Vegan Healing, Racial Healing, Zen Buddhism in Black USA Communities

At the beginning of June 2009, my husband, son, and I spent a week at the Zen Center at Green Gulch in Marin County, CA. The week was called “Work Week.” Instead of paying to stay there, we exchanged our volunteer services for room and board. Oliver (my husband) built a shed and cleaned a water filter. I mostly took care of our newborn, but did have a chance to wake up early (well, early for me) and start hoeing Green Gulch’s organic farm crops at 6:00am, during “work meditation,” the first morning.

Green Gulch field
Green Gulch

The Zen Center at Green Gulch is my favorite Zen center in the East Bay of California, simply because of the gorgeous estate the center is on, the wonderful trails along the grounds, and the 20 minute walk from Muir Beach.

Above Veiw of Zen Center Green Gulch grounds
Above View of Zen Center Green Gulch grounds

Now, of course, as someone who is deeply entrenched in black feminist theory, critical race theory, and food studies, I quickly noticed that the demographic of the folk at the Zen center are predominantly white. It’s simply an observation, but wanted to point this out because it is very noticeable. It may very well reflect that fact that Green Gulch is located in Marin County which is incredibly white and middle to upper middle class. Like I said, I’m not hatin’ on anyone, just making an observation.

During one of the evenings that I was at the Work Week, I helped to prepare dinner. Now, what I like about Green Gulch is that you are guranteed organic meals that are vegetarian and vegan. Many of the veggies come from Green Gulch’s own farm. The evening that I helped to make dinner, I learned how to make vegan sushi.

Making sushi, vegan style, at Green Gulch in June 2009
Making sushi, vegan style, at Green Gulch in June 2009

The dinner came out quite well. I ended up preparing the sushi rolls with my 10 week old son on me, inside of his baby carrier. He slept the whole time. I unfortunately didn’t get a picture.

Me, some friends, and husband and son (Sun) at Green Gulch
Me, some friends, and husband and son (Sun) at Green Gulch

All and all, I think it’s great that the Zen Buddhist Center at Green Gulch, as well as the Berkeley Zen Center, offer environments that support those who have chosen vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

What are your favorite religious or spiritual places that are supportive of you vegan or vegetarian lifestyles? Please share. I’m also interested if you notice the ethnic demographic of your community if your community happens to be Buddhist. (Remember, I’m interested in black feminist studies and black female studies) If you live in the USA, how many people of the African Diaspora are part of your Buddhist community?

I’m also asking these questions because I am interested in my own personal experiences with Zen Buddhism because I have found that the philosophies of the practice are very effective for someone like myself who is interested in compassionate ways of reconciling and healing from racism (internalized, overt and covert). Simultaneously, I’m quite impressed that the practice is very supportive of plant-based diets. Food related health disparities are quite prevalent amongst brown and black communities in the USA. Could Zen Buddhism (and similar) actually help to heal the hearts of those brown and black folk suffering from racism, as well as physical ailments due to imbalanced diets?

I don’t consider this question too extreme, as Buddhist practitioners of the African Diaspora , such as Charles Johnson, Jan Willis, and Angel Williams tackle racial conflict, racism, and the need for heart healing in their pratice. I’m currently reading Angel’s book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. The other year, I also read Jan Willis’s amazing book Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist – One Woman’s Spiritual Journey.

Anyway, these are just thoughts, running through my head. It’s probably because I personally feel I have benefited so much from Zen Buddhism (for my spiritual healing due to years of heart suffering from racism in the USA) and whole foods veganism (for health issues that run rampant in the black female community).

0 thoughts on “Vegan Healing, Racial Healing, Zen Buddhism in Black USA Communities

  1. I think I need to pick up some of the books you mentioned as someone from the Africa Diaspora and grown up in these countries re: Nigeria and America- I’ve being going through some kind of spiritual quest.

    Its much harder having to deal with conflicting views concerning race when in America and having it non-existent in Nigeria, and most of all having to balance spiritualism with that.

    I know spirituality is at the core of my being but I’m trying to balance it out especially being raised as a Christian and knowing the slave-owners where actually the ones that brought Christianity to Africa.

    Its being a constant tug of war- maybe reading those books might actually help answer some questions and possibly help guide and/or direct.

    Thanx Breezie- Salam Alikom- Peace Upon you 🙂

  2. Breeze this is phenomenal groundbreaking footwork, Angel’s book is excellent which also embodies the importance of reflection in self and community.

    I personally find that my experiences are somewhat the same as yours, whenever I go to temple, no matter which one in the Detroit Metro area, most patrons are predominately white. I thnk for so long the black community has frowned upon anything other than christianity and totally gives a blind eyes to self enlightenment or even trying a cruelty free existance opting away from the traditional SAD African American way of eating and living.

    Now that I have moved to Charlotte, I feel that these things are even more suppressed. There are not any Zen spaces in Charlotte and the veggies community that are somewhat noticable are 2hrs away etc. SO most times I feel alone out here, esp dealing with racial and environmental issues in the south but I feel that my Zen faith keeps me grounded and more geared up to deal with these issues I face.


  3. Darline, if you want to connect with Charlotte’s black veg community, please check out Black Vegetarian Society of NC –

    It may not be close to you, but look for the Vajradhara Buddhist Center in Charlottte. Perhaps you’ll be able to get there once in a while for community.

    I believe it’s difficult for many USAmerican black-identified people to disconnect with Christianity because it gave enslaved Africans the will and hope to persevere under such deplorable conditions.

    And since the black Church was as much a political and social platform as a spiritual one, for most black people, it’s all they have.

    IMO, not to be mistaken for the Truth, my problems with religions like Christianity is that they remove individual and personal accountability for one’s thought process and actions.

    I think it’s scary for a lot of people, black or otherwise, to embrace a spiritual practice that requires the practitioner to be accountable for their thoughts, words, and actions.

    Christianity “allows” its followers to “blame” an outside factor (the Devil) for negative behaviors, or to wait on some omnipresent being (God) to deliver solutions, despite the “free will” we are supposed to have.

    A lot of people cannot handle the kind of responsibility practices like Buddhism wants of its followers.

  4. Hi Breeze,

    My sister, Cat, from New York, just turned me onto your site / blog (I live in Berkeley). Very cool to read your musings! Thanks for sharing. I hope you have a chance to read my article published in (now defunct) Satya Magazine on why Buddhists eat animals. There’s another piece I published on eating and talking about animals which I think will resonate with you.

    My wife and I just returned from New Mexico, where we stumbled onto this incredibly beautiful zen monastery in Jemez Springs in the gorgeous Jemez mountains. It’s generally closed to the public, but the priest let us in to soak in the natural hot pools and stay in the dorm that night. We were the only outsiders. Of course, the entire place is white-dominant culture – in fact, New Mexico is only 3% African American.

    Keep on writing and posting, Breeze! I’ll bookmark your blog and share with Mary and others who are vegan / vegetarian / with social consciousness.

    Tom (my Bay Area award-winning hiking blog) (general writings and fulminations!)

    1. Dear Tom,

      I would love to read that article. I am so sad Satya is defunct. They literally were my favorite magazine, hands down! Do you have a copy of that article available?


  5. Hello Breeze Harper,
    Question related to Buddhist farming communities.

    I retired from work last month (July 2010) and now looking for a Buddhist farm (or farmer) to extend my services voluntarily and be immersed in nature. I’m ready to move and take care of my accommodation

    Would prefer a farmer working with nature spirits, that is; seeds are planted when nature spirits tell the location and time and with minimal human effort the rest is done by the nature spirits. In return as gratitude the farmer will play music made out of wooden chimes and sticks, again these mystic shape chimes and stick design are telepathically communicated to the farmer.
    I visited one such farm many years ago in Mount Hood, Oregon.
    kanil 310 356 7546

    Trust you aware of such farming communities in USA and would like to share with me to fulfill my dream of selfless and non violence Buddhist services to humanity

    1. Kanil.

      Thanks for reading my blog post. I really am not familiar with the type of unique spiritually connected to the earth zen farms you are searching for . I’ve only had experience with Green Gulch Zen Center but I don’t know anything about the farm there. Perhaps you can contact them and see what they do? My family and I love spending time there but I simply don’t know about their farming practices and how they commune with nature spirits.


  6. @ZenMamaPolitic

    Hi Breeze,

    I was doing research and came across your archive blog on Buddhism, Black Feminism, & Veganism. Also; a Buddhist (Agnostic), Vegan, & Black Feminist..I know that the ‘intersections’ can be difficult. This is to say the least. Thus my Twitter name…’ZenMamaPolitic’. I probably speak more of ‘Audre Lorde’ than I do Buddhism most days, but that’s because it is hard to be the one whom you have been selected as being vs. the one that you should have been. There is no doubt that oppression plays a huge part in why we have not had access to information about our own Beautiful Zen beginnings; especially as Black women. Again…Kudos on your blog. Love it.

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