I worked as a volunteer at Spirit Rock Mediation Center yesterday. I thought that I might be writing today about "Secular Buddhism" as taught very well by Stephen and Martine Batchelor. However, something else disturbed the force -- something appalling and hypocritical. I deeply respect this organization, but I know it can do better than this.
I stood in the small office during lunch break when a woman came up to ask where she might sign up for the day-long event on Sunday. The other volunteer in the office turned quickly and said, "I'm sorry, it's for P-O-C." I don't think she actually spoke the letters -- it was more as if she mouthed them, "P-O-C".
"What's POC?" the woman asked.
"People of Color," was the whispered response. The woman looked perplexed.
"You're kidding," I blurted as I looked to the events coordinator to tell me that this wasn't so.
"It's for people who self-identify as a person of color," she explained in a mildly apologetic tone.
"I'm Jewish," replied the woman, as if it were a credential for such situations.
"You're cheeks are blushed -- maybe you just need a little more sun." My simplistic solution was dismissed without appreciation.
Apparently, in castrated Marin County politically-correct speak, a "self-identified person of color" translates to "a person who has feelings of separateness based upon the level of pigment in their skin." There also seems to be a component of wanting to be with one's own kind, again based on pigment. This sense of skin tone-based separate self is now reinforced as a Dharma gate for some activities at Spirit Rock. What an enlightened society we pretend to be -- or should it be "they"? Dualism gets confusing.
I watched as a woman was turned away from Spirit Rock because of the color of her skin! The only option given to her was she was pointed to the "Suggestion Box" and told that she might state any objections there (she walked away instead). To add to the irony, this woman was just coming off retreat. There is always that "come back to reality" that hits one in the face when one comes off retreat, but this woman was hit with it before she even left the Spirit Rock grounds.
Separateness doesn't stop there. Regularly, yoga classes are restricted for women only -- a Y chromosome constitutes a hinerance to yoga practice at Spirit Rock.
If "self" is a delusion, are "POC-self" and "XX-self" special cases? We know the answer, of course, but we have to whisper it - it doesn't pass the test of light. The political issues have undercut the underlying social values. You'd think that those who self-identify as Buddhist would find a more enlightened approach to offer those who self-identify as separate.
I love Spirit Rock and I appreciate the dedication and insight that so many teachers and staff offer to the adaptation of Buddhism to western culture. But, somebody doesn't appear to get the concept of non-duality and an open sangha -- somebody's not minding the store -- somebody's a hypocrite.
This can be fixed easily. Let's not segregate self and community by unskillful attachment to delusion and duality. It's quite simple and might appeal to those who self-identify as enlightened.