Earlier today a group of Zen teachers of the White Plum family, that traces its dharma lineage to Maezumi Roshi, one of the Japanese pioneers who brought Zen to the West, met on Zoom to talk about whether and how to reopen our various centers and groups, what are the ever-changing recommendations, the concerns of students, and the technological feasibility of Zoom and hybrid study/practice.

Those who advocated for hybrid technology, i.e., doing things both in person at the center and also through Zoom, described all those who’d be helped in this way. Maybe they’re unvaccinated; maybe they live or travel out of town; maybe they’re frail and don’t travel easily, or have families, or generally have many things on their life plates, including a great love of the dharma.

I am considered a second-generation American Zen teacher, and well remember my upbringing. I was a fanatic, I loved Zen training, I especially loved the engaged Buddhist training that had us start a bakery or build homes for families with no homes or an AIDS center. I saw my teacher practically every day (before I married him!) because we all worked together and considered that a great way to study; he at times told me it was the best way to train.

But earlier today we talked about reaching out to people who can’t do that. The next wave of American practitioners don’t love the dharma any less but wish to honor other commitments as well, like marriage, family, and career, taking care of young children and elderly parents. We saw messages from people saying that Zoom was a lifesaver for them because they couldn’t drive or fly or show up for expensive retreats.

We talked about why people refuse to vaccinate. Some are anti-vaxxers, but some are also “conscientious objectors” who feel they have good medical reasons not to get the coronavirus vaccine, while some have specific conditions that their doctors have advised them to watch out for.

I detected in myself an old intolerance for those who didn’t practice like me, who didn’t put the dharma front and center in their lives, who weren’t ready to sacrifice a lot for this beautiful practice. Back when we trained, the dharma was still a newly planted exotic plant from the East, fragile and still uncertain in American soil, and those of us lucky enough to encounter it desired passionately for it to take solid root, flower, and never disappear.

It has taken root and flowered, so now the big question is: How does this practice serve as many different people as possible? How does it serve vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, people of different religious traditions (so many of whom do meditation), cultures and ethnic backgrounds? What happens to our common language? How does the practice help me love the world in all its flavors and intricacies?

In exploring the question of whether to open up and how, I looked into what the local churches were doing, too, and found that at least two had a somewhat different protocol. They had decided not to ask their parishioners about whether they vaccinated or not, and certainly not why.

At first that made sense to me as part of our overall concern with privacy. But I realize now that when we shut the window down on that discussion, we are losing an opportunity to listen and learn from approaches to covid different from ours. It’s a little analogous to those who insist they are colorblind and don’t notice (or wish to notice) the skin color of the person they meet or the cultural differences. It’s their way of pursuing equality.

Equality can’t be blind to differences, equality is part and parcel of being different. If I don’t recognize the other person as different from me, with a different history, path, and way of life, then I’m not progressive, I’m blind. I condition my acceptance of people on blindness to what makes them specifically different from me. That’s somewhat narrow, and also not a lot of fun.

So, I plan to follow CDC guidelines even as these change (overall, I think they’re highly conservative). But I’m also interested in the stories of those who won’t vaccinate, their motivations and apprehensions, and I want them to know mine. I don’t want to hide our differences behind privacy protocols, but rather create a space where we could listen to each other.


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