Following up on Beneath a Single Moon, I thought to commemorate a different exchange that you can find recorded in the archive of the buddha is my dj blog. I haven’t done much research into the full episode, but I felt compelled to republish a letter written by Rev. Ryo Imamura almost twenty years ago. His letter was in rebuttal to an editorial by Tricycle founder and then-editor Helen Tworkov, where she stated, “Asian-American Buddhists number at least one million, but so far they have not figured prominently in the development of something called American Buddhism.”
Tricycle never published his response, so it is with great thanks to Dr. Charles Prebish that it was published in the Buddhist Studies Review, and to Dr. Scott Mitchell that it was shared on his blog.
I would like to point out that it was my grandparents and other immigrants from Asia who brought and implanted Buddhism in American soil over 100 years ago despite white American intolerance and bigotry. It was my American-born parents and their generation who courageously and diligently fostered the growth of American Buddhism despite having to practice discretely in hidden ethnic temples and in concentration camps because of the same white intolerance and bigotry. It was us Asian Buddhists who welcomed countless white Americans into our temples, introduced them to the Dharma, and often assisted them to initiate their own Sanghas when they felt uncomfortable practicing with us…
We Asian Buddhists have hundreds of temples in the United States with active practitioners of all ages, ongoing education programs that are both Buddhist and interfaith in nature, social welfare projects… everything that white Buddhist centers have and perhaps more. It is apparent that Tworkov has restricted “American Buddhism” to mean “white American Buddhism,” and that her statement is even more misleading than one claiming that Americans of color did not figure prominently in the development of American history.
This letter naturally prompted a written response from Helen Tworkov, not to mention a flurry of heated exchanges throughout the community. What saddens me most is that historical revisions similar to Tworkov’s can still find their way into publication today. But as I mentioned in my previous post, I am also comforted when I reflect on the ranks of Asian American Buddhists who came before me and who likewise spoke out when our communities were unfairly slandered.