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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Buddhism vs. Buddhism in America.

Apparently there is a hot discussion in the blangha (blog+sangha) as to why according to some, Asian-American Buddhists and white American Buddhists don't interact enough. Well I had a few thoughts on the matter and figured I'd post them for what it's worth.

I think while discrimination does definitely exist on both sides the separation between the two in America stems more from cultural differences than from out right bigotry. I say this because I think that the argument, which says there is an Asian-American Buddhism versus a white American Buddhism in the U.S. is too simplistic and dualistic.

It misses the important point that the term "Asian" includes dozens of very different cultures/countries. This is evident here in America because there are Asian-American Buddhists who separate amongst themselves even.

Korean American Buddhist communities often stick to mostly Korean American Buddhist sanghas, Vietnamese with Vietnamese, etc. Of course that's not always the case and there are examples of well integrated sanghas mostly in highly diverse urban areas of the country. Often white dominated sanghas are such for no other reason than the sanghas location being in an area where whites represent the majority population in general.

Besides, I don't think that we can completely uproot cultural differences within a greater Buddhism nor is it necessarily a bad thing to have different cultures represented within Buddhism. There is much beauty and value when culture meets the Dharma but like with all things it can be a hinderance at times too. So yes, again as I stated above there are instances of discrimination on both sides but the beauty of Buddhism is that we all share the core beliefs. Dharma is Dharma whether it is spoken in English, Thai or Norwegian.

~Peace to all beings~

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anonyrod said...

Being samsara-land, this is more or less what you would expect. Language obviously plays a large part in cultural choices, and even within cultures there are usually lots of different interpretations of Buddhism.

While it can be argued that most interpretations do not focus upon the original practice of letting go and eventually suffer from the influences of society, as in the present day propagation of religious factions, marketing, begging for money, and building multi-million dollar accommodation for its supposedly ‘homeless life’ members whose practice is not so hot, i.e. getting colds and influenza, talking about themselves incessently and such things as their personal grief (good examples of following a Buddhism that does not work), the benefit to the planet as a whole is that Buddhism tames people.

I can remember when the first US representative of Buddhism was invited to a World Buddhist meeting. The guy was interviewed in a cocktail lounge, glass in hand, and he proceeded to explain how he (or the highly educated juice freaks of America) viewed Buddhism.

The smart people will eventually figure out the Buddhism that works, while the rest will follow society and try to make samsara perfect.

Arun said...

I feel what you're saying is that the community is very diverse, very different and that there's racism on both sides, so it's all the same thing and we really shouldn't worry about it. It reminds of "separate but equal."

G said...

Here in Thailand, it's somewhat different as living in a predominately Asian society where most of the Buddhists are Asians and not Westerners, mixing with 'ethnic Buddhists' is unavoidable. Not that this is a bad thing, for in seeing how a whole society adapts to integrating the Buddhist teachings into itself can help one's own practice.

At the same time, it's also useful to see how institutionalized religion can lose sight of its original aims - few Thai Buddhists ever consider the attainment of Nirvana - and compromise itself. That being said, it has been a privilege to live amongst the millions of Buddhists in this country.

Having written all that, it would be remiss of me not to admit that the temple that receives my main patronage is the International Forest Monastery, which is predominately inhabited by...Westerners! (Most of my fellow regular lay visitors are Thai, however.)

G, at 'Buddha Space'.

Carla said...

I live in England, and there are very few sanghas of any type. You can find them in major cities, but the rest of us are on our own. That has been my perception and experience at least in the Midlands. I am a solitary practitioner and am not sure I would be welcome in any community as my practice is mostly a humanist Dharma-Way (a la Steven Batchelor) with strong leanings toward Thich Nhat Hanh's Zen, but with some mantra chanting and yoga thrown in. A mish-mash, good little 'nightstand Buddhist' that I am! *wink* So I have no experience of being discriminated against by Asian Buddhists. I have, however, encountered factionalism and arguing on Buddhist message boards to rival all that I ever experienced growing up in the US Bible belt amongst Christians. And for this reason, I avoid those websites. I don't want to argue doctrine, and I don't want to follow cultural tradition. I just want to find the middle way. :)

Zen said...

NOT all Buddhist in the West are White or Asian...

They call him James Ure said...

Great commments everyone. Carla, I'm a similar kind of Buddhist :)

Zen: Thank-you for raising that point. I apologize profusely to all for making that glaring error. I had the best of intentions. Bowing...

blue fire said...

I am an asian looking person but I was always with Caucasian buddhist. I do feel some discrimination just because I look different, but when start talking everything seems normal. But it's just that important "opening" impression even though we must stop that pre-conceptual thoughts but we are not yet Buddhas. It was nice to discover your blog

They call him James Ure said...

Blue Fire:

I think one of the best ways to bridge differences is through sharing meals. Some of the best conversations and bonds are made while eating.

Ambud said...

I agree that much of this is cultural, but what about the inherently different practices in different regions and sects of buddhism itself?
A zen buddhist for example might not find compatibility with a Mahayana buddhist and so forth.

They call him James Ure said...


You make a great point. There are too many other factors to simply say that racism is the reason there are separate communities in American Buddhism.

As you said, American Buddhism is a very general category.

vickeycheng said...

I am in Las Cruces, New Mexico, one of the Catholic area in the United States. As an Asian and Buddhism, I have to say that I respect all Buddhism and the way they practice regardless their race and culture background.
Unfortunately, I have to say that there are some discriminations among the Buddhists regardless in the issue of Buddhism practices, the race, the interpretation,etc. These are something completely unacceptable. In the land of the Buddha, all Buddhas are equally important, and the most important, they all respect each others. We called ourselves Buddhists, we should all treat each other equally and with respect no matter who you are and how you practice.

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