If you’re a young Asian American Buddhist (ages 18–39), I know someone who would love to talk with you. Chenxing Han, a graduate student at the Institute for Buddhist Studies, wants to write about the experiences and perspectives of Asian American Buddhist youth. That’s you. She wants to know about you.
She’s done more than either the Tricycle or Shambhala Sun foundations or even this little blog to reach out. She’s asking for you to speak with her directly:
While secondary readings in American Buddhist studies, Asian American studies, and other disciplines inform this project, the voices of young Asian Americans form its foundation. I am currently conducting one-on-one interviews with people between the ages of 18 to 39 who are 1) of Asian heritage, 2) engaged in Buddhist practice, broadly defined, and 3) willing to complete a two- to three-hour interview in English. The interview includes open-ended questions and interactive activities that explore participants’ Buddhist practices, communities, and beliefs; perceptions of Buddhism in America; and opinions about the representation of Asian American Buddhists.
So what are you waiting for? Go get in touch with her today!
For those of my readers who aren’t Asian American Buddhist youth, I encourage you to participate by reposting this call on Facebook and Twitter. Or heck, you could even blog about it too.
One term bandied about at the Buddhism without Borders conference was cradle Buddhists. I believe Thomas Tweed gets credit for this term, one which aims to refer to Buddhists who grow up in Buddhist families, regardless of whether their families have been Buddhist for over a thousand years or whether their parents quit Catholicism and joined a Zen Center in the seventies. As Wakoh Shannon Hickey discussed problems with different Buddhist typologies, she made a side comment that perhaps I would be satisfied with the term cradle Buddhist.
Well, I don’t like it.
For the record, I appreciate the motivation behind this term, that it transcends the racial (dare I say racist?) undercurrent in the common day use of other terms like ethnic Buddhists and immigrant Buddhists. But to be very plain, this term is infantilizing. I’m also perfectly happy associating with another term that darts about the literature: heritage Buddhists.
For those of us who like to hang out in Asian America, the term heritage Buddhist is very powerful. This expression conveys the very true sense that Buddhism is woven into the fabric of our cultural heritage. Like the broad sense of the term heritage speaker, it includes both people who imbibe Buddhism through their childhood milieu and also those who later come to Buddhism through a sense of affinity with their cultural heritage. Heritage Buddhist gets at how we see ourselves.
Heritage shouldn’t be understood in contrast to convert. Several of my friends identify as both convert and heritage Buddhists. They are not born into Buddhist families (i.e. they’re not “cradle Buddhists”), but they also relate to Buddhism through a sense of familiarity or belonging. At the same time, many of us “cradle” Buddhists very much turned our backs on the Buddhism of our childhoods, only to be drawn back to different forms that diverge radically from the traditions we first experienced. One example is in the growing interest in the Vietnamese community for Theravada Buddhism. So while still heritage Buddhists, many of us are also converts within our own religion.
Lastly, don’t overlook the distinction of the growing pool of converts’ children (Dharma brats?) and their children out there. I’m happy to call them heritage Buddhists too, but this group grapples with some very unique issues that deserve to be understood in the context of their unique identities and upbringing. I’m not sure that plopping all of us down in the same cradle—as opposed to converts and sympathizers—appropriately reflects differences in both how we act and also how we see ourselves.
So scholars, maybe think about revisiting the term heritage Buddhist. If there’s an exceptional moral/academic imperative behind the term cradle Buddhists, is it so hard to instead talk about “Buddhists raised in Buddhist families”? Maybe I just dislike being institutionally infantilized.
What better term can you think of to replace cradle Buddhist?
Over on Dharma Folk, an illuminating post by John takes a truly marvelous quote from Ajahn Sujato regarding mainland Southeast Asia’s ‘conversion to’ Theravada Buddhism:
When these areas ‘converted’ to Theravada (which mainly occurred around the 11th-12th Centuries), it is impossible that all the monks took new ordinations. Of course, the official histories will assert that when the religion was reformed that all the monks conformed to the new system. But the practicalities of this are absurd: sending city administration monks wandering through 1000s of miles of tiger-stalked, bandit-infested, ghost-haunted jungle tracks seeking out countless little villages, trying to persuade senior monks that their ordination is invalid or improper and must be done again, all on the basis of some political compromise in a far-distant capital, in a region of ever-shifting borders and allegiances. As history this is sheer fantasy, and the reality must have been that the reforms would directly affect only certain central monasteries.
This book looks like it has a lot to say about tradition, especially in the context of the Theravada bhikkhuni lineage. Definitely a book I’ll be checking out soon: Sects and Sectarianism: The Origins of Buddhist Schools.
Over on Wandering Dhamma, Brooke Schedneck writes about new trends in ‘Western’ Buddhism and provides some thoughts on the Buddhist blogging community.
There is a whole close-knit community thriving on debate and discussion of a diversity of issues almost daily. This community of course, is the buddhoblogosphere. Tackling similar issues as recent scholars such as race and racism, the dynamic between culture and religion, and the secularization of meditation teachings, among others. This community comments on online and print Buddhist media and is more and more moving toward incorporating ideas of recent scholarship. The buddhobogosphere is on the cutting edge of what is going on within Buddhism in the West, and they will have increasing importance for scholarship about contemporary Buddhism.
Brooke also provides a list of some general trends in this emerging scholarship.
- New Age vs. Hard Core Dhamma
- Mindfulness Meditation and the Secularization of Meditation
- Is Buddhism a religion? (Buddhism and religious identity)
- The dialogue of Buddhism and science/psychology
- Buddhism and youth
- Buddhism and pop-culture
- Buddhism and happiness
- Modern-day commentaries of traditional Buddhist teachings
- Prison Dharma
- Racially Diverse Buddhism
These trends are discussed in more detail across posts here and here.