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Awakening to Whiteness Series

Our last ATW series was in 2020 (July-December). Our next series will start late 2021 or early 2022. If you’re interested in the series let us know and this will be considered when we decide when to schedule the next series.


Why Awakening to Whiteness?

White supremacy isn’t just about overtly racists individuals, it’s also about culture and systems. Those of us categorized as “white” benefit from the way our society works in ways we’re rarely conscious of, and usually know little about the challenges faced by people of color in America. We also tend to think our views, preferences, and experience – strongly influenced by our whiteness – are simply “normal,” and this makes thinking about race seem optional for us, unlike any person of color.

Part of Bright Way Zen’s vision is to make our Zen center inviting and accessible to anyone who seeks the Dharma, but our Sangha is – like most in America – overwhelmingly white. What can we do to awaken to the way the phenomenon of whiteness influences us, and may make our center less than welcoming for people of color? Organizations across the country have asked this question, and people of color have told them, “Educate yourselves!”

Importantly, investigating our own racial karma is vital to our practice. In Zen, we value those things that challenge our fixed ideas of who we are, and recognize how letting go of those ideas leads to liberation, happiness, and connection. A Dharma teacher named Kristin Barker who went through a White Awake series beautifully expressed how this work goes hand-in-hand with our Buddhist practice:

[Before the course] “The truth is that I didn’t know I was suffering. The understanding of deep interdependence means that operating in a culture that objectifies, exploits and oppresses, even and especially when hidden from the dominant view, divides the heart against itself… The upside [of facing our own racism] is so much greater than I knew, so much greater than just “accepting the hard truth” like a bitter pill. I submit that the upside isn’t even to do less harm to people of color although that is a necessity. The upside is wholeness. I have found that, just as promised, if I can turn towards the suffering of racism, against my ego’s self-protecting tendencies, I do experience pain … yet come to suffer less.” (1)

About the Course

Source: This 6-part curriculum was adapted from curricula offered by and WAIC-UP, by Laura Jomon Martin of the Zen Community of Oregon.

Curriculum: In preparation for each class, participants do reading and sometimes watch videos. The assignments are substantial and it’s important to complete them before each meeting. Participants will receive the curriculum complete with live links to all articles and videos.

Shared Agreement: Please click here.

Meetings: Within each meeting, everyone meets together at the beginning and end for short periods of meditation, but most of the time is spent in small groups of 5 or so. You remain with the same small group throughout the program. Each meeting is structured and provides time for safe sharing and listening with no cross-talk; the series is about supporting one another in coming to terms with our own racial karma, not about debate or even discussion. 

Leadership: There are no leaders for this course. Small groups choose their own facilitator each meeting, and that role rotates. Bright Way Zen’s teacher, Domyo, has, in the past, participated in this course side by side with Sangha members.

Cost: This course is free for Bright Way Zen members, although we will collect donations at the end to share with the White Awake organization and another racial justice group we will decide on. Nonmembers are asked to make a donation of $100 to Bright Way Zen, but we don’t want anyone to avoid participating for financial reasons so simply pay what you can.

Awakening to Whiteness Six-Meeting Curriculum

Meeting 1: Why are We Here, and Personal Experience with Race

We open the series with some materials and exercises to help frame the journey ahead. We hope to motivate and sustain your commitment to this work and place you in the good company
of other white people who are turning toward racial suffering with wisdom, compassion and the resolve to co-create its end.

Materials for Session One (click here)


Meeting 2: Historical Racism

This session brings us some of the stories, perspectives and dimensions on the construction of race, revealing a complicated and painful history many of us were not taught in school. It is important to appreciate the history of racial minorities in the United States is also a history of courage and resistance. Bryan Stevenson’s interview is a very helpful container for WHY we need to look at our painful history.

Materials for Session Two (click here)


Meeting 3: Institutional / Structural Racism

These materials can help us find ways of seeing beyond individual racism, to see structural or systemic racism. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Beverly Daniel Tatum are important voices in this discussion. Take a couple of hours each week to digest, feel free to reach out to your groups.

Materials for Session Three (click here)


Meeting 4: White Privilege and White Fragility

One characteristic of white privilege is denial of its contemporary, active and influential existence. With practice, we begin seeing ways white privilege manifests and operates, both internally and externally.

Materials for Session Four (click here)


Meeting 5 – Applying Our Spiritual Practice

What are ways that our practice can help carry us forward, individually and together? How might Buddhist practices and social and racial justice movements merge, inform, and infuse each other?

Materials for Session Five (click here)


Meeting 6 – Going Forth

These readings and videos point to some ways to step forward, interact, have difficult conversations, and see ourselves progressing toward awakening within systems of white supremacy. “Now what do we do?” is a question we hope we can answer together!

Materials for Session Six (click here)