Dear Sangha,

I am writing today to announce and explain the Board’s recent decision to reverse its earlier decision – at the October 2021, trustees meeting – to hang a Black Lives Matter flag on the Center’s Arnold Park building.

The Board recognizes that this is a complicated and emotionally charged issue in today’s extremely divisive political environment, and, in our recent meeting, we spent a great deal of time debating the pros and cons of it. Would the BLM flag be interpreted as the Center’s showing support for the Rochester community or as taking a political stance? For those who knew of the trustees’ earlier decision, it caused confusion when 18 months passed without the flag going on display. In part, this was due to staff dropping the ball on following through with the trustees’ decision, and the Board and the Center have taken steps to ensure that future Board decisions are implemented in a timely manner.  But we agreed that the long delay also reflected ambivalence on the part of some trustees, officers, and senior staff.

The 18-month delay did give the trustees time to reconsider their initial decision, with the help of diverse input from the wider Sangha. The Board now feels it best to continue to limit the flags displayed at the Center to Dharma symbols that reflect our primary mission. Both the Board and the Center’s leadership remain committed to supporting anti-racist work, as has been demonstrated by a substantial financial support of Uprooting Racism programming over the last several years.

In its practice, Zen points us to Essential reality – that which is beyond “Black Lives Matter” and “blue lives matter,” beyond right and wrong, and certainly beyond politics. Our mission is to see beyond words, symbols, concepts, and “things” such as flags. As Chinese Zen master Yunmen (Ummon) said, “Even a precious thing isn’t as good as nothing.”

We are confident that by focusing on Zen practice rather than displaying positions that can be taken as political, the Center will most directly contribute to the development of mature Zen practitioners who will go out into the world embodying compassion, empathy, and the principles of anti-racism. We encourage all members to participate in social justice work to the extent that they are concerned and able.

Jonathan Hager
Chair, Board of Trustees
PS: Be on the lookout in the next day or two for Roshi’s latest podcast, The Black Lives Matter Flag – To Hang or Not To Hang?