Become New by Becoming Old

Over on Dharma Folk, John presents an illuminating discussion on how Buddhism becomes new by becoming old—by presenting new teachings as reformulations of even earlier ones—and how this dialectic may be less applicable in our modern world. But presenting new ideas as old ones isn’t the only way to market them.

The other option for religions to grow and change is simply to call what’s new new. To change the way we practice because it fills a need, whether personal or societal. The only problem with the new being new is that it then operates on the periphery of what Buddhism is. Without a myth to explain how something is Buddhist, or even more Buddhist than what is out there, people who practice in their own way and dance to the beat of a different drummer may not get lumped in with Buddhism at all.

So I’m curious about the point at which novel practices undermine the (apparent) authenticity of one’s lineage.

Calling Asian American Buddhists!

Thanks to a post over on the Angry Asian Man, I learned about the recently débuted Indian American Story blog.

HomeSpun: The Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project is a national grassroots effort to create an exhibit chronicling the history of both immigrants from India and their descendants in America. Though Indian Americans number more than 2.7 million in the United States, the history, contributions, challenges and perspectives of this vibrant community have yet to be told at the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum and research complex in the world.

To borrow a leaf from the Smithsonian, I’m going to start posting the voices of other Asian American Buddhists over at the group blog, Dharma Folk. We make up the majority of American Buddhists, and it’s time for us to throw our thoughts and experiences into the mix. Dharma Folk needs more diverse writing anyway. If you’re interested, just leave me a comment below!

Drowning in the Internet

I’ve flipped back and forth between here and Dharma Folk to encourage other writers to post more freely on the group site about topics other than social issues in the Buddhist community. But two important things happened: (1) the group told me to get over myself and reminded me that they weren’t posting as much as me because they had other priorities (not because of me), and (2) several individuals have since suggested I keep the Angry Asian over there, so now I have this Angry Asian Buddhist blogspot site, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Some ideas bubbled up late last night not long after I finally (gave in and) joined Twitter. I’ll keep this site for commentary on the Buddhist community, but I’ll try to keep it short. I was really surprised to see how many Buddhist Twitterers there are out there. I’m still learning my way. I’m sure that before long, I’ll be one of those annoying people who can’t spend half a heartbeat away from the internet. Hopefully I don’t go and drown in this sea of information!

Reassessing Buddhists in Hawai’i

Thanks to helpful comments over at Dharma Folk, I was alerted to two issues that I overlooked. I’ve since changed my number yet again. The new adjusted figure is still 1.9 million Asian American Buddhists (current estimate: 1.862m; previously: 1.902m) out of 3.3 million Buddhists nationally.

First, I’ve been using the word “count” interchangeably with “sample”, and this practice is misleading. The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey wasn’t a census. A sample of the American demographic was taken and then weighted according to national parameters using a type of regression. Proper samples often get a pretty good look at demographics, but sometimes the sample is skewed in favor of one demographic over another, as is the case with the Pew’s Survey. My goal has been to adjust the Pew numbers to compensate for this skewedness. When I said “undercounted” what I meant to say was “the underestimated population of a certain demographic.”

Second, in at least one of my adjustments, I made an assumption I’d like to take back. I assumed that the underestimated number of Buddhists in Hawai‘i (106,021) were all Asian American. I’d like to be a little more conservative and assume that this underestimated number be proportioned according to Hawai‘is racial/ethnic makeup, leaving 61,693 in the Asian American box (that includes multiethnic individuals). The end result doesn’t change much, but I hope it’s some comfort to know that I made the effort to take these issues into account.

All feedback is great. Thanks Marcus and Rev. Danny Fisher!

I Found Some More Buddhists

Back to blogger I am. I couldn’t understand how to use the “Compose” option on Blogger and quickly went back to blogging on Dharma Folk. Every time I added/changed text or a photo, everything else changed in a way I hadn’t anticipated, and I decided to throw it all out the window. But after Dogo Barry Graham’s comment, I realized I decided to try again with HTML…

I previously provided what I felt was a reasonable estimate of Asian American Buddhists. But thanks to some comments from Rev. Danny Fisher, I decided to rerun the numbers. The new figure points to a total of 3.3 million Buddhists in the United States, 57% of whom are Asian American.

Rev. Danny Fisher pointed out that at least one figure was highly suspect. So, upon reading even more closely than before, I noticed that the Pew Forum found that in a purely bilingual survey, 65% of Latinos identified as Catholic, but in an English-only survey, a mere 43% of Latinos identified as Catholic. The graphic above illustrates what happens if we add to the Pew Forum the missing numbers for Hawai‘i (106,000), expand the number of Asian American Buddhists by the proportion by which Asian Americans in general were undersampled (76%) and also by the proportion by which Latino Catholics were undercounted in an English-only survey (51%). This brings the size of the Asian American Buddhist community to the sizable number of 1.9 million.

Take Two

Last year, I began a blog called Dharma Folk with a friend who goes by the online nom de plume John. I’ve had a great time writing on that blog and exploring issues in the Buddhist community. But Dharma Folk is a group blog, and I get the feeling that my posts have been drowning out the voices of my cobloggers, notably John, Oz and kudos. A couple of them would likely be much more happy to write on the blog if they knew their words weren’t going to be hidden between posts by the Angry Asian Buddhist.
So I’m moving all that rubbish over here.
As of today, I’ve got 27 Angry Asian Buddhist posts over at Dharma Folk. It all started when I was trying to find resources for Asian American Buddhists, followed by two periods when I lashed out against the hegemony of white Buddhists, first in the blogosphere and then in print. Most recently, a rant that began about the exclusion of Asian American Buddhists in a Buddhadharma piece has developed into Asian Meter, an analysis of the under-representation of Asian American Buddhists in high profile Buddhist publications, which in turn has sent me reviewing the statistics in the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The idea for “Angry Asian Buddhist” comes from Phil Yu’s Angry Asian Man blog. The name combines the irony of “Angry Asian” and “Angry Buddhist”, which are terms meant to counter the notion that all Asians are polite and submissive or that all Buddhists are calm and detached. As the Man himself explains it:

I’m not as angry as you think. Yes, racism angers me. But I’m not here sitting in front of the computer, hating whitey and plotting revolution. This is just a subject that has always interested me — pointing out racism and noting any and all appearances of Asians in mass media and popular culture (the good and the bad). It’s something I care about. So I’ve created a little space on the web for it all… I suppose the angry part sometimes scares people, but rest assured, I’m a pretty civil, reasonable guy. Just don’t cross me.

The main difference is that Phil Yu is funny, while I can get pretty snarky. I’m not doing this for money or for fame, I just want to share my thoughts and my occasional research.