Jarvis Masters : Notes on Oral Arguments at the California Supreme Court— 3 November 2015


For thirty-four years, since the age of nineteen, Jarvis Jay Masters has been in San Quentin. For thirty of those years he has lived on the scene of a crime he did not commit. His lawyers Joe Baxter and Rick Targow filed their opening appeal brief with the California Supreme Court in December of 2001. Fourteen years later, in November of 2015, the California court heard oral arguments on this appeal. While Jarvis remained in his death row cell, his friends traveled to Sacramento witness the proceedings. Here is background and some rough impressions and thoughts.


In June of 1985 Sgt. Howell Burchfield, a corrections officer, was murdered in San Quentin by members of a powerful and violent prison gang.  Three inmates were convicted of this murder in 1990: one for ordering the killing, a second for doing the act itself. The third, Jarvis Masters, was convicted of participating in the gang conspiracy.  The first two defendants received life sentences. Jarvis was given a death sentence on the basis of informant testimony and questionable “kites” (prisoner notes) describing the manufacture of a murder weapon that was never found.

Jarvis Masters’ life of Buddhist practice, writing, joys and sorrows has unfolded within the shabby confines of one place, San Quentin. After twenty-one years housed in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center, the “hole” — solitary confinement with no access to telephone, no contact visits, and limited exercise — in 2007 Jarvis was moved to San Quentin’s East Block death row, one of three housing units warehousing nearly 750 condemned men.


On the afternoon of November 3rd the California Supreme Court convened after lunch in a stately dark-paneled room at the Stanley Mosk Building, next to the state capitol. The seven Supreme Court justices sat before the gathered attorneys and spectators. Among the spectators were law students from U.C. Davis, roughly twenty-five Jarvis Masters supporters, and principals from the original trial including former Marin super court judge Beverly Savitt, Marin district attorney Edward Berbarian, and former lawyers and investigators working for Jarvis.

Attorney Joe Baxter began strongly, characterizing Jarvis as “an innocent man crushed by the system…who had no opportunity at his 1989-90 trial to present a compelling defense that the state had the wrong man…” Baxter asserted that the trial record shows “a perfect storm of errors,” and proceeded to argue that case over the next forty-five minutes. As I heard it, the core questions — fully documented in the appeal brief — were:

  1. Was testimony and evidence suppressed in the original trial that denied Jarvis “a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense?” This disallowed testimony included key gang-leaders’ misidentification of Masters; gang-leaders’ lists of actual conspirators, which excluded Masters; and the lack of a lineup of suspected participants in the murder.
  1. Were key gang members and informants promised reduced sentences, favors, and deals in return for incriminating testimony against Masters? And were these deals not made known to Masters’ lawyers at trail?
  1. Looking at the 1989-90 trial what are the applicable standards of prejudice for the multiple errors of judicial procedure? These errors include suppression of information, destruction of evidence, hearsay testimony, and the denial of motions to sever the trials of Masters and a second defendant. Applying these standards, were the trial errors in aggregate sufficient to call for vacating Masters’ conviction?

It is beyond my ability to navigate the byways of Joe Baxter’s arguments, the court’s numerous questions, and response from Alice Lustre of the Attorney General’s office. As legal friends have explained, oral arguments are to some degree a formality, the completion of a process in which the Supreme Court already has a strong sense of where their opinion is headed. That is to say, they may have come to a general conclusion, which now must be written and agreed to. That being the case we watched their engagement, and in the court’s questions we tried to get a sense of how they were leaning. Some of the justices’ questions seemed clarifying and supportive; none were hostile.

I visited Jarvis on Wednesday, the day after the arguments. He had just completed a visit with attorney Scott Kauffman of the California Appellate Project, who had also attended the previous day’s hearing. Listening to both of us, drawing on his own legal savvy and knowledge of the case, Jarvis was understandably hopeful and anxious. At one point in our conversation he said, “I trust your good common sense. What does your common sense tell you?”

I wish the law was always aligned with common sense or maybe with my common sense. And I know too well that different people may have little sense in common. Still, common sense tells me that the appeals brief and Joe Baxter’s argument guide the Court to see clearly the weight and number of grievous evidentiary and procedural errors in People v. Jarvis J. Masters. In their wisdom, I like to think they will say that after thirty years it is time to set aside prejudice and injustice. Time to begin again to look for truth.


Jarvis has been my friend since the late 1990s. When he calls from San Quentin he talks with my wife and children, and they have come to know each other well. Jarvis has married, and seen his friends’ and relatives’ children grow up. He has had good friends and family inside and outside the prison age and die. Those years have seen the publication of his two books: Finding Freedom: Writings From Death Row (Padma Publishing) and That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of An Innocent Man on Death Row (Harper One).

Now Jarvis and his supporters wait for the next word. The Supreme Court oral arguments start the clock for an opinion that will be issued within ninety days. That means by January or early February we will know what comes next. With good reason I hope for the best outcome — that the Supreme Court will recognize that an innocent man has been denied justice. Stay tuned and keep the faith.

Hozan Alan Senauke

6 November 2015


Jarvis Masters Legal Team

Note: In 2008 the California Supreme Court ordered a habeas corpus evidentiary hearing, which was held in Marin Superior court in 2010 and early 2011, raising detailed questions about evidentiary problems in the trial. The judge-referee’s report on this hearing and briefs from Jarvis’ attorneys and the attorney general’s office have yet to be brought back to the Supreme Court for oral arguments. You can read my summary of these sessions at: <http://www.freejarvis.org/whats_new/Summary_of_Evidentiary_Hearing_January_2011.pdf>


Please give generously what you can to Clear View, and feel free to ask me about our projects in India and Burma. Checks can be written to Clear View Project—1933 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94703 or to our Paypal account which reach at: Clear View Fundraising.


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Clear View Project is Now Tax-Exempt

September 10, 2015

Climate March in Rome Following Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue

Climate March in Rome Following Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue

Dear Friends,

Clear View Project has been up and running since 2008, providing education and basic support to the most needy in Burma, India, and elsewhere. We have raised more than $100,000 in donations, and maintain close connections to those we are supporting. Today I am excited to tell you that Clear View has received our own tax-exempt 501(C)(3) status from the IRS. So it is a good day to ask for your donations.

We’ve had an eventful Spring and Summer, with visits to the White House, an opportunity to meet Pope Francis in Rome as part of a intimate Buddhist-Catholic dialogue on the subject of “Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity,” and joining with Buddhists, Catholics, and people of all faiths in an interfith climate march in Rome.

With the support of generous friends in our wide network, Clear View Project has been able to gather almost $23,000 for education and Buddhist resources to Ambedkarite Buddhists in central and south India. These are activities make a critical difference to young people determined to lift themselves from lives of caste and class-based discrimination.

I want to keep this letter short, but we are deeply grateful to our fiscal sponsors for the last seven years—Inochi and Buddhist Peace Fellowship. They have enabled us to function smoothly and continue to do their own cutting-edge social change work.

Please give generously what you can to Clear View, and feel free to ask me about our projects in India and Burma. Checks can be written to Clear View Project—1933 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94703 or to our Paypal account which reach at: Clear View Fundraising.



Clear View Project is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. EIN 45-2251087.

Your donation to Clear View Project is tax deductible to the full extent of the law.


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Freedom Seems Near For Jarvis Masters


Tuesday morning, August 11, I visited with my friend Jarvis Masters, an innocent man on California’s San Quentin Death Row. On the ground of our common Buddhist practice Jarvis and I have been meeting and talking regularly for more than15 of the 25 years he has already endured on Death Row. All together he has been in prison for the last 35 years. (For details of his case see http://www.freejarvis.org/. You can also follow events which will be posted on my blog www.clearviewblog.org ) On this day Jarvis marked the successful end of a twelve day hunger strike, and he expressed gratitude to his many supporters—people he knows and many he doesn’t know who have been standing beside him at this critical moment.

In mid-July the California Supreme Court notified Jarvis and his attorneys that the court was prepared to hear oral arguments on the Appellant’s Opening Brief, a 515 page document that was filed with the court in December of 2001—15 years ago! This is exciting news because generally the State Supreme Court tends to call for arguments when they have already formed a majority view of the case. So we have reason to believe that Jarvis will be a free man in the near future. This is what we have all hoped for and worked towards for so long.

The compelling radio clip linked here is from the Pacifica evening news on Monday, August 11. Attorney Joseph Baxter succinctly lays out the essence of Jarvis’s appeal and why he agrees about the urgency of making this case now.


I am frequently in touch with Jarvis by phone and by visits to San Quentin. If you have a message for him or ideas about how we might more widely circulate information about his case, feel free to write me and I will forward them to him. Meanwhile Jarvis thanks you for your friendship and care.

—Hozan Alan Senauke

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Towards a Social Dharma—Caring For Our Common Home, Our True Body

By Hozan Alan Senauke

July 2015

Along with other U.S. Buddhists, Hozan Alan Senauke, Zen teacher and founder of the Clear View Project, visited the Vatican in June of 2015, meeting with U.S. Catholics and with Pope Francis on the need to clarify and coordinate the wide faith community’s response to the global climate crisis and other social concerns. On the occasion of the release of Laudato si’, the Pope’s powerful encyclical on climate change, Alan invites us to look deeply at the teachings of interdependence and respond to our situation accordingly with a new “Social Dharma.” This piece was also published at http://www.oneearthsangha.org/topics/dharma/

Rome Slides 34

The Buddha was enlightened under a tree. Sitting under that Bodhi tree on the banks of the Neranjana River, he was taunted by the demon king Mara who did his best to plant seeds of doubt. Mara asked by what right this man Gauthama claimed the seat of enlightenment. The Buddha remained steady in his meditation and simply reached down to touch the Earth. The Earth responded loudly: “I am your witness.” Mara fled and the Buddha continued to practice meditation. The Earth was partner to the Buddha’s work, as she must be our partner and our support.

In late June Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’/Praised Be, a passionate plea for environmental sanity and social/spiritual transformation. This eloquent document—subtitled On Care for Our Common Home—is addressed to “every person living on this planet,” inviting us all to take part in dialogue and action to protect our future, that of our children, and of all beings.

In the very first paragraph of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis references the lyrical work of his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi. In “Canticle of the Sun” St. Francis reminds us that:

…our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”


For many of us Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air: a world religious figure who is not afraid to speak of the plight of the poor and the hazards of a “throwaway culture.” He can speak the truth bluntly, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” and argue wholeheartedly for an “integral ecology” which sees…

…a relationship between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.

Such understandings and concerns are certainly present within Buddhist traditions going back to the Buddha’s awakening. In recent decades we’ve seen the development of socially engaged Buddhism. But it seems to me we are still lacking a rigorous Buddhist equivalent to the “Social Gospel.” We need a “Social Dharma” to care for our common home. This Social Dharma must reach across our different cultures and Buddhist traditions. That means to care for our bodies, our communities, and our planet. It means to understand the connections between climate change, poverty, racism, and militarism. All these are threads in the common garment of domination and oppression. To ignore them is to invite the destruction of all we cherish.

Rising in the early 20th Century from the squalor of the industrial revolution, the Social Gospel was a fresh approach to Christ’s message and Christian ethical teachings, which were interpreted in the light of social justice including poverty, racism, child labor, war, crime and much else. While earlier popes had addressed these issues in various ways, none in memory has been as outspoken as Pope Francis, so clear about the inequities of our world and the dangers of our way of life. Again and again Pope Francis hammers home his Social Gospel in the pages of Laudato Si’:

Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds. This task “will make such tremendous demands of man that he could never achieve it by individual initiative or even by the united effort of men bred in an individualistic way…The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.

As Buddhists we can embrace the Integral Ecology of the Pope’s message and place it at the heart of a Social Dharma. Integral ecology is not Christian or Buddhist but truly human. The core Buddhist teachings and precepts are about our relationship to all beings, not treating anyone or anything as an object for our manipulation. In the Zen tradition Master Dogen writes, “Understand that the ancient Buddha teaches that your birth is not separate from the mountains, rivers, and earth.” This means that we are responsible to and for the world we live in. Elsewhere, Master Dogen offers these encouraging words:

…Give flowers blooming on the distant mountains to the Tathagata. Offer treasures accumulated in our past lives to living beings…We offer ourselves to ourselves, and we offer others to others.

A gift at has been given to us to sustain, take care of, and share with everyone. The whole earth is my true body. We all stand on the same ground and this ground is unstable. The planet is at risk. Those who are poorest, those with the least access to resources suffer most. But, really, we are all threatened. In the light of interdependent reality, in the circle of giving and receiving we all suffer. So I ask can we let go of harmful things: fear, privilege, and the vain quest for comfort at the expense of others’ lives? In the spirit of Right View can we create a Social Dharma? In words from a fable written by my old teacher Robert Aitken Roshi:

Owl said, “What are Right Views?”

Brown Bear said, “We’re in it together and we don’t have much time.”

 So…what shall we do? We don’t have much time.


Hozan Alan Senauke is founder of the Clear View Project and Vice-Abbot of Berkeley Zen Center where he has been in residence for thirty years. In June of 2015 he participated in a Vatican-sponsored Buddhist-Catholic dialogue in Rome on the subject of “Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity.”


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Buddhists Go To The White House

WH Buddhist Conf 05_15_14_1064 lo-res

Buddhists Go to the White House

Hozan Alan Senauke—16 May 2015

The streets of Washington DC were lined with blossoms and greenery, the prospect of promise. One hundred thirty Buddhist teachers, monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, academics, and organizers met on Thursday May 14 for the first “White House—U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference,” the subject at hand being “Voices in the Square—Action in the World.”

While I am ambivalent about a designation of Buddhist “leaders” — and can think of many other friends and elders who could have and should have been in the room—in this event the notion of leadership cuts in two directions. A remarkably diverse group of women and men were meeting to shape a common understanding of how to bring our various Buddhist practices into a troubled world. At the same time there was a unique opportunity to be in dialogue with White House and State Department staff interested in finding Buddhist allies to work on issues of climate change, racial justice, and peacebuilding.

Point person for this all-day event was William Aiken, public affairs director for Soka Gakai International., with help from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi of Buddhist Global Relief, Dr. Sallie King of James Madison University, the International Buddhist Committee of Washington DC, and Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams of University of Southern California. With all their respective contacts and networks, this was a remarkable gathering, with wide and unique diversity in race, nationality, gender, and Buddhist traditions.

Beginning with welcome and a short meditation, the morning program at George Washington University featured brief presentations on some broad and pressing concerns. A video from Mary Evelyn Tucker and a strong analysis by Bhikkhu Bodhi laid out the Four Nobel Truths of Climate Change. Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams of the Center for Transformative Change made the compelling connection between climate justice and racial justice, saying, “We have in our hearts the willingness to degrade the planet because we are willing to degrade human beings.” Duncan Williams unpacked just one historical strand of U.S. Buddhists’ long engagement with society.

Even more briefly we heard accounts of social change work taken on by a half dozen communities and organizations among us. These presentations could have continued productively for days.

After a vegetarian box lunch and a brief time to make new acquaintances in four topical breakout groups, we all strolled a few blocks to meet with staff at the “working White House” of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. There was a quick hand-off to White House staffers of two Buddhist declarations—one on climate change and another on racial justice. Then followed two and a half hours of staff briefings along with sometimes pointed q & a between Buddhists and staff.

Our discussants were: Melissa Rogers of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Partnerships; Dr. Shaun Casey, the State Dept.’s Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs; Rev. Susan Hayward, Interim Director, Religion and Peacebuilding, US Institute of Peace: and Angela Barranco from he White House Council for Environmental Quality (CON).

Four things stand out from the day. First, that we gathered in collective concern for compelling issues that threaten the survival of all sentient beings, not the interests of Buddhists alone. Second, the rich opportunity and frustrating brevity of being with so many friends and allies. Third, that declarations and tinkering with policy will not bring about the change we need. Particularly in relation to the climate emergency, we cannot go forward on an implicit assumption that our quality of life and consumption can continue as is; that we just have to find cleaner sources of energy. This is not possible. Fourth, that in the “working White House” of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we were able, Buddhist practitioners and White House staff together, to chant the four Bodhisattva vows, beginning with: Beings are numberless; I vow to save them. Now we must live those vows.

The organizers’ intention and participants’ hope is that this would be the first in a series of meetings in Washington. For this first step to lead in a productive direction that must be the case. It is good to meet a first time but it is only through relationship—among ourselves as Buddhist practitioners and with the ear of those in government—that we will accomplish anything and turn to the work of bodhisattvas.

In his eloquent closing words, Jack Kornfield drew our attention to a quotation at the foot of one of our White House briefing pages. He likened it to the teachings of our great and ancient Tibetan teacher Shantideva. But the source is rather different.

“Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the             hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has    broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.”                                                          —President Barack Obama, February 2008

And after: Leaving the White House grounds, twenty or thirty of us unfurled banners that had been hand-made by BPF friends in Oakland. We walked around the corner from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to stand at the Pennsylanvia Aveune side of the White House holding three banners that read:                                                                             •The Karma of Slavery is Heavy—I vow to work for racial justice                                             •U.S. Militarism Breeds Violence, Not Safety—I vow to work for peace and freedom  The •Whole Earth Is My True Body—I vow to work for climate justice  

Then, reluctantly, we went our separate ways back into our everyday communities and worlds.

Karma of Slavery Miltiarism Whole Earth





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Active Non-Violence and More: Turning Wheel Media Interviews Alan Senauke

Active Non-Violence and More: TWM Interviews Alan Senauke

Have you ever wondered if non-violence is really enough in the face of corporate and political violence and pollution? Many Buddhists believe in non-violence and that all beings are Buddha. But does seeing Donald Trump as Buddha move the discussion forward, or does it just give him a pass to keep doing harm? To answer these questions, we’re posting a series of interviews with prominent BPF members, including this week’s talk withHozan Alan Senauke, BPF’s director from 1991 through 2002.  Stephen Crooms sat down with Alan recently to talk about Buddhism, non-violent resistance, and paths to change.

Stephen: In terms of Buddhist activism, I feel like a lot of times when we’re at a protest or at activist circles, we see “the bad guys.” We look at bankers or oil company executives, and we see these people who are doing wrong in the world, and I’m wondering what would be a Buddhist take on that. How do we look at compassion for people who are doing wrong? What’s the proper framework to look at them?

Alan: A non-dualistic perspective is to see all beings as Buddha. Now if you want to look at that through another lens, which is extremely important to me, is that MLK also had a non-dualistic way of looking at society. He was extremely critical of actions, and he knew where the actions came from but he was advocating with different language than you would use quite in Buddhism: a kind of unconditional acceptance of people, and not an acceptance of actions. So there’s a distinction between actions and people. And then that’s all very well and good, but how do you actually change people’s minds? How do you help people to see the larger context of their actions, and what may be distorted about that? I think that’s a radical assumption that all beings are Buddha or that it’s our challenge to love everyone. If you come to conflict or social difference with that in mind then you may act in a different way. It would lead you along a path that was generally non-violent, but what’s really important is that it does not mean the letting go of power.

Stephen: What do you mean?

Alan: People have this idea of nonviolence as— when I was growing up we heard a lot about passive resistance. But I’m talking about active non-violence, which means intervening in a way that interrupts an action. It may mean intervening in a way that brings the violence upon oneself, but not retaliating. So the power has two edges. First of all there has to be the internal power, which is something that we cultivate, you have to be trained. If I were to insult you, if you’re not trained in non-violence or non-reactivity, you’re going to do what you’re trained to do. You might insult me back, you might hit me or whatever.

Stephen: I’ll retaliate in some way.

Alan: You’ll retaliate how you were trained. So, the first thing to do is to cultivate the power and potentiality that you have to practice patience, to practice what is personal, what isn’t personal, and what might be useful to respond, to and what not. And all that calls for very careful discernment.

Stephen: Mindfulness.

Alan: Right. So that’s one place and then, you have to figure out what is in Buddhism called Upaya. Skilful means, which is another manifestation of power. What are the skilful means? If I’ve insulted you, what are the skilful means that you can bring to bear that help me see the impact of my actions or to help me change my mind. So there’s no distinction between inner and outer, but they’re both areas that we have to cultivate in ourselves. So, that’s non-violence means not without the use of power or force, but that force is doesn’t fall into the realm of coercion, manipulation retaliation, or physical violence.

Stephen: So what do you think would be some good examples of the correct way of going about this?

Alan: Well, if I’m going back historically, if we look at some of the campaigns in the fifties and sixties in the civil rights movement, they were quite brilliant. What they did was to aggregate the power of a community in opposition to a set of conditions or laws or whatever, that were oppressive and dehumanizing. They operated essentially locally, and there they always had an eye on a national constituency. And while there were victories in Montgomery, in Birmingham, in different places, those victories were also played out on the scale of a national perspective. Which ultimately led to changes in legislation, to some structural changes. It didn’t eradicate racism, as you may be aware…

Stephen: I heard.

Alan: But the change in consciousness is large, and in some places it doesn’t exist; there are backward places everywhere. But those were relatively successful nonviolent activities that had a large effect. I think the reason they worked, and the reason that later campaigns that King and others in the civil rights movement were not successful… my feeling is that [the successful campaigns] began in a spiritual context. They began in a community context; those things were sort of inseparable. So when King went to Chicago, he did not succeed. Because they were dealing with a community that was much more atomized, was not spiritually centered, was politically fragmented and he wasn’t able to have an effect there.

So leaping ahead, how change happens is mysterious. Right now we’re experiencing large change in Burma; there’s so many different threads, but essentially a non-violent movement is bringing the demise of a violent regime. [In the United States] I don’t know. I don’t think that the problem that my inability to articulate a Buddhist strategy for social change in America. I don’t think it’s a Buddhist failure. I think nobody has a strategy here. I don’t hear any Left strategy or progressive strategy. I mean nobody fucking knows what to do about the election; it looks like we’re able to count on the Republican party sort of tearing itself to pieces and so Obama, who generally I support, critically support, may very well win the election. But you know we’re gonna face another four years of complete stonewalling by the forces of reaction in this country, and I can’t see why it’s gonna be any different than the last four years. And I don’t see that the burst of energy and excitement around Occupy, which was really remarkable, once those places are no longer occupied, there’s not a basis for power. I mean that was real power; that was emotional power, intellectual power, image power, and it had to be shut down. You knew that was coming. So, I don’t know. I don’t have a particular encouraging vision.

Stephen: I guess we can see examples in the past where skilful means have been used and people really have come to see the error of their ways, and it’s happening now, but if it were that easy to come up with a new one in each particular situation, the world would probably be in much better shape.

Alan: And it’s never been easy. And despite the fact that all beings are essentially Buddha, we’re beset with greed, anger, and delusion and unless we sort of tackle that in a personal and systemic way, it’s not gonna go away, and those forces will be really powerful.

Stephen: Moving on to another topic, what project are you excited to be working on right now?

Alan: Well, I have a small non-profit right now called the Clear View Project, and I would say that the emphasis has been working with Buddhists internationally, both learning from them, and offering whatever resources we might have that have evolved here in the West from Buddhist traditions; and in a sense returning some of what has been offered to us so generously over a long period of time back in situations where it can be of use. So in India for the last four or five years, I’m working with what was formerly called Untouchables, or Dalit. I’m working primarily in a school in Nagpur for Buddhist youth, which is a yearlong program that they have, and aside from going there each year I’ve been raising money and supporting students in this school. They learn about meditation. They learn how to do it, how to teach it, how to lead it; they also learn about the teachings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and about basically social thought and how to deconstruct various caste barriers that they encounter, which are still very high.

Stephen: I know [Dr. Ambedkar] was a Dalit that converted to Buddhism…

Alan: Right, he was a Dalit who was highly educated and highly involved in his community. He had decided somewhere in the 1930s, he said, “I was born Hindu, but I will not die Hindu.” So he literally went on an exploration of all the great religious traditions to see which tradition he thought was the best fit for the wide community of Untouchables. And he landed on Buddhism as a path that he saw as essentially rational, and also indigenously Indian. So in 1956, he converted in the presence of 400,000 people, and then turned around and converted them, and at the same time there were other mass conversions that went on in India at that time. And then three weeks later he was dead.

Stephen: So he went out with a bang.

Alan: Yeah. And, he left this incredible legacy, but this legacy was to some degree unfulfilled. There was very little contact with the outside wider Buddhist world for a variety of reasons. And so one of the things that I do working with the communities that are functioning there on a religious level and on a social level, I see myself as a kind of link to the wider Buddhist world, which is very meaningful to them. Also, since we have, to the extent that some of us have, privilege or access to resources, to try and make those resources accessible to them.

Stephen: So I was gonna ask about that. You said, Buddhism in the western world, in terms of transmitting that back to the place that it came from, what do you feel we have—

Alan: I didn’t say that—it’s an important distinction, I wasn’t saying transmitted, I meant repay.

Stephen: Yeah so what I meant was, we have resources, as Western Buddhists, that they don’t have access to?

Alan: Well, we have material resources that they don’t have access to, and in a place like India and also the work that I’m doing in Burma, there’s very little resources in the kind of education and training that people are craving… I think that we also have some intellectual resources and ways of thinking about Buddhism and modernity that are relevant and different from some of the traditional ways that Buddhism has manifested in different parts of Asia. And I think that by way of inviting a critical perspective that’s also something useful that we can offer, so long as that we are not consciously or unconsciously imposing privileged Western values on other cultures.

Stephen: Right, you might imagine neo-colonialist Buddhism.

Alan: Absolutely. It’s not even just neocolonialism. What you see here, to have a critical view of Buddhism, certainly in the United States, there’s just a relentless tide of commodification of anything of value of any social values. So you can see that having manifested in the civil rights movement, in the feminist movement, in the left. And of course it’s going to; it’s the American way. It’s going to manifest in Buddhism as well, so that’s not something that you wanna do. I really believe in, the people that I’m working with are grassroots people, not top level people. So that I think coming from the West we really have to be very tuned into that hazard. Even our magazines I mean, if you look at some of the major Buddhist magazines, it’s really interesting to see the same people on the cover; I mean, can they go an issue without an article about Thich Nhat Nanh? Or the Dalai Lama? It’s the establishment of personality and brand; there are hundreds of really strong grounded teachers, articulate, and most of them you don’t hear anything about.

Stephen: I have one final basic question. We’re doing this for new members to see who they’re getting involved with. So, why are you involved with BPF or Clear View Project? You could probably write a book on that.

Alan: I did write a book on that. [laughs] Because I feel like there is no way to be free without seeing the circumstances of everyone in the world. And because I feel a responsibility to help people see the places both in ourselves and in our world that they might not otherwise see. I feel that that is the responsibility that I’ve been given. They’re not very many people in the Buddhist world who have the perspective that I do. There are some. But I’ve had the opportunity to encounter people in a lot of different settings internationally—there are not many American Buddhists who are internationalists. There’s aren’t. They might relate to their particular tradition which comes from another country, but other than that, they’re not looking at Buddhism widely, and at the same time looking at the destructive effects of globalization, and also the other side, the opportunities of global connection. And that’s my responsibility and it’s also a responsibility to remind people here because we’re so self-obsessed.

Stephen: Individualism.

Alan: Yeah, remind us, hey this actually came from someplace. So it’s sort of a multi-faceted sense of responsibility.

© 2012 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

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Winter 2014 Fundraising


6 December 2014

Dear Friends,

 I am running late with this year’s fundraising letter, having just returned from four weeks in Asia. It was a rich trip—though not always easy—with visits to Tamil Nadu, Nagpur, and Mumbai in India and to Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin, and Northern Shan State in Burma. I have much to report and I’ll post about my travels on the Clear View website and blog in the coming days. But I will be brief here.

 As always, we need your help to sustain and expand our giving in Burma, India, and elsewhere. During 2014 Clear View has been able to donate nearly $15,000 to a variety of projects in Asia and in the U.S. In modest ways we have been supporting schools, training programs, meditation centers, and clinics for the last seven years. Some of these are small one-time projects. Some are larger, more ambitious efforts in which our support is pooled with others.

 Clear View is intentionally personal and small in scale. My effort is to build friendship, to encourage, and connect friends to other friends with deeper pockets. Throughout my life and work this has been my networking strategy. For 2015 I am highlighting three Buddhist-based projects I just visited in Asia.

 • Nagaloka/Nagarjuna Training Institute in Nagpur, India: Clear View has been supporting Nagaloka for the last five years. Nagaloka/NTI is a kind of second home for me. It is joyful to practice with, learn from, and teach the young NTI students, Dalit Buddhists from poor rural areas across India hewing to the radical social vision of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Please see their website: http://www.nagaloka.org

 • Sakya Hostels in Chennai, India: These hostels were organized for displaced or orphaned Dalit children after 2004’s devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami. Ten years on they are going strong, with separate facilities for young boys and girls, offering room, board, and love as students attend local schools. They are loosely in the same network as Nagaloka, with independent funding and structure.

 • Sasana Hitakari nunnery and school in Lashio, Burma:  Just now emerging from fifty years of dictatorship, Burma’s education and social welfare systems depend on the monastic and community resources of nuns and monks. With more than 400 students Sasana Hitakari, in northern Shan state where armed hostilities are ongoing, uses a progressive “child-centered learning” model to educate children for a new world while preserving Buddhist values of service and cooperation. Walking through the bright, open schoolrooms, I found myself thinking, “I’d like to have gone to a school like this.”

There is much more I could say, more I would like to share. But for now, simply: please put a check to us in the mail today: CVP, 1933 Russell Street, Berkeley, CA 94703.  Or donate at “Give to Clear View”  We deeply appreciate your friendship and support. And we welcome your thoughts and comments.

Warmly, in peace, 



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