Why is the Under 35 Project So White?

This year Shambhala SunSpace has been posting weekly essays from the Under 35 Project, a laudable initiative to support and highlight the voices of the emerging generation of Buddhists and meditators. As usual, my naïveté never fails to let me down and I was once again shocked at the whiteness of the lineup. Not a single East or Southeast Asian among them.

A common retort to my posts of the whiteness of Western Buddhist publications is to question whether any Asian Buddhists are reaching out—or even writing—in the first place. In fact, I received a similar such comment on my last post on the overwhelming whiteness of the Buddhist Geeks conference.

In the case of the Under 35 Project, we can directly answer that question through open access to their archive of submissions.

This morning, I went looking for Asian authors who had submitted to the project, and I was able to find Nicole MahabirJoshua ShinChholay DorjiMinh Tue Vo ThanhSusan YaoGeorges HanDuc Hong TaJustin LuuTina NgPhoebe TsangSubha SrinivasanIshita GuptaAnthuan Vuongand Cristina Moon. These Asian authors are together more than were published in the last two issues of Shambhala Sun. Only one of them made it to Shambhala SunSpace’s weekly selection.

If we look at when Asian Buddhist authors submitted their work, we see a huge spike at the end of last year, when the Under 35 Project first went online. But during the nearly six months since Shambhala SunSpace began promoting this project by mostly reposting pieces by white authors, only one Asian author has submitted her work. She wasn’t included in the weekly Under 35 post.

I wonder if Shambhala Publications were to only start publishing more Asian authors, perhaps more would once again step up to submit. Or perhaps it’s already too late.

Buddhist Politicians +1

Midterm elections have passed, and they sure have been painful for West Coast espresso-powered liberals like me. My greatest relief of the night was to see that Sharron Angle will not be representing Nevada in the Senate next year.

The Buddhist blogs indeed have been following the election—but with a special emphasis on white male candidates. Sift back through this season’s articles to see Tricycle reminisce about Jerry Brown, while Shambhala Sunswoons over Eric Schneiderman.

Four years ago, there was some excitement around Representatives Mazie Hirono and Hank Johnson, both of them Democrats who identify as Buddhists. Both held their seats last night. But if you’ve only been following Shambhala Sun and Tricycle, you’ll have missed out on Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, who took back Hawaii’s First congressional district from the Republicans, defeating Charles Djou. Oh, and she’s Buddhist too.

Just take that in for a moment. Next year’s Hawaiian congressional delegation to the House will be a team of Asian American Buddhist women!

Now, I realize that Jerry Brown and Eric Schneiderman were coverd by Shambhala Sun as “mindful politicians,” not necessarily as “Buddhists.” But it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when the highest profile of the American Buddhist media swarm around white candidates who don’t identify as Buddhist, while ignoring the non-white candidates who do.

Welcome to the all-inclusive Western Buddhist community.

Update: After this post was published, the following blogs set aside the time to write about those elected Buddhist congressfolk: Barbara’s Buddhism BlogDangerous HarvestsShambhala Sun SpaceRev. Danny Fisher and Tricycle Blog.

Monkish Nomenclature

Jundo Cohen addresses some confusion over the use of the term “monk” in Zen settings and its often tacit association with an ascetic and solitary lifestyle—especially when the term is pointed at him.

In the West, more and more, Zen clergy have come to resemble Protestant Christian Ministers, married with family and, very often, with outside jobs to pay the bills, yet leading a congregation.

That’s why calling many of us “Zen Monks” is kinda funny, excepting those periods of months or years when Zen clergy live and train in a monastery, usually in a celibate situation. (Then, the name “Zen monk” is appropriate). After that, most live in temples, with their families — wife and kids. So, maybe “Zen Priest” is a better term, or “Zen Minister”… or perhaps just “Zen Teacher”or “Zen Clergy”…

An old friend of mine is the son of a Shin Buddhist minister, and he used to routinely refer to his father as a monk. Other Buddhists gave my friend quite a bit of flak over his terminology. In contrast, Cohen is willing to bow to convention and accept the ascetic sense of the word monk, rather than trying to stake a flag in it. He could certainly provide justification to do so, but alternative titles are proposed instead. I find that admirable.

Some Props to Shambhala Sun

In light of yesterday’s post, I feel like noting some things that I appreciate. In general, this is a nod to Shambhala Sun (and Buddhadharma). As I’ve pointed out before, Shambhala Sun is the magazine that tends to offer the largest proportion of bylines to Asians—even while this quotient grossly misrepresents our share of the Buddhist American community. (That’s out of The Big Three.)

I appreciate that Barry Boyce wrote a thoughtful response to my criticismof a Buddhadharma panel discussion. I appreciate that Shambhala SunSpace pointed to this blog, with supportive comments no less. More than the these points, though, I appreciate that they hired young interns—and I was delighted to see one of them to be Asian American.

Engagement and raising the profile of otherwise marginalized Buddhists—rather than unabashed ignorance—are important steps. It’s flattering when they point to my writing, but there are many, many other voices out there. Mine is just among the crankiest. I’m sure the editors are also well aware that just about everything I’ve written has already been discussed before.

There are still more and bigger steps for Shambhala Sun to take. In the same way that Shambhala Diversity has a framework to address diversity issues, Shambhala Sun (and/or SunSpace) can likewise open up a space/blog where diversity is a priority. There are plenty of Buddhists out there who’d be interested in this.

While still far from anything resembling a representative sampling of bylines, it would be wrong of me to say that Shambhala Sun hasn’t done anything. While they may be small steps, they’re duly appreciated. Tricycle would do well to learn from them.

Asian Meter 2009

How much things change in a year! A year ago this blog did not even exist. I was still wrapped up in the excitement of unleashing my inner Angry Asian Buddhist onto the blogosphere. Who knew the party would go on so long?

On the other hand, there are many things that barely change at all. For example, look at how few bylines continue to be set aside for Asians in the The Big Three publications. (And by Big, I’m talking about distribution.) Below I present the aggregate results for 2009.

The Asian Meter developed out of a play on the Buddhist community’s fascination with the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew’s Buddhist numbers were questionable largely because of flawed assumptions about the Asian American community—like how many of us are out there. And without any attempt to validate the numbers, Buddhist publications chose to take them at face value.

I decided to run the numbers on the periodicals themselves. There’s no special magic behind the Asian Meter. The metric is a simple quotient of Asians. Originally I looked at the proportion of writers of Asian heritage in a given publication. These days, I focus on the proportion of bylines allocated to writers of Asian heritage. There are different benefits and drawbacks to this shift in methodology, but I don’t care to talk about it—that’s what the comments section is for! My precious few readers probably prefer the graph.

Tricycle remains the laggard, with nearly half as many Asians in its pages as the pack leader, Shambhala Sun. I’ve taken the liberty of combing back through several years of issues, only to find that Tricyclists stick to the habit of, on average, setting aside just one out of every ten bylines to an Asian brother—and sometimes an Asian sister.

To get an idea of what I see when I look at the authors in Tricycle, an area graph tells a better story. Consider that we probably make up at least half of the Buddhist community. We speak English! We are Americans! Let us in!

Here’s to positive changes in 2010! Sabbe satta abyapajjha hontu!

Is Mindfulness the Same Thing as Meditation?

Yesterday, Shambhala SunSpace featured Rev. Gibbs of the Oregon Buddhist Temple talking about the nembutsu or “saying the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light.”

I am a Jodo Shinshu minister. Mine is the Pure Land school of Mahayana Buddhism, founded in Japan in 1224. (I trained both here and in Japan.) In my school of Buddhist spirituality we often say we don’t meditate.

However, our practice of saying the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light and Endless Life may strike some of you as meditative. We, as do hundreds of millions of Buddhists in various streams of tradition, say aloud or hold silently to Amida Buddha’s name. The most common form worldwide is “Namo Amida Butsu” — literally, “I rely on Amida Buddha” or “I rely upon the Awoken source of limitless wisdom light and endless life.”

It’s always good to see Shin Buddhists with the opportunity to write in the high profile Buddhist publications. I always learn something new about a tradition that I am (geographically) very, very close to. Hopefully others will also pick up something new about one of America’s oldest Buddhist traditions.

Shambhala Diversity

Given my previous criticism of the racial “diversity” of the Shambhala Sun staff, the title of this post may appear to be tongue-in-cheek. Not so this time! While fixing links on this blog, I stumbled across Shambhala’s diversity page, which has a very honest (and I might even say welcoming) feel to it:

What we share as a community is a desire to lead sane, dignified, and confident lives. Through the practice of meditation we cultivate the capacity to be fully open to our experience, and the ability to respond to everyday life situations with greater clarity and respect—respect not only for our life situations and ourselves, but for all individuals, social groups and cultures as well.

This does not mean that Shambhala is a perfect society. If you visit one of our centres, you may find that it does not mirror in every way the characteristics of the people who live in the cities or towns where our centres are located. But please note that it is the intention—and the stated policy—of our centres to welcome everyone who enters. This intention is at the very core of the Shambhala Buddhist teachings.

Now I have to give major props to their very impressive diversity resources page. If you’re interested in diversity, please check it out and let me know what you think. I haven’t even begun to read through it, but you can be sure I will follow through on every one of those links. Thanks Shambhala!