Not Your Normal Buddhist Conference

Today begins the Buddhist Geeks Conference with the fewest ever number of Asian American speakers in its lineup. I have already pointed out that the conference tends to be overwhelmingly white and that Buddhist Asians don’t appear to play much of a role in what the Geeks deem to be the emerging faces of Buddhism. The speakers’ photo roster naturally tells the story better than I possibly could…

You can catch a livestream of the Buddhist Geeks Conference at Tricycle, which coincidentally has the same number of Asian Americans among its editors as Buddhist Geeks has among its conference speakers. Fancy that!

On the Newtown Shootings

I was glad to see that Tricycle pulled together a collection of responses by Buddhist teachers to the Newtown tragedy, but I was disappointed to see that not a single one of those teachers was Asian. Not only are the vast majority of Buddhist Amerians also Asian American, American temples with monks, nuns or priests of Asian heritage also play a role in communities with parents and children. There were invariably conversations within these communities where Asian American Buddhists discussed what all this meant and how to deal with this tragedy from a Buddhist context. But those perspectives will never be shared with us through the pages of TricycleShambhala Sun or Buddhadharmamagazines. If you’re curious to know what Asian American Buddhist teachers have said, you could visit the Taste of Chicago Buddhism blog for at least one perspective.

Update: Another relevant article to read is Ven. Losang Tendrol’s essay on the shootings in the Washington Post online.

Tricycle Interview

There’s an interview with me posted 犀利士 uddhist-interview-arunlikhati”>over at the Tricycle blog. It was a delightful honor to take part in this interview with Emma Varvaloucas. Many thanks also to the other Tricycle editors for their input, ensuring my conversational incoherence turned out less incoherent than it actually is (imagine that), and for getting rid of the dead cat.

Lessons from Our Elders

Here’s another piece that’s been sitting in my draft box, waiting to be published. I was happy to see an interview by Jeff Wilson with Rev. Patti Usuki in this summer’s issue of Tricycle.

Rev. Usuki is a well-known Shin writer, and I was personally impressed by her book Currents of Change: American Buddhist Women Speak Out on Jodo Shinshu, which documents the attitudes of Shin Buddhist women who don’t quite fit the stereotypes of “insular ethnic Buddhists.” You can get a taste of her writing with this excerpt from the Tricycle interview.

Converts and newcomers to Buddhism outside of Asia sometimes have a tendency to dismiss Asian-Americans as “ethnic Buddhists” or “baggage Buddhists”—as people who do not seriously practice Buddhism. However, we have much to learn from many of these women who still reflect a generations-long internalization of the buddhadharma through their thoughts, words, and deeds. They themselves are often the first to humbly profess that they know nothing about the dharma, and yet many of them display an innate understanding of such tenets as dana [the practice of cultivating generosity] and interdependence in all that they do—and many show, through their outlook, a profound grasp of the spirit of the nembutsu. They have often made huge sacrifices so that the temples will prosper, enabling others to experience the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And yet they have embraced change without stridency. We have to remember that through their life experiences—such as racial and religious discrimination and being put into internment camps during World War II—they understand suffering and impermanence, and they know the value of finding joy in whatever life dishes out. They keep moving forward, and their positive perspectives alone are a lesson to us all. Certainly, they know what it is to be marginalized by those with dualistic minds, but they know that the light of immeasurable wisdom and compassion shines on all without discrimination.

If you have a copy of the summer issue, you can find this paragraph tucked away in the back, across pages 105–106. I am a big fan of Rev. Patti’s writing, and I hope to be able to post more from her here in the future.

Diversity at the Buddhist Teachers Council

A recent Tricycle blog post on diversity caught my attention. The magazine asked some participants of the recent 2011 Buddhist Teachers Council the following question about unity amid diversity:

Buddhism is very diverse—some would even say that the different traditions represent different religions. What was the common Buddhist thread that brought you all together?”

And here are the responses of two Asian American participants.

I came seeking unity in the Three Treasures. I was disappointed to find that the “mindful” community remains unable to bridge the gap of diversity; and further, that this vital necessity is not a primary concern.
—Myokei Caine-Barrett, Shonin, Myoken Temple

What brought us together probably has something to do with the Buddha’s saying “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” It has such a universal calling. However, while “Buddhism” may be diverse, “Buddhist” communities in the West do not yet reflect the diversity of our multicultural experiences. 
—Larry Yang, East Bay Meditation Center

I am very glad that Tricycle included us in their list, and that these thoughts were shared. For all my grumblings over diversity at the Buddhist Teachers Council, I’m inclined to think of the conference as a positive success. Diversity was certainly not prominent, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the conference was an abject failure on this front. More on that thought in another post.

You can read other responses to this question in the current issue of Tricycle. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s is one of my favorites.

Our American Contribution

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.

So who is this Ryo Imamura, and who does he think he is? Find out herehere and here.

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.

Suggestions to the Editors

What can magazines like TheBigThree do to promote more Asian American writers? I have in the past provided some tentative suggestions, but my experience in the publishing world approaches nil. Fortunately, author 犀利士 g-their-work.html”>Claire Light today posted on her blog some very pertinent comments on the paucity of female and POC writers in literary magazines. (“Why Aren’t Women and POC Submitting Their Work?”) Claire Light has had a tremendous impact on how I see the world, from white privilege to use of the term hapa. Her thoughts here are, by and large, directly applicable to the editorial staffs of TheBigThree. Below are some suggestions from the end of her post about what these white folk can do to reach out effectively.

Archivist Note: Regrettably, the rest of this post was lost in transition to the new server.

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!