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Got a hot date in Oakland tonight…Much of it will be silent

The East Bay Meditation Center from East Bay Meditation Center on Vimeo.

(Description and transcript, to the best of my beginner’s ability, below the fold — additions and/or amendments appreciated!)

Friends, I’d like you to meet the East Bay Meditation Center, one of the dopest sanghas (dhammic spiritual communities) I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. For the month of June I’m the open/close volunteer for the Thursday night People of Color sit (terminology that, as Chally and others have pointed out, may be useful in this context but not in all! :). So tonight I’ll be setting up the chairs and cushions, the tea (so many kinds of tea — yummm), the sound system, arranging the chairs and cushions, lighting some candles…and then breaking everything down at the end of the night. I’m technically the bottom-liner but there are always other sweetheart regulars who are eager to help out, make the work go faster.

The video pretty much speaks for its own rad self, but basically this tremendously awesome spiritual organization is rooted in values of diversity and justice.* They have been so inspirational for me, not only by offering a space for me to maintain and strengthen my meditation practice, but in presenting that practice in a language I understand and care about. Back in March, I got an email from the listserv advertising a “Beyond Buddhist Patriarchy” 1-day workshop:

Alternating periods of silent meditation with facilitated discussion, we’ll explore what forms of spiritual practice, and both lay and monastic community structures, may arise as we collectively go beyond internal and external patriarchal structures.

Can I tell you how happy it made me to hear that in a spiritual context? Really happy.

I know that not everybody agrees on the utility of POC-only or LGBTQQI-only spaces (of note: only 2 out of 7 days a week at EBMC are caucused in this way), but I for one am a big fan. I am also a big fan of dana (“DAH-nah,” generosity) -based micro-economies, both on a spiritual level (cultivating generosity: helpful) and on a political level (more aligned with the socialist framework, “to each according to need; from each according to ability”).

Also important and encouraging is the attitude of EBMC sponsors who come from more privileged sanghas. Instead of focusing exclusively on ‘integrating’ or ‘diversifying’ their own populations, groups like Spirit Rock that are largely white, older, and wealthy are also offering some material and financial solidarity to self-led communities like EBMC. Key! So key.

If you’ve got a dollar to spare and would like to support our work, it would be especially appreciated now, as we’re trying to afford a bigger space so we can have childcare! Hell yes. And if you live in the Bay Area and have never been, come check it out!

Description of The East Bay Meditation Center Video

Text and graphics from East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) website. A Buddhist statue. Text: “Carrying the Lamp of Love”; East Bay Meditation Center; Copyright © 2010; All rights reserved.

Fade to: Colorful Buddha bust with a rainbow banner. Text: DHARMA: Teaching of the Buddha and others leading to Spiritual Liberation.

Text: SANGHA: A Spiritual Community practicing these Teachings

Text: DANA: The Practice of Generous Giving to support Dharma and Sangha

Fade to: a forest stream

Voice #1: It’s like a dream. It’s like a vision of something in the process of being fulfilled.

Fade to: a candle

Voice #2: Everyone is welcome to bring all of who they are into that spiritual space.

Fade to: an altar with statued, framed pictures, flowers, and candles, flanked by potted plants and Japanese folding screens

Fade to: Outdoor street shot of center, blue awning and Tibetan prayer flags visible through the streetfacing windows. People walking by.

Voice #3: A refuge for all people looking…

Traffic shots

Voice #4: What’s really special about EBMC is the friendliness of the community. People say that all the time.

People walking into the center, greeting each other. (I’m the one with the orange scarf on my head! 😉

Stills of people with eyes closed

Street/foot traffic shot

Folks, most POC, entering the door, removing their shoes, and signing in at a small front table staffed by a greeter

Stills of people sitting in meditation posture and doing yoga. Various races, ethnicities, sizes, some with facial piercings, dredlocks…

Alice Walker sits in a palmy outdoor setting next to a rock sculpture with a sun hat on top. Music plays in the background throughout the film. Text: Alice Walker, Poet: Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Alice Walker: I think the most profoundly changing practice that anyone could have is a practice of meditation. And a practice of meditation that involves other people, a practice of meditation that is urban, because so many people in urban places feel a special stress.

Stills and shots of people entering and sitting in EBMC, people walking on the streets in downtown Oakland

IndoorsLarry Yang, Core Teacher, Leadership Sangha member: East Bay Meditation Center is a meditation center that was created to create full access to as many diverse communities as possible with the principles of full economic accessibility and social justice.

Outdoors, in a field with tall grasses, next to a small stone Buddha statueDr. Marlene Jones, EBMC Community Teacher: Compared to other places there’s a sense of strong community there.

EBMC from street, fade to Larry Yang next to a potted palm, orchid, and bowl-shaped bell: So the mission of EBMC is to celebrate our diversity and to be as inclusive as possible, which means going out into the communities and asking, What makes a spiritual home for you?

Spring Washam, EBMC Core Teacher, Leadership Sangha member Indoors next to a bookshelf, Buddha statue, potted plants, and candle: Many people were really interested in issues of diversity and class, gender, and we didn’t feel like those issues were being addressed at some of the bigger centers.

Larry Yang: I think it was [Jesse Jackson, Jr?] that made the comment that Sunday mornings are one of the most segregated spaces in North America.

Member #1: I feel safe there. So that’s an important aspect of being able to really practice, really hear what’s being said to me in the dharma.

Stone statue of seated Buddha

Larry Yang: We got a beautiful Buddhist statue for the altar. Before the statue was installed, we had hung a rainbow banner (shown) on the wall behind it because it was really important to be inclusive of communities that don’t ordinarily feel included from the onset

Dr. Marlene Jones: It wasn’t until a location was found with the sincere hearts of those that started this center, who are coming from a heart place, who love the dharma, who love the community, that this became possible.

Indoors, in front of the alter, Charlie Johnson, EBMC Core Teacher, Leadership Sangha member: Really we wanted to be located in downtown Oakland.

Downtown Oakland traffic

Charlie Johnson: We’re doing our best to reduce the suffering in the world.

Run-down or poor parts of Oakland, corner store

Charlie Johnson: We’re trying to get the word out to everyone, especially the diverse population of the Bay Area.

Outdoors, near a glen and forest path, Jack Kornfield, Buddhist Teacher, Co-Founder Spirit Rock Meditation Center: The fact that EBMC is located in Oakland has allowed it to become one of the most diverse sanghas or communities of spirit that I’ve ever seen in the entire Buddhist world.

Spring Washam: Traffic’s going by, and it’s almost to me as if it’s, as if it’s still nature. It’s life unfolding. And so we use that, we use the location to look at ourself.

Dr. Marlene Jones: The East Bay Meditation Center operates on a dana basis only!

Charlie Johnson: We didn’t want a center that people had to pay to come to. Many of the people that we are trying to reach frankly just can’t afford it!

Spring Washam: We serve a community that is struggling. You know, not everyone has a job. Not everyone’s able, not everyone can give. But those who can, do.

Member #2: To me it’s extraordinary that there’s like so much spirituality in the Bay Area, but a lot of it is offered at a price, where, if you can’t afford, you almost can’t access, you know, increasing your own mental health, physical health, spiritual health, because you can’t afford the price tag at the door. So EBMC’s really, you know, broken down barriers as far as giving me access and also a lot of people that I know that would not have been able to afford to benefit.

Indoors, on a floral-print couch with a printed cloth behind, Mushim Ikeda-Nash, EBMC Core Teacher, Leadership Sangha member: Dana is an ancient Buddhist word that means the practice of generous giving.

Larry Yang: It is radical because it is not an economy of, of exchange. It’s an economy of gift. And so to bring the economy of gift into a market economy is going upstream.

People putting cash donations into vessels marked “Dana.”

Spring Washam: Anybody could just walk in the door, you know, completely accessible.

Outdoors, on a patio, Anushka Fernandopulle, Community Teacher There’s a beautiful sangha there. And there’s many different sanghas, I would say, of people who, I think because of the spirit in which it’s given, the teachings are given there, and the way it’s run, it feels like the community of people in the sangha have more ownership of it than in many other centers, I think.

Member #3: I even moved up to Oakland from San Francisco because this community was so important to me.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: Our foundation groups have been a meditation group for people of color, and a meditation group for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and questioning communities.

Member #4: Without the center I haven’t had a home for deepening into meditation practice. And as a transgendered and queer person, it’s important to have that safe space to feel comfortable going deeper, without feeling misunderstood or invisible.

Outdoors, sitting in a field of yellow flowers, Faith Adiele, Author, Speaker, Teacher: I recently became the new coordinator for the People of Color sangha, the Thursday night sits. And I did it because I just moved to the Bay Area, and I was amazed that something like this existed.

Member #5: I call it the peace movement in Oakland.

String of flags saying “peace” in different languages inside the EBMC door

Member #5: When I go there, that expansion is happening, and when I leave there I feel larger, I feel my heart has expanded, my mind has expanded. One of the fertile, potent seeds is always being planted at EBMC.

Stills of people sitting and meditating. Calligraphy print that reads, “Meditating.”

Spring Washam’s voice: You know, meditation is about connecting to what’s true. It’s about connecting to your truth, your true self. It’s really transformational.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: For three years we’ve been building our programming level and at the current time, we have weekly groups meeting Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, we have class series on Monday and Tuesday evenings, and we very often have at least one, if not two, day retreats on Saturday, and/or Sunday.

Yoga teacher conducting a class in EBMC, students of various colors and sizes participating.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: So the center is being used a lot.

Folks setting up chairs, cushions, and candles for an evening sit

Larry Yang: I think that we have over 150 volunteers, who are very precious to us.

Faith Adiele: Every week there are new people that are coming who have, like, never meditated, or didn’t know about the center, and they kind of come in, [Mimes with eyes wide, looking around], they’re like, Is this the place where folks of color are? You know, Do I have to have a paper and pencil? You know, it’s so cute, someone has told them, “You have to go!”

Larry Yang: It’s amazing how positive the feedback is, considering how young an organization we are.

Spring Washam: Our classes are really popular right now, they’re so popular that I would say 50% to 60% of whatever we do has a wait list now.

Charlie Johnson: We have become so successful over the last three years that we’re kind of bulging at the seams.

People sitting in EBMC, shot of a buddha statue and green plants

Spring Washam: The next step for EBMC is a really, um, as I mentioned, a state-of-the-art meditation center. We would *love* to have a beautiful space that fits a couple hundred people.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: Where people can go outside into a protected courtyard area to do walking meditation…We need a family room where there can be a child-safe space.

Dr. Marlene Jones: It’s too small. And who knew?! Who knew it was gonna get so small, so fast?

Spring Washam: The vision of the different space, a new space for EBMC, for me is huge.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: What East Bay Meditation Center needs in order to grow to meet the needs of our specific communities is financial commitment and support.

Lovely diverse crowd sitting together 🙂

Spring Washam: The other way that people can give is becoming a monthly donor, and that’s a really important program.

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: Some people might give $15 every month, some might give $100 or more every month.

Sylvia Boorstein, Mindfulness Teacher: When I open my bank statement, I get to see, in between Long’s Drugs, and the grocery shopping that I do, and the dry-cleaner’s that I visit, I get to see Spirit Rock meditation and East Bay Meditation Center, and Insight Meditation Center, in between — sprinkled in between when you read your statement — you’re thinking, oh yeah, oh yeah, I remember that, I wonder if I needed that, oh yeah, Oh look! Look what I did, look what I did, look what I did, look what I did…

Member #6: I started donating to the East Bay Meditation Center, as a Friend of the meditation center, before I ever came in.

Member #7: I do the monthly giving, because I really support what’s going on here, and want people to know about it. It’s just terrific that it’s here, in Oakland.

Green buddha face with rainbow banner

Mushim Ikeda-Nash: I feel that we have met the goals of our original mission in the most exciting way. We’ve been called the most diverse spiritual community on the planet, and I thought about that and I thought, That may not be overreaching, it may actually be true!

Larry Yang: In spite of all of that which we need, I really wanna emphasize all of that which we have. Because EBMC actually has an energy on its own now. And will continue, if people support it.

Member #8, Hey that’s me Kloncke!: The feeling of community, and trust, and shared experience in that room is just palpable.

Member #9: Unlike most, many places in my daily life, I find myself not having to explain who I am here, where I come from…never have to answer that question.

Jack Kornfield: I get asked to do benefits for organizations that are terrific all around the world. EBMC is one organization that is really dear to my heart, because it is a model for the planet, it is an offering that is beautiful, wise, diverse, strong, clear…and I want to do anything I can to support it.

Alice Walker: I think that supporting the East Bay Meditation Center in an urban area, in Oakland, is one of the best things that people can do.

Jack Kornfield: EBMC is a bright light, saying this is how — this is what’s possible. EBMC is showing what’s possible, and I am honored and thrilled to be asked to be a part of it and support it in any way I can.

Charlie Johnson: Come join us. [Adorable smile and chuckle!! :D]


A Savannah Films Production
Produced & Directed by Konda Mason
Editor: Beli Sullivan
Graphics: Taku Hazeyama
Associate Producer: Ellie Arielle

Special Thanks: We are grateful to all who have contributed time, expertise, and energy creating the East Bay Meditation Center. ~EBMC Leadership Sangha

Copyright © East Bay Meditation Center


*[Correction 30 Jan 2011: In the original post, I said here that EBMC is “kind of little-cousin to the more famous Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin.” Thanks to some constructive criticism by one of EBMC’s leaders who’s been involved since the beginning, I just want to correct and clarify this. Though many of their members and teachers have strong community ties, EBMC and Spirit Rock have no formal/official relationship. Sorry for the misinformation!]

5 thoughts on Got a hot date in Oakland tonight…Much of it will be silent

  1. I’ve been to the EBMC for a couple of day long retreats, and i LOVE it. In the bay area i’ve noticed a tendency for spiritual growth opportunities to be open to only those who can afford it, and I’ve been turned off by the unexamined classism at work in some other sanghas i’ve been to.

  2. This post pretty much answers most of my concerns by emphasising the community and meditative aspects of dharma.

    There certainly are problems within Buddhism with intolerance and inequality in some traditions, so an organistaion that focuses on acceptance and diversity can do a lot to increase accessability of teaching. My local monastery has been excluded from the Thai Forest tradition for re-instating the full ordination of women, for example.

    It also overcomes the more casual exclusion that occurs where some Sangha’s based on immigrant communities may focus on the Vietnamese or Thai community, making people from other backgrounds feel as though they are intruding on a culturally specific practice.

  3. I can’t fully express the joy of seeing a post about one of my favorite places (EBMC) on one of my favorite feminist blogs. I hope lots of folks from here decide to help support EBMC in whatever way they can (I can’t contribute much money, but I volunteer there on a pretty much constant basis).

    One central reason that I value EBMC so much is because of the diversity–being a white guy, I don’t go to the POC sits, but because EBMC is so diligent about diversity, I still get to meditate in an diverse environment, instead of the upper-middle-class-white-people environments that I’ve found to be par for the course at meditation centers in the Bay Area.

    (Also, something that the video doesn’t mention, Mushim did a fantastic series of classes on Buddhist women, which, while not nominally about feminism, addressed not only the huge contributions of women to Buddhism, but also some of the problems with sexism within Buddhist circles.)

    Thank you so much for this.

  4. kloncke, this was beautiful.

    What I saw as especially beautiful about this center was the emphasis on communicating (in many ways) that this is a welcoming space. That’s really key. If I’m not specifically told I am welcome in a new place, my “natural” assumption is that I am unwelcome. Or, that I may or may not be welcome after going through some length of process of “proving myself” (or trying to prove myself)—but that my child is definitely UNwelcome. The dream of expansion of this center to include a family room really heartened me. That’s what keeps me from exploring group meditation.

  5. La Lubu, thank you for sharing that experience, which echoes the experience of so many of us. I have happy chills. 🙂

    Wishing you so much warmth and wellness in finding your own spiritual home(s). You deserve nothing less than a community that fully honors, supports, and celebrates your intention to practice.


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