Black Leadership Analysis

This is an unofficial Spiral Dynamics blog. It is not endorsed by D. Beck PhD.



Dr. King and Ambedkar Agree on Communism

Two names are synonymous with social justice in their respective countries, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Dr. Martin Luther King. Both men were considered radicals in their time and even smeared as Communists. Anyone that reads what these men wrote understands the ridiculousness of the accusation.

Ambedkar was an advocate for untouchables, now known as Dalits. As a Dalit himself, Ambedkar faced many hardships. He overcame them to become educated at Columbia University in New York. He returned to India in the late 1920s. He worked to give Dalit’s voting rights, access to water, and education. In advocating for Dalits, he often found himself at odds with Gandhi. Despite political opposition, Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution. Toward the end of his life, he promoted Buddhism and held a mass conversion of Dalits to the faith in 1956. He died of natural causes a few months later.

The story of Dr. King is far better known to Americans. King was born in the American South and suffered through segregation. Like Ambedkar, he went to prestigious schools such as Morehouse and Boston College. The Montgomery Bus boycott was King’s first civil rights campaign. While aiding a sanitation workers strike in Memphis, he was gunned down.

The rise of Communism is one of the most important events of the early twentieth century. Communism was billed as the dawn of a new classless Utopia. Unfortunately, the actual implementation in Soviet Russia proved Communism was far from the mother of paradise.

Ambedkar and Dr. King wrote on the subject in their lifetime. Ambedkar’s The Buddha or Karl Marx and Dr. King’s “How Should a Christian View Communism” echo similar themes. A later version of King’s view on Communism is “Can a Christian Be Communist?”. Both works fundamentally rebuke Communism as antithetical to their religion. Due to Communism’s lack of moral absolutes, violence is used to suppress dissent. The result is a totalitarian government with no individual freedom.

Even though both men denounced Communism, they did not dismiss its critique of religion out of hand. Both agreed that the standard form of their faith was “otherworldly.” Most practitioners distracted themselves from the material lack in their life with spiritual pursuits. These religious endeavors foster an unhealthy individualism and a disconnection from social justice.

Ambedkar’s Buddhism and Dr. King’s Christianity were not the mainstream versions of either religion. The clergy of Burma rejected Ambedkar’s attempt to become a lay teacher. Fundamentalist Christians, white and black, opposed Dr. King. Instead, both men forged a new path for their religion infused with social justice. Their advocacy was their spiritual path.

The two works can be found below:

How Should a Christian View Communism

Can a Christian be Communist?

The Buddha or Karl Marx

Notes on History of India

North India

The treatise begins by talking about when greeks ruled a large portion of Central Asia on the border with India. One of Alexander the Great’s heirs, Antiochos III, could not keep control of the ancient provinces of Parthia and Bactria. These provinces broke away to create two separate kingdoms around 261 – 246 BC.

Around 150 BC, a group of invaders called the Huns began invading Central Asia. This invasion pushed the native inhabitants out of Parthia and Bactria into Northwest India. There were two groups of people that came to settle in northwest India was the Tokhanians and the Sakas. They joined with natives to form the Kushan Empire.

The Kushan Empire gives birth to one of the most famous Buddhist lines of royalty after the time of Ashoka. The first in the line is Phises I, who took power sometime between 15 – 40 AD. He is recorded as receiving Jesus’s disciple St. Thomas. Phises I had a son Phises II (78 -123 AD) who took control of most of NW India. After Phises II, King Kanishka came to power (78 – 123 AD). Kanishka is known as a great general who fought the Chinese and the Parthians. Their dynasty continues with Huvishka (123 – 140 AD) and Vasudeva (140 – 178 AD). Then the Kushan Empire mysteriously ends, most historians think the Sassanids of Persia took over.

There is then a period that is lost to history before the Gupta dynasty arose around 320 AD with King Chandragupta I. His son Samudra Gupta conquers most of northern India in 340 AD. The Gupta kings rule until the first invasion of the Huns in 455 AD. The Huns will be repelled, and they will invade again in 490 AD. The Empire of the Huns falls apart in 565 AD.

South India

The history of South India is more obscure, but there is more than enough evidence for historians to know a vibrant civilization survived there. A Roman history records that South Indian King Pandion sent a mission to visit Augustus in 20 BC. Pliny spoke of a Temple to Augustus in the same region. However, there were many kingdoms in this region.

Cera and Kerala lay on the West coast of India in modern-day Travancore. The Cola kingdom stretch from the southeast coast of India to central India. Central Asian invaders established the most famous kingdom called the Pallavas. King Narasimha-Varman 625 – 645 AD ruled over the Deccan, which is in Maharashtra province today. The Pallavas were rivals to the Cola Kingdom.

The Andhras is and ethnic group that was powerful in the Deccan where Narasima- Varman ruled. The Andhras were known to go to war with Buddhist fiefdoms in the region from 220 BC till 236 AD.

There is another large gap in known history before the Calukya dynasty is established. King Pulakesian II (608 – 642 AD) built an empire that stretched from the east to west coast of South India. He even had an embassy in Persia. King Harsha of the Pallavas defeated Pulakesian II, ending his rule.

The Rajput period happens from 650 – 1000 AD. This period hosted many Hindu kingdoms. From 840 – 910, King Panchala is known for waging war with Buddhists in Bengal.

Ledi Sayadaw

Biography of Ledi Sayadaw

B.B. King and Big K.R.I.T. Explain Buddhist Rebirth

What is Rebirth?

The concept of rebirth is the Buddhist alternative to the belief in reincarnation or the afterlife. Here reincarnation is defined as a Hindu concept that a metaphysical part of a person is eternal (soul) and will reinhabit another physical body. The belief in an afterlife is common in the Abrahamic religions is the soul will be sent to a paradise because of good deeds or beliefs. Neither of these concepts is in Buddhism as explained by the religious scholar Ambedkar.

The Buddhist concept of rebirth has to do with the ever-changing nature of matter and ideas. When a person dies, his body breaks down into its original elements (earth, fire, wind, water) and re-enters the universe to reappear as another person eventually. The process is never-ending and is happening every time someone consumes food or loses skin cells. It is also occurring as a person interacts with the world. As a person does good deeds, it increases the chances of others copying. The same is true for unwholesome deeds. So Buddhist rebirth is a never-ending process with one aspect being the physical death of the body.

The story of B.B. King and Big K.R.I.T.

In 1956, a brand new musician Roy King was about to release an album. Riley’s nickname Blues Boy or B.B. King was featured prominently on the album cover, but one thing is missing, B.B.’s photo. Mr. King asked about the apparent mistake and the record executives said, there was no mistake. We believe that the record could have cross-over appeal if the customer didn’t realize you were black.

Fast forward to 1986, and a middle-aged fan of the seasoned Blues Boy buys his newest record. Before she got to the counter, she saw a poster of B.B. King’s show in Paris. She decided to get the poster also. She rushed to get back to her house to welcome her daughter and new grandson. The original poster was a welcomed addition and pleased both the new grandmother and mother.

The boy was named Justin Scott and he grew up in a house with much love and music. B.B. King had more than solidified himself as the greatest musician that Mississippi ever produced. His music was an inspiration for Justin. He also grew to love many of the Hip Hop artist of his own generation. In an attempt to fuse the two genres, a new style and flavor of hip-hop was created. Justin decided to start performing under the pseudonym King Remembered in Time, K.R.I.T. It was both an assertion of how great he was and a nod to his hero B.B. King.

B.B. King briefly spoke on Hip-Hop in a 1996 interview. He said he didn’t like the gratuitous cursing or pornographic references to sex. However, he also didn’t like vulgar movies or artwork. King also acknowledged his parents and elders hated the fact he played what would later be called the Blues for many of the same reasons. Ultimately, B.B. King was impressed by the rapper’s ability, and admitted most people could not rhyme every word. He accepted Hip-Hop as an art form and applauded its success.

After years of hard work Big K.R.I.T released a record and make XXL freshman class list in 2011. His album gets much critical acclaim because it is at the same time cerebral and down-home. It talks about southern freedom fighters of the civil rights era and strip clubs. A genuinely southern album welcoming yet challenging to the listener. Bloggers have a field day debating the double meanings to the rhymes and what he really meant.

For the sophomore album, he wanted to make a concept song. In the song, three dead men talk to the angel of death which appears to them as a praying man. One man was lynched, one jumped from a slave ship, and another died while running away from the plantation. He gets the DJ from his favorite strip club to help him produce the track. After it was finished the DJ Chucks suggests that B.B. King would be a great addition to the record. K.R.I.T laughs but after being prodded by chunky gets his lawyer to reach out to B.B. King.

Luckily, one of the grandchildren of B.B. King’s band members was a fan of K.R.I.T. When the name is mentioned, the grandchild happened to be in the room and played the mp3 for the legends. B.B. King liked the album and was happy to work with the young rapper.

K.R.I.T recounted the story for “Complex” magazine as being surreal. The legend came in the booth as an extremely humble character. They talked and B.B. King offered to play his guitar in addition to singing. There were three flawless takes of B.B. King sang and played over the track. K.R.I.T was amazed at the precision and passion of the 84-year-old.

After the session, K.R.I.T and King talked about the industry and life in general. B.B. King re-told the story of how he had to fight to get his photo on his album cover. The moral was to fight, but not let bitterness fill your heart. King said he has forgotten most of the bad things that happened to him because people are so kind to him now. It is water under the bridge, and his eyes are facing forward.

King then told K.R.I.T he was the continuation of the musical tradition of Mississippi. Hip-Hop is the new method of conveying raw emotion to a room full of people. It is another unapologetic reflection of truth.

No outsider can say Blues or Hip-Hop should or should not use certain methods of communication. The music is made for the people in the backwoods of Mississippi. These people afford the rest of the world the privilege of hearing their music.

B.B. King died three years after the recording. K.R.I.T told Vox is mission is to continue to spread King’s music and inform the younger generation. K.R.I.T will forever be in debt to King not only for his professionalism. King opened his warm and creative soul to the young rapper. K.R.I.T and all his fans will never be the same after.

How the story illustrates rebirth

The story of K.R.I.T and King shows how music is being reborn constantly. King added to the American lexicon of music soul-stirring music. These seeds germinated in another Mississippi native building his own art form. Not only has the artistry been passed down to the new generation, but the mentality of resilience. It is the continuation of blackness. The term blackness doesn’t denote a skin color, it represents an experience that transcends the individual. One can view it being born in America or being imported from Africa, but it can’t be denied that it is unique and beyond mental constructs.

Rebirth is the realization that what most conceive as the individual is really a continuum of experience much bigger than one can conceptualize. The concept of the individual is an artificial construct used to aid in understanding. What exists is a never-ending flux of energy and thought that emerges as what we call individuals.

The song ” Praying Man” is a living example of rebirth. It connects the ancestors with the older generation and the newer generation. In the song, all the generations exist in one, and the lines of demarcation become blurred. We realize the ancestors are one with us and we are one with the ancestors. Even though the artists are not Buddhist, they exemplify the principles. The idea of rebirth is not unique to Buddhism or Asia, it is a concept that people witness every day in their own life.

For more on music and Buddhism

To hear the song “Praying Man” click HERE

To learn more about Buddhism click HERE


  1. Big K.R.I.T explains how the collaboration with B.B. King came together 11-12-14
  2. Big K.R.I.T on B.B. King: “He did not have to be Humble” 5-15-15
  3. We Tried to get Big K.R.I.T to dis another MC 3-30-12
  4. B.B. King: Sweet Sixteen
  5. All Day and Night: Memories from Beale St 1990 Documentary Directed by Gordon and Guida

The Buddha and His Dharma

Buddha’s Early Life

The Buddha’s whose real name is Siddharth Gautama, Buddha means teacher in Pali was born in the sixth century BCE. His father was a king. Therefore Buddha was a member of the soldier caste. His birth mother had a dream before Buddha was born that her son would change the world. Unfortunately, his birth mother Mahamaya died and his aunt Parapati raised him.

The Buddha was educated in all fields of study befitting a future king including meditation. The cultivation of his mind through meditation created a peaceful disposition in the young man that caused him to believe in non-violence. His belief in non-violence will lead to his later spiritual journey.

As a member of the soldier caste, Buddha was obligated to fight in wars. The declaration of war was decided democratically by the majority of caste members. When the Buddha was twenty-nine years old, such a declaration was made to secure water rites from another tribe. Buddha made a passionate plea to no go to war, but could not dissuade the majority of caste members. Because the Buddha did not want to violate his principles he decided to go into exile. He explained his decision to his family that included a son and wife named, Yeshodhara. Buddha left with their consent and support.

He begins his spiritual journey by going to an Ashram, which is a community of other spiritual seekers. After being there a short while, five men who were practicing extreme deprivation arrived. They informed the Buddha that his tribe never actually went to war. After he left the tribe reconsidered their position, and came to a peace agreement with the tribe they were going to attack. The Buddha was free to return if he wanted. After strong consideration, the Buddha decided to stay on his journey. He felt he had to find the root of human suffering and a way to alleviate it and decides to practice extreme deprivation, asceticism, with the five fellows.

For the next six years, the Buddha undergoes the most extreme trials. He eats so little he stays near starvation and baths so infrequently that dirt falls off of him. When nights are cold, he stays outside with no shelter. Instead of cutting his hair he plucks all the hair from his beard and scalp. Yet, he realizes he is no closer to finding the end of suffering. He sits under a Banyan tree, a passerby sees him and gives him food. The taking of food until satisfied ended his experiment with asceticism.

He decides to have one more go at enlightenment. He gathered forty days worth of food and returns to the Banyan tree. He decides to stay there in meditation until he finds a way out of human suffering. After having many mystical experiences, he finally sees the answer. His early life of luxury and indulging every want was one extreme. His recent journey is asceticism of denying all wants was another extreme. The way to live is the middle path. Not deprivation or indulgence. A person must overcome lustful craving to reveal the genuine bodily needs. Satisfying bodily needs is acceptable. After Buddha found enlightenment, the tree was renamed the Bodhi tree.

How the Buddha Taught

The decision to teach others the Dharma came after much deliberation and soul-searching. He began by teaching the five men that practiced asceticism with him. He gave his first sermon detailing all the aspects of the middle path. These aspects included foundational Buddhist concepts such as the noble eightfold path. After the sermon, the five ascetics were so moved they joined his new community. They became the first monks also known as Bikkhus.

Together they traveled all over Northern India spreading the Dharma. As Buddha’s of old, he begged for food and owned no property. These wandering preachers became famous all over India and their ranks swelled. Eventually, the Buddha’s father gets word of this and asks his son to return home. The Buddha grants the request.

Upon returning home, he reunites with his family. His father asks him to assume the throne, but the Buddha refuses. Eventually, the Buddha’s mother, wife, and son become monks. The Buddha never settled in his hometown, to do so would not keep in the tradition of the Buddha’s of old. However, he returned frequently to connect with family and teach the people of his hometown.

What the Buddha Taught

The Buddha taught Dhamma, not religion. Religion focuses on man’s relationship with a god and how to obtain paradise after death. Dhamma chiefly focuses on how man relates to other men. Dhamma has a closer relationship with ethics than religion. Religion only contains ethics to regulate interactions between adherents and the outside world to please a god.

Dhamma is a  tool to create a more equitable society. By equitable, it is meant that social barriers are removed, and a pure meritocracy is established. Society stops granting status due to birth, status is granted because people have earned it. Working for the social good is fundamental to Dhamma, it is not a side effect.

The world and the state man currently finds himself in is the result of Kamma. Kamma is another name for causation, meaning that the actions of individuals, society, or past generations leads to punishment and reward in the present day. The teaching of karma is in line with modern-day sociology. It is not the belief that past lives of an individual cause his present state.

In fact, the Buddha did not believe in an essential essence that last for infinity, otherwise known as the soul. He believed that the elements that create a person would go back into space and eventually re-emerge as a new, different person. What the Buddha taught conflicted with the Brahmanic idea of reincarnation of the same soul in a new body. What the Buddha taught was called rebirth.

The Buddha never proclaimed to have any divine or exalted position. He claimed to be a man that created his Dhamma from reason and evaluation. There is also no infallible text, although there are sutras which are a historical record of the life and teachings of Buddha. Again what the  Buddha taught was very much in line with modern science.

Who the Buddha Taught

The community started by the Buddha include people of all occupations, classes, castes, and both genders. The Buddha had two types of people in the Buddhist Sangha, householders and monks. The goal of the group was not to isolate oneself and obtain perfection. The goal was to improve the world.

Women were not allowed to be monks at first. The reason was not that the Buddha thought they were inferior, but they were so vital in building the home. To have women renounce house-holding would be impractical. Many of the monks asked him to reconsider the position. His mother Parapati with a large contingent of women in his hometown asked to become monks. He turned them down at first. These women undaunted by the denial cut their hair and began living as monks. Eventually, the Buddha relented. Hundreds women from his hometown joined the community as monks including Parapati and Yeshodhara.

The Buddha’s End

As time progressed, the Buddha and his family grew old. His mother and wife died on the same day of old age. Many confidants and critiques also grew old and passed on. Many in his community wanted the Buddha to choose a successor. The fear was if there is conflict in the future and nobody can make a final decision the community could break into factions.

The Buddha considered this and decided not to pick a successor. Compromise and consensus should settle disputes. Having someone picked to dictate beliefs goes against the spirit of Dharma.

In 583 BC the Buddha ended his journey. He was around eighty years old. Followers and admirers surrounded him.


The writer of this article is not a monk or certified Dharma teacher. The goal of this post is to summarize the book. Questions on Buddhism will not be answered in the comments. For more on Buddhism contact a local Vihara. For the full-text click on the link below:

Full Text: The Buddha and His Dharma

Essay on the Untouchables : Dalit and Christianity

Ambedkar begins the treatise by justifying the need for a mass conversion of Dalit. Most Dalits have determined Hinduism will never be conducive to Dalit uplift. Ambedkar then purposes a reasoned and logical evaluation of all religions to see which religion will suit the Dalit’s unique needs.

Many critics would characterize this type of evaluation as artificial and solely politically motivated. Ambedkar retorts the criticism by showing that most Christian conversion in the middle ages came after the king of a country was converted. The subjects would convert in mass to follow the king. If the subjects did not, they would be politically isolated.

Religion is by its nature communal. It projects the essential values of a community on to the universe. The purpose is to unite a community of people beyond extended family bonds. In primitive society, extended family bonds determined those that hold your life sacred and those that do not. Religion binds people beyond the family and creates a means of social control. Law and police can’t contain a society if the people don’t fundamentally respect life and property.

The concerns that a new Dalit religion needs to address are the Dalit’s social isolation and the resulting inferiority complex. To end the social isolation Dalit must move to a group that does not recognize caste. Hinduism will never serve this purpose because caste is a fundamental part of the Hindu religion. Ambedkar even goes further saying that a Dalit that accepts Hinduism accepts her oppression. Also, there is no altruistic center in Hinduism. All forms of behavior can be accommodated under certain pretenses.

A brief history of Christianity in India is given before arguments for and against it are presented. The first missionaries came to India from the Syrian church 800 years prior. They were followed 400 years later by European Christians. Many denominations of the church have created extensive charity networks in India. The goal of the charity networks is to build an audience to listen to gospel. However, there has been no effort to make the society of India more equitable, thus relieving the need for charity.

There were three main impediments to the spread of Christianity in India. One, early European Christians that settled in India were unruly sailors. Two, infighting between various denominations of the Christian church distracted from evangelizing. Three, the church adopted a failed strategy of concentrating on Brahmin converts assuming lower castes would automatically follow. The loss of privilege disincentivized Brahmin conversion. At the time of publication, there were only 6 million Christians in the subcontinent housing 358 million people. Most of the Christians were Dalit and most incorporated Christianity in their Hinduism instead of making a full conversion.

Christianity could not fundamentally challenge Dalit’s social isolation. Christianity itself was a composite community of different denominations. Also, the church kept the caste system going in its India churches. Different castes have different churches. There was no effort to change because a version of caste is practiced elsewhere in Christendom. In America and the Caribbean, blacks are separated from whites. In Europe, people of high class are separated from people of low class.

Christian believe the fall of Adam caused inequality. Therefore nothing can be fundamentally done to make life more equitable. The belief in predetermined inequality due to “The Fall” is no better than believing the cause of inequality is past karma. They also assert once a person accepts the religion they will be forgiven of all sin. The belief in absolute forgiveness also disincentivizes the need for social reform. Dalit can’t join a religion that does not facilitate their active striving for social justice.

Gandhi was briefly discussed in the treatise. Ambedkar shows that he vehemently fights against the conversion of Dalit to Christianity, but will not do the same to stop Dalit conversion to Islam. The discrepancy in Gandhi reaction was political according to Ambedkar.

Gandhi is quoted in this essay as saying ”They (Dali) can no more distinguish between the relative merits… than can a cow. (Dalit) have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of the difference between G-d and no G-d”. This statement shows Gandhi’s feelings for Dalits and his belief in Brahmin superiority.

The full essay can be read HERE

Buddha or Karl Marx

Buddha or Karl Marx

34 pages

Dr. Ambedkar admits that at first glance a comparison of Buddha and Karl Marx seems unreasonable. However, both can be considered practical philosophers attempting to create a more equitable world. Also, both saw that the abolition of private property would lead to a fairer and freer society.

Karl Marx proposed what he felt was a scientific socialism. In Marx’s estimation, a revolution by the poor was inevitable due to mounting inequality. The poor would collectively own the means of production through dictatorship. Once the dictatorship removed the concept of private property, a new equitable society would flourish.

However, the Communist plan has been implemented in Russia since 1917 after a violent revolution. The implementation of policies has also necessitated the use of violence and coercion. The use of force has no end in sight. Even though Marx claimed that implementing Communism would eventually lead the dissolution of the state, there is no evidence of this happening. Also if the state dissolved, it seems it would be replaced by Anarchy.

In contrast, Buddha set out to change people’s understanding of the world. Ambedkar then goes on to explain various Buddhist concepts such as The Four Noble Truths, The Ten Hindrances, and the Ten Virtues. He describes how these teaching systematically remove the idea that the individual can exist on his own or personal gain will lead to lasting happiness (ego). Once a person thinks in a collective sense, they will not want to own the means of production and want it owned by the collective.

To reframe this in Integral terminology, Buddha focused on interiors, and Marx concentrated on exteriors. Buddha understood that external changes only happen once a person’s attitude changes. If externals change without the internals, there will always need to be some greater force holding society together. People will not be motivated to maintain a healthy society without coercion so the society will always be unstable.

One of the criticisms that Communist often levy on Buddhist or people with religion is that religion makes people “otherworldly”. Those with religion care more about the afterlife than building an equitable future here on earth. Ambedkar illustrates how Buddhism professes and supports building material wealth inside the boundaries of law and morality. Buddhism is not an otherworldly religion. Ambedkar goes further to say Communist attempt to paint all religions with the same brush.

The read the entire book yourself click on the link below for a PDF copy.

Buddha or Karl Marx

The Origins of Caste (Caste in India)

The Origins of Caste is an early work of Ambedkar written in 1916. The treatise gives a preliminary explanation of the origin and propagation of caste. It also critiques the interpretation of castes provided by others. In the end, he reiterates this theory is preliminary and could require more research.

He summaries the root caste from others to begin. The other theorists say the caste system is rooted in myths of lineage, traditional occupation, or ceremonial purity. Ambedkar describes all the opposing theories as partially correct. However, he makes his case for the root of the caste system being the prohibition of intermarriage between castes.

When a person understands the root of the caste system is the prohibition on intermarriage, many other customs can be easily explained. The prohibition on intermarriage, each group, must ensure there is an equal number of males and females. If a spouse dies, then there is a surplus man or surplus woman. This adult with no sexual partner would have the incentive to look for a mate from outside the caste. To prevent the widow from a cross-caste marriage, she can be thrown on the funeral pyre or take a vow of celibacy. For a widower, he can be forced into celibacy or given an underage girl to wed.

He criticized that the rule of caste was set forth by one authoritarian ruler, Manu. It would be difficult for one man to enforce these laws during his reign against the will of the people. It would be even more challenging to create a lineage of rulers that did the same thing. It is also unlikely the Brahmin forced caste rules on the lower caste for the same reason.

Ambedkar theorized that the most likely explanation is the Brahmin decided to close themselves off by forming a caste. The next highest social class then converted themselves into a caste to improve their social standing. This behavior continued until finally those at the bottom of society were completely shut out. To support the claim Ambedkar calls to the attention of the reader; there are fewer purity rules the further a person’s caste is from the Brahmin.

The treatise is crucial because it provides a basis for Ambedkar’s struggle for the rights of women with the overall social justice struggle. As women win the right to marry and love as they wish, the foundations of caste will be destroyed.

A copy of this treatise can be found on Google Play or from the below link from Columbia University.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel


  • PhD in Transformative Learning from California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Opened a Zen Center in Oakland, CA
  • Zen Buddhist priest in the Suzuki Roshi lineage
  • Given Dharma talks at San Francisco Zen Center and Deer Park Monastary

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel (b. 1952) is a Buddhist teacher in the Zen tradition. She is of African- American ethnicity and only two generations removed from slavery. Her landmark work The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender her take on Buddhism. The book explains how universal suffering and individual suffering are the same and different.

Her story begins with her first Buddhist sit in 1988. A feeling of separation and unacceptability to the mainstream world motivated her quest for deeper meaning. She understood these feelings were connected to the systematic and historical suffering of her people. Initially, the path of activism provided an outlet for her angst. Eventually, she needed more holistic methods.

Entering Buddhism presented some difficulty because she had to leave Christianity. The black church not only serves as a spiritual community but an underpinning of an entire subculture. Often in rural areas such as Louisiana, the black church is the only formal organization a black person could join. Dr. Manuel equated blackness with membership in the church. She had to move past these feelings of betrayal to embrace the path of Buddha.

In The Way of Tenderness she uses the connection with the body to explain how universal suffering and individual suffering are interconnected. The body must be accepted as part of nature as the vehicle in which you experience the world and how the world experiences the individual. This body connects a person with an identity that distinguishes them from others. These identities can cause suffering, yet they also connect a person with their individual history and support from people with the same identity. The connection with identity can be emotional, powerful, and empowering.

The identity which Dr. Manuel frames as race, sexuality, and gender can’t just be ignored or obsessed over to create a false personal narrative. It is through an understanding of race, sexuality, and gender that a person begins to dissolve the illusion of self. The social justice struggle of these various groups connects the Dharma back to the physical world. Once people have these experiences with oneness, they will be motivated to expand them to the people they love and the communities they reside.

In the Buddhist or Enlightened communities issues with race, sexuality, and gender are seen as personal problems out of the scope of the religious community. Also, those still struggling with issues of identity are not enlightened and attached to the concept of self/ego. Instead of actively working toward a more equitable society the person needs to “let go” of ego. The denial of identity takes the Dharma and makes it only a metaphysical concept. True Dharma changes the metaphysical and physical world.

It is essential for enlightened communities to define “letting go of ego.” If self is an illusion then there is nothing to “let go of” and nothing to “attach to”. The release of ego is the understanding of the interconnection to all other living beings. The knowledge that all of our roots and fates are intertwined. Something happening to one person, real or imagined affects all people.

When enlightened communities do not discuss issues of identity, these problems fester and boil over. The unresolved issues of race repel members of minority communities. It also reduces the ability of introspection in members of the majority population. If a member of an enlightened community is not doing serious work in the area of introspection, they can not claim to be different than the population at large. Self-introspection will lead to an understanding of collective suffering and a desire to actively remedy the collective suffering.

In the social justice movement, which Dr. Manuel is connected with through membership in Pan-African associations and study of indigenous African religions, individual suffering is used to explain all life phenomenon. It is essential to understand what is personal narrative and what is systematic racism. In her meditation retreats, she has activities focused on people telling their personal narratives. Her retreatants will either disconnect from their story or see how their story is interconnected with everyone else. Once a person disconnects from their story, their anger moves through them. It is not ignored nor is it dwelled on as a controlling feature of their life. The individual can then determine what needs to be done in a given situation from a rational perspective.

Her understanding of universal and individual suffering leads her to support cultural sanctuaries, spaces for people of color (POC) to heal in spiritual communities. POC Sangha’s allow black people to openly discuss how they use the dharma to heal with past wounds and maneuver in a racially charged world. It is difficult to discuss these issues among groups of mixed race because whites often feel attacked. Since creating strategies to deal with racism is valuable for the progress of a spiritual community, POC spaces are vital. These spaces do not exclude whites to impose superiority, or to keep whites away from knowledge. They are practical workspaces to use the dharma to heal and grow.

Dr. Z. Manuel Analysis

Dr. Manuel has Integral consciousness. She details how suffering is at the same time universal and individual. She also explains how focusing on the individual aspects or the universal aspects could cause pathologies in individuals and communities. The Integral community needs to study the work of Dr. Manuel.

She needs to be commended for having the courage not only to take on the Dharma community but the social justice movement. Integral approaches are normally both/and not either/or. Having perspective at a higher level allows her to criticize both camps. Being at second tier also allows her not to be threatened by criticism of both communities or need to defend the communities at all costs.

For more on Dr. Manuel

Here official website click

Also, a SoundCloud playlist has been created titled: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel


  2. The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender by Dr. Z. Manuel 2015

Website Powered by

Up ↑