June 20, 2012

Buddhism in the American Mainstream

Perhaps it’s all a bad gamble that there might be stories out there, somewhere, of Buddhism in the American mainstream unpreoccupied with neophytic meditators or scholarly navel gazers. While I often write as though the secret is hidden behind some language barrier or waiting for a generation of storytellers to come of age, the more likely case is that these “untold stories” are actually hiding in plain sight. One such story is Barbara Chai’s journey to interview the Dalai Lama.

Chai is a reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal. She was brought up in the United States and raised Buddhist. In fourteen posts on the Journal’s Speakeasy blog (“Blogging to Nirvana”), she documents her travels with her husband to Dharamsala from New York, beginning her journey with a simple question: What is Buddhism?

There is much about this series that the casual reader of Western Buddhist fare would find unremarkable, but I choose to share this story because of the richness of the author’s personal background. She is an international career woman who resides in New York. She is a meditator who was raised in an Asian Buddhist family in America. She is a Chan Buddhist who immersed herself in Tibetan Buddhism. She is a Buddhist traveler who inquires about the rights of Tibetan nuns, while employed by a journal which bleeding-heart liberals consider anathema for its conservative editorials.

But when we think of American Buddhism, do we think of Barbara Chai?

1 comment :

  1. It's even more complicated than that, or less so. The Dalai Lama has been the one non-monotheist religious that right-wingers love since the 50s, until, I suppose, the rise of Christopher Hitchens as war-monger. The WSJ has previously published articles critical of Western Buddhists as well. That said, they *also* were one of the few media outlets to publish *why* Chinese Buddhists in China had issues with Falun Da Fa, but that was before Murdoch's minions took over.

    But that's a minor point. My more relevant points:

    - Of course I think of Barbara Chai as an American Buddhist; I've met quite a few such people. But I may have had an admittedly unusual American Buddhist life. Though there are certainly quite a few others where I am.

    - I also plead guilty to being somewhat of a member of the intelligentsia.

    - All of us can't but not be deformed by a certain extent by the environment in which we dwell. (I hesitate to use the word culture.)

    But yeah, you're right, the stories of all of us are hiding in plain sight.

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