On Racism and Spiritual Awakening

by Stefanie Dunning, PhD

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Originally posted on Facebook June 10, 2020

There is an assumption, commonly held in spiritual circles, that if you have progressed to a certain level of attainment you will be “above” any political issue, having “seen through” the illusory self. But like so many things that require careful discernment, it is easy to confuse recognition of the biological existencelessness of various categories of identity with an awareness of the broad delusions which shape and structure how people live in the world.

For example, if everyone believes that there is a unicorn chasing them down the street and everyone starts running and some other people pull out guns to shoot the imaginary unicorn, and others trample and kill people while they run from this imaginary unicorn, and someone says to you–“help me save some people who are being trampled!” and you refuse because the unicorn is not there, then you have failed an important (and elementary) spiritual test.

Let us imagine that you are standing on the sidelines blissfully enjoying a sunset while this stampede is going on. You notice that children are being trampled underfoot. Would you refuse to help the child because the unicorn doesn’t exist? I hope not.

Let us imagine that you are in the midst of this crowd, being pushed along by the force of it and unable to step out of it, and your own feet are trampling someone underfoot. You know that the unicorn is a delusion, yet you keep dancing to the same tune as everyone else and trampling people. A trampled person, who knows the unicorn is not real says–“You’re trampling me!” (And if you live in society, you are in the stampede via this metaphor).

Do you respond: “I won’t coddle your complaints because this unicorn thing is not real, even though I am living and breathing and trampling people just like everyone else?”

Now let us imagine that the delusion of the unicorn, which produces the trampling of people, was created by design. The force of the stampede powers a generator that allows some people to live more comfortably than others; so those people are invested in the stampede and they want to keep it going at all costs.

Obviously, in every (metaphorical) case, few of us can imagine a situation where we would not do everything in our power to stop the stampede and save people from being trampled underfoot.

Another analogy. Money–that folding and jingling stuff in your pocket–is a delusion. It is literally a symbolic system that measures the movement of goods across society. Yet Jesus overthrew the money changers’ tables in the Temple. Was he backward? Was he failing in his awakening when he did so? Is that a sign that he wasn’t awake?

Indeed not. It was the establishment of a boundary; it was an identification of the fact that materiality was at odds with his teaching. It was a critique of the wealth accumulation of the people of his time. It was a rejection of the notion that having a unicorn in your pocket makes you better than other people.


All “isms” are like the stampede, motivated by the powerful delusion that one person is different/better/worse than another on the basis of (fill in the blank). Even believing one is “better” than everyone else because one is “enlightened” is a function of the same delusion (the delusion of the separate self).

Unfortunately, many people use their spiritual journey and so-called enlightenment as a way to heighten their sense of superiority–one they had (undoubtedly) prior to attaining any atypical state of consciousness at all. They say I don’t need to pay attention to (fill in the blank) because we are all one. And they proceed to ignore the stampede, living much like the people who motivated it in the first place–who also ignore it but for (presumably) different reasons.

The use of spirituality for the purpose of internally or externally elevating one’s self, for believing one is “above” the concerns of one’s fellow creatures–human and all others–is an extension of the basic delusional logic of the broader society, not a departure from it.

If we are so far from insight that we do not understand that all spiritual traditions call on us to be harmless and helpful when possible, then we have tremendous work to do indeed.

One measure of awakening is not how you feel, but what you can magnanimously endure. Hence the example of Jesus–who endured crucifixion and still only said, “Forgive them.” Have you met your crucifixion? If not, you cannot stand in judgment of those who live the crucifixion daily–especially if you have decided that you have “evolved” past the structures which crucify some and not others.

Have you completely left society? Do you live without work, without money, without achievement, without Facebook? Then this post isn’t for you and you aren’t reading it. But if you live IN society, reaping its benefits, making money, and essentially (probably because you have to) are caught up in the stampede and yet you have seen through the delusion of the unicorn, to not help the helpers (whether they share your views or not), to not save people from being stampeded, to not attend mindfully to your own feet–is to repeat the core error of the human condition.

So my dear spiritual friends–fear not. If you care about the state of the world right now, it is not a sign that you have failed. You can know that all this suffering is needless and based on a pack of delusions that we all need to see through and still show up for your fellow humans. You may have seen through a good deal of them. Bravo.

Yet if we are interested in our collective awakening, then we have to start by saving each other because no one can meditate with a knee in their neck.

(C) 2020 Stefanie Dunning, reprinted with permission. 