A Sangha by Another Name

A Buddhist and one of America’s preeminent African-American writers applies the suffering of the First Noble Truth to the suffering of blacks in white America, and traces the history of Dharma among black artists.

Charles Johnson

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This article appears in 20 Years, 20 Teachings: The Tricycle 20th Anniversary E-Book. It's free to all Supporting and Sustaining Members. Get the e-book.


The black experience in America, like the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, begins with suffering.

It begins in the violence of seventeenth-century slave forts sprinkled along the west coast of Africa, where debtors, thieves, war prisoners, and those who would not convert to Islam were separated from their families, branded, and sold to Europeans who packed them into pestilential ships that cargoed 20 million human beings (a conservative estimate) to the New World. Only 20 percent of those slaves survived the harrowing voyage at sea (and only 20 percent of the sailors, too), and if they were among the lucky few to set foot on American soil new horrors and heartbreak awaited them.

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