Buddhist Politicians +1

Midterm elections have passed, and they sure have been painful for West Coast espresso-powered liberals like me. My greatest relief of the night was to see that Sharron Angle will not be representing Nevada in the Senate next year.

The Buddhist blogs indeed have been following the election—but with a special emphasis on white male candidates. Sift back through this season’s articles to see Tricycle reminisce about Jerry Brown, while Shambhala Sunswoons over Eric Schneiderman.

Four years ago, there was some excitement around Representatives Mazie Hirono and Hank Johnson, both of them Democrats who identify as Buddhists. Both held their seats last night. But if you’ve only been following Shambhala Sun and Tricycle, you’ll have missed out on Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, who took back Hawaii’s First congressional district from the Republicans, defeating Charles Djou. Oh, and she’s Buddhist too.

Just take that in for a moment. Next year’s Hawaiian congressional delegation to the House will be a team of Asian American Buddhist women!

Now, I realize that Jerry Brown and Eric Schneiderman were coverd by Shambhala Sun as “mindful politicians,” not necessarily as “Buddhists.” But it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when the highest profile of the American Buddhist media swarm around white candidates who don’t identify as Buddhist, while ignoring the non-white candidates who do.

Welcome to the all-inclusive Western Buddhist community.

Update: After this post was published, the following blogs set aside the time to write about those elected Buddhist congressfolk: Barbara’s Buddhism BlogDangerous HarvestsShambhala Sun SpaceRev. Danny Fisher and Tricycle Blog.

One thought on “Buddhist Politicians +1

  1. Archivist’s Note: Comments have been preserved from the original website for archival purposes; however, comments are now closed.

    Jack DawNovember 3, 2010 at 10:50 AM
    Which is why we rely on bloggers like you that post about these issues prior to the elections so that we don’t need to rely upon Trike and Shambhala Sun.

    That way the news gets spread and the Western Community becomes more inclusive.

    luke.jmoNovember 3, 2010 at 8:23 PM
    Because Asians are only Buddhist, they aren’t mindddfulllll, until proven otherwise. I mean gosh I don’t even see any pictures of them with malas or sitting on a zafu. But white people – white people are all about that DHARMA, you know, the one that is empty- empty of all Asian stuff or in any way reminiscent of Western religion. I mean Hirono and Johnson are Jodo Shinshu and SGI for crying out loud. Totallllly not mindful, totally not interdependent. Hirono is Asian, but Johnson is black and from the South!

    On another note, in what way exactly does Schneiderman’s or Brown’s “mindfulness” affect their politics? I’m gonna guess, very little to none. The one thing I’ve heard about Schneiderman as to his “mindfulness” is that he seemed to be a pretty calm and collected dude. Oh and that he wants us to deal with our plastic bags, or something. That’s cool…

    RodNovember 4, 2010 at 12:07 PM
    Arun: Please note that our post has been updated, informed by your post here. Link:


    Richard HarroldNovember 4, 2010 at 6:19 PM
    Hi Arun, thanks for filling us in on this. It’s heart-warming in a way to know these things, that there are leaders in this nation who follow the Buddha’s doctrine. It doesn’t matter to me what vehicle or philosophy they follow – SGI, Pure Land, Theravada – if they follow a personal lifestyle of not harming others, of being beneficial to others, that’s all that matters to me!

    AnonymousNovember 4, 2010 at 10:48 PM
    thanks for the info on Hanabusa. It’s very helpful. As a Buddhist working in politics, I regret not knowing that and apologize for having written about the elections and not mentioning her. But I think it’s unfair to assume brown and Schneiderman were covered due to being white men. I pushed for them because they were in brutal elections, for two of the top jobs outside of President. Hawaii and Johnson’s district are solid Dem (though it looks like the right-wing put in the money to make Hanabusa’s election less likely). If hers or any of the others’ are not shoo-ins next time, we should work very hard for them.

    I know from having run a COngress election for a Buddhist candidate that it’s hard as h— to win as a Buddhist in most parts of US. I hope we can all focus our energy on that and give one another the benefit of the doubt. With Mr. ‘Aqua Buddha’ now in the Senate, friends, I think we have bigger problems…

    AnonymousNovember 5, 2010 at 10:55 AM
    anyone know what wikipedia means by hirono as ‘nonpracticing’? that’s a reason i’ve promoted her more quietly. i’d like to think dharma informs her choices, but out of respect i wouldn’t assume that.

    the only convert-buddhists i can think of who are public about it are johnson and that guy who ran in the South (nc? va?) and got attacked for it (‘successfully’ attacked, as i recall).

    ArunNovember 5, 2010 at 11:45 AM
    @Jack Daw: Surprisingly much could be written in response to your short comment, but I will address just two points. First, I focused on Tricycle and Shambhala Sun because both apply some higher standards and loftier goals than the rest of the Buddhist blogosphere. The racial bias I noted in my post was reflected in all coverage of candidates that I read in the Buddhist blogosphere. That fact alone is worth a post. Second, it’s not my responsibility (or of “bloggers like me”—please, what do you mean by that?) that other writers provide fair coverage of the Buddhist community. I do my part—I wrote a post. But it’s up to those other writers and editors to change the fundamental dynamics that result in racial bias in what they write. On that note, I am sincerely impressed by Rod Meade Sperry, who willingly took responsibility for Sun Space’s omission and addressed it accordingly. My appreciation runs especially deep, since he has no obligation to do so—he acted on principle. Many thanks for your comment and also your ongoing support.

    @Rod: Thank you very much. Your update and support is deeply appreciated.

    @ianc1: Thanks so much for your comments and support. I have just two points. First, I didn’t assume that Brown and Schneiderman were covered because of the fact that they were white men. I simply stated the obvious dilemma: that Buddhist blogs wrote about white non-Buddhists, while ignoring non-white Buddhists. This situation is emblematic of a trend of racial bias in Western Buddhist media that is both widespread and enduring. Though perhaps provocative, my words are accurate. Second, I object to any notion that these candidates deserve no mention in the Buddhist community—you did not suggest as much, but I want to make myself unambiguously clear on this point. Hanabusa defeated a Republican incumbent in a year when Republicans won 60 seats—and she did so in a fairly tight race for the seat. The district where President Obama was born has at least a tinge of political symbolism this year, and so I was likewise a bit surprised to see no mention of it. These Buddhist politicians deserve at least a token nod from the Buddhist media, if only for the sake of letting young Buddhists know that there are United States elected officials who will willingly state that they are “Buddhist.”

    @luke.jmo, @Richard Harrold: Thanks for your comments and support as well.

    ArunNovember 5, 2010 at 11:58 AM
    I wish I could edit my comments—just reread after posting that I wrote “Republicans won 60 seats” where I should have written “Republicans gained 60+ seats.”

    RodNovember 8, 2010 at 6:07 AM
    Arun: you’re welcome. But it is in fact you (and yes, “bloggers like you” who are to be thanked by always being there to provide your points of view — not to mention items like this that we’ve neglected. This is why we read AAB (and other blogs), because such voices are absolutely crucial to the conversation. And I’ll keep watching, and keep linking too.


    AdamNovember 23, 2010 at 1:37 PM
    I wonder if the blame should be placed more in the area of the Buddhist blogs/mags relying on the Mainstream Media for their sources, rather than doing their own investigative reporting. Both Brown and Schneiderman’s mindful background has been talked about in the MSM, so I wonder if the Buddhoblogs just ran with “what’s hot” rather than getting a broader, more informed picture of Buddhists in politics.

    From the MSM’s perspective, an Asian that is a Buddhist in the House isn’t really newsworthy. Of course they’re Buddhist! It would be like them reporting on the fact that all of Indiana’s congressional delegates are Christian. But a Buddhist white person that isn’t in tye-die and isn’t Richard Gere? News!

    ArunNovember 23, 2010 at 3:25 PM
    @Adam: I’d at least like to think an African American Buddhist in the House would be newsworthy. But maybe Buddhist politicians are only newsworthy if they’re white.

    AdamNovember 23, 2010 at 4:24 PM
    African American Buddhist might be newsworthy. I think the best thing to do is replace “newsworthy” with “sells”. Asian Buddhist doesn’t make headlines/sell. Southern White Republican doesn’t make headlines/sell.

    Though I imagine the first Japanese Chrisitans elected to the Japan’s congress – that’s something that would have made headlines/sold.

    I wonder if an Asian Mormon was elected, would that make national headlines? Would the Mormon blogosphere pick up on it? Would it only be big news in Utah? I wonder if geography would matter. If it was an Asian-American Mormon from Utah, would it get the same attention as an Asian-American Mormon from Hawaii?

    ArunNovember 28, 2010 at 7:42 AM
    @Adam: I believe I understand the point you are trying to make—that what I perceived in the Buddhist blogosphere is merely reflective of dynamics that take place elsewhere on a broader scale. (Please don’t hesitate to correct me.) But I don’t much care for tumbling down the endless rabbit hole of conjectural discussions about who or what should really be to blame. At the end of the day, facts are facts, and writers are responsible for what they publish. The Buddhist blogs displayed a remarkably egregious form of racial bias in their reporting on the midterm elections. I merely point out the dilemma for what it rightly is. Again, I don’t care if it’s “newsworthy” or not. If these writers do not recognize this racial bias as problematic, please let them say so! If those writers and editors take issue with the facts, or with having this racial bias highlighted, then they have options at their disposal to change how this news is published in the future. I believe you have been following my blogs long enough (thank you!) to recognize that this is not an isolated incident. Change starts by acknowledging the problem for what it is, not trying to explain it away.

    AdamNovember 29, 2010 at 3:50 PM
    I agree with your points here, and I suppose when I said:

    “Both Brown and Schneiderman’s mindful background has been talked about in the MSM, so I wonder if the Buddhoblogs just ran with “what’s hot” rather than getting a broader, more informed picture of Buddhists in politics”

    -what I was hinting at was a hopefull solution without really spelling it out, which I should have. I guess my intent was to say that what we don’t need is more of the mainstream media type bullshit reporting of “what’s hot” when it comes to the Buddhist publications and their respective blogs and other online journals. I’ve gotten caught up in it as a simple blogger, that’s for sure. But I guess I’d like to see better from the Dharma mags than what I see from Huff post, which generally I don’t. From the corrections that were printed it was fairly clear that no broader picture was even glanced at from the beginning. Instead we were served up with sensation, rather than reporting.

    Personally I think it’s fairly shameful what passes for newsworthy these days (regardless of source), and what I was beating around the bush about was the fact that it should have been newsworthy, when it wasn’t.

    But it really isn’t about what is or isn’t newsworthy, but rather what sells. And minority people practicing minority religions doesn’t sell papers, and doesn’t produce ad clicks. A lot of that has to do with target audience, but of course that’s another rabbit hole altogether…

    You’ve helped some to acknowledge that this did happen, but hopefully there will be some “why” discussion as well, or things aren’t ever going to change.

    CI108January 14, 2014 at 4:33 PM
    Hanabusa ’14! -Let’s bring these commenters’ energy together in August and win the first ‘practicing Buddhist’ seat in US Senate (Rep. Hanabusa is a ‘practitioner’ –Senator Hirono, to her great credit, says the Buddhist precepts inform her work, though that she’s not practitioner). –If Hanabusa wins the very hard August primary, she’s basically guaranteed to win the seat in November.
    –Alas, re the earlier comments: there has been a lot of friction in this ’14 race regarding race and ethnicity. So, let’s also donate/volunteer for the sake of adding to the 20% women in Senate and the 6 minority Senators; if we can’t in Hawaii, the most diverse state), then where can we?

Comments are closed.