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Guest House: Space for All in an Open Heart

"This is a challenging time worldwide, yet I have great faith that our spiritual communities can become true refuges of love, integrity, and compassion. We can focus on what connects all of us, with honesty at the forefront. Until recently, not many spiritually based organizations had even thought about inclusivity or multiculturalism, or even talked about racism. This has been a facet of the diamond of spiritual life left unpolished for many years."

We opened the East Bay Meditation Center in downtown Oakland to provide a welcoming environment for people of color, members of the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups, to welcome everyone.

When we opened the doors, I envisioned a place for all beings everywhere. I thought I was an open person, and then people with chemical sensitivities came and asked, “What about us?” Then Spanish-speaking people asked, “What about us?” Teenagers came, and I started to think, “I’m not sure we can fit everybody in.” Then a group of transgender men came and asked, “What about us, Spring? We need a place, too.”

I started to feel the painful barriers to my love. Every new group needed me to change something so they could have a home at our center, too, and I got to see my own limitations. These diverse communities were coming with different needs, and each wanted our center to be accessible for them. I see now that every living being wants to feel loved, acknowledged, and protected. Feeling resistance within myself was painful, yet slowly I felt my heart expand every time I said, “Yes, we can include you, too.”

This is a challenging time worldwide, yet I have great faith that our spiritual communities can become true refuges of love, integrity, and compassion. We can focus on what connects all of us, with honesty at the forefront. Until recently, not many spiritually based organizations had even thought about inclusivity or multiculturalism, or even talked about racism. This has been a facet of the diamond of spiritual life left unpolished for many years.

Now, in many spiritual communities these issues are emerging tumultuously. From churches to meditation and yoga communities, these topics cannot be avoided. The pain around racism, hatred, and discrimination goes deep, and to understand how to hold it takes genuine understanding and a compassionate heart. There is a teaching of the Buddha called the Two Truths. The first truth is Absolute Truth. It points to the nature of ultimate reality, similar to the insights of quantum physics, that we are all made of stardust, energy, atoms, and moving particles of light. It is seeing through the lens of the vast cosmos from which we all emerged and to which we all will return. On this universal level, there is only oneness.

Many spiritual communities focus on this view, and adherents aspire to live in absolute reality in every moment. On the level of ultimate reality, who we are, our identities, don’t really matter. Everything is equal and whole.

But to see clearly how things are, we need to also honor the second truth, Relative Truth. This is truth at the worldly or karmic level, where our actions count and the relationship between cause and effect is always in motion. On this level, our identities—race, gender, culture, and sexual orientation—matter. This is the level of the heart. If we choose to ignore the relative level of reality and just live in the ultimate dimension, we aren’t experiencing the whole of life.

Many well-meaning people are unaware of their biases and privilege. Rather than opening to these parts of themselves, more than a few choose the “we are all one” view while pushing away the rest of the truth. The work of spirituality is to shine light wherever there is confusion, not to perpetuate it. We need practices that look at both truths simultaneously, that value both everyone’s awakened nature and their life experiences.

If we get too weighed down on the relative level, we can forget our star-like nature and suffer terribly. Communities that are willing to embrace everything allow our inner and outer worlds to transform together. We grow whole with practice that holds both truths.

The spiritual journey is not about being comfortable; it’s about seeing the truth in any moment. We all have internal hierarchies, lines marking who we let in and who we don’t. Diversity challenges these preferences and opinions, exposes our biases, and accelerates our learning. Being open to diversity is not just a noble idea; it’s a spiritual path that leads to wisdom and compassion.

As spiritual practitioners, our practice is dedicated to transforming greed, hatred, and delusion. We want to become mindful. We want to see our delusions so that we can overcome them. The heart of the dharma is always about opening, accepting, and including more and more parts of ourselves. Einstein said, “Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” There’s something profound about widening our circles. The way to do that is to truly engage. Every time I open the door, I grow.