African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the West

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Mar 05, 2014 10:35 pm

zsc wrote:I'm going to end this thread of conversation. No offense, but I think I've said enough to contribute to the original discussion of the thread. This is kind of derailing into a discussion that denies what poc are voicing under the guise of religiousity. I wish I had been apart of the discussion last year. Those responses seem a lot more empathetic and understanding.

I'm fine with having said my piece :)





The empathy is certainly there, but empathy does not have to mean agreement with you. i have actually pointed out that I agree with your premise, just not your conclusions. I don't think you are being fair to assume racism because someone disagrees with your conclusions.

At any rate, good luck in your practice, and whatever the case I hope things improve for POC involved in Dharma, I don't think that contrary opinions to your own necessarily entail discrimination, I don't believe your are correct on that at all. I apologize if you were made to feel uncomfortable though, that wasn't my intention, I think honestly is the best policy in cases like this, I think it's an important conversation, and I am just expressing my opinion.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Malcolm » Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:14 am

zsc wrote:
No one is an a-cultural person, but white mainstream Buddhism seems to frame their "stripped-down" practice as culture-free, when that itself is a cultural decision. Only western culture (WASP) is seen as just "normal" while poc have "cultural trappings".


I never maintained my practice was culture free. I still imagine Sambhogakāyas as 4th century Indian princes.

All I'm saying is that it's more complicated than ignoring it, or "not letting it get in your way". It doesn't "get in my way", in fact, but that doesn't mean it is a non-issue.


It is as much an issue as you allow it to be.

People do not become Buddhist unless they have the karmic connections to do so.


Not saying you are doing this, but you have to understand, poc Buddhists are told what you are saying nearly every time we dare to address racism, classism, and sexism, and it reads like "ignore how poorly you are treated and regarded" as if it doesn't matter in our every day lives. It does matter, and it also forms the experiences of many different poc in many ways.


Buddhism appears racist, classist and sexist to many people.

You are not really talking about how "Buddhists" treat you, you are talking about how you feel treated by caucasians.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby theanarchist » Thu Mar 06, 2014 1:16 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:What I HAVE seen a lot is some white people who are simply not comfortable around POC due to living, and growing up in predominantly white areas..again, this is a situation that is only remedied by people getting over their own issues with it, on both sides - IMO..


Maybe black people in predominantly white countries are so busy acquiring equal status in their samsara environment that thinking beyond those worldly affairs, archieving liberation on top of that seems a bit too far fetched?

Maybe because they have to work hard to acquire equal status in our society they find a religion that offers salvation through faith to a benevolent father god and christ more attractive than one where one has to really work hard to get somewhere and noone is saving them AGAIN.

Also, if you believe in karma that means for a black person that has experienced discrimination that this is not happening by chance. Not such a comfortable thought.

Lastly, buddhism attracts people who have had their share of the material goods samsara had to offer and who found out, wow, still not satisfied. Maybe a lot of black people belong to a group in society that have never come to the point of dissatisfaction with the "good stuff" samsara has to offer because they were never able to have them. I personally haven't seen many lower class white people at dharma talks either. You have to have a certain amount of education and willingness to strain your brain to get into buddhism, the concepts behind it being a bit more complex than most other faiths. So possibly the amount of uneducated people in the black population mirrors the amount of them not getting interested in something like buddhism.

I believe those are among the reasons.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby rory » Fri Mar 07, 2014 4:32 am

zsc wrote:Black (Pureland) Buddhist here.

What I find accurate about this thread:

1. "Western" (a.k.a. white) Buddhism is classist and elitist.
2. White liberals are often uncomfortable around people of color, and might I add regularly practice erasure of minority voices when speaking about social justice subjects. This is very alienating.

What I find blantantly inaccurate about this thread:
1. Mainly the post a couple spots above this one. This colorblind racism only contributes to institutionalized racism by attempting to gloss over the lived experiences of poc and gender/sexual minorities with racism and sexism. Conventionally, we are not the same because we do not experience life the same. Labels have real-world, lethal consequences. To ignore the racial motivation of these consequences, as well as attempting to erase the ethnic identity of poc is just neo-racism.

What I think needs to be more fleshed out:

1. As stated before, SGI is one of the most racially diverse Buddhist sects in America...and it is also the one most disparaged among mainstream white Buddhist culture. In fact, the most family-friendly, faith-based sects are. While at the same time, black people and other poc tend to be more family-orientated and seek to join religions that "move" them, and these are often religions that inspire faith. These are also the sects that require less cerebral work and more real-life practice. I'm not saying poc aren't "smart enough", but since we face so many more challenges than white Buddhists globally, there is only so much mental energy one person can spend on addressing racism and sexism, that to be able to come to a place of faith and just rest is like encountering a refreshing spring in the desert.

When resting in the presence of Amida and Kwanseum, I can come back to my peace after being bombarded with racist and sexist macro- and micro-aggressions. When attending the Thai Theravada sangha, I am embraced in a shared experience of being a minority in America, even with the language barrier (while I do keep in mind my privilege as a western American and native English-speaker!). I practice the Mahayana way, but feel more comfortable in this Theravada sangha precisely because they recognize race and gender in a realistic way, instead of ignoring it (and me) like I experience at white sanghas.

Also, while I often read Asian-Americans saying that English-speakers may not get a warm welcome because members of the congregation do not want to be ridiculed for their English proficiency (this happens ALL THE TIME and it embarrasses me as a native English-speaker, especially when other poc take part in this racism), I think a lot of white Buddhists are more sensitive to "not feeling accepted" because they are not used to being the only white person in the room. Put them in an environment where their voice takes a back seat for once, and they are left reeling. This relates to black Americans and others because we hear and read second-hand accounts of how "racist" predominately Asian sanghas are from these white Buddhists and swallow that same anti-Asian sentiment, and this is unfortunate. I see it clouding black Buddhist discussion often.

I hope this didn't come off as too inflammatory as these discussions online tend to, though. I address conventional reality with no malice (which Amida has helped me to do through healing and continues to do so). I tried to include something western poc tend to forget about, which is our western, American (if that applies), and native English-speaking privilege as we navigate the big Buddhist world. It's not a one-to-one comparison with white privilege or class privilege, both of which have been examined in this thread already, but that still comes into play. We actually have to be careful not to absorb the anti-Eastern, anti-Asian, anti-non-English sentiment that pervades the western world, from both within and outside of western white Buddhism.

I pray in Korean, Pali, and English, but I understand that a lot of black people want a black Buddhist culture of their own, and a balance should be struck between checking our western/American/English-speaking privilege by not importing Anti-Asian sentiments into our thinking, and being free to exercise autonomy when determining our dharmic destinies. So the challenge is two-fold. To battle through Asian-black race relations and white-black race relations does not require violence at all, but peace, but our hearts (I mean all parties involved) have to heal in order to successfully navigate this modern Buddhist terrain.

Sorry for the scatter-shot post, I briefly addressed a lot, but I do believe that it's just that complicated.

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Brilliant post! I wish everyone would read it and internalize it I just finished posting in the Nichiren forum how great the local SGI center is where I, a euro-american, am in the minority with majority South Asian, African-American and Hispanic American Buddhists from blue collar to high tech. The sect I belong to now has is dead keen on emulating this. I have no desire nor interest in those white liberal dharma havens. I've been a minority plenty of times in Japanese-American and Chinese-American temples and enjoyed it and learned a lot!

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Adi » Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:13 am

RikudouSennin wrote:...money is the #1 concern for people of color in america, where at the bottom as far as the progress of community goes, so most black folk dont care about things that will take eons to happen.

It has to do with vibes, most dharma centers dont offer the vibe we(black americans) resonate with. it's too uptight most the time, but i always shake things up :D

most black folks are christian,so they can care less about buddha.
most black folks dont know about the dharma, because there is no presence in our community, plus its expensive to do alot of the things. even if we could afford more than likely there is something more pressing that deserves the money….


In other words, the force of habit is very strong. That's the bad news. The good news is that the only difference between a fully enlightened Buddha and an ordinary practitioner of any pigment is diligence in practice.


Malcolm wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote: For that reason and others, I feel somewhat iffy about different groups trying to consciously create their own Buddhist sub-cultures, it seems a bit forced.


Seconded.


Thirded. :smile:

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:31 am

Things can be polarized at the Buddhist communities in America in terms of racial makeup- and yes especially in the Vajrayana, Zen and Vipassana sectors. But I have found that many of the smaller centres, especially with an Asian monastic resident teacher are actually pretty diverse. More so than some of the larger centres associated with multinational organizations and rather high costs.

My advise if you are looking for a diverse centre that offers teachings in English (rather than a temple offering teachings in other languages specifically for diaspora communities), is to look at the centres more on the "traditional" side of things.

My first teacher's temple in Canada was majority Viet Namese/Chinese and about 40% Caucasian. Those of us committed to studying with the teacher had to be willing to listen to double and sometimes triple translation of the teachings from Tibetan into English, then Viet Namese, then Chinese (French at the centre in Quebec). It was a real training for everyone involved, but I think taught people a lot of patience and openness.

The centre where I work in Holland (FPMT) is majority Caucasian, but so is the country. I find that our contingent of people of Dutch Indonesian Ancestry, Chinese Ancestry and African Ancestry pretty much reflects the makeup of the community- a good sign.

In Toronto Canada both Riwoche and KSDL (the local Karma Kagyu place) have significant numbers of both Tibetans and people Chinese ancestry participating.

I guess it just depends which Centre you decide to be a part of - but there are many, at least from what I have seen, with a multicultural makeup. Still, I agree this is an important issue and we should also make sure that board etc. that run the centre also reflect the diversity of the local community.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby rory » Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:56 am

Wow, I'm shocked here, my dharma friend Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett who is African-Japanese American told me it's easier with conservatives to see who's racist they just up and say it, but with white liberals they deny, deny, deny. And I see it here to. You've had two African-American posters tell you why they feel alienated and then you don't agree with their conclusions, say there are no differences, talk over them etc... Ugh. The denial is unattractive I think the white posters here need to really reflect on what was said by both of the African-American posters and try to understand and be quiet for once and listen. Because you're doing a terrible job right now if one of the two is leaving the conversation!

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby AlexanderS » Fri Mar 07, 2014 1:10 pm

rory wrote:Wow, I'm shocked here, my dharma friend Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett who is African-Japanese American told me it's easier with conservatives to see who's racist they just up and say it, but with white liberals they deny, deny, deny. And I see it here to. You've had two African-American posters tell you why they feel alienated and then you don't agree with their conclusions, say there are no differences, talk over them etc... Ugh. The denial is unattractive I think the white posters here need to really reflect on what was said by both of the African-American posters and try to understand and be quiet for once and listen. Because you're doing a terrible job right now if one of the two is leaving the conversation!

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Rory


People here are simply expressing their honest opinions.. what else do you want people to do?

The opinions expressed here are very mild. If people leave the thread because people do not chime in with 100% agreement, I would say they are being overly sensitive.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Malcolm » Fri Mar 07, 2014 2:04 pm

rory wrote:You've had two African-American posters tell you why they feel alienated and then you don't agree with their conclusions, say there are no differences, talk over them etc... Ugh.


Yes, and we have gay people tell is why they feel alienated, white people who tell is they feel alienated, and so on. But the fact remains, ultimately Buddhadharma is not about changing the world to suit us since that is impossible. Ultimately, Buddhadharma is about overcoming suffering and the causes of suffering that lay within us, not outside us.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby RikudouSennin » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:33 pm

My physical body is black, most of my family and black friends just aren't interested in things too outside the box. The fact there is so much cultural attachment to Buddhism makes it seem too foreign, but Dzogchen if taken the time to be introduced to our community without the extra cultural attachments is probably the best start.. this is just my opinion of course.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby JamyangTashi » Sat Mar 08, 2014 2:00 am

zsc wrote:This is kind of derailing into a discussion that denies what poc are voicing under the guise of religiousity. I wish I had been apart of the discussion last year. Those responses seem a lot more empathetic and understanding.


I read this change in the discussion as a shift in perspective from the original post. The post that started this thread originally was very specific about particular causes and socioeconomic factors, how they play out, and and what can be done to fix those particular things. Recent posts are more abstract, talking at a very high level about a complicated issue. The different experiences and backgrounds of people reading such a high level and abstract discussion will lead to very different interpretations because many readers are unfamiliar or unaware of the concrete examples that lie behind these abstractions. To the extent that different readers are aware of specifics that can flesh out the abstract concepts, those specifics might not agree. Buddhist practice includes abandoning identity views of every sort, which includes abandoning views of oneself as a particular race or attachments to a particular culture, and recent posts seem to be interpreting the problem along those lines. It's a valid point, however, that learning to abandon ingrained cultural patterns does not have to mean adopting a new and different culture.

The original post mentioned specific and actionable points that while relevant to people of color are also relevant to the religion as a whole, which encouraged a more empathetic discussion. One example of this is the high cost of retreats. It's an ironic outcome for a religious practice that once was firmly rooted in the practice of abandoning all wealth and living the life of a homeless beggar has now turned into a religious practice where people must have significant wealth in order to find the ability to practice regularly with a qualified teacher. A revival of the culture of actual homeless teachers living in urban environments would be quite a shift from this pattern, but would require dedicated practitioners to reach an appropriate state of qualification and to choose such a lifestyle. The question then becomes: how can people interested in such a path be found and encouraged in a helpful way?
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby odysseus » Sat Mar 08, 2014 2:20 am

I´m coloured if you will, my color is beige as you see in my photo. I think only in America you have this "issue" as America is mostly racist, but tolerant. Americans stick to their own kind. :stirthepot: Buddha said to make relations as it fits, not because of class or belonging. Black Buddhists have no problem accessing Dharma, anyone can go to a Buddha centre and get teachings. Dharma is free enough if you search. No one is unfit for Buddha´s order. This is easy for me to say, I grew up with white people *lol*.

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby zsc » Sat Mar 08, 2014 5:28 am

JamyangTashi wrote:The question then becomes: how can people interested in such a path be found and encouraged in a helpful way?


Since you asked a sincere question, I'm willing to give it another shot.

Buddhist practice includes abandoning identity views of every sort, which includes abandoning views of oneself as a particular race or attachments to a particular culture,


You won't get anywhere saying things like this, especially not to black people, especially not black people that are descendants of the Africans brought over during the slave trade. We have already had our culture ripped from us, forcefully. You know how white Americans can say they are Irish, Danish, French, etc.? Most of us cannot say what our ethnicity is because we have no idea where our ancestors are originally from ("African-American" is a vague nationality because Africa is not a country, it's a continent). That is very destabilizing. We had to recreate a culture as a survival skill. It's bad enough that we had to adopt the slave owner's religion to get any kind of spiritual nourishment at all (to the point where the original practices were thinly disguised as saint veneration in some areas), but to have white dharma teachers say we have to let our culture once again slip through our fingers yet again is a replay of painful history.

I say "white dharma teachers" because I have honestly never heard any of the monks I know who are people of color say that before. In my sangha, we celebrate culture through the practice, mannerisms, postures, gestures, language, and of course, the food. The people go there, in part, because they get to celebrate the different Asian cultures in an environment where, for example, they won't be looked at strangely for speaking their own language, being looked at strangely for speaking English with their natural accent and dialect, and where they aren't made to feel like "forever foreigners".

Like I touched on before, it would be impossible to practice Buddhism without any culture. Just like the Dharmakaya, culture is basically where we move and breathe. Trying to extract culture from the dharma to make it "pure" is actually a western cultural decision, based on Protestant-driven anxiousness to find the "pure" way, the "original" way, etc. I practice the Mahayana way--I have long abandoned the concept of "original Buddhism" or "purity".

I think your sentence is in error, and is the religiousity I was referring to. I "know" the skandas are not "me". That is the "enlightened" reality. There is also conventional reality, which while still residing in samsara, we have to face it and understand, especially if we want to benefit others. This is the reality where black people feel alienated for the reasons I said in my original post. This is the reality where we face racism and racist microagressions on a daily basis. This is the reality where young black women like Renisha McBride are shot in the face just for knocking on someone's door for help.There have been others. Conventional reality is what I was addressing, so while I do think this statement is theologically wrong (especially as applied to Mahayana practice for laypeople, which has always been moderate and has helped people cope with conventional reality), but this isn't even what I was talking about.

The original post mentioned specific and actionable points that while relevant to people of color are also relevant to the religion as a whole


Given that Buddhism is a religion where the majority of practitioners are people of color, what would be the difference?

A revival of the culture of actual homeless teachers living in urban environments would be quite a shift from this pattern,


No one has to be homeless :lol: And it's not enough to have more dharma centers and sanghas in areas where there are more people of color, but it is important that whoever is in charge actually listens and takes an honest evaluation of the needs of that community as communicated by the people who are apart of it, as well as apply introspection to see how he/she is helping or hindering that. This is especially true from white teachers, as well as teachers who are a different race of poc than who they are serving.

Recent posts are more abstract, talking at a very high level about a complicated issue. The different experiences and backgrounds of people reading such a high level and abstract discussion will lead to very different interpretations because many readers are unfamiliar or unaware of the concrete examples that lie behind these abstractions. To the extent that different readers are aware of specifics that can flesh out the abstract concepts, those specifics might not agree.


I laid it out pretty plainly. I think it is only seen as abstract because I chose to focus on lived black experiences and some steps we (black people) can take to better make sense of things. Unless you mean the question of "why aren't there more black and other poc Buddhists?" If so, this question is not really a concern--they are plenty of black and other poc Buddhists, they just prefer their own spaces most of the time. I see nothing wrong with this, especially in our religious practice, which is supposed to be our refuge. Wanting us to instead go to white sanghas arbritarily just so white people can be "educated" is further objectification*. We aren't specimens to have around for "educational opportunities", we are people. If people want to be educated, there is Google, books, blogs, videos, and maybe other resources they can check out. If any person of color wants to explain something to you (like I am right now), appreciate it, listen, and realize this is a courtesy, not a requirement. In the meantime, let us do our thing.

(*Though, I know some people of color like arun of "Angry Asian Buddhist" points out that mainstream American Buddhism should include more Asian-American voices and povs outside of famous lamas since Asian-Americans are Americans. But this isn't treating people of color as tokens (if done right) as much as it is letting all Americans move and drive the future of American Buddhism, not just the privileged Americans.)

Also, some sincere observations about the bolded parts of your quote above:

1. If posters didn't know what I was referring to, Google searches actually turn up better responses than I have given here, but even still: if it was so complicated and hard to understand, why wasn't I asked to clarify? "While that may be true, but..." is not a request for clarification, and neither is "[Racism] is only an issue if you want it to be." The latter statement is especially dismissive because it implies that the racism poc face is somehow our fault, and it wouldn't happen if we didn't want to be an issue for us. I don't know any person of color that wants racism to be an issue :rolling:

2. What specifics don't agree, though? This discussion has to do with racial and cultural experiences, which should be approached as an anthropologist would, which is listening to people share their experiences and ask them about it if necessary. This is not a "hard science" where people disagree with me about facts about my own lived experiences. It would be like you telling me the full name of your mother, and me saying "That may be true, but her name is actually Agnes." How would I know? I'm not your mother's daughter :rolling:

So to be clear, if people want to encourage convert poc Buddhists, listening to them is a great first step, whether it's the written word, videos, or people offline sharing with you (I'm using the plural, impersonal "you" here). Reflecting about how you may be complicit in racist (or other discriminatory) structures is a good next step. As you incorporate listening and reflection into your practice, and seeing how all of this unravels, you will begin to see your role more clearly. It all depends on individual circumstances, as well as on a person's ethnicity. We're not all the same.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Lindama » Sat Mar 08, 2014 6:04 am

The very idea that we have to welcome so-called people of color should be a huge clue.... we are welcoming them... to what, our culture? Who would want to come? We have no way to make the bridge. What? We are going to preach to blacks about suffering? Well, no. When I really sink into this, I am broken hearted. This is 2014, ....

Here's an intense and thoughtful article that says a lot if we have eyes to see. It's come to this. He is a teacher.

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed
http://gawker.com/a-letter-from-ray-jasper-who-is-about-to-be-executed-1536073598
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby JamyangTashi » Sat Mar 08, 2014 6:29 am

zsc wrote:Since you asked a sincere question, I'm willing to give it another shot.

I appreciate this reply. It's quite informative.

zsc wrote:
JamyangTashi wrote:Buddhist practice includes abandoning identity views of every sort, which includes abandoning views of oneself as a particular race or attachments to a particular culture,


You won't get anywhere saying things like this, especially not to black people, especially not black people that are descendants of the Africans brought over during the slave trade. We have already had our culture ripped from us, forcefully. You know how white Americans can say they are Irish, Danish, French, etc.? Most of us cannot say what our ethnicity is because we have no idea where our ancestors are originally from ("African-American" is a vague nationality because Africa is not a country, it's a continent). That is very destabilizing. We had to recreate a culture as a survival skill. It's bad enough that we had to adopt the slave owner's religion to get any kind of spiritual nourishment at all (to the point where the original practices were thinly disguised as saint veneration in some areas), but to have white dharma teachers say we have to let our culture once again slip through our fingers yet again is a replay of painful history.

I say "white dharma teachers" because I have honestly never heard any of the monks I know who are people of color say that before. In my sangha, we celebrate culture through the practice, mannerisms, postures, gestures, language, and of course, the food. The people go there, in part, because they get to celebrate the different Asian cultures in an environment where, for example, they won't be looked at strangely for speaking their own language, being looked at strangely for speaking English with their natural accent and dialect, and where they aren't made to feel like "forever foreigners".

Like I touched on before, it would be impossible to practice Buddhism without any culture. Just like the Dharmakaya, culture is basically where we move and breathe. Trying to extract culture from the dharma to make it "pure" is actually a western cultural decision, based on Protestant-driven anxiousness to find the "pure" way, the "original" way, etc. I practice the Mahayana way--I have long abandoned the concept of "original Buddhism" or "purity".

You mention some strong points here that seem to be a matter of differing perspectives and words. By abandoning the views of a particular culture, I mean specifically abandoning clinging to those customs and insisting on them as the only right way. As you correctly point out, there is no "pure" state without culture. Trying to create such a situation is just creating another culture. Even the original teachings of the Buddha were steeped in culture, and this results in many disagreements today about what parts of the teaching were essential and which were merely relative to the culture of the time.

I have heard teachers before discuss the importance of having a strong sense of self and culture before being able to have the confidence and trust to let go of it completely. Perhaps the difference of view here is that people who grew up with a strong sense of culture merely take that step for granted and don't see it as an important step of progress in its own right. The impression I get from what you wrote is that it can be important to offer a meaningful sense of culture to serve as a foundation that can later be let go. Also from the OP and your writing it seems that it is important for people to be able to relate deeply to that sense of culture so that it can truly feel like their own. That comfort can then provide a situation that feels less threatening when learning to see that same culture as "not me, not my self, not what I am".

It is easy for someone who takes such a reliable and strong sense of culture for granted to think that focusing on this aspect is undermining the teachings in regards to not clinging or not self, which is a legitimate concern but apparently misguided in this case. It is important to preserve the meaningful core of the teachings so that they can be effective at putting an end to suffering, but it is also important not to cling to the idea of not clinging. Developing a strong identity is a key first step in developing the confidence and comfort to be able to move beyond views of identity, and this is often forgotten.


zsc wrote:
JamyangTashi wrote:The original post mentioned specific and actionable points that while relevant to people of color are also relevant to the religion as a whole


Given that Buddhism is a religion where the majority of practitioners are people of color, what would be the difference?

There are two differences. One is that the majority is not the whole, because it excludes the minority. The second difference is that people are not the teachings. Trying to make the teachings of how to end stress and suffering to those who would be interested is relevant to the religion as a whole because it both preserves the teachings and fulfills their purpose in helping as many people as possible. For example, the idea of a temple in a poor urban area could be beneficial to poor disenfranchised Caucasian youth as well. While understanding racial and cultural differences can help more effectively spread the Dharma, it is relevant to the religion as a whole to offer help to as many suffering people as possible regardless of their race or culture.

zsc wrote:
JamyangTashi wrote: A revival of the culture of actual homeless teachers living in urban environments would be quite a shift from this pattern,


No one has to be homeless :lol: And it's not enough to have more dharma centers and sanghas in areas where there are more people of color, but it is important that whoever is in charge actually listens and takes an honest evaluation of the needs of that community as communicated by the people who are apart of it, as well as apply introspection to see how he/she is helping or hindering that. This is especially true from white teachers, as well as teachers who are a different race of poc than who they are serving.

The Buddha spoke in praise of the homeless life of one gone forth as the best way to practice the Dharma, and encouraged a lifestyle for monks and nuns where they lived in dependence on the charity and kindness of others. This forced a level of visibility and involvement with community that is beneficial for the spread and implementation of the teachings. A teacher living at a temple behind closed and locked doors is not as available to the community and the people that need their assistance. However it is achieved though, actually listening and evaluating the circumstances effectively is definitely an important prerequisite to effectively serving a community in a way that can make a significant positive impact.

zsc wrote:I laid it out pretty plainly. I think it is only seen as abstract because I chose to focus on lived black experiences and some steps we (black people) can take to better make sense of things. Unless you mean the question of "why aren't there more black and other poc Buddhists?" If so, this question is not really a concern--they are plenty of black and other poc Buddhists, they just prefer their own spaces most of the time. I see nothing wrong with this, especially in our religious practice, which is supposed to be our refuge.

By abstract things, I mean statements like "being uncomfortable is a way of life" or "when experiencing numerous macro- and micro-aggressions". For someone who has lived these experiences directly, these statements could seem to carry an obvious and irrefutable meaning. However, for people who are completely unfamiliar with such experiences it is hard to understand what exactly they mean or doubt whether they are justified. Fully understanding these statements requires having some idea of the countless individual specific experiences, which of course is beyond the scope of this sort post. It can be more fruitful to focus on absolutely specific events or causes that can be understood easily by people who have no direct or personal experience of that kind.

It's fairly common for churches or temples to be divided along cultural or linguistic lines because it's a more beneficial experience for all of those who attend. Your points above about how the practice can't truly be culture free and the importance of having a solid sense of culture explain the value of separate spaces rather well.

zsc wrote:If any person of color wants to explain something to you (like I am right now), appreciate it, listen, and realize this is a courtesy, not a requirement. In the meantime, let us do our thing.

I appreciate you taking the time out to respond to my post. This has been an informative exchange.

zsc wrote:1. If posters didn't know what I was referring to, Google searches actually turn up better responses than I have given here, but even still: if it was so complicated and hard to understand, why wasn't I asked to clarify? "While that may be true, but..." is not a request for clarification, and neither is "[Racism] is only an issue if you want it to be." The latter statement is especially dismissive because it implies that the racism poc face is somehow our fault, and it wouldn't happen if we didn't want to be an issue for us. I don't know any person of color that wants racism to be an issue

One reason that could explain such responses is that what I referred to as abstract statements above are easy to misinterpret. When a person misinterprets a statement along those lines because of drastically different personal experiences, it's easy to assume that it has been interpreted correctly. It's far too easy for us humans to assume we understand a complex situation when we only have a few words to describe it.

zsc wrote:2. What specifics don't agree, though? This discussion has to do with racial and cultural experiences, which should be approached as an anthropologist would, which is listening to people share their experiences and ask them about it if necessary. This is not a "hard science" where people disagree with me about facts about my own lived experiences. It would be like you telling me the full name of your mother, and me saying "That may be true, but her name is actually Agnes." How would I know? I'm not your mother's daughter :rolling:

Definitely your own lived experiences are as you lived them. What doesn't agree is the specifics that other people's lived experiences apply when they hear the same set of words. A phrase like "being uncomfortable is a way of life" is based on a whole set of memories and specific experiences that have been lived. A different person hearing that same phrase will think of an entirely different set of memories and experiences that seem to fit from their life, and think they understand the phrase based on that. In actuality, this results in a severe misunderstanding since the entire nature of discomfort and the causes for the discomfort may have nothing to do with each other. The generalizations that are drawn from experience in life this way aren't untrue, but they're very difficult to use in productive communication with people who have an entirely different set of experiences to draw upon.

zsc wrote:So to be clear, if people want to encourage convert poc Buddhists, listening to them is a great first step, whether it's the written word, videos, or people offline sharing with you (I'm using the plural, impersonal "you" here). Reflecting about how you may be complicit in racist (or other discriminatory) structures is a good next step. As you incorporate listening and reflection into your practice, and seeing how all of this unravels, you will begin to see your role more clearly. It all depends on individual circumstances, as well as on a person's ethnicity. We're not all the same.

We're definitely not all the same. This is one of the great challenges in trying to spread the Dharma effectively is that everyone approaches the problem of suffering from a different situation and with a need for different emphasis and teachings in different orders and formats. It's important to remember that it's true that we're all alike, but it's also true that we're all completely different. The Dharma benefits us all, but the way it is taught has to be slightly different for everyone.

Thank you again for your response, this has been quite informative.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby AlexanderS » Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:53 pm

I think the onus on connecting the dharma with black communities rests mainly on black practioners especially if there still is a strong feeling of black idendity vs a white identity.

Since I live in probably the most "white" part of the world, I don't get to see and meet a lot of black people, let alone in the few dharma centers we have. It's possibly worth mentioning though one of the few resident lama's at the retreat center, that I go to most frequently is a black woman. There was a also a seminar here with an individual who is considered one of the greatest mahasiddhas of our time. One of his main attendents was a black man with a name that would suggest to me, he is african american.

Even so, I might share a somewhat similar skin colour to some of the tibetan dharma teachers that I meet, but the vajrayana is just exotic and foreign to me as it is to anyone. I've had to make an effort to immerse myself in it's history and cultural legacy to resolve questions. I chant mantra's in sanskrift, which is a language I don't understand, I recite prayers and supplications in tibetan, which also is a language I don't speak. I prostrate to visualized linage masters that I have no cultural or historical affinity with. I've accepted concepts such as karma, samsara and nirvana, which I didn't grow up with in anywaý and largely mostly foreign to the my country's society.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Huifeng » Sun Mar 09, 2014 1:33 am

Thanks everyone for sharing in this thread. :namaste:

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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Malcolm » Sun Mar 09, 2014 2:13 am

zsc wrote: Trying to extract culture from the dharma to make it "pure" is actually a western cultural decision, based on Protestant-driven anxiousness to find the "pure" way, the "original" way, etc.


That is really not an issue here. That will be more of an issue on Dhammawheel. That is mostly a Theravadin discomfort.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby rory » Sun Mar 09, 2014 4:25 am

Malcolm: Oh it's a big issue here. In most Dharma centers you never find the rituals that are normal back in Asia. Japanese Zen temples regularly perform goma, chant to Kannon-sama,believe in the various deities.But the white Protestant atheist take on Buddhism aka Western Buddhism isn't having any. Even the local FGS temple in my area where the member are 98% Asian is stark: a modernist wood and glass structure, no incense or incense burners, 1 Buddha statue and 1 bodhisattva. That's it. Makes me feel like I'm visiting my New England friends' church.

There is a HUGE difference in being white in a majority culture and voluntarily immersing yourself in a different culture, you never loose yourself, cause when you leave the dharma center you are still king of the mountain. Listen to what zsc said about African-American history and their culture, their problems. White liberals constantly say they are 'color blind,' never realizing what a big insult it is to African-Americans, denying their past, their culture. Yes it is 2014 but only 50 years ago African-Americans got their civil rights...that's no time. I think people here need to get out of their box and read some blogs and try and learns something than stay in their cocooned self-absorbed privilege...

AlexanderS....and no I cannot see why POC would want to come to you in your white part of town; can't you get up and go and meet them where they are?
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Adi » Sun Mar 09, 2014 5:06 am

rory wrote:Malcolm: Oh it's a big issue here. In most Dharma centers you never find the rituals that are normal back in Asia.


This sounds like a sweeping generalization unsupported by evidence, unless you've been to most Dharma centers or have access to some kind of survey that takes into account what rituals are performed at most centers. In my experience, the Dharma centers I've been to are opposite of your generalization.

Japanese Zen temples regularly perform goma, chant to Kannon-sama,believe in the various deities.But the white Protestant atheist take on Buddhism aka Western Buddhism isn't having any. Even the local FGS temple in my area where the member are 98% Asian is stark: a modernist wood and glass structure, no incense or incense burners, 1 Buddha statue and 1 bodhisattva. That's it. Makes me feel like I'm visiting my New England friends' church.


Are you limiting your experience to Americanized Zen? I don't have much experience with that myself but the places I've been to (mainly Tibetan or Chinese) are elaborate enough and full of enough "Asian" influences to scare the bejeezus out of anyone with Protestant leanings.

... I think people here need to get out of their box and read some blogs and try and learns something than stay in their cocooned self-absorbed privilege….


Kindly consider that reading blogs may be a function of staying "cocooned in self-absorbed privilege" and not a solution to that problem. If people want to know about other people the best thing to do is get off your butt, get away from the computer, and go out in the world. Go to different places, meet new people, ask questions, find out for yourself. The net is full of bat-shit-crazy bloggers and people posting in forums, saying all kinds of things. :smile:

--Adi, who is of course perfectly reasonable, respectable and not at all one of those bat-shit-crazy people posting in forums.
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