May 8, 2010

Why I'm Angry

Anger is not a Buddhist virtue. More often than not, you’ll hear Buddhists describe it as a mental defilement—and much worse. No surprise, then, that many visitors to this blog find themselves scratching their heads, “Why do you call yourself the Angry Asian Buddhist?”

The title of this blog is a homage to a larger field of other “Angry Asian” Americans. Most notably the Angry Little Asian Girls and Angry Asian Man. These authors and artists address issues of race, culture and privilege in American media and society. Likewise, I explore these issues in the American Buddhist community.

For example, it’s common parlance among English speaking American Buddhists to use the term American Buddhist or Western Buddhist to refer to White people—or at the very least at the exclusion of American Buddhists of Asian heritage. I can certainly concede that the prototypical “American” in the media is a White American—but I hold the American Buddhist community to a higher standard. Especially since most American Buddhists are not White.

Furthermore, for all their self-proclaimed open-mindedness, the high profile American Buddhist publications generally don’t let in that many Asian American authors. Tricycle is the worst culprit. It’s not as though we don’t exist—it’s just they don’t care enough. I make it my job to point this out because, maybe, someday, it might lead to actual change rather than a privileged complacency.

There are plenty of other reasons that I blog here, but the main reason I maintain this site is because I’m encouraged by my readers. You may not see them leave comments, but I run into them all the time in the community. And, yes, they are angry—not writhing in conniptions, but seriously indignant. They are upset at a perceived injustice by predominantly White Buddhists of ignoring Asian Americans, who are the biggest part of Buddhist America.

They are angry when they hear people write about the history of Buddhism in America without reference to the hundreds of thousands of Buddhist Asian Americans who have been and who continue to be the greatest part of American Buddhism. Who will speak out for them when they’re ignored? Who will stand up to let them know they’re not alone?

That’s why I’m the Angry Asian Buddhist.

26 comments :

  1. Hi Arun

    This is my first visit to your blog. After having read a few of your posts I understand why you are angry. I have been completely ignorant of these issues. I live in SA, so I'm not always up to speed with US Buddhist matters.

    I have bookmarked your blog, it seems a good place to visit.

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  2. Hi Arun,
    Just found this blog. Should be fun to see what types of responses you receive. There's definitely a need for a blog (if not multiple blogs) like yours. I commend you for starting this trend! Happy writing!

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  3. Hello,

    It's definitely good to have blogs like this around to challenge the establishment, so keep up the good work. :)

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  4. Keep up the good work. I couldn't agree with your general criticism of the "american buddhist community" more. I'm a Canadian Buddhist of British and Ashkenazi Jewish descent. I lived in a large predominantly Thai Buddhist community in California for three years....reading Tricycle you'd think every North American Buddhist was an aging baby-boomer, with maybe a few younger caucasian punks, gen-xers, and information age whiz-kids, and the occasional African American. Missing from this picture is a real attempt to include the contemporary voices of Asian communities in North America.
    Thank you
    Matthew (http://mgindin.typepad.com/prakriti/)

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  5. I can dig it. Just because we're seeking peace on this path, doesn't mean we can't ask for a little justice.

    michael j
    Conshohocken, PA USA

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  6. Right on, man. I'm glad to see that there are people out there speakin' the truth about the diversity of American traditions and communities. Big fan of the blog, btw :-)

    Aaron
    Yokohama, Japan

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  7. As a Hispanic American and a Nichiren Buddhist, I can imagine - perhaps foresee - a day when The Children of the Sun of Asia and the miscegenated Children of the Sun from Mexico will accomplish a Buddhist conversion of the nation. Nichiren Buddhism says that there are no coincidences. I believe that "La Raza Cosmica" and kosen-rufu will go hand in hand if only someone is willing to expound the Dharma to the Hispanic community.

    If you look at mixed marriages in the US, it's easy to see that European Americans are gradually breeding themselves into extinction, or at least into another form. And Hispanics are the apparently the number one choice, even for the most racists of white Americans. If an Asian-Hispanic bond can be formed through faith, I suspect that the presumptuous arrogance of white American culture will have no choice but to gradually give way.

    Dwellers in the heavenly realm often do not realize that they are falling into the lower worlds until it's too late. Perhaps the things that make you angry might change or "go the way of the Romans," que no?..

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  8. This post is awesome. I did not realize the issue with Tricycle, until you mentioned it. Of course, I see it now.

    As an old lefty, I find myself embarrassed to join the ranks of the trendy white converts to Buddhism... so I kind of the opposite of what you are talking about. I continuously worry that I am culturally appropriating/stealing. I am very sensitive to charges of colonialism... Edward Said's ghost is whispering in my ear, keeping me honest. :)

    For example, after reading this post of yours, I went back over MY last post, I now see a problem with it. But not editing it out, since I don't believe in (as I have said many times) engaging in Stalinist rewrites of history. But the line I wrote: On some level, I find Westerners who claim Eastern religions to be pretentious and silly; tourists of the soul. I wish now that I had added the word "white" before "Westerner"--I was speaking of Western religious backgrounds specifically. But I see that this erasure is a serious matter that must be rectified.

    Also, throwing out another view that you may not have thought of: Converts always think they have it "right"--or can do it better than the people "raised" in a particular belief-system. I have seen this in all branches of Christianity and in Islam. New Catholics always think the folk-piety of cradle Catholics ("weird" devotions like the Infant of Prague, Our Lady of Guadalupe, etc) is bizarre ethnic stuff and can easily be abandoned/overlooked by the newbies. They don't understand everything about these ancient devotions, and those "born into" the faith don't always have the words to translate. I mean, such translations were never NECESSARY before, so explaining what such things have historically meant is very trying and very tiring.

    I am so, so curious about what many Buddhist traditions mean, what they are from. But I have found that most white Western (convert) Buddhists have a similar attitude: ohhhh, that silly folk-piety from the old ladies! (Well, yeah, since I am an old lady, I am VERY interested in what the OLD LADIES are doing, thanks!)

    Adding you to my blog roll, and thanks for being here.

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  9. Interesting. But. When I talk about Western Buddhism I am not talking about where the individuals come from or even live, but about a sort of "mutt" Buddhism in which the adherents dabble in a variety of traditions or go it alone, and are now coming together to form some new way of accessing the Buddha's teaching. Usually these are individuals who have left some other religious tradition behind -- be it Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or some other variety -- then making a choice to explore Buddhism's varieties.

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  10. And have you seen this?

    http://www.angryasianbuddhist.com/

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  11. The Angry Asian Man, as you mention the post, seems to also get questions of why he is "angry". A guest blogger on Angry Asian Man has recently contributed an awesome post on "who's allowed to be angry". I thought you might find it interesting.

    Angry Asian Man link: http://blog.angryasianman.com/2010/09/guest-post-whos-allowed-to-be-angry.html

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  12. First of all, Arun, I am sorry you're angry. As for me, I am Asian and I am not angry at all. I am sad though. The reason is, with the way Buddhism is mostly practiced in Asia (As well as by the majority of Asians living in the West), Buddhism is meant to fade away. Buddhism of non-Asians in the West is mostly practiced through intelligently learning and understanding the Buddha's teachings and through regular meditation (In part, thanks to the clear teachings of Zen master like Thich Nhat Hanh). Buddhism in Asia is commonly practiced through reciting the Buddha's teachings (For most without fully understanding them) and through begging him as a Godly figure hoping for favors.
    If Buddhism in Asia does not wake up and change its way, it will go into hibernation or vahish.

    Also, I have never felt offended, discriminated against or victimized by the behavior of non-Asian Buddhists. Not even once. I am very thankful to all in the West who have opened their mind to welcome the compassionate, peaceful and non-violent teachings of the Buddha. It gives me hope for a better world.
    Sincerely,
    Quang Dang

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  13. I can understand your anger at being excluded, and I agree with you that it is absurd not to find lots of Asians in Buddhist periodicals.

    Also, the PBS program, called "The Buddha," which aired a few months back, had almost no Asian commentators. I was appalled! Almost all the people talking about the Buddha were white!

    Let me tell you that discrimination cuts both ways.

    I am white, American, and studying Buddhism. I asked an Asian friend if I could come to her temple. Said no. She told me I would not be welcome because I am white, and that the Asian-Americans attending services would not like it if I showed up. She said this was very likely true of all Asian Buddhist temples in the area, and that the Asian communities around here are very insular.

    Some of us non-Asians meet and study only with non-Asians because we have no choice. I at least was fortunate to be at a meeting led by 2 Tibetans, but they do not live here, they were just passing through.

    I would love to study with Asian Buddhists, and learn from them, but do not have the option to do so at this time. I am polite and respectful, but, I am also white.

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  14. I'm Asian American and I am Buddhist. I am shocked and disappointed with the treatment some of you have experienced. There are several different sects of Buddhism. I belong to the Buddhist Church of Florin in Sacramento, CA. We are of the Shin or True Pure Land sect, the largest and most popular sect in Japan.

    At my church, we have a very diverse congregation...Japanese, African Americans, Chinese, Italians, Phillipinos, Mexican, and many caucasian members who I do not know their specific ethnicity. We open our doors to ANYONE who is interested in learning about Buddhism...we are one BIG happy family.

    It saddens my greatly, some of you have not experienced the "open arms" policy we have. If you are in the Sacramento, CA area...please stop by ~ we will love for you to come!

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  15. Glad to wander across your blog. :-). I'm a new, unaffiliated practioner, and am still learning much. It saddens me to read that others limited understanding contributes to perpetuating white privilege. Having come from that world of privilege I'm trying to become more aware of my habituated responses.

    I'm excited to begin reading what you've generously decided to share in your blog entries. And I wanted to express my gratitude that you are willing to share this. I hope to learn much, and progress as a more compassionate person.

    Thank you. :-)

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  16. Dear Arun,

    You have no idea how happy this blog makes me. In fact, I almost started a blog with practically the same title a few years ago!

    Seriously friend, we should connect. We have so much to talk about!

    Much peace and solidarity,
    Nina - an Angry Asian (Sherpa) Buddhist

    PS: You have Losar on your calendar. THANK YOU.

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  17. Yeah, I understand what it feels like to be angry! As an Anglo practitioner in a mostly Taiwaneese Zen temple...I completely understand what it is like to be the recipient of attrocious, spiteful racist behavior! Although I know how fashionable it is to attack "white"people as the ONLY perpetrators of prejudice, I know from experience that racism flows in All directions.... FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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  18. Maybe usful:

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/karma.html

    Don't wast to much time with anger and investigate the cause.

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  19. Wow this is very interesting and shocking. I had no idea about this. It seems 'Western Buddhism' is rather behind when it comes to racism and perhaps also feminism. I would be fascinated to read a book on the role of Asian Americans in American Buddhism and other stories that have not been told. Have you thought about writing a book?

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  20. I practice Buddhism and am white. I am curious, what do you think someone like me should do to encourage others to appreciate the fact that the lineage of Buddhism comes from Asians? I thought is was a well known fact that Buddhism is a predominately Asian religion.

    As for your argument, although I can understand where your indignation comes from, think about the demographics of America; almost 75% of America is made up of whites. Although whites who are interested in Buddhism are probably not the type of person to reject learning the dharma from Asians, maybe some whites feel like if they show interest in Buddhism and become active in a sangha they will be rejected by Asian Buddhists for being white. If they felt ostracized, or even anticipated it, it makes sense that some whites might find other white Buddhists to associate with. I agree with Persephone though, perhaps you could write a book to explain the important role of Asians in Buddhist America; I'd buy it!

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  22. Curious viewpoint. Mine is almost the reverse, so there may be common ground. Buddhism would probably never enjoyed its current growth if it were not for the Asian refugees that emigrated to the USA. Still, there are issues. For example, I rejoice that there is a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Washington, but it is the only TB monastery in the US. that is predominantly full of non-Asian men or women. Even "worse", Tibetan Buddhist communities (Asian or Western) are usually followers of a particular Lama (Rinpoche). Rarely do these communities convene together unless a "higher" Lama is in attendence. In the DC Metropolitan area, the Theravadan temples are predominantly managed and attended by Southeast Asian emigrants and their descendents. No attempts are generally made to provide or translate material, ceremonies,etc., into English. (I have seen some movement in the exchange of ceremonies between Tibetan Buddhist and Vietnamese temples with translators so this is good news.) There are "integrated" Zen monasteries all over California and the western US, so rejoice for the Zen practitioners, even if some of those monasteries require Asian cultural practices, which seem less than needed in the quest for Liberation.
    Still, if I were a teacher, I would advise you, me, and anyone else that any "tribal-oriented" or culturally-bases viewpoint is a problem for our practice. Ask Thich Nacht Hanh or the Dalai Lama whether tribalism or a particular cultural practice is required or even helpful in the search for Liberation. I doubt they would agree that it is. (I wonder if there are "Americantowns" in China. Probably.) Ultimately, there is no Tibet, Vietnam, USA, China, India, etc. In a billion years, there will (I assume) be no trace of those countries or cultures, but, unless we liberate ourselves, with the help (hopefully) of our teachers, through meditation practice here and now, we will still be there and then, complaining about some cultural tendency or lack or need. Happy New Year!

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  23. Hi Arun,

    I stumbled upon your blog through Tricycle. I am a practitioner of Yoga and as a South Asian resent the colonization of yoga and the cultural squatting that goes on around it...I resent the pop zen and ohm groupies! I started an FB page Yogawithasha and have diligently tried to showcase brown yogis on it...No offense to some really good non-brown yogis out there :-)

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  24. Cheers, AAB! Refreshing to find an alternative viewpoint on the buddhawebs. Me: white, interested in Buddhism since visiting Nepal and Cambodia, but very uninterested in the "westernized" version of the same. Not necessarily because of it's "whiteness", but because of it's intellectual and ideological homogeny. Too much New Age Political Correctness can be fatally boring, y'know? It's only recently that I stumbled onto Shin Buddhism which some may accuse of being similarly monocultural (read: Japanese) but seems to tolerate a much wider variety of perspectives (read: I won't get kicked out of the sangha for shopping at WalMart). Ever onwards!

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  25. BTW, I'm a white guy that believes in "Engaged Buddhism."

    I never felt comfortable in any temple I visited. They felt like the Dharma grafted on Western culture. Like taking the umami out of a recipe. Just my opinion.

    So what happened? One day not too long ago my next-door neighbor (a Vietnamese immigrant much like many of my other neighbors including on the other side of my home) and I were talking about something and I mentioned the Eightfold path. She was surprised. I pointed over to Buddha in my front yard “subduing Mara”, my favorite pose to which I explained why. She was a bit more surprised and please. While we have always been friendly and helpful to each other over the years we never communicated on this level before. I told her I too was a Buddhist but didn’t attend a temple because I found American-style Buddhism “irritating” and unnatural. She quickly invited me to her temple right down the street from us and I said yes.

    The first time was strange. Everything in Vietnamese which I knew a little from helping my friends and neighbors over the years but not nearly enough. It was nice but I felt like I was imposing on something special. But still, what they did for the Vietnamese immigrant and Vietnamese-American community was very respectful. An oasis of calm in a sea of chaos.

    Every quarter my wife and I each choose a worthy cause to make a donation to and I chose the temple. While I really didn’t go anymore I very much respected what they did so I gave the check to my neighbor to give to the temple. Nga, a sweet and kind person, wasn’t going to just take the check and forget about it like I thought. She arranged for me to give the check to the master who welcomed me [to the temple] with a Buddha and study materials. It seems I wasn’t imposing.

    So where am I today, a few months on? I live “engaged Buddhism” by serving a kind and wise sư phụ và cô who I help with their tiếng Anh và US citizenship test and they are teaching me
    tiếng Việt and the Dharma. I also fix their computers which they are grateful for. I couldn’t be happier. The example the sangha leads something I didn’t expect. They truly “walk the walk, talk the talk.” BTW it was sư phụ that gave me the name Phố Mình. Again, she is very kind.

    How am I “engaged?” IMO “engaged Buddhism” doesn’t work without the Buddhism part. IMO it worked in Việt Nam in the 1960’s because you had the latter. People need to first see the dukkha which they don’t and I’m not the one to teach them. That’s what the pros are for so I happily serve them as they teach the Dharma and hold together a community I respect and care about. They have been my friends and neighbors for years. I’m also expected every Sunday for language lessons. A bit weird being the only adult but I don’t say no to a cô, they’re better than us.

    So yes, I agree and recommend the reverse: learn the language and let the pros lead. Keep as much of the Asian in it as you possibly can. If you do you will be respected by those around you for respecting them and their [awesome] culture. BTW, the most I do in the temple proper is help put the cushions out on Sundays which is totally cool by me. I let the pros lead.

    Thank you for your blog.

    Nam Mô A di đà Phật (something I really embrace)

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