American Buddhism is Here

Karen Maezen Miller contributes to Killing the Buddha, writing about American Buddhism (via China):

Recently I ran across a new Buddhist blog that says it is for people who “are interested in meditation but don’t want to pretend they live in ancient Asia.” I try not to get too worked up about how people characterize Buddhism, but that line about pretense got my attention.


A similar question seems to be on the minds of quite a few Buddhist pundits these days: the question of what an authentic version of American Buddhism should look like. The presumption is that it is bound to look different from its antecedents. It must be more relevant to contemporary culture, more comprehensible to the Western intellect, and more technological so it can be transmitted to the comfort of your own home before it dies out altogether.

Miller is one of those people who is fond of talking about American Buddhism. She delves into the tough issues: authenticity, tradition, immigration, change… I have to give her credit that although I would never write about American Buddhism the same way she does, she consistently avoids words and phrases that align American Buddhism with cultural factions that marginalize her Asian American brothers and sisters. If you are Buddhist in America, you are part of American Buddhism—whatever it is.

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.

Unmistaken Message

A single paragraph in an LA Times review of Unmistaken Child reminded me that, more than a simple arthouse favorite, this film has broader implications in the world of Tibetan sovereignty issues.

For how the situation plays out in human terms in a society that believes in reincarnation – the way Westerners believe in gravity – is fascinating. It is a subject that is poised to have serious political repercussions with the Chinese government and Tibetans in exile likely to clash over the identity of the next reincarnated Dalai Lama.

The documentary tows you through a Tibetan disciple’s search for the rebirth of his revered master. It’s a beautiful and compelling narrative, but it can also be viewed as a legitimization of the selection process. In the longstanding faceoff between the Chinese government and Tibetan religious authorities, this film has the potential to be a marketing/propaganda tool to win over broader public opinion. (Although I wonder if it’s had any effect on all the blogtalk over Lama Tenzin Osel.) I’m not much of a believer, but I wonder what sort of reaction you’d get from launching this film with Chinese subtitles.