What does Racial Justice have to do with Dharma?


Some people may ask: What does racial justice have to do with dharma practice? In response, it can be helpful to reflect on the meaning of the Sanskrit word “dharma.” At a fundamental level, dharma means “truth,” “reality,” or “phenomena.”  In Hinduism, it means one’s personal duty in relationship to the world. In Buddhism specifically, it refers to the teachings of the Buddha on the universal truth common to all individuals, thus the term, “Buddhadharma” was coined to signify the specific teachings of the Buddha – primarily the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path. Yet, Buddhadharma refers not only to the Buddha’s teachings, it also refers to the later teachings of various Buddhist schools that help explain and expand upon the Buddha’s teachings. In this way, Dharma refers to the ultimate reality of “the way things really are.” 


Therefore, by extension, any pursuit of  truth or justice that relates to our collective liberation and healing can be understood as Dharma practice. Social Justice, Racial Justice, Environmental Justice, Gender Justice, to name just a few, are all forms of practicing Dharma, what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Engaged Buddhism.” It is in this inclusive and expansive understanding of Dharma that we center at Tara Mandala. 


Dharma is also one of the Three Jewels in which we go for refuge: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (community of practitioners). So Dharma therefore, should also be a place of refuge, healing, and safety from injustice.


In this way, we can understand Dharma to include practices that increase our capacity for truth, justice, and liberation. Essentially, dharma as “justice” means to understand what is just, what is true, what is harmonious and aligned with reality. When we are aligned with reality, we suffer less. This is the core teaching of the Buddha and the great masters who have walked the path. Unfortunately, the history of white supremacy in the United States, and in many parts of the world, has presented an obscuration to reality.  It has served as justification for immoral acts such as slavery.  It has also, in the process, presented a system of devaluing Black people, their contributions to culture and society, and their humanity.  This harms Black lives and all who hold white supremacist views, consciously or unconsciously.


At this time, the current circumstances demand that all of us engage in the personal and collective work to uproot white supremacy and racism in our culture. In particular, those of us who are white bodied need to take the time to learn and get activated. No matter where you live and who you are, white supremacy has touched your community in some way or another. To learn more about the meaning of white supremacy and liberation through the lens of Dharma, read this talk by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams. 


Black History Month is a time to remind ourselves to lift this obscuration, learn about the lives of Black sisters and brothers, and their contributions to society, to culture, and to all of our lives. At Tara Mandala, we recognize that our Dharma practice is a process of waking up on all levels: personal and collective. We recognize that each individual’s liberation is interconnected with the liberation of all beings. This is an essential aspect of the Bodhisattva ideal: to aspire to wake up for the benefit of all beings, not just for oneself.


We hope you explore the resources below to learn more about Black history and culture. Our curated resources range from introductory materials for those who are new to this work, to advanced material for those who are already engaged.  


~ Written by Lopön Chandra with input from Tara Mandala’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Council: Karla Jackson-Brewer, MacAndrew Jack, Celeste Young, and Joanne Brion (2021)


In honor of Black History Month, our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Council shared resources that illuminate the history and culture of People of African Descent in the United States as a way to celebrate and study Black writers, artists, historians, and educators.


Suggested Resources Compiled  by Tara Mandala’s EDI Council:

Non-fiction Books

Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent  by Isabel Wilkerson

Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem 

Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy by Darryl Pinckney

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

How to Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal M. Fleming

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo


The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Roots by Alex Haley

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehesi Coates

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dharma books

Mindful of Race  by Ruth King

Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owens 

Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace by Angel Kyodo Williams

Black & Buddhist:  What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation & Freedom By Ayo Yetunde, & Cheryle A. Giles


  1. “Power & Heart: Black and Buddhist in America”
  2. “Buddhists and Racial Justice: A History

Get involved, take action:

  1. Support the ACLU, get on their newsletter and sign petitions etc…
  2. Support the NAACP, get on their newsletter and support their initiatives, etc…
  3. Cultural Somatics University: Free Racialized Trauma Course with Resmaa Menakem
  4. National Museum of African American History and Culture: Talking About Race: Being Antiracist
  5. White Awake’s website – Resources page for white bodied folks doing anti-racist work and education
  6. SURJ – Showing Up For Racial Justice has chapters you can join all around the U.S.
  7. Spiritual Activism 101 with Rachel Ricketts


United States of Anxiety Podcast “Future of Black History” series:

  1. Origin Story of Black History Month” – This first episode discusses the complicated relationships with this annual celebration that includes frustration and joy.  
  2. The Life and Work of Ida B. Wells” This additional episode from May 2020 tells the story of Ida B. Wells’ defining role in 20th Century American politics. 
  3. Juneteenth, an Unfinished Business” This third podcast from June 2020 reflects on the annual celebration of Emancipation including personal histories and music.

Scene on Radio Podcast 

  1. “Seeing White” – This is a great fourteen-part documentary series that we suggested for our Tara Mandala Severing Attachment to White Supremacy (SAWS) Sangha this year. Learn about where this notion of “whiteness” came from, what it means, and what purpose it serves. Even though it was released in 2017, it is still relevant today. 

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