The Power of Radical Dharma (A Book Review)

Book Reviews

After finishing Grace Lee Boggs’s book and her discussion of infusing social justice struggles with a cultivation of the spirit, I knew I had to get more books that explored what that meant.

I picked up Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation (Shop your local indie store) by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah soon after so I can dive deeper into what spirituality as a conjoining praxis for social change.

I’ve been an activist and a community organizer for less than a decade, and I have struggled with feeling disjointed with my spirit when I engage in campaigns and political actions. My mind and heart are in the right place, but never my spirit.

Many times I ignored this disjointedness. I trudged on. I kept at it, unable to take care of my body and what it was telling me. Then I fell apart, unable to see through the murkiness of my own delusions about what I was doing. I took some time to reflect, to pause.

I believe that certain books come in your life at a certain point, or you seek them when you’re finally ready. Not because they’re flung at you by bookseller lists, or because they’re the books everyone else is reading. Holding Radical Dharma in my hands felt like homecoming (what I feel every time I connect deeply with a book) and I came to realize many things about my own beliefs, judgments, as if my bearing and posturing in the world that I live in has been extremely narrow.

Radical dharma is insurgence rooted in love, and all that love of self and others implies. It takes self-liberation to its necessary end by moving beyond personal transformation to transcend dominant social norms and deliver us into collective freedom.

–Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Sensei

The authors are three queer black people, and I reveled in that fact. As a nonblack queer immigrant, I felt that there were parts of me that could identify with what they had to share.

Call it a memoir, a self-help book, or a spiritual publication, the book explores what it means to engage in a spirituality while acknowledging the many facets of our identity. Radical as going to the root, and dharma as universal truth.

Sangha is a Sanskrit word meaning association, assembly, company, or community. Sangha taught me that homeleaving means letting go of the desire to save master from himself. It means learning to let people go, and to even let them go back home. Sangha has taught me to mind the gap between what we say and and what we do. The practice pulls us together, but we are not all headed in the same direction at the same time. We long for community but do not know how to sit with difference. We try to take connection and eviscerate what makes us distinct.

–Lama Rod Owens

One of the things that this book emphasizes is how we are able to bring our whole selves, no matter how complex our identities could be, into the fold and to the table. Being queer is not separate from being black, and bringing both identities in Buddhist communities does not negate its existence.

I love this fact by Lama Rod, as he recounted his own struggles as a queer, black Buddhist. Most often we are told to compartmentalize ourselves, so that we can move in different spaces only specific to certain parts of who we are. What I’m learning is it doesn’t have to be that way. That to engage with the hard work authentically can only be done if we bring ourselves fully.

Another important facet from the book is the notion of changing ourselves as we change the world around us. Often times, we are called to do social justice work in the hopes of changing conditions, changing societies and changing the dynamics to effect justice for those we serve. I have been on those struggles, and what I’ve experienced yet again, is disjointedness.

This is something that is challenging for people to understand–the notion of transforming society from the inside out. We’re so in a framework of dichotomies that many people are like, “We have to it outside first.”

Understanding that part of our capacity to make change outside in a way that’s actually generative comes from having done work inside so we can actually have empowerment that doesn’t have to do with external conditions.

We have to commit to our own liberation regardless of what happens outside. And paradoxically, that gives way to change happening outside.

This book is a must for all social justice activists, for those wanting to change the world for the better. It is a humbling collection of pieces that expand, affirm and challenge the way we view ourselves and others, as we engage in life-changing work.

* * *


Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation (Shop your local indie store) by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah
North Atlantic Books (248 pages)
June 14, 2016
My rating: ★★★★★
Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation

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