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The Great Demons: Systemic trauma & social action

Based in our recent exploration of the Diamond Sūtra and the ideal of the Bodhisattva, we begin a series of discussions of what I’ll call the Great Demons, the systemic ills we struggle with and which so clearly are conditions for global suffering right now.

We’ll work with three core models for understanding systemic ill, all of which I’ll explain in detail in the talks:

  1. The Trauma-Privilege Spectrum
  2. The 5 Circles model of identity and interdependence
  3. The 3 Poisons (attachment/lust, aversion/hatred, delusion/dissociation)

As we go on, we’ll assemble an approach to embodied inquiry around the Demons that we can bring into individual contemplative practice as well as use as part of analyses focused on the systemic level.


Meditation: a Loving-Kindness (mettā) practice orienting toward racial difference, oscillating between “like me” categories and “unlike me” categories. (5.1.18)

Talk: Opening the exploration by explaining the 5 Circles model using examples relating to race and racism. (5.1.18)


Meditation: Breathing, interconnection, and compassion. (5.8.18)

Talk: Bodhisattva practice in relation to social justice, through the lens of the 5 Circles model. How we understand ourselves in relation to collective experience, or collective karma. Compassion as the practice of understanding personal identity in relation to systemic trauma, and how to disentangle personal truth from collective identity.

We look at the implications of the profound teaching of Selflessness (anattā) for growing in compassionate action, and I tell one of the origin stories of the bodhisattva named Avalokiteśvara/Quan Yin, The One Who Hears the Cries of the World while Resting at Ease. (5.8.18)


Meditation: breathing in, presence, breathing out, letting go. Then, for everybody. (5.15.18)

Talk: The Trauma-Privilege Spectrum as a contemporary teasing out of the implications of the traditional teaching on kamma/karma as inherently ethical. (5.15.18)


Meditation: breath, midline, strengthening the wholesome (5.22.18)

Talk: Meditation as self-care, for the individual as stress-relief, but then also as the laboratory for coming into right relationship with the aspect of systemic forces (the Great Demons) we find in our own hearts. The difference between bias (internal conditioned preference in the heart), discrimination (harmful relational action based in bias), and ideology (the “-ism”: the systemic structure that everyone exists within and therefore carries and expresses through conditioned bias), with race as the example again. How mindfulness of bias is key to dismantling racism as a system. (5.22.18)


Talk: Bringing mindfulness of bias and discrimination into our practice as central to a path of purification. I discuss mindfulness of bias as working with the second foundation of mindfulness, vedanā (Affect, Feeling Tone), combined with seeing the content of biased thoughts and feelings as expressions of the 3 Poisons: Greed, Hatred, and Delusion. The 3 Poisons as viruses, thus impersonal. (6.12.18)


2 thoughts on “The Great Demons: Systemic trauma & social action”

  1. Pingback: Mindfulness and its Discontents • Sean Feit Oakes, PhD

  2. Pingback: The 5 Ethical Precepts (sīla) • Sean Feit Oakes, PhD

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