How to Demean an Angry Asian Buddhist

All the way back to the first Angry Asian Buddhist post, I’ve repeatedly noticed certain types of comments meant to stymie discussions of racial marginalization. Fortunately, these people noticed too.

  • Derailing for Dummies “A simple step-by-step guide to derailing awkward conversations by dismissing and trivializing your opposition’s perspective and experience.”
  • Wite-Magik Attax “A predictable series of non-arguments that attempt to denigrate, negate, or invalidate ideas, feelings, or experience as related by a brown person. These attacks take many forms, and while each person making the attack thinks their (dys)logic to be unerring, they echo timeless and faulty cognitive patterns. These Wite-Magik Attax invariably escalate in intensity, however, the longer the brown person attempts to assert their reality.”
  • We heard it before (from Resist racism) “Commonly expressed but boring responses to various posts.”

Not that I haven’t had my share of unjust silencers. (Sorry!) My favorite Buddhist dismissal is, “In the Enlightened mind, there is no race, no Asian, no Black, no White.” Right. Just don’t swim in our pool.

An Asian Buddhist Superiority Complex

I won’t deny it. Many Asians question self-styled Westerners’ Buddhist authenticity. One friend doesn’t care to hear talks by white Dharma teachers. Another friend’s parents express open doubts about a multicultural Buddhist group. Bhante Noah Yuttadhammo’s own journey is often thwarted by individuals who refuse to see him as an equal to Thai monks. These are most certainly instances of a superiority complex. I frequently lash out at excessive hegemonic privilege here in the West, but I must be honest that similar prejudices also exist in Asian Buddhist communities. I’m reluctant to write this post. I’m afraid this admission will only bolster the dismissive attitudes of self-styled Western Buddhists so unknowledgeable about Asian culture they wouldn’t know the difference between Saigon and Prey Nokor. But I realize that part of the discussion is admitting that the community that I’m defending isn’t a cohort of living saints. Are “Western” Buddhists willing to learn about the true diversity and issues of Asian America, the 5% of their country that represents the history of half the world? They have to if they hope to live up to the values of diversity, tolerance and democracy. Choosing not to address racial inequity in a community that actively segregates itself is tantamount to promoting it. Separate but equal is not a solution.

We Need to Talk

In light of some discussion on another blog, here’s a thought from Mushim Ikeda-Nash.

Unless Buddhist teachers and communities explicitly acknowledge the need for institutional change and political action, many people of color won’t stick around to be more intensively involved in practice. Although they may be willing to try meditation in silence, the perception of being silenced within the social structure of a Buddhist community will only increase, not decrease, their suffering. I am convinced that to truly accept one another as Dharma sisters and brothers, we must first hear one another, making the commitment to practice compassionate listening for as long as it takes.

Amidst all my sputter, I do take everyone’s comments to heart, even if I don’t make the time for a thoughtful reply (or even if I give too little time for a thoughtful reply). I may harshly criticize what others say, but I don’t suggest they shut up or that their views are pointless. This discussion is coming to the Buddhist community, whether you like it or not.

Why Buddhism Doesn’t Need the West

In the Spring 2009 issue of Tricycle, David Loy’s “Why Buddhism Needs the West” predictably whipped up the Angry Asian Buddhist in me (again). When I got down to reading the piece a second time, his words began to appear less provocative and more simple minded.

From a Buddhist perspective, it would be naive to expect social transformation to work without personal transformation. But the history of Buddhism shows us that the opposite is also true: although Buddha-dharma may focus on promoting individual awakening, it cannot avoid being affected by the social forces that work to keep us asleep and submissive. It is the mercy of the West that those social forces need no longer be mystified as natural and inevitable.

These words didn’t explain anything to me, and I had to track down his article “Religion and the Market,” which presents the same notion in a different framework.

The great sensitivity to social justice in the Semitic religions (for whom sin is a moral failure of will) needs to be supplemented by the emphasis that the Asian enlightenment traditions place upon seeing-through and dispelling delusion (ignorance as a failure to understand). Moreover, I suspect that the former without the latter is doomed to be ineffective in our cynical age.

David Loy is simply a philosopher who wants Buddhism to merge with Western social justice to transform society and the world for the better. But he has no empirical argument to show that this can actually happen. He’s a philosopher doing what philosophers do best: enjoying that armchair. Buddhism doesn’t need the West “to realize its own deepest promise,” rather this is Loy’s way of describing how he’d like to make society fit his worldview. That’s great, but I think I’ll pass.