By Melody Lima


If I were to ask, “Describe your expression of tenderness?” I may get a romantic response, a mothering description of caring for a child or care giver’s skill set in the wake of a tragedy.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, explores the discourse of tenderness in her book, The Way of Tenderness – Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender.

Looking through this lens, Ms. Manuel who is a Soto Zen priest, teacher, author and has earned her Ph.D., asks the question, “How does someone who has experienced deep hatred, from within as well as without, become….a liberated tenderness that is not a wound but complete liberation from the rage that hatred breeds?”

The journey to answer this question is as varied and multi-layered as Zenju Earthlyn Manuel herself. Zenju is Ms. Manuel’s ordination name translation – Complete Tenderness. It is noted that the way to tenderness is not Buddhist, religion, lifestyle, philosophy or path. It is not taught, trained or practiced, but it appears on its own.

In the dark and silence of meditation, Ms. Manuel was able to face her own personal rage, fear, caution, hatred, collective background and unique individuality allowing tenderness to simply rise up.

The Way of Tenderness – Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender asks more questions, than it answers. It explores matters of race, sexuality and gender as a personal experience of the heart-mind, body and spirit. Ms. Manuel offers a spiritual collective perspective to explore your experience, knowledge and faith with a gentle and graceful pen. Academic and practical simultaneously, this book transcends emotions, rules and enlightenment to celebrate embodiment.

In a means of assisting dialogue, Ms. Manuel tackles the two states of being in interrelationship: (1) multiplicity in oneness or awareness of difference and (2) the body as nature or an awareness that the body is a form of nature. This also includes the existence of identity alongside all the illusions and social constructs of race, sexuality and gender.

The Way of Tenderness – Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender opens with a quote from Caribbean/American poet Audrey Lorde regretting silence and questioning her fear. In her own words, Ms. Lorde described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” As you read of Ms. Manuel’s life experience, the reader can see parallels and inspiration from one writer to another.

Struggle and suffering is a big part of any dialogue about race, sexuality and gender. Ms. Manuel—a Buddhist— confronts this head on explaining that in some spiritual communities discussions of difference lean toward sameness or no self without addressing suffering. Treated as a personal issue, the mistreated become the focus, not the mistreatment, resulting in an experience of divisiveness and isolation.

The Way of Tenderness – Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender ends the way it begin with a look at Audrey Lorde’s poem.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware

of my mortality, and of what I wished

and wanted for my life, however short it might be,

priorities and omissions became strongly

etched in a merciless light, and what I

most regretted were my silences.

Of what had I ever been afraid?

Ms. Manuel comments, I write to speak up. There is no regret for silences.


Photo: Wisdom Publications

Editor: Dana Gornall