Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

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Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Luke » Thu May 26, 2011 8:24 pm

In seems to me that, for better or worse, race is a key issue in the spread of Buddhism. Basically, Buddhism has become popular among educated white people, but remains less popular with other races (except, of course, with Asians) and among less-educated people.

So I have two questions for all of you:
1. Why do you think it is that Buddhism is so popular among educated white people?

2. What can be done to make Buddhism more popular with other races of people and with less-educated people?

As a partial answer to question 1, perhaps this is because many countries with white people are superpowers or former superpowers and many Asian Buddhist teachers came there for economic reasons?

As for question 2, I have little idea except that we should carefully watch how our mostly white sanghas might exclude people of other races or make them feel uncomfortable or unwelcome without us realizing it. For example, I don't think I've ever seen a Romani (gypsy) at a Buddhist event in Hungary. Common prejudices can find there way even into Buddhist sanghas.

At first, the effort to "liberate all sentient beings" is mere words, but we have to strive to live up to it as closely as we can by continually developing our ability to benefit and feel compassion for more and more types of sentient beings.

Some people may find it distasteful to discuss racial issues, but I feel that it's important to face reality so that we can improve as modern Buddhists.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Astus » Thu May 26, 2011 9:04 pm

I don't think this should be a racial question, simply because I doubt it has much to do with it. Education and social situation on the other hand are important factors. It is also a question what kind of Buddhism one talks about. As I've heard Nichiren Buddhism is quite popular among working class people in America.

There is an important misconception about Buddhism among Westerners. That it is all about inner peace, meditation, philosophy and enlightenment. Quite far from the day to day reality of the majority of Buddhists. However, it would be nearly impossible at the moment to make people believe in the Pure Land instead of Jesus. That's why Buddhism first spread among the literati, the intellectuals who found foreign views inspiring. Even among the Buddha's immediate disciples many were from higher castes who lived in cities while the laity, who supported the Buddhist monks and nuns, kept their gods and rituals according to tradition.

The primary message of Buddhism to the common people is about alms giving, morality, merits and rebirth. The very part that Westerners rarely take notice of. But if one could choose between higher salary and a month long retreat it'd be the money in 9 out of 10 cases. So the Buddha says that if you want more money, a faithful spouse, a loving family and perhaps a good next life you should be generous and keep some precepts. However, if you are stingy and do bad things you'll be poor, sick and might even spend a few aeons in hell. This is easy to understand and makes sense, unlike talks about no-self, five aggregates, sitting on a cushion doing nothing and such. I don't know if there are teachers who try to spread this as Buddhism among people in the West. That's why those who are less interested in material gains - i.e. those who already have more than enough - want to learn Buddhism and not those who prefer a good meal over a good book.

As for Hungarian gypsies and Buddhism check out the Jai Bhim Network. They also have a school for gypsies: Dr. Ambedkar School.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby conebeckham » Thu May 26, 2011 10:09 pm

Why is Christianity so appealing to White People?

Why is Christianity so appealing to Black People?


Do these questions have any merit, really?
May any merit generated by on-line discussion
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 27, 2011 1:04 am

In seems to me that, for better or worse, race is a key issue in the spread of Buddhism.


Man I cringe whenever I hear discussions about 'race'.

Basically, Buddhism has become popular among educated white people, but remains less popular with other races (except, of course, with Asians) and among less-educated people.


You think "Asian" is a race? The word "Asia" is a foreign loanword in East Asian languages and generally speaking people here do not call themselves "Asian". You have plenty of individuals in Europe, Australia and North America who like to refer to themselves as "Asians" and others will likewise do so as well, but in reality "Asian" is an occidental construct that has little bearing in East Asia. Likewise in India and Nepal. Nobody calls themselves Asian.

I think your statements here are massive generalizations.

1. Why do you think it is that Buddhism is so popular among educated white people?


Is it really so popular or even well-understood in western countries? The Dalai Lama is popular and 'Zen' is now a peculiar adjective, but do the lot of those who self-identify as 'white' really know much about Buddhism to begin with? The bookshops might sell material on Buddhism, but that's only to a small small segment of consumers.

As a partial answer to question 1, perhaps this is because many countries with white people are superpowers or former superpowers and many Asian Buddhist teachers came there for economic reasons?


It is because of social stability and immigration trends. Buddhists from Thailand, China, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere showed up in North America, Europe and Australia looking for a better life and brought their religion and institutions with them.


As for question 2, I have little idea except that we should carefully watch how our mostly white sanghas might exclude people of other races or make them feel uncomfortable or unwelcome without us realizing it. For example, I don't think I've ever seen a Romani (gypsy) at a Buddhist event in Hungary. Common prejudices can find there way even into Buddhist sanghas.


I think we need to stop seeing people using archaic Victorian-era ethnological models.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby ronnewmexico » Fri May 27, 2011 1:45 am

I don't know.

The local temple where I have in the past spend the most amount of time had a diverse attendence. So it was not educated anglo american to exclusion.
Hispanic native american and others were in attendence. A lot more women than men for some reason. Seemed to have a fair amount of gay peoples as well.
I myself am not formally educated, so I'd not fit the description as well.

But Buddhist I don't necessarily consider myself so...on number 2 I really don't care.
Buddhists seem about the same as everyone else by my take....so I don't care, if that spreads or not.
Antedotally I find devoute christians much more friendly and welcoming than Buddhists.
If I saw a devoute christian at a supermarket after seeing that person at church they would always say hello with a big smile shake hands and all that.
If I saw a Buddhist in the same exact context they would most probably not say anything at all. Some of the younger ones would but about none of the older ones.

Buddhism is a tool for me nothing more nor less. Maybe then I'd guess I hope it doesn't spread...less unfriendly people around and about. It spreads and this place could become quite unfriendly :smile: .
But I really don't care. Most seem theists anyway. Evidence of interest in Buddhism overall I'd guess by those other than born into it is due to a spiritual vacancy the people in america feel. Their nation is killing torturing manipulating others so I'd guess the actionable evidenciary is spiritual vacancy. They want not to know these things so don't see them generallly but suffer spiritual consequence as result to my opinion. So the reach for a other not their own is with the innate knowledge the home grown is corrupted as is their nation and its actions.
Anything to my opinion in america must be looked at through the lense of a people generally causeing great harm through a somewhat intentional ignorance. So they suffer and grasp out at anything to save their hides.....

The largest amount of Buddhist in this place by constituancy I think are the southeast asian constituancy, which have very few anglos in attendence at ceremonies I'd guess, but large temples.
New Mexico is majority other than anglo anyway. Superpower....how about debtor nation with a large military...nothing more. A empire in decline.
China if it remains whole is the empire in ascendency. Perhaps peoples in a way feel that as well and seek alternative, like a rat fleeing a sinking ship.

So I don't know about these questions..but I am not formally educated...so that is perhaps to be expected. :smile:
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri May 27, 2011 1:50 am

You may find this article from Tricycle magazine pertinent. It concerns the balance of 'racial' diversity in western Buddhist groups in the United States:

Born in the USA: Racial Diversity in Soka Gakkai International
Has this oft-maligned Buddhist organization—the largest in America—figured out something that others haven't?
http://www.tricycle.com/feature/born-usa-racial-diversity-soka-gakkai-international
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Quiet Heart » Sat May 28, 2011 10:31 am

:smile:
I also don't like equating country of origin with "race". I prefer the term "culture".
For example the Phillipines is a country in Asia. Japan, Thailand, and Burma are also countries in Asia.
Does that mean that the cultures in the Phillipines, Japan, Thailand, and Burma are the same simply because they all exist on the continent that is called Asia?
Of course not.
So let's rephrase the question to,"Why is Buddhisim becoming so popular in non Asian cultures?". And let's deal with that question in North America, because that's where i was born and I have more experence there.
One reason I'm sure is because many cultures in North America came from Europe...and many cultures in Europe were Christian based. These cultures were brought into North America by the original settlers from Europe.
In the 1960's and 1970's many young people becane dissatisfied with want their parents wanted to teach them as the "norm" . Christianity was one of those norms. Buddhisim wa considered exotic, "cool", and their parents didn't understand it. So, one way to rebel against your parent's norm was to embrace Buddhisim. I know, because I was one of them at the time. I've come a long way since that time when I was 20 years old...but that is how it started for me.
I expect if you look carefully at other cultures in the world you will find similar reasons why Buddhisim became popular in that country for similar reasons.
:smile:
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby LastLegend » Mon May 30, 2011 7:07 am

I am not Caucasian. So I would not know.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Malcolm » Mon May 30, 2011 2:43 pm

Luke wrote:1. Why do you think it is that Buddhism is so popular among educated white people?


It is because we are educated.


2. What can be done to make Buddhism more popular with other races of people and with less-educated people?


Educate them.


At first, the effort to "liberate all sentient beings" is mere words, but we have to strive to live up to it as closely as we can by continually developing our ability to benefit and feel compassion for more and more types of sentient beings.


Interest in Buddhism is an issue of one's karma it has nothing to do with race, education, or even culture.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby mudra » Tue May 31, 2011 1:21 am

Namdrol wrote:
Interest in Buddhism is an issue of one's karma it has nothing to do with race, education, or even culture.


Exactly.


BTW, not all white people are caucasians. So the OP's question actually reads something like "Why do all people descended from the race that inhabited the Caucasus mountains (pretty much Turkic) who are educated find Buddhism appealing?" Perhaps that makes the off-the-wall nature of the question clearer. As the Turkic tribes are actually Asian and mostly Muslim, gee how can we say that Buddhism is popular amongst Caucasians? Or is it just the educated ones, don't they have education in Central Asia? (I noticed in my travels in Mongolia a 100% literacy rate, and I expect pretty much the same in Kazakhstan etc due to Soviet influence). Or do you mean us Asians who are slanty eyed and yellow? But then again there's a whole bunch of us who are pretty brown and round eyed. Let's see, Phillipines is pretty Catholic, Indonesia pretty Muslim, India has a large Hindu population? Dang, I'm lost. Which 'Asians' are interested in Buddhism? Oh those that are. Which Caucasians (and other white races) are interested in Buddhism? Those that are. Do I know a lot of Thais and Tibetans who are nominally Buddhist who don't know much about dharma nor are they interested? Yes. Is this horse dead yet?
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Luke » Tue May 31, 2011 10:59 am

Astus wrote:I don't think this should be a racial question, simply because I doubt it has much to do with it. Education and social situation on the other hand are important factors. It is also a question what kind of Buddhism one talks about. As I've heard Nichiren Buddhism is quite popular among working class people in America.

...That's why those who are less interested in material gains - i.e. those who already have more than enough - want to learn Buddhism and not those who prefer a good meal over a good book.

Those are good points. I once heard an economics professor say that the upper classes in most countries have a preference for imports, or at least for those with "snob appeal." Whether Buddhism has "snob appeal" is debatable. Parts of it certainly seems to, at least from certain points of view.

Namdrol wrote:Interest in Buddhism is an issue of one's karma it has nothing to do with race, education, or even culture.

Ah, but one's present wealth is a result of one's karma and the wealthier someone is, the more likely it is that he or she will have had a good education, and it seems that many of those people in the west who have the karma to be affluent also have the karma to be interested in Buddhism.

Huseng wrote:Man I cringe whenever I hear discussions about 'race'.

Yes, it's not a fashionable topic among the left. However, the elites of the American left often show a great deal of hypocrisy: They publicly say things about equality and racial harmony to make themselves look good among their peers, but then they go back home to their affluent white neighborhoods, affluent white schools, and affluent white social clubs.

Huseng wrote:You think "Asian" is a race?

No more or less so than "white" is. You can make the same argument there: There are Swedes, Germans, Brits, etc., who each have different cultures and slightly different physical features.

Huseng wrote:I think we need to stop seeing people using archaic Victorian-era ethnological models.

That sounds very pleasant and politically correct, but what exactly do you propose in its place? The cliche "Oh, let's just see everyone as individuals" ignores the trends that exist within certain ethnic groups. We're each products of our environments and culture to some extent. As for me, I guess I see race from the standpoint of an American application form: "Race (please check one): White, Black (not hispanic), Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American."

PadmaVonSamba wrote:You may find this article from Tricycle magazine pertinent. It concerns the balance of 'racial' diversity in western Buddhist groups in the United States:

That looks very interesting; however, I can't read it without becoming a member of Tricycle. Perhaps it's posted somewhere else?

mudra wrote:BTW, not all white people are caucasians.

Good point. I was using the word in the standard American sense as a synonym for "white." Perhaps I should have just said "white."

mudra wrote:So the OP's question actually reads something like "Why do all people descended from the race that inhabited the Caucasus mountains (pretty much Turkic) who are educated find Buddhism appealing?" Perhaps that makes the off-the-wall nature of the question clearer. As the Turkic tribes are actually Asian and mostly Muslim, gee how can we say that Buddhism is popular amongst Caucasians? Or is it just the educated ones, don't they have education in Central Asia? (I noticed in my travels in Mongolia a 100% literacy rate, and I expect pretty much the same in Kazakhstan etc due to Soviet influence). Or do you mean us Asians who are slanty eyed and yellow? But then again there's a whole bunch of us who are pretty brown and round eyed. Let's see, Phillipines is pretty Catholic, Indonesia pretty Muslim, India has a large Hindu population? Dang, I'm lost. Which 'Asians' are interested in Buddhism? Oh those that are. Which Caucasians (and other white races) are interested in Buddhism? Those that are. Do I know a lot of Thais and Tibetans who are nominally Buddhist who don't know much about dharma nor are they interested? Yes. Is this horse dead yet?

But despite all the interesting distinctions you made above, the fact remains that most of the people who are interested in Buddhism in the west are nerdy white people.

For example, I doubt that one-third of our forum members here are black. I would be pleased and highly surprised if that were the case, but statistically it's almost impossible.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Luke » Tue May 31, 2011 11:31 am

Quiet Heart wrote::smile:
I also don't like equating country of origin with "race". I prefer the term "culture".

Yes, that's generally good, but racial distinctions are still very real. A white kid growing up in rural China would probably face some unique problems, as would a black kid growing up in Siberia. We can say "racial distinctions are hurtful" all day long, but this doesn't change the fact that millions of people in the world still see things this way.

Quiet Heart wrote:So let's rephrase the question to,"Why is Buddhisim becoming so popular in non Asian cultures?".

But Buddhism (as far as I know) is still not very popular among black Americans or among black people from any other nations, nor is it very popular among Hispanics in the US. I'm not sure if Buddhism is growing in Central and South America, but somehow I don't think it's very popular there yet. Some Native Americans showed interest in Tibet Buddhism, but this doesn't seem to be too widespread. So no matter how a person tries to avoid it, modern Buddhism seems to come back to whites and Asians.

Quiet Heart wrote:And let's deal with that question in North America, because that's where i was born and I have more experence there.
One reason I'm sure is because many cultures in North America came from Europe...and many cultures in Europe were Christian based. These cultures were brought into North America by the original settlers from Europe.
In the 1960's and 1970's many young people becane dissatisfied with want their parents wanted to teach them as the "norm" . Christianity was one of those norms. Buddhisim wa considered exotic, "cool", and their parents didn't understand it. So, one way to rebel against your parent's norm was to embrace Buddhisim. I know, because I was one of them at the time. I've come a long way since that time when I was 20 years old...but that is how it started for me.
I expect if you look carefully at other cultures in the world you will find similar reasons why Buddhisim became popular in that country for similar reasons.
:smile:

^great explanation! Thanks for sharing.

Now I can see that things seem to come down to two factors:
1) The desire of the youth to rebel against their elders by adopting foreign ideas.

2) The race of the ruling class within a country, since the elites are generally the ones who favor foreign and exotic things. Although there are limits to this because I doubt that Queen Elizabeth is rushing to her computer everytime ChNN gives a webcast!
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Jikan » Tue May 31, 2011 3:03 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:You may find this article from Tricycle magazine pertinent. It concerns the balance of 'racial' diversity in western Buddhist groups in the United States:

Born in the USA: Racial Diversity in Soka Gakkai International
Has this oft-maligned Buddhist organization—the largest in America—figured out something that others haven't?
http://www.tricycle.com/feature/born-usa-racial-diversity-soka-gakkai-international


This is an important part of the conversation. What SGI does is offer a prosperity gospel and an inclusive environment. Everyone's welcome, and everyone gets something out of the activity. (Let's say you're chanting for a new car; if you get it, you have proof your practice works.)

What happens when people become critical of the SGI approach but remain interested in Buddhism as such? In my limited experience, Nichiren-shu (and other Lotus-Sutra-oriented) sanghas seem more racially diverse and particularly inclusive of black Americans than many other sanghas I've encountered. Is this where people go after SGI?
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Indrajala » Tue May 31, 2011 7:01 pm

Luke wrote:
Huseng wrote:Man I cringe whenever I hear discussions about 'race'.

Yes, it's not a fashionable topic among the left. However, the elites of the American left often show a great deal of hypocrisy: They publicly say things about equality and racial harmony to make themselves look good among their peers, but then they go back home to their affluent white neighborhoods, affluent white schools, and affluent white social clubs.



What's your point?

I don't identify as left, nor am I an elite in the American left, or even American for that matter. I'm a canuck living as a non-Japanese minority in Tokyo.

I hail from a pretty mixed neighbourhood in Canada. I never lived in an affluent white neighbourhood. I've also never been to an affluent social club. I come from a socially disadvantaged background where my "whiteness" never gave me any bonuses or special privileges. Lower working class.

Now, that being said, I cringe about discussions of race because I find it quite simply propagates the whole idea that you can carve humanity into a few select categories based on superficial traits. It is outdated ethnology. I don't say that to look good among my peers. I say it because I think the whole notion of 'race' should be discarded for everyone's benefit.



Huseng wrote:You think "Asian" is a race?

No more or less so than "white" is. You can make the same argument there: There are Swedes, Germans, Brits, etc., who each have different cultures and slightly different physical features.


So drop the whole notion of 'Asian' as a race.


Huseng wrote:I think we need to stop seeing people using archaic Victorian-era ethnological models.

That sounds very pleasant and politically correct, but what exactly do you propose in its place? The cliche "Oh, let's just see everyone as individuals" ignores the trends that exist within certain ethnic groups. We're each products of our environments and culture to some extent. As for me, I guess I see race from the standpoint of an American application form: "Race (please check one): White, Black (not hispanic), Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American."


I think seeing people according to their cultural background makes more sense. In East Asia this is how it is done. People are associated with their nationality and this usually works well enough as you don't have very many Koreans being offended when they're called Korean. To identify someone or a group as Japanese or Chinese or Brazilian or Canadian is less problematic than grouping together the whole population of East Asia and calling them all 'Asian' by virtue of common physical traits.

There is no good reason for adhering to outdated ethnological models born out of a time when universities taught that Africans had smaller brains than Europeans.

Seriously. Time to grow out of that.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Jun 02, 2011 5:38 pm

I eat with chopsticks. what does that make me?
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Jikan » Thu Jun 02, 2011 5:47 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:I eat with chopsticks. what does that make me?


Fed. Carry on.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Jun 02, 2011 6:12 pm

:lol:
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby catmoon » Thu Jun 02, 2011 9:03 pm

To answer the OP:

I don't think it is. I think the vast majority of educated Caucasians are either Christians or atheists.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby KeithBC » Fri Jun 03, 2011 5:35 am

I seriously doubt that race per se has anything to do with it. However, I think that socio-economic status in general has a lot to do with it.

I once heard a Buddhist teacher observe that a rich person is more fortunate than a poor person because the rich person knows from personal experience that money is not the answer. The poor person is still stuck grasping for it and therefore is farther from putting an end to suffering. I suspect that that effect has more to do with the appeal of Buddhism to educated white folks.
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Re: Why is Buddhism so appealing to educated Caucasians?

Postby LastLegend » Fri Jun 03, 2011 5:49 am

KeithBC wrote:I seriously doubt that race per se has anything to do with it. However, I think that socio-economic status in general has a lot to do with it.

I once heard a Buddhist teacher observe that a rich person is more fortunate than a poor person because the rich person knows from personal experience that money is not the answer. The poor person is still stuck grasping for it and therefore is farther from putting an end to suffering. I suspect that that effect has more to do with the appeal of Buddhism to educated white folks.


Maybe so but a rich person is also deluded by money. This person does not know Dharma.
While a poor person can live happily without being attached to get money. This person must know Dharma well. This person can obtain wealth through giving. Giving is a service does not have to be money but money and material things are preferred if wealth is to be obtained in return.

These persons don't know Dharma.
Both the rich and the poor will not give their money away.

These persons know Dharma but don't practice giving.
These persons talk about karma like music in the wind but they don't practice giving.

50 cents from the heart counts more than 1 million from the motive of fame and recognition
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