Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

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Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:11 am

I know I take a risk at presenting this, but I thought this quote COULD foster a measured, kind discussion on the issue of lack of multi-ethnic participation in Western Buddhism. Hopefully any discussion will be free from false accusations (without apologies), one line missives,tit for tat claims etc.

The below I think is a response to some people objecting to specific Buddhist practice spaces for People of Colour or specific ethnic groups. Larry Yang argues that Western Buddhism is identity-based Buddhism, as Western teachers trained in Asia did not feel culturally comfortable in that paradigm and wanted to establish a space where people like them could practice:

Larry Yang: Ironically, identity-based retreats were long in the making because when the teachers of the European-American mainstream sangha came back from Asia to teach, they didn’t go to the existing Asian temples or venues that were already in North America. They started the mainstream centers we know today because they didn’t see themselves reflected in these Asian temples. They didn’t hear their life stories, they didn’t hear the relevance to how these teachings actually dissolved their particular suffering in their particular life. This is the exact same reason that the identity retreats have been formed. Even in our expression of difference, we’re the same. There is something that still completely connects us. The point of these retreats is to garner a strength of practice to enable us to see beyond the differences.


http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/web-arch ... white.html
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:52 am

Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism? - its hard not to be. No matter where we live we are conditioned by what is around us. Racism is institutional and quite often subconscious - we simply do not know we are doing it. I hear people say "how can we make it more western?" because people want something they are comfortable with. In many ways we see this happen throughout Buddhist history - when Buddhism reached China the first translators used terms and images that the Chinese were familiar with. Over time in gained a strong Chinese identity. The same is happening in the west. Is it a good thing? :thinking: I don't think I'm wise enough to answer that.

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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Tue Jul 15, 2014 12:25 pm

Many ethnic children are schooled in the Western society. They lean towards scientific knowledge that are taught to them. Even some first generation Vietnamese elders (50-60 years old) are also influenced by knowledge that they are exposed to. Immigrants who immigrated to the Western society often came from poor background. Thus, they tend to praise anything Western. Their views have changed. Some cultural beliefs, values, and practice are slowly dying. Even people in poor countries chase the Western way of life. It's becoming globalized now. Comparing to some elders, my views about certain issues are outdated :). Younger friends thought that I am ancient and need to update.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Jul 15, 2014 1:41 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I know I take a risk at presenting this, but I thought this quote COULD foster a measured, kind discussion on the issue of lack of multi-ethnic participation in Western Buddhism. Hopefully any discussion will be free from false accusations (without apologies), one line missives,tit for tat claims etc.

The below I think is a response to some people objecting to specific Buddhist practice spaces for People of Colour or specific ethnic groups. Larry Yang argues that Western Buddhism is identity-based Buddhism, as Western teachers trained in Asia did not feel culturally comfortable in that paradigm and wanted to establish a space where people like them could practice:

Larry Yang: Ironically, identity-based retreats were long in the making because when the teachers of the European-American mainstream sangha came back from Asia to teach, they didn’t go to the existing Asian temples or venues that were already in North America. They started the mainstream centers we know today because they didn’t see themselves reflected in these Asian temples. They didn’t hear their life stories, they didn’t hear the relevance to how these teachings actually dissolved their particular suffering in their particular life. This is the exact same reason that the identity retreats have been formed. Even in our expression of difference, we’re the same. There is something that still completely connects us. The point of these retreats is to garner a strength of practice to enable us to see beyond the differences.


http://www.thebuddhadharma.com/web-arch ... white.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;


This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:33 pm

Malcolm wrote:This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.


I would say mostly rather than only, in my experience at least (I'm not sure about the rest of the world). But could this be because vipassana (and anapanasati) is being pegged as the "scientific" practice??

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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Jikan » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:35 pm

Malcolm wrote:This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.


I was going to pose a related question:

Is there such a thing as a Western Buddhism, that is, a single one? It seems to me that some of what is swept into the category "WB" corresponds to the criticism made in the OP, but there's a great deal of diversity elsewhere in the same category. Maybe even contradictions.

One reason these discussions can get so prickly: it's very difficult to generalize about these issues intelligently
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:50 pm

Seishin wrote:
Malcolm wrote:This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.


I would say mostly rather than only, in my experience at least (I'm not sure about the rest of the world). But could this be because vipassana (and anapanasati) is being pegged as the "scientific" practice??

Gassho.


Probably.
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http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:52 pm

Jikan wrote:One reason these discussions can get so prickly: it's very difficult to generalize about these issues intelligently


Good point and one we'd all do well to remember.

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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Malcolm » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:59 pm

Jikan wrote:
Malcolm wrote:This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.


I was going to pose a related question:

Is there such a thing as a Western Buddhism, that is, a single one? It seems to me that some of what is swept into the category "WB" corresponds to the criticism made in the OP, but there's a great deal of diversity elsewhere in the same category. Maybe even contradictions.

One reason these discussions can get so prickly: it's very difficult to generalize about these issues intelligently


Oh definitely there is a "Western Buddhism"; it is characterized by a commitment to secularism, scientism, and a psychotherapeutic approach to meditation.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
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http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

Though there are infinite liberating gateways of Dharma,
there are none not included in the dimension of the knowledge of the Great Perfection.

-- Buddha Samantabhadri
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:01 pm

I'd like to think some of us are creating a 'western' Buddhism that still holds dear the values of their Asian predecessors.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Jikan » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:05 pm

If you define Western Buddhism as Malcolm does--that is, to correspond to communities such as Spirit Rock, IMS, and related--then yes, the criticism has some validity from what I've seen.

What do you call Buddhism practiced by "westerners" outside of Asia in European languages that doesn't correspond to the above, though? I think problems ensue when the two are conflated. Examples:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=16949

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=16973

...&c.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Nemo » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:09 pm

Chinese invade Tibet in 1950, give the reincarnated 20 years to grow up in the West. Western Tibetan Buddhism should start flourishing in the 1970's with a huge influx of new students but by 1980 that should start slowing down to a trickle. Now they would likely be born in Asia. It is quite possible that Tibetan Buddhist centres will become museums when that initial influx starts passing on in another 30 years. I don't think many Sanghas will be growing now unless they are selling something that is not genuine Dharma.

Perhaps my reincarnation based identity theory is too Buddhist for some.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby smcj » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:23 pm

Seishin wrote:I'd like to think some of us are creating a 'western' Buddhism that still holds dear the values of their Asian predecessors.

Here in L.A. there are white Kagyupas and Chinese Kagyupas, sometimes with the same teacher. They are completely separate organizations. It works better that way, oil and water. Typically in such cases the Chinese are better funded and run, btw.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Crazywisdom » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:37 pm

Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?


I think it is, yeah. Judging by the relics thread, the OP exclaimed about "the West" a lot. Seems "the West" expects Buddhism to 1) not be a religion, 2) to be rational, and 3) not violate scientific principles. I know many in "the West," and by that I mean the West Coast and the East Coast of the USA, are coming to Buddhism from recommendations by their HMO, like Kaiser Medical, to get into 'mindfulness meditation.'

I'm not saying any of this is bad. It's very good. It has it's place. However, it is a far cry from Vajrayana, where the entire aim is quickly to dismantle conceptual constructions. Why does Vajrayana want to do this? Well, this will shock "the West," because the point of this is to transform the material elements into light and to gain infinite siddhi, including omniscience. We think this is something that really happens. So we think science is lacking and "the West" ain't so hot shit. We think there's a higher paradigm of knowledge and science is a redheaded stepchild of knowledge.

Of course, on a board like this that includes Mahayana of various stripes, something like Zen seems pretty close to "mindfulness." It's like a border town. One the north of the border is "mindfulness meditators" and south of the border is the dakini underground where all sorts of unsavory characters lurk waiting to steal your children. LOL.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby uan » Tue Jul 15, 2014 4:12 pm

Malcolm wrote:
This is really only true of the Vipassana folks.


Would you say that the opposite is mostly true (e.g. Tibet Buddhism)? (iirc, in the Batchelor thread you indicated the highest status was being an Asian male, though I may have missed a subtle element of your point). Or do you think non-Vipassana folks have found the appropriate balance?

There may not even need to be a balance to achieve, or a better way to do things, which I think is part of V. JKhedrup's point (that there is a better way than how things are), but I don't know.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby zerwe » Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:00 pm

Khedrup, I have found the opposite. Where I practice has ethnically one of the most
mixed groups of people I have encountered. While, the majority are Caucasian we have Tibetan, Afro-American,
Native American, South American, Indian, Chinese and South East Asian people represented. Age and socio-economic-status
are also representative of a surprisingly broad range. Overall, I would say it might be more diverse than a somewhat liberal Catholic congregation in
a small to moderate sized urban area.
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:53 pm

I am very glad this is the case at your centre, and hope it is a sign of good things to come in the future for many of the centres in the West that honestly do not reflect the diversity of their local communities in many cases (in my experience).
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby kirtu » Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:20 am

zerwe wrote:Khedrup, I have found the opposite. Where I practice has ethnically one of the most
mixed groups of people I have encountered. While, the majority are Caucasian we have Tibetan, Afro-American,
Native American, South American, Indian, Chinese and South East Asian people represented. Age and socio-economic-status
are also representative of a surprisingly broad range.


This *can* be true of some Tibetan and Zen groups in NYC as well. Then we have the well-known multi-ethnic makeup of some Nichiren groups.

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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:49 pm

Nemo wrote:Chinese invade Tibet in 1950, give the reincarnated 20 years to grow up in the West. Western Tibetan Buddhism should start flourishing in the 1970's with a huge influx of new students but by 1980 that should start slowing down to a trickle. Now they would likely be born in Asia. It is quite possible that Tibetan Buddhist centres will become museums when that initial influx starts passing on in another 30 years. I don't think many Sanghas will be growing now unless they are selling something that is not genuine Dharma.

Perhaps my reincarnation based identity theory is too Buddhist for some.


I've been turning this post over in my mind for some time. It seems to me that stable Dharma institutions and communities globally is something devoutly to be wished for (worked for really). Let's suppose Nemo's idea is true, that reason there are Buddhists outside of traditional Buddhist communities now has to do with death & destruction in Asia, particularly in Tibet (one might also make a similar case for Japan, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia). I've been taught that a good way to practice is to find ways to make connections with beings who lack a precious human birth so that they can have that opportunity in the future. For instance offerings for beings in the hungry ghost realm, or just feeding birds & dedicating the merit to them, and so on (there are gathas and mantras for this too). With these practices, the community, at least hypothetically, will grow. Will they know to take birth only in Asia? stay tuned...
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Re: Is Western Buddhism an (ethnic) identity-based Buddhism?

Postby uan » Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:13 pm

Nemo wrote:Chinese invade Tibet in 1950, give the reincarnated 20 years to grow up in the West. Western Tibetan Buddhism should start flourishing in the 1970's with a huge influx of new students but by 1980 that should start slowing down to a trickle. Now they would likely be born in Asia. It is quite possible that Tibetan Buddhist centres will become museums when that initial influx starts passing on in another 30 years. I don't think many Sanghas will be growing now unless they are selling something that is not genuine Dharma.

Perhaps my reincarnation based identity theory is too Buddhist for some.


Is that how rebirth in Buddhism works? I don't know if it's too Buddhist for some, or not Buddhadharma at all.
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