'A Revolutionary Practice'

Angel Kyodo Williams, author of 'Being Black,' talks about meditation, racism, and the true nature of American Buddhism.

BY: Jenny Kinscy

When did you realize that Buddhism was the spiritual path for you?

I was raised Christian and while I'm very optimistic, faith as a sort of visceral idea--like "I have faith in this God that's out there somewhere"--that just never worked for me. So I left the church seven or eight years before I discovered the dharma.

More on Being Black and Being Buddhist

Read an excerpt from "Being Black" by Angel Kyodo Williams.

  • Check out a passage from "Dreaming Me" by Black Panther-turned-Buddhist scholar Jan Willis.
  • Read Charles Johnson's review of both books.
  • Join the discussion on race and Buddhism.
  • I started checking out Buddhist practice after I read a book called "Zen in Japanese Culture" by the scholar D.T. Suzuki. I was trying to find out more about Japanese culture--I loved the calligraphy, the martial arts, and Japanese gardens. But as I read this book, I began to realize that what I was attracted to was really Zen itself. I began to see that the same sensibility of balance, of evenness, was there in other Buddhist countries, too, like Tibet, Korea, and Vietnam. It was something that informed, and transcended, the culture.

    Later, I was in San Francisco and started going to meditation classes at the San Francisco Zen Center. It wasn't this big epiphany like, "Oh, I found my spiritual path." But when I walked in Zen Center, I just had this sense of "This is it."

    Why did you write this book?

    When I began studying Zen, I actually felt annoyed that more people of color didn't have access to information about Buddhist practice and philosophy. I thought, "This has to be done," and people were like, "Then you have to deal with it." So I did. I am actively promoting the idea that we need to open the doors widely to people of color in this country in order for there to be such a thing as American Buddhism.

    That said, I did not do the book to urge people of color to go practice Buddhism but to urge people of color to make use of whatever tools are available and accessible. And the thing about Buddhist principles is that they're incredibly useful in helping you learn how to take responsibility for your own spiritual health.

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