Buddhism: Just for Asians?

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Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Sun Sep 30, 2012 8:46 am

I mean the title as a rhetorical question, obviously. But it suggests something I'm coming to terms with the longer I study. For the most part, it's a "positive surprise" when Asian people find that I study Buddhism. But on occasion, I get a sense from some Asian people that, well ... I don't know how to put it. To a certain extent, it seems there is a slight bit of "protectiveness," which is understandable. I sometimes get a sense that some Asian people, before they get to know me (and realize that I am actually quite sincere in my study), think that I'm just looking for something "exotic." You know, flavor of the month that I will abandon shortly for something else that has grabbed my attention....

The flipside, of course, is Westerners (by that, I suppose I mean European and people of European descent) who think it's strange for an American to abandon the religion/faith they were born into, Christianity (Catholicism, specifically, for me). I even had one (European-American, "White") friend say to me, "I don't know how I feel about Westerners being Buddhists." Upon learning that I study Buddhism, one of my mother's friends asked my mother, "Is your son Oriental?" (I know that's a very politically incorrect term these days. But that's the term she used.)

Interestingly, this is not an issue I've ever had to deal with regarding Nichiren Buddhism. In a branch of Buddhism that basically wants everyone to join, no one really seems to care that I'm not Asian. lol (This may be yet another reason why SGI is the largest Buddhist organization in history, because it is Nichiren-based.)

Has anyone else dealt with this issue?
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Sep 30, 2012 2:25 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:I mean the title as a rhetorical question, obviously. But it suggests something I'm coming to terms with the longer I study. For the most part, it's a "positive surprise" when Asian people find that I study Buddhism. But on occasion, I get a sense from some Asian people that, well ... I don't know how to put it. To a certain extent, it seems there is a slight bit of "protectiveness," which is understandable. I sometimes get a sense that some Asian people, before they get to know me (and realize that I am actually quite sincere in my study), think that I'm just looking for something "exotic." You know, flavor of the month that I will abandon shortly for something else that has grabbed my attention....


At the moment Buddhist traditions are mostly found and practised in Asia. You can find plenty of white folks studying Buddhism around the western world and even in Asian monasteries and universities, but we're still a small minority, and to many locals maybe a token novelty.

I've had weird reactions from people in Chinese Buddhist temples. It has usually been one of surprise, but people are willing to accommodate me, though I'm not really part of the club and never would be. I sometimes sense awkwardness like my presence has disrupted the qi or something. Most Taiwanese-Chinese temples in Taiwan and elsewhere in the west seem to be largely dominated by middle-aged women (monastics and laywomen), so as a young white male I'm kind of out of my element so to speak. If it was more men and monks I think it'd be less awkward to be honest, which is maybe why I felt more at ease in Japan.

During my travels and stay in India I actually felt quite at home. I never received any awkward reactions from people. From Ladakhis to Tibetans to ordinary Indians, the fact that I was a white dude inside a vihara was perfectly okay. In fact I had Indians approach me when I was staying at a vihara in Ladakh to ask me about Buddhism. Nobody asked if I was Christian like in Japan. One south Indian guy actually insisted on buying me breakfast because he said I was a holy man. :smile:

However, my experience in Asia so far is different from what I encountered back home in Canada. There are "ethnic temples" as one could call them which are more or less exclusively for a certain ethnic demographic with little effort made to accommodate the natives. On the other hand there are "Dharma centers" which are made up of mostly middle-class white folks. Naturally I found the latter more accommodating.

The flipside, of course, is Westerners (by that, I suppose I mean European and people of European descent) who think it's strange for an American to abandon the religion/faith they were born into, Christianity (Catholicism, specifically, for me). I even had one (European-American, "White") friend say to me, "I don't know how I feel about Westerners being Buddhists." Upon learning that I study Buddhism, one of my mother's friends asked my mother, "Is your son Oriental?" (I know that's a very politically incorrect term these days. But that's the term she used.)


This might be different from America, but in Canada most people under the age of 65 are probably not going to have any issues with their native counterparts going Buddhist. Most of society anyways doesn't have much to do with organized religion anyway, so the result is a thumbs up to any kind of exotic spirituality.

If anyone says your ethnic background somehow makes you unfit as a Buddhist show them this painting. It is from 9th century Xinjiang (the Silk Road).

Image

Note the eyes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Centr ... Monks.jpeg
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Jikan » Sun Sep 30, 2012 2:47 pm

Following Huseng's post:

there are also nonwhite non-Asians practicing Buddhism in one form or another, although not in representative numbers to the population globally. It's not just white people who are the non-Asian Buddhists, but it sometimes appears that way.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:01 am

Huseng wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:I've had weird reactions from people in Chinese Buddhist temples. It has usually been one of surprise, but people are willing to accommodate me, though I'm not really part of the club and never would be. I sometimes sense awkwardness like my presence has disrupted the qi or something. Most Taiwanese-Chinese temples in Taiwan and elsewhere in the west seem to be largely dominated by middle-aged women (monastics and laywomen), so as a young white male I'm kind of out of my element so to speak.


This is what I've seen as well. But I think this is the case in many religious traditions: it is often women who dominate, at least in terms of the attendance of services.

Thank you for the interesting picture. I don't know the exact history of it, but I remember being surprised to learn that in fact the first images of Buddha were images made by Greeks, correct?

I'm sure you've heard of the theory that Jesus was black. (I grew up in a black community in Portland, Oregon, so I'm familiar with this sort of stuff....) Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man (by "Western," I mean of European descent). At first, that sounds odd, but when you think about it, it really isn't.... Buddha's image has been recast for centuries to look more like the people in the various countries the religion was spreading through. I don't think the historical Gautama Buddha looked like the Japanese images of Buddha, which, obviously, look like a Japanese man.

Image

By the way, I haven't ever faced an discrimination for being a Western Buddhist. I realized today what made me bring up this topic.... There's a prayer room set up at the university I'm attending, and I sometimes use it for chanting. The room is in the "International Student" building -- which is run almost exclusively by Asian students, and by that, I mean, students straight from Asia (not "of Asian descent"). I try to be as discreet as possible and not call attention to myself. But I have on occasion seen the startled looks on their faces. It's enough to make me feel like I should stop using the room, because I don't want to look like I'm "stealing" someone else's culture. But, you know, it's how I get through the day lately....
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:25 am

Jikan wrote:Following Huseng's post:

there are also nonwhite non-Asians practicing Buddhism in one form or another, although not in representative numbers to the population globally. It's not just white people who are the non-Asian Buddhists, but it sometimes appears that way.


Tina Turner and Herbie Hancock being good examples. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiyMA0ztcko

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRr3zTzoVhk
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:40 am

Part of all this may be that here in North America, temples have been used just as much as ethnic heritage centers and Buddhist temples.

A white Buddhist monk once said that he thinks there aught to be "American" Buddhist iconography, but he asks "what does an American look like?" Some white Buddhas might be interesting....the monk said denim robes. Shakyamuni turns his back on no one after all.

As far as temples being dominated by women, I have heard that women are statistically more religious, by surprising numbers actually. And that Atheists do in fact tend to be men.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby kirtu » Tue Oct 02, 2012 3:13 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote: Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man (by "Western," I mean of European descent). At first, that sounds odd, but when you think about it, it really isn't.... Buddha's image has been recast for centuries to look more like the people in the various countries the religion was spreading through.


This already happened 2100-2300 years ago as you noted. Please search for Gandhara Buddhist imagery.

More contemporarily we have the Buddha statue from the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya by Shambhalla in Colorado.

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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Masaru » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:00 am

Myoho-Nameless wrote:A white Buddhist monk once said that he thinks there aught to be "American" Buddhist iconography, but he asks "what does an American look like?"


Keanu Reeves.
A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Thu Oct 04, 2012 6:17 am

Masaru wrote:
Myoho-Nameless wrote:A white Buddhist monk once said that he thinks there aught to be "American" Buddhist iconography, but he asks "what does an American look like?"


Keanu Reeves.

the quarter Hawai'ian quarter Chinese half white Keanu? why not? bout as merican as it gets.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Jikan » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:43 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:
Jikan wrote:Following Huseng's post:

there are also nonwhite non-Asians practicing Buddhism in one form or another, although not in representative numbers to the population globally. It's not just white people who are the non-Asian Buddhists, but it sometimes appears that way.


Tina Turner and Herbie Hancock being good examples. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiyMA0ztcko

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRr3zTzoVhk


Or Congressman Hank Johnson.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Queequeg » Thu Oct 04, 2012 6:14 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man


Me too.

If and when I ever attain to the level of stupid money, I will spend $$$$ commissioning Buddhist art depicting Buddhas and bodhisattvas as people I see on the subway. The jewel pieces would be male (Shakyamuni) and female (Prabhutaratna) life size Buddha statues carved in American Oak (US National Tree) and looking something like Ray Lewis and Beyonce, respectively... African American with Native American features... symbolic of the cruelty and inhumanity in North America, as well as the potential of universal Buddhahood... Definitely a female Buddha first to take on the male chauvinism in Buddhist lore and iconography - inspire our daughters that Buddhahood is for them, too.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Oct 04, 2012 7:54 pm

In my experience I have found the Asians to be more welcoming and open than the Western practitioners, but that is my experience.
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A wise man keeps them secret within.
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But a precious gem placed upon it sinks to the depths
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Oct 04, 2012 9:44 pm

JKhedrup wrote:In my experience I have found the Asians to be more welcoming and open than the Western practitioners, but that is my experience.


I've noticed among Western practitioners a tendency to view it as "cool" to be a Buddhist. Sometimes when I've gotten in discussions with American (Western) Buddhists, I've gotten a sense that it's almost a status symbol about how "with it" they are to just be Buddhist. In other words, ironically, a lot of ego. Asian Buddhists, by contrast, are used to people being Buddhist, and so it's not as likely to be a status symbol of how "hip" they are.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Thu Oct 04, 2012 10:38 pm

Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man


Me too.

If and when I ever attain to the level of stupid money, I will spend $$$$ commissioning Buddhist art depicting Buddhas and bodhisattvas as people I see on the subway. The jewel pieces would be male (Shakyamuni) and female (Prabhutaratna) life size Buddha statues carved in American Oak (US National Tree) and looking something like Ray Lewis and Beyonce, respectively... African American with Native American features... symbolic of the cruelty and inhumanity in North America, as well as the potential of universal Buddhahood... Definitely a female Buddha first to take on the male chauvinism in Buddhist lore and iconography - inspire our daughters that Buddhahood is for them, too.

why bother making a big deal about what no continent other than Antartica lacks? How bout the inhumanity from Buddhist Asia? Buddha turns his back on no one, including white men like myself.


But yeah.....so many "types" of faces in America...one thing we should not do is standardize an American Buddha. we could rely on traditional iconography like stuff he is depicted doing or things he is depicted with...in India hes always around two white and one black swan right?
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Masaru » Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:55 am

Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man


Me too.

If and when I ever attain to the level of stupid money, I will spend $$$$ commissioning Buddhist art depicting Buddhas and bodhisattvas as people I see on the subway. The jewel pieces would be male (Shakyamuni) and female (Prabhutaratna) life size Buddha statues carved in American Oak (US National Tree) and looking something like Ray Lewis and Beyonce, respectively... African American with Native American features... symbolic of the cruelty and inhumanity in North America, as well as the potential of universal Buddhahood... Definitely a female Buddha first to take on the male chauvinism in Buddhist lore and iconography - inspire our daughters that Buddhahood is for them, too.


Encouraging women to seek enlightenment is fine, so long as we're not guilt-tripping the other half of the species for every injustice and unilateral decision back to prehistory or forgetting that human females often choose dominant, quasi-psychopathic juicehead alpha-males without any help from a supposed Patriarchy/Illuminati to coax them into it. Matadors don't fight bulls just to impress the cows. They do it for the same reason peacocks display their tails.

Attacking ancient chauvinism might be like representing the Buddha as you described but then representing Mara as a blonde, white male carrying a contract and whip in one hand, shiny beads in the other, dressed like Agent Smith from the Matrix and wearing a smirk. You would be forgetting about all of the white Americans who opposed slavery and the Mexican-American war, that non-whites in America tend to have some Caucasian ancestry, and that miscegenation is becoming increasingly more common. An image like that would also stigmatize a new generation that might otherwise be willing to forget the old ancestral grudges and who - even accounting for reincarnation (there are more people alive now than in the past) - are not personally responsible for them.

That being said, I think a female statue would be a great idea. A Buddha vigorously polishing the mirror of enlightenment with the cloth of assiduous practice and a gallon of vajra bleach that removes the stains of false views.

:pig: :guns: :twothumbsup:
A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:18 am

Shakyamuni was from North India. North Indians and Europeans already share a common ancestry from back in the Bronze Age. The majority of representations of The Buddha, other than (only through) calligraphy are essentially cartoons rather than "realistic" images.

Aside from that, the whole concept of "race" in a fabrication of the mind. It is not scientific.
It's basically a kind of pigment-based astrology. So, what separates Shakyamuni from Europeans has more to do with where territorial boundaries have been drawn over the centuries than with DNA.

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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby viniketa » Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:31 am

:good:

:bow:

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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:38 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Aside from that, the whole concept of "race" in a fabrication of the mind. It is not scientific.
It's basically a kind of pigment-based astrology. So, what separates Shakyamuni from Europeans has more to do with where territorial boundaries have been drawn over the centuries than with DNA.


Yes but in the real world I'm a white dude and the locals here in Asia all are quite aware of this and treat me as a foreigner.

I don't believe in race anymore than I believe in unicorns, but in today's world it is a very reified and immediately apparent social construct. In earlier times the idea of "race" as we have it now largely didn't exist, but as a result of 19th and 20th century ideas on ethnography and eugenics the sense of race is quite strong.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Fri Oct 05, 2012 6:07 am

Masaru wrote:
Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:Lately, I've been wondering how long it will be before we see images of Buddha depicted as a Western man


Me too.

If and when I ever attain to the level of stupid money, I will spend $$$$ commissioning Buddhist art depicting Buddhas and bodhisattvas as people I see on the subway. The jewel pieces would be male (Shakyamuni) and female (Prabhutaratna) life size Buddha statues carved in American Oak (US National Tree) and looking something like Ray Lewis and Beyonce, respectively... African American with Native American features... symbolic of the cruelty and inhumanity in North America, as well as the potential of universal Buddhahood... Definitely a female Buddha first to take on the male chauvinism in Buddhist lore and iconography - inspire our daughters that Buddhahood is for them, too.


Encouraging women to seek enlightenment is fine, so long as we're not guilt-tripping the other half of the species for every injustice and unilateral decision back to prehistory or forgetting that human females often choose dominant, quasi-psychopathic juicehead alpha-males without any help from a supposed Patriarchy/Illuminati to coax them into it. Matadors don't fight bulls just to impress the cows. They do it for the same reason peacocks display their tails.

Attacking ancient chauvinism might be like representing the Buddha as you described but then representing Mara as a blonde, white male carrying a contract and whip in one hand, shiny beads in the other, dressed like Agent Smith from the Matrix and wearing a smirk. You would be forgetting about all of the white Americans who opposed slavery and the Mexican-American war, that non-whites in America tend to have some Caucasian ancestry, and that miscegenation is becoming increasingly more common. An image like that would also stigmatize a new generation that might otherwise be willing to forget the old ancestral grudges and who - even accounting for reincarnation (there are more people alive now than in the past) - are not personally responsible for them.

That being said, I think a female statue would be a great idea. A Buddha vigorously polishing the mirror of enlightenment with the cloth of assiduous practice and a gallon of vajra bleach that removes the stains of false views.

:pig: :guns: :twothumbsup:

I would love a female buddha statue, and NOT for creepy sex reasons....its bout damn time donchya think?...I just think that sometimes (mostly SGI) we go SO far to emphasize that in our practice women are just as capable, that we put them farther then men. Personally I wont belong to a faith where I am a second class Buddha. To me gender does not actually exist, we could have had three or one gender, until the protestant reformation age according to Nat Geo's Taboo, there was only one gender, Male, and it had an "inverse" which was women...there is a tribe where there are no less than 5 genders, men, women, girly men, butch women, and neutral people. all distinct genders. to me its a function of genes and chromosomes and culture, not an important outstanding difference in the Mystic Law.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Masaru » Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:21 am

Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:Aside from that, the whole concept of "race" in a fabrication of the mind.


Yes but in the real world I'm a white dude and the locals here in Asia all are quite aware of this and treat me as a foreigner.


I'm a guido looking Mexican-American myself, though I am sometimes mistaken for being racially middle-eastern/Al-Qaeda.

Myoho-Nameless wrote:I would love a female buddha statue, and NOT for creepy sex reasons....


Well, I mean Beyonce is pretty hot. Maybe the statue could also depict the enlightened one in a nurse outfit to represent univeral compassion. Or some kind of hybrid between a nurse outfit and a French maid costume to also symbolize purity and ardent effort. And extra arms so that she can multi-task; prepare meals of dharma for countless living beings, nurse young who have yet to awaken to their Buddha-nature. With 3 breasts (to represent Trikaya?) like the woman from Total Recall. The possibilities are endless.

OregonBuddhist wrote:I mean the title as a rhetorical question, obviously. But it suggests something I'm coming to terms with the longer I study. For the most part, it's a "positive surprise" when Asian people find that I study Buddhism. But on occasion, I get a sense from some Asian people that, well ... I don't know how to put it. To a certain extent, it seems there is a slight bit of "protectiveness," which is understandable. I sometimes get a sense that some Asian people, before they get to know me (and realize that I am actually quite sincere in my study), think that I'm just looking for something "exotic." You know, flavor of the month that I will abandon shortly for something else that has grabbed my attention....


Addressing the original topic of the thread, I suspect the reason Asians might seem reluctant to share their tradition with white people is that they're afraid whitey will come along and take out everything he doesn't like, start telling them what they're "doing wrong," and then take credit for the whole religion from the beginning, claiming that white people invented it. Which, historically, is what white people always do. The Nichiren sect, however, is "evangelical" in that it practices shakabuku, and shakabuku provides a corrective mechanism that keeps adherents from straying too far from the basic tenets and practices of the tradition. Homey don't play that.

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A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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