Why is American Buddhism so White?

Shambhala Sun Foundation Staff

The provocative title of this post comes not from one of my sleep deprivation induced paroxysms of self-righteous indignation, but rather from a beautifully selected forum discussion in the current issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly.

You can read the forward by Charles Johnson online, but you’ll have to buy a copy of Buddhadharma to read the entire discussion with Larry Yang, Amanda Rivera, angel Kyodo Williams and Bob Agoglia. You’ll also find a great piece by Jan Willis, “Yes, We’re Buddhists Too!” I couldn’t recommend this issue enough.

The forum discussion is one that readers of this blog really shouldn’t ingore. Read it and let me know: what did you think?

Festival Cancelled Due to Heavy Rain

Thanks to Dr. Scott (@djbuddha) for passing on this link. In celebration of Black History Month, Lama Rangdrol presents a free online screening.

In honor of Black History Month, I offer a month-long online viewing of “Festival Canceled Due to Heavy Rain,” the award-winning film about my life. The film charts my journey from the sixties in urban Los Angeles, to my profound experience of healing in the Cambodian jungle last year.

Please watch the film, offer what financial support you can, and share with friends, family, and members of the press. My hope is to continue to highlight the important connection between African Americans and the Buddhist experience so we all can share in mutual understanding.

I haven’t yet watched the film myself, but I should pass on the warning from the webpage that it includes graphic images of violence (so be careful before opening this at work). I hope to view it soon!

Tibet, China, Africa & Black America

On The Original Black Buddha, Lama Rangdrol discusses the dynamic relationships between Tibetan spiritual leaders, black America, China and Africa.

My role as Buddhist practitioner is to simply state the obvious in hopes of avoiding a detente between future Tibetan leadership and grass roots black consciousness in America. Those who think this issue will not be an issue in the future are mistaken. I truly believe good work can be done on behalf of Buddhism, the Tibetan people, and African Americans. Why would someone not believe this?

His thoughts may seem far-fetched to some, that relationships between China and Africa will have any impact on the relationships between Tibetan spiritual leaders and grassroots black consciousness in America—and vice versa. But there’s this funny thing about interdependence.

Lama Choyin Rangdrol

I’ve mentioned writing by Lama Choyin Rangdrol a couple of times before (here and here). He has a number of blogs which I enjoy following primarily because they provide a much different perspective on Buddhism (and more) than you get in, say, TheBigThree.

Voices of African American Buddhists are still relatively muted in mainstream Buddhist publications—in my experience, certainly not representative of the great diversity in our community. I’m glad that Lama Rangdrol has been updating these blogs fairly regularly as of recent. Definitely a recommended addition to your blogfeeds.

Thoughts on a Fist-Bump

Lama Choyin Rangdrol writes about the Dalai Lama’s fist-bump and what it means in the context of today’s world.

When I began my discussion some years ago no one imagined a black president would become the center of global politic, and that China would be nudging itself into a dominant position in global resource acquisition. I tried many times to bring my concerns to the Office of Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My teacher, abbot of Namgyal Monastery, the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery, made many attempts to connect me with inside sources to no avail. There simply was little or no interest. I credit my late teacher, Khempo Gyurmed Tinly, with the vision to foresee the necessity of bridging this divide. He died in 2005. They know who he was, and know he tried. I also reached out to Obama folks; after all I live in Hawaii. But the change they were looking for at the time did not foresee the complexity of an American, Chinese, Tibetan matrix that would create pivotal sound bites, images, and editorials to be examined by competitive world leaders.

His thoughts are very much worth reading.

Faces of the Cultural Elites

I just spent four and a half hours on the phone talking with a Buddhist friend about race, status, privilege and—of course—Buddhism and meditation. I wish we’d taken notes. As people of color, we both hanker for more of our own communities to be represented in mainstream American Buddhist institutions, but my friend was quick to point out our different perspectives. The barriers that I discuss regarding Buddhist Asian Americans are different than the barriers for Buddhist African Americans. For one, Asian Americans comprise the outright majority of the American Buddhist community, while African Americans are a clear minority. Most African Americans also have deep cultural and emotional ties to Christianity and church than your average Asian American. Since many Asian Americans come to Buddhism as a cultural heritage—as a family tradition or otherwise—their interactions with the convert white Buddhists who dominate American meditation centers are different than those of African Americans, who are largely themselves converts. My friend stressed that broader socioeconomic factors play a huge role in why we see so few African Americans in, say, meditation centers. These centers cater to a cultural elite, those who have more experience shopping in Wild Oats than living in the projects. This description is nothing new, but my friend suggested that perhaps the “diversity” of American Buddhist meditation centers simply mirrors the faces of America’s cultural elites. Poor American Buddhism.