Smith. Mukei offers us this insight:

The Group has modeled itself on the Three Tenets of The Zen Peacemakers Order:  Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Healing/Taking Action. I am grateful to Wendy Egyoku Nakao Roshi who recently expanded on the Tenets in an article “Hold the Center,” which I read as part of the current Path of the Koan and in a Zoom discussion with Eve Marko Roshi. How are the Three Tenets expressed within the POC Group, especially at this time of the COVID pandemic?

First,  “Not Knowing” or “Letting Go” — letting go of fixed ideas of ourselves, others and the world. Letting go of the thought that “we are all in this together.” The pandemic has highlighted the racial and economic disparity in the United States. Some of the members of the POC are considered “essential,” mostly men who have to work. There are those who do not have the luxury of working from home and for whom being ill is not an option because there is a family that needs to be supported financially.

Second, “Bearing Witness “or “Letting In” to the sorrow and joy in the world. The anxiety Men of Color have about wearing a mask for fear of being perceived as robbers. The shootings of POC women and men based on false information, like Ahmaud Aubrey and Breonna Taylor; there are probably more. The experience of living in the shadow of the Lynching rope. The joy of having members of the POC and their children sit with us, supporting those members who have lost family members as a result of COVID or natural causes and being present with a member who is recovering from COVID.

Third, “Healing/Taking Action” or “What to Offer.”  In sharing over the years, I have heard expressed “I am so grateful to have this space” by so many new and not-so-new members. Healing or the Offering is sitting for the Black and Brown Men who are dying from COVID, sitting for the “essential personnel,” being with a member whose mother-in-law was dying from COVID, chanting the Heart Sutra for a member whose mother had recently died. Offering a space where rage, anxiety and all feelings have some shelter.

About the Author:

Willie Mukei Smith is a Zen student at The Village Zendo, where he co-leads the People of Color Sitting Group. He is also a psychoanalyst with a private practice and a member of both the Buddhist Council of New York and New York Disaster Interfaith Service and Episcopal Priest.


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