6 Oct
Posted in: Books, CDL
By    Comments Off on What it Means to Be Free. Truly Free.

What it Means to Be Free. Truly Free.

Rutherford's Travels celebrates the 25th Anniversary of Middle PassageFor me as a writer and artist (which I had almost forgotten I was until I heard this man speak about his life  — and Buddhism — as an expression of these things), the highlight of the CDL training retreat last week was a visit from Dr. Charles Johnson, the amazing writer, artist, speaker, prize winner, teacher, philosopher….listener!….who I am ashamed to say I had never even heard of before the CDL program.

To give you just a glimpse of the breath and depth of this man, let me quote from the preface of one of his twenty-two books, Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing.

“From my parents and grandparents, who were born during America’s century of apartheid, from unrecorded stories I heard told by family and friends, then later from a lifetime of studying black culture, literature, and history, I came to see that if black America has a defining essence (eidos) or meaning that runs threadlike from the colonial era through the post-Civil Rights period, it must be the quest for freedom.

“This particular, eidetic sense of our collective meaning, arising out of historical conditions, and the way the Founding Fathers’ ideal of freedom was inscribed with a special meaning in the souls of black folk, has shaped almost every story, essay, novel, drawing, teleplay, and critical article I’ve composed for the last three and a half decades. No matter whether I was writing about Frederick Douglass or James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington or Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Ellison or Phillis Wheatley, my sense of black life in a predominantly white, very Eurocentric society–a slave state until 1863–was that our unique destiny as a people, our duty to our predecessors who sacrificed so much and for so long, and our dreams of a life of dignity and happiness for our children were tied inextricably to a profound and lifelong meditation on what it means to be free. Truly free.

“….The number of black Dharma practitioners will, I predict, grow significantly in the twenty-first century, particularly among our scholars who want a spiritual practice not based on faith or theism and compatible with the findings of modern science; and also among the groundbreaking, innovative artists and writers whose spirit and sense of adventure cannot be contained by the traditions of the West (which, of course, they appreciate), and who hunger–as I did–to experience the world through and be enriched by as many cultural perspectives as possible. All our human inheritance; and all, like Buddhism, have something valuable we can learn.”

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