October 1, 2012

Charles Prebish believes I'm racist

Thanks to Rev. Danny Fisher, I was pointed to a recent Secular Buddhist podcast hosted by Ted Meissner featuring Charles Prebish, Sarah Haynes, Justin Whitaker and Danny himself.

All of the podcast guests, foremost of them Charles Prebish, are individuals who have done tremendous work to promote the interests and visibility of Asian Buddhists in North America. I was delighted to hear that they were brought together to share their valuable thoughts and perspectives on “Two Buddhisms.” Several facets of their discussion relate to issues that I discuss on this blog. In fact, Chuck even mentioned me briefly—though from what I heard, he didn’t have much good to say! I’m very flattered for the mention, but I’d have rather preferred he left out his degrading speculative inexactitude.

I found their full discussion very interesting and well worth listening to. With luck I’ll have the chance to share my thoughts at a later date. You can download or listen to the podcast at the Secular Buddhist.

5 comments :

  1. (1) Absolutely nothing found on that website can be taken seriously (i.e., secularbuddhism.org) --neither praise nor blame.

    You could take some consolation in that, or, conversely…

    (2) You could just decide to that "all publicity is good publicity", and "no publicity is bad publicity".

    Believe me, neither the editors at Shambolic Sun nor Charles Prebish are ever going to have an opinion about any of my work (and I "merely" translate primary sources directly from ancient dead languages, and spend years toiling in "the jungle"*, etc. etc.)

    * ["The jungle" = Downtown Vientiane.]

    There's a cycle of self-congratulation that isn't merely focused on white people --but it is now focused entirely on white people who are the disciples of other white people (i.e., who never even made the effort to live and work in Asia, to learn an Asian language themselves, etc., let alone read primary source Buddhist philosophy, or practice traditional religion _in situ_).

    However, I'm also aware that my opinion doesn't matter. http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.ca/

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  2. Two notes (on topic for your website as a whole, but not precisely on topic for this article).

    (1) In looking through your earlier articles, I've noticed critiques directed at a variety of publications, organizations and websites... but I haven't seen you direct the same critiques at some of the groups whom you link to directly on your blog-roll. How does the following set of photographs compare to any of the groups that you've (quite fairly) criticized (for being all-white, all-western, or all-non-Asian):
    http://theidproject.org/about/teachers_staff

    (2) Although I realize that I'm in a minority within a minority here, those of us who really work and live "within" the Asian Buddhist paradigm deal with racism of a very different kind... i.e., primarily, the racism of various nationalities of Asians directed against one-another. I haven't yet seen a blog-post from you on this subject (that I'm sure you're aware of, and would have something interesting to say about).

    Cf. the closing paragraphs of my own most recent blogicle, BTW, where the subject turns to the racial tensions between East Asian Buddhist scholars (from Japan, Taiwan, etc.) and the Southeast Asian sources of Theravada textual traditions:
    http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.ca/2012/10/Buddhist-Philosophy-Fascicle-01.html

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  3. Hi Arun,

    Any chance you could post a transcript of what he said? I'm too lazy to listen to the podcast I guess. ;p

    Anyhow, since you've singled him out in a couple past posts this year (I checked), perhaps you've gotten his attention. Consider it good publicity, I guess.

    @Eizel: totally agree with your comment about the cycle of "self-congratulation".

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    1. I don't dig the podcast (linked to above), but you can find Prebish's thoughts on (exactly) the same subject presented in a more organized manner in the following video, immortalized by Youtube:

      http://www.manitobabuddhistchurch.org/blog_files/fb667cf81dec17c2a622bff70d743daf-162.html

      "This was the keynote address at ... “Buddhism in Canada: Global Causes, Local Conditions” conference at the University of British Columbia on October 15, 2010."

      That lecture will also be very effective as a deterrent to anyone thinking they would/should/could follow in Prebish's footsteps (and become a career specialist in American Buddhism). You're left with a resounding sense of what a thankless task it has been to devote decades of your life to studying Buddhism in America (and deal with constant accusations of racism all the while).

      I have respect for Prebish, but if you're looking at this from the perspective of the Mekong (or the Irrawaddy) it is difficult to see why there's so much agony surrounding research conducted in the medium of the English language, in the context of 20th century California.

      Guess what would have been even rougher? If he had devoted the same decades of his life to studying Buddhism in Cambodia (in the medium of Cambodian) or Burma (in the medium of Burmese) and so on.

      It's an unseemly comparison, but, in this context, it is an inevitable one.

      I do understand the pathos and the bathos of those who have toiled to research Buddhism in the decadent west, but it really does seem surreal when this is placed side-by-side with the problems involved in studying almost any form of indigenous Buddhism _in situ_ (from post-Communist Cambodia, to still-Communist Laos, etc.)

      Things are rough all over --not just in California. There are plenty of Cambodian refugees in California, but not so many Californian refugees in Cambodia. It's a starkly unequal situation, and the fact is that academic resource are going into "American Buddhism", not third-world Buddhism, and the reasons for this are not entirely scholarly.

      http://a-bas-le-ciel.blogspot.ca/2012/05/pali-revival-and-survival-in-cambodia.html

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  4. I am reluctant to even go to click on that bit of Prebish. (Sorry about that...)

    Seriously, these guys have no idea how irrelevant they are.

    Eisel makes lots of good points, though I have a slightly different perspective, given the fact that I know Jack about Lao (& SE Asian culture generally relatively speaking), but substantially more about Japan & China, and to a lesser extent, Korea.

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