December 23, 2009

All the same

In lieu of the snarky post, here are just some thoughts on some previously posted comments. When I write about the marginalization of Asians in Western Buddhist institutions and dialogue, a common retort is that Buddhism has nothing to do with race—it is about the path to the end of suffering. We all suffer regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and many other factors. The promise of Buddhism is likewise applicable to all of us, regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and many other factors. In this sense, we are all the same in our potential to attain complete liberation. I couldn’t agree more.

This “all the same” line is, however, a non-response to the issue of the marginalization of Asians (among others) in Western Buddhist institutions. At both the institutional level and at the level of discourse, we aren’t treated the same. I’ve posted repeatedly on the paucity of Asian Americans as writers for Shambhala Sun, Tricycle and Buddhadharma. There is also the disgusting white Western savior rhetoric, where the West will come to save Buddhism from those backward Asians. There is the equally disturbing “separate-but-equal” refrain that all the various Asian communities are fine, but that Western Buddhists should create and nurture their own separate group—eerily similar to the argument for Orania.

We need to eat away at the systems of oppression and privilege that underlie the white dominance over Western Buddhism’s non-white majority. I focus on Asians, and Asian Americans in particular, not just because I’m Asian American, but also because the asymmetry is fairly blatant. Many similar issues apply for other non-white Buddhists as well. The effort to make a more egalitarian community will involve more outreach to include its less privileged members. This struggle will also involve renouncing privileges we take for granted. Doing nothing, yet saying we are all the same, merely amounts to the perpetuation of this system behind what is either a lie or woeful ignorance.

5 comments :

  1. Hi Arun,

    I was about to respond to your snarky post with some snarky words about the blogger in question in that post, but the post disappeared. Too funny.

    Anyway, this whole Buddhism in North America thing is a long and winding road, filled with a lot of potholes and wrong turns. Keep on plugging away. That's all any of us can do.

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  2. I am getting so many good ideas for a blog post that my brain is about the go out like a flame! But focus, focus, focus! Three blogs, counting yours, that have recently posted on a shared thought, from different directions, but a shared kernel nonetheless. Hope I am up to the task. Thanks Arun, you've added to the inspiration.

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  3. Dear Arun,
    don't worry, normally westerners the moment they turn to buddhist instantly the anger and greed disappears. They think it away, we cannot have anger we cannot have greed. So at least you are on the way ...
    Another thing, westerners came to Asia, stole the idea of Buddhism, now they are stuck with the idea and don't know what to do .. I'm enlightend, thats a great idea, but just a thought, dukkha does not disappear.
    The westernes always used to rule other countries with brute force, power of weapons, and exploited them. (except Thailand that has a working Buddhism) Don't worry they will make a mess out of the Lord Buddhas teaching, because the grab the snake at its tail, so it will turn around and bite them (comparison of the Lord Buddha in regarding to his Dhamma treated wrongly or better with intellect)
    Next time ask them how many westerners are Arahants? You can be assured it is zero!! Most of them cannot go beyond the world of thoughts ..
    And how many in Asia? in Thailand at least one houndred including women within the last 50 years.
    So have compassion with the westerners, and forgive them, because they don't know and don't understand, especially something that goes beyond the world of thoughts.
    - from a western monk in the thai forest -

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  4. I'd like to see a more egalitarian Sangha as well - especially with the all but unrepresented Southeastern Buddhist contingent. But it's not going to happen, and here's why: Western Buddhists refuse to give up their grasp, and we (I say collectively, as I'm getting more and more apolitical every day) refuse to get past the notion of Buddhism as anything other than a plaything for liberal, upper & middle class white dudes who talk about peace and spout off for liberal causes incessantly.

    Including the Asian community would open Buddhism up to reality - that it's just as conservative as it is liberal (if not more conservative), it doesn't have the "perfect" track record on peace or violence that the Beats in the 50's and the hippies in the 60's and 70's pretend it does, and it doesn't tend to get real political.

    And we can't have that, because then it'd just be another religion, and not a social movement designed to change the world into a utopia.

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  5. @ Martin -

    And the only reason Thailand was spared is because the French and the Brits decided centuries ago that there needed to be a "no man's land" in terms of colonies, so they wouldn't end up fighting one another in Asia as they had in the Americas. So Thailand became the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized. In east Asia,there is only Japan that was not colonized, but for entirely different reasons. Coincidence that both of them have a functioning Buddhist community?

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