July 9, 2009

An Asian Buddhist Superiority Complex

I won’t deny it. Many Asians question self-styled Westerners’ Buddhist authenticity. One friend doesn’t care to hear talks by white Dharma teachers. Another friend’s parents express open doubts about a multicultural Buddhist group. Bhante Noah Yuttadhammo’s own journey is often thwarted by individuals who refuse to see him as an equal to Thai monks. These are most certainly instances of a superiority complex. I frequently lash out at excessive hegemonic privilege here in the West, but I must be honest that similar prejudices also exist in Asian Buddhist communities. I’m reluctant to write this post. I’m afraid this admission will only bolster the dismissive attitudes of self-styled Western Buddhists so unknowledgeable about Asian culture they wouldn’t know the difference between Saigon and Prey Nokor. But I realize that part of the discussion is admitting that the community that I’m defending isn’t a cohort of living saints. Are “Western” Buddhists willing to learn about the true diversity and issues of Asian America, the 5% of their country that represents the history of half the world? They have to if they hope to live up to the values of diversity, tolerance and democracy. Choosing not to address racial inequity in a community that actively segregates itself is tantamount to promoting it. Separate but equal is not a solution.

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