Well, here we go again
…and it is a good thing, I suppose, since the last run at this topic didn’t seem to go anywhere. We need to flesh this issue out and the author of this specific, new expose seems more than willing to dive straight into the interworkings and seedy underbelly of Buddhism…
There’s no corresponding “Buddhophobia”. A white Buddhist is rarely regarded as a freak of nature. Instead of being hated and feared, symbols of my religion are commonly sold in the Home & Garden section of chain stores! Buddhism appears to be eminently compatible with modern American society.
But if you look closely, you’ll see some ripples on the surface…
The overall aim of this series is to discuss how issues of race and ethnicity intersect with the image and reality of Buddhism in the United States. It’s a huge topic so I’ll try to make it more manageable by establishing what this series won’t do. After I provide a very brief historical introduction to Buddhism, I won’t go much deeper into teachings or philosophy, especially since I’m ignorant about so much of it beyond the basics and have zero qualifications as that kind of teacher. I’m going to stick to the surface, to superficial perceptions, stereotypes, illusions, skin color… although what’s on the surface usually connects to other issues which go very, very deep.
Oh, Jesus H. Christ this is going to be interesting. I’m confused, aren’t the teachings of Buddhism the exact things we, as Buddhists, need to delve into? I know this is a touchy subject and all. Race always raises everyone’s hackles and gets the blood flowing but to say that you are going to go straight to human nature (illusions, stereotypes and superficial perceptions) without tying it together with the fact that we basically, in the end, believe in the same thing, seems somewhat irresponsible…almost like muckraking. But then again, it is a blog.
However, lets see where the tone of the introduction goes before we make any snap judgements. So far it sounds interesting….
I’m going to be discussing a lot of generalizations about different religions. I’ll try to be as sensitive as possible and differentiate my own fairly neutral views. I might offend various kinds of believers, but once I get farther along, I think that the most passionate objections are going to come from other Buddhists. Contrary to popular belief, we’re a fractious bunch. I’ll try to steel myself.
Good. Sensitive is good. Most of us are not sensitive to other viewpoints. I am not sometimes. I try to be but I tend to go with a knee-jerk response at first followed by a smoldering anger and then finally some sort of understanding. But the author will be as sensitive as possible.
My own background in Buddhism is rather unique. I was half born into it,half converted.
That is interesting since I think that is probably the largest division in Buddhism. Well beyond race, ethnicity or other such constructs, I think this issue is a large divide for us. It divides us along whether or not we have a cultural constuct for Buddhism already developed in our family. This peppers our viewpoint of Buddhism.
I’ll skip the author’s recap of the history of Buddhism and her own family history. To be honest though, if there is any excuse to read this introduction, it is the story the author outlined of her family’s history and her own early upbringing into Buddhism and also unfortunate experience with American Fundamentalism. Her family story was engrossing and spoke much to what I thought the tone of the series was going to be. However, the postscript.
Postscript: Although this really belongs more to the later part of the series, I have to mention that there has been a recent blog tempest over some remarks by C.N. Le at Asian Nation.C.N. Le is Vietnamese-American professor with a PhD in sociology. He’s very well-known and respected in the Asian-American blogosphere. On July 15th, he wrote a post describing his family’s experience at a Buddhist retreat. He mentioned a couple of white Buddhists who did not clean up after themselves, and suggested that just possibly maybe occasionally provisionally perhaps perhaps perhaps… white privilege was involved.
The right of C.N. Le to make this rather mild criticism was noted and defended by the few Buddhist bloggers who have a sophisticated awareness on racial issues (the ones I know about are Angry Asian Buddhist and The Buddha is my DJ). Thank goodness for them. Otherwise, the reaction from Buddhist blogs appears to consist entirely of ridiculous racial hysteria and sanctimonious dharma-beating. For example, This person’s post can be summarized as “I AM A PERSECUTED WHITE MAN!! C.N. LE IS THE ASIAN KKK!! AND I BET HE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A REAL SOCIOLOGY DEGREE NYAH NYAH NYAH!!”. And this is from a blog called “Progressive Buddhism”. Sigh…
I didn’t want to get to this sort of stuff until the later part of the series, but I’ll provide a brief preview right now. Below is a mathematical equation containing elements that combine to form my perspective as an Asian-American Buddhist contemplating the persecution of a white American Buddhist.
(almost all the problems experienced by white Buddhists) +(extra problems experienced in general by people of color Buddhists) +(extra problems experienced only by Asian-American Buddhists) – (-white privilege) =STFU
I can’t speak for all other Asian-Americans but I imagine more than a few of them share my reaction. It’s why I don’t bother participating in these sorts of communities. I don’t feel like being insulted, ignored and erased when I try to connect to my religion. My only message to them: I’ve already heard everything you’ve had to say. I’ve even experienced it along with you. You haven’t done the same for me. Let me know when you’re ready to start listening.
Yes. *sigh* indeed… this is the sensitivity I can expect from this series that was promised from the beginning? To “Shut the Fuck Up”? I commented on these threads and I commented honestly. I did not like Le’s tone and I exactly explained why. Le took from one experience with some white people at a retreat not cleaning up after themselves and brought to the level of a racial incident. And I don’t buy Le’s supposed objectivity over the issue either. He stated directly that…
…the second “racial” incident at the retreat [concerning the whites] does not involve much ambiguity at all…[from Le’s posting]
You are right that does sound that Le maybe, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, slightly inferred white priviledge. Just a little. To me it sounds like his mind was made up. Le also stated that…
…the actions of this particular couple and the White attendees present at this last lunch seem to be a microcosm of the White-privileged notion that service work should be left to people of color and that unless they are specifically assigned to do so, many Whites seem to think that they are “above” such “demeaning” work and physical labor.
Again these are gross generalizations and not “inferrences”.
So to the author I say “Thank You”. Thank you for marginalizing my opinion and my comments along with my views. I will, after this, do exactly as you recommend and “Shut the Fuck Up”. I have nothing more to say and have little interest in this thread. If this is your fairly neutral view and your level of sensitivity then I am dissappointed. I will read future posts and hope that the tone of your postscript ends with your postscript but I am fully prepared, at this point, to be dissappointed.
My experience in multicultural Sanghas have been much better than Le’s. I went to school on the East Coast and while not very active in Buddhism, I did try to attend the local Zen group. It was roughly 50% Asian 30% White and 20% African American and Hispanic. We all cleaned up after ourselves and we all got along. This example is just as valid as Le’s. One experience with one group. That only difference is that I am not generalizing.
We need to work on these issues and as Barbara’s Buddism Blog
stated we need to take these issues, after they are exposed, and treat them as “teachable moments” and get past what are obviously preconcieved notions about each other. Whether those notions are coming from a minority or the majority; they are toxic to us as a sangha. That is what we are – one big-assed, struggling, North American sangha.
[My Own Postscript: Sometimes, I think this is the danger of blogs…too easy to rant and throw information out while at the same time losing the human connection of an interaction. I have little doubt that most of the people that have been bantering back and forth would probably be able to ease these issues with a simple beer and some (maybe heated), conversation.]