Both here and on Dharma Folk, I’ve repeatedly railed against the marginalization and misrepresentation of Asian (American) Buddhists by self-styled “Western” Buddhists. For instances of Asians acting likewise towards non-Asian Buddhists, I hadn’t read a truly compelling story (sorry Al) until I read Bhante Noah Yuttadhammo’s post today. He describes a very similar loneliness and powerlessness.
Next on the list is the feeling of being much akin to a tropical bird in a gilded cage; all for show, living a life of interminable slavery to a group of well-meaning admirers. The abbot of Wat Thai summed this one up on the last day of the grueling three-month meditation course when, during the final ceremony and in front of a large crowd of people, he congratulated me by saying, “Phra Noah is a monk worthy of compliment. He is not even Thai, he is a foreign monk, and yet he was able to study and practice to the point that he can even speak Thai.” (Polly wanna rice cracker?) I have met nothing but resistance to any thought that I might ever be given a position of authority; the one time I was made head of a failing meditation center in Thailand, it almost cost me several bruises from a broomstick because, as was kindly pointed out to me, “this isn’t your home. Your father wasn’t born here. Why don’t you go back to your father’s home?” That piece of advice turned out to be terribly useful (the broomstick didn’t add much to his credibility, however), and that is what I came to seek out this time around in North America; a place where I can stand on my two feet and walk the Buddha’s path unhindered by monks who think “Thai way or the Highway.”
I certainly feel for Bhante Yuttadhammo (and sort of wonder what he has to say about Wat Metta and Abhayagiri monasteries). The takeaway message here shouldn’t be that each side is just as bad as the other. Rather, I’d like to think that we’re different groups of Buddhists who have yet to accept and respect that we’re all part of a common community. It’s a hard sell.
In the meantime, I hope he’ll find a good place to stay for the Rains Retreat.