Buddhism: Just for Asians?

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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:45 am

Masaru wrote: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. Joking but not.


Thanks for the response. I'm very familiar with the things you mention, because I grew up in a black neighorhood -- in Portland, Oregon, if you can believe it. (Yes, there IS a black neighorhood in Portland. My high school was 65% black.) And I noticed that you mentioned you are a "guido-looking Mexican American." Hmmm.... So am I. Sort of. You see, the only father I ever knew -- technically speaking, he was a stepfather -- was Mexican American, born in a migrant camp in Texas. He was friend with Cesar Chavez, whom I met when I was a little boy. I'm the little ("white") boy in this advertisment for Colegio Cesar Chavez, the first "chicano" college in the United States: http://oregondigital.org/cdm4/item_view ... =/cultural As for the "guido" part, well, my biological father is full-blooded Italian. So, I'm Italian American raised by a Mexican American father, which sort of approximates your self-description. Sort of. (I'm sure you're aware that "guido" usually refers to Italians.)

I should clarify, by the way, that the original question was rhetorical. And I should also mention that I really haven't ever felt any rejection from any Asians for being a Buddhist. If anything, my own hyper-sensitivity to seeming respectful to Buddhist culture and Asian cultures has made me insecure in some situations. In other words, I don't want to look like a big out-of-place "tourist." But then I also forgot to mention the following: at the Nichiren temple I attend, I actually got a lot of good feedback (from people of Asian descent) when they saw that I had the Hoben and Juryo chapters memorized. Actually, come to think of it, that may've been where this issue started with me. I had the chants memorized, and some members of the congregation (who are Asian) didn't. I was afraid that my appearance combined with the fact that I have the chapters memorized may make me look like a "show off" -- which I'm not at all. I have the chapters memorized because they've helped me hold my life together for the past two years.

Thanks for the response.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:52 am

I completely agree with this statement. I don't believe that "race" even really exists. I had a science teacher who said that if the concept of "race" was truly a scientific concept, then we wouldn't be able to have children with people of other races.

That much said ... as another member mentioned below, the concept of race is a social construct that we all have to deal with. And as a white male who grew up in a black neighborhood, with a Mexican American (chicano activist) stepfather, I know that if I -- as a white male -- go around saying things like, "Race doesn't really exist," it can seem like a slap in the face to some people who have suffered due to racism. I know very well that some people's lives are greatly impacted by their appearance, or "race," and I know that -- through no fault of my own -- people of my appearance (white males) are often given access to privileges that others are not. I know things are changing for the better, and I know that in other countries I as a "white male" would experience discrimination (as per the comments of others on this thread). But in the US, I still have to take into account the implications of the fact that "race" is important here, and that the rest of society classifies me as a "white male" -- and then makes assumptions about me based on that classification. And probably one of the LAST assumptions anyone would make about me as a white male would be that I'm a Buddhist.

PadmaVonSamba wrote: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 PadmaVonSamba » Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:52 pm

Yes, race doesn't exist but racism does.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Oct 05, 2012 2:00 pm

I've often heard mentioned that in the USA Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Churches, at least, are often grouped according to ethnicity. I wonder what the reasons are for this. Perhaps part of it is that African Americans, for example, want a "safe space" for worship. To be in peace without the baggage, fear and discomfort they feel due to racism from Monday to Friday at their workplaces.

I imagine with Asian people it may well be a similar situation at some temples. For the working week they feel as if they must conform to the dominant (in most cases White) culture. Temple is a place for family time, speaking in your own language, and sharing your struggles as an immigrant or the child of immigrants.

I am not sure how this translates in the setting of countries where Asians are the majority. Certainly while in Taiwan I felt very out of place at times but much of this may have been due to my lack of fluency in Mandarin. Or due to the history of colonialism Taiwanese may distrust foreigners. I guess any culture can be xenophobic.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:13 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:
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.


Growing up Buddhist in the US, I was embarrassed and ashamed when friends came over and saw our alter. "What the heck is that?"

I went through a stage in my life where I found affirmation in it because of the "cool" factor.

Now its just what I do.

Myoho-Nameless wrote: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.


Why not? I didn't contemplate "inhumanity from Buddhist Asia" because for the most part, that is not the immediate cause of the physical and spiritual wounds that need tending where I live. What does need tending are spiritual wounds grounded historical inequalities and cruelties in our shared heritage. Where I live, these are big, serious issues that have real human tolls. Portraying Buddhas as African Americans is a blunt instrument intended to address wounds caused by blunt cruelties. No one is turning their back on you, a white man. But if as a white man, you don't appreciate your privilege and the historical reasons for it, in my view, you are not appreciating your heritage as an American - the same heritage that relegates African Americans and other minorities to positions of disadvantage from the go. This is not about guilt tripping anyone or excluding anyone. If you feel this doesn't serve you, I appreciate that and no one is demanding that you appreciate the statues. I'm joking, but, its not always about white men.

If you need a Buddha, Caucasian American Buddha would be another great piece. Anything to impress on people that Buddhahood is within them. If statues are restrictive, forget them. As you know in Nichiren Buddhism, the usual object of veneration is a caligraphic mandala representing entities by their names. There are some schools that think this is the most appropriate form specifically because statues tend to lead to wrong views as they anthropomorphize principals that are beyond such crude representations.

Masaru wrote: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.


No, not forgetting anything - I think that the image of an African American Buddha would embody everything you point out.

As for stigmatizing - issues of racial inequality that we continue to deal with in America will not be overcome by forgetting about them. The first step to righting wrongs is acknowledging them. Nichiren Buddhism the way its commonly taught in the US does not include much penitence, but traditionally, this has been critical to Buddhist practice. No one is talking about guilt tripping people. Its about recognizing the actual reality of our lives as Americans and understanding the historical grounding of why we are who we are, and understanding that the Buddha is to be found in this also.

In the end, I think all the points you guys bring up are valid. There are myriad afflictions requiring myriad cures. Buddhadharma heals them all.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:02 pm

Masaru wrote:Encouraging women to seek enlightenment is fine ...


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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:45 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I've often heard mentioned that in the USA Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Churches, at least, are often grouped according to ethnicity. I wonder what the reasons are for this.


The segregation of churches has evolved from the segregation of people, going back to the days of slavery. Likewise, churches in immigrant communities are often 'segregated' this way, sometimes with the service being conducted in the first language of the immigrant. In the United States, there is not much cross-over or interaction between Buddhist sanghas comprised of 'western converts' and those whose memberships are mainly that of an immigrant community. This is due in part to the fact that for immigrant families, the temple very often also serves as a center for community activity.

I am not sure how this translates in the setting of countries where Asians are the majority. Certainly while in Taiwan I felt very out of place at times but much of this may have been due to my lack of fluency in Mandarin. Or due to the history of colonialism Taiwanese may distrust foreigners. I guess any culture can be xenophobic.


I have only visited Taiwan once, but as an American (the pinkish kind) I was warmly welcomed by everyone I met.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Masaru » Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:24 pm

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
Masaru wrote:Encouraging women to seek enlightenment is fine ...


Mahadakini Vajrayogini thanks you.


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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby catmoon » Fri Oct 05, 2012 9:36 pm

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?" Some white Buddhas might be interesting....the monk said denim robes. Shakyamuni turns his back on no one after all.


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This is probably the reason we see no Cauacasian Buddhas.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:29 pm

I think somehow a caucasian looking Buddha would be misleading. Lord Buddha was born in what is modern-day Nepal and traveled through India. So his features should be South Asian if anything!
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:44 pm

Masaru wrote:I am Fifty Shades of Grateful.


Hahaha!
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:22 am

Queequeg wrote:Why not? I didn't contemplate "inhumanity from Buddhist Asia" because for the most part, that is not the immediate cause of the physical and spiritual wounds that need tending where I live. What does need tending are spiritual wounds grounded historical inequalities and cruelties in our shared heritage. Where I live, these are big, serious issues that have real human tolls. Portraying Buddhas as African Americans is a blunt instrument intended to address wounds caused by blunt cruelties. No one is turning their back on you, a white man. But if as a white man, you don't appreciate your privilege and the historical reasons for it, in my view, you are not appreciating your heritage as an American - the same heritage that relegates African Americans and other minorities to positions of disadvantage from the go. This is not about guilt tripping anyone or excluding anyone. If you feel this doesn't serve you, I appreciate that and no one is demanding that you appreciate the statues. I'm joking, but, its not always about white men.



I only want to be the voice of moderation here, and mainly about gender issues which I feel more for. "Dont go too far the other way trying to compensate" is what im saying.

as for ethnicity....since going through k through 12 public, as a white kid, as an american, IS a guilt trip, every single black history month, I need no reminders, nor anyone else to tell me its possible I do or do not appreciate being white. Oh yeah and then living 6 months in New Zealand.....Im not complaining, just sayin....

I actually think the USA is one of the top five least racist nations on Earth....which is know is a RECENT development....Former English colony nations, ironically, are probably the least racist nations on the planet...
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Oct 06, 2012 7:53 am

I think that it varies from community to community in the US, as it does in Canada, where I am from. While in Toronto there certainly is racism, due to the sheer magnitude of different ethnicities making the city home, racism gets challenged constantly. But as you move to the "whiter" areas, people who are not used to diversity often harbour racist attitudes.
I don't think Black History month a guilt trip at all, it is more like an education. We need to know history to learn from it. In general though, I agree that America has made great strides in challenging the legacy of racism. An African-American president is a milestone that should not be underestimated!
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:11 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I think that it varies from community to community in the US, as it does in Canada, where I am from. While in Toronto there certainly is racism, due to the sheer magnitude of different ethnicities making the city home, racism gets challenged constantly. But as you move to the "whiter" areas, people who are not used to diversity often harbour racist attitudes.


I think in Canada a lot of people who intimidate others with the race card come from communities which never have to deal with ethnic clashes (I'm not implying this is your position of course). If you live in plush white suburbia it is easy to scream racism at working class people who feel increasingly disadvantaged and unwanted in their own country in the face of 250,000 new immigrants a year.

For instance, in Vancouver they have work ads specifying the applicant must speak Punjabi, but when nobody applies they get to sponsor an immigrant who does.

When you put the pieces together the immigration system in Canada is pretty corrupt and mismanaged. A lot of white canucks are upset with the vast changes to their culture that have been occurring without their consent. There was no consultation with the Canadian people about opening up to 250,000 immigrants a year from Asia and all the cultural changes that would occur with it.

Nevertheless, in a non-democratic fashion politicians pushed it through proclaiming multiculturalism was for everyone's benefit. A lot of native canucks of any skin tone are opposed to so many non-integrating ethnic communities settling in Canada, but never say it in the open for fear of being branded a racist or bigot.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:48 pm

On the other hand the birth rate in Canada is so low that if we do not have an open immigration policy then the birth rate is so low that we will have a large elderly population needing support with not enough people working. This is becoming a huge issue in Japan, where the immigration is super-tight.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 06, 2012 5:18 pm

JKhedrup wrote:On the other hand the birth rate in Canada is so low that if we do not have an open immigration policy then the birth rate is so low that we will have a large elderly population needing support with not enough people working. This is becoming a huge issue in Japan, where the immigration is super-tight.


That's the common justification, though with Canada's wealth it wouldn't be a crippling issue in the long-term if immigration was curtailed.

Anyway, my point is that the causes for racism need to be understood. In places like Canada and elsewhere in the western world it is easy to condemn working class people especially for having racist sentiments, though there are usually reasons behind it. Quite often economic I suspect.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:56 am

JKhedrup wrote:I think somehow a caucasian looking Buddha would be misleading. Lord Buddha was born in what is modern-day Nepal and traveled through India. So his features should be South Asian if anything!


I know that the Japanese figures of Buddha aren't historically accurate, because as you say, the Buddha was Indian -- or what is now Nepal. But I have to be honest and say I prefer the Japanese statues to the figures I've seen of Western Buddhas. Forgoing the argument about what "Western" looks like, for some reason figures of a Caucasian Buddha don't move me. This is probably because I was introduced to the figure of Buddha in Japan when I was a child. (Strictly speaking, I think "Western" is defined as "European." Before people say it is racist of me to say so, I'm just trying to give a geographical description. In the United States, Africa is never referred to as being part of "The Western World" or "The West," and black people are often referred to as "African American," not "Western," and certainly not Caucasian; again, I learned this stuff well at my majority-black high school. But this argument becomes a moot point from my perspective because, as I mentioned, I don't find "Western" Buddhas to be moving.)
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Oct 09, 2012 7:02 am

Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:
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.


Growing up Buddhist in the US, I was embarrassed and ashamed when friends came over and saw our altar. "What the heck is that?"

I went through a stage in my life where I found affirmation in it because of the "cool" factor.

Now its just what I do. .


Do you mind if I ask you a question?

You mentioned on another thread that another member doesn't speak Japanese, and then on a different thread you instructed me with regard to the Japanese language. Then you made reference to your mother being a founder of SGI in the United States. Also, I looked over your website/blog (and found it very interesting). All of the above made me assume that you are at least partly of Japanese descent. Is this correct? (I suppose what I'm trying to understand is whether your were brought up in a family of people who are "Western" and who converted to Buddhism, or otherwise. I suppose I'm trying to understand the sense of being embarrassed or ashamed of the altar.)

With regard to the "cool" factor associated with Buddhism, Um. I think I forget the regional issue here. It's kind of unusual, but more people showed up to see the Dalai Lama in Portland, Oregon, than in San Francisco or Seattle. Tibetan prayer flags are strewn all over Portland. In Portland, it is indeed very "cool" to be a Buddhist. That's a good thing on one hand. On the other hand, I don't like to see it just as a fashion accessory. (I'm not kidding. In Portland, when I tell people "I'm a Buddhist," I get a lot of respect. People assume this means I'm very well educated, "with it," environmentally conscious, etc.)
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby Queequeg » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:13 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:But I have to be honest and say I prefer the Japanese statues to the figures I've seen of Western Buddhas... I don't find "Western" Buddhas to be moving.)


I suppose there are as many reasons regard a Buddha statue as there are people. For the most part, though, for practitioners, I think it is a matter of inspiration. I don't think there is any chance of fashioning a Gautama Buddha statue that looked like the historical Gautama, short of finding a relic and cloning a person just to see what they would look like. For me, the issue then really comes down to a question of, "What moves you? What fires you up to want to practice? What inspires you to seek Buddhahood?"

---

In answer to your question...

My mother is from Japan, my father is a (White) North American Mutt. Father was raised Catholic - REALLY Catholic - like Medieval Monastic Catholicism - daily Mass, facing the Church and making the Sign of the cross five times a day... He drifted away from the Church once he left home - for all that training, it seems to me Catholicism never made a deep impression on him - the stories the nuns told were too fantastic and even as a little kid my Father apparently had the sense to call bull shit. He converted to Buddhism in his 30's. Mother was raised in Japan, came to the US to study, and while here helped build Soka Gakkai in the US. I was born and raised in NY and educated in the North East. I speak Japanese fairly fluently, can read and write some, though I usually need a dictionary - never had the discipline to memorize all those characters; learned and forgotten. As far as Buddhism - I was raised in SG, studied Religion in grad school, in my late 20's spent about a year in S. and S. East Asia - studying some with Tibetans in Dharamsala and Kathmandu - nothing serious - never took any serious steps to join in to their elaborate ritualism; spent time learning meditation in Thailand; more recently lived for a couple years in Japan where I started studying with a Nikko tradition monk of the Nichiren Shu. I practice without affiliation to any particular group, except maybe my teacher in Japan.

As for the "cool" factor - Buddhism is prevalent enough in NY that it is almost unremarkable at this point - aside from the fact that people here are blase about everything - jaded city-dwellers. But it seems lots of people have Buddhist images and trinkets in their homes (my wife and I are apartment hunting and so we get to see people's homes at open houses). This is a very discreet sub-culture though... highly educated, very liberal New Yorker. On a personal level, I guess it is "cool" in some circles - like the Yoga set; it was "cooler" in the past. I guess I've passed that period in life where identity is something to be discovered and celebrated. Now, it just is what I do. Something I can't help. Its about as cool as my father-in-law wearing his sun-glasses from the 80's - he's been wearing them all these years, the fashion world has just happened to come back around recently to make his sunglasses cool again - but can vintage sunglasses actually be "cool" on a 60 year old man?

To tie this back in to your original question - as far as I am concerned, Buddhism is for anyone who wants to make a discipline out of seeking liberation - to know the true nature of reality, the nature of one's existence, how to live a fulfilled life. Its not for any particular phenotypical person. If things help people identify with being Buddhist, these efforts should be taken up by all means. I highly encourage these types of things that help one to build their Buddhist identity. When a person is ready to grow out of it, they will grow out of it, and do what one of your local global conglomerate corporations urge - JUST DO IT.
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Re: Buddhism: Just for Asians?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Wed Oct 10, 2012 5:19 am

Thanks for the response. I think we're getting to another issue here for me. I'm reminded of an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry Seinfeld says, "I love Asian women." And Elaine responds, "Isn't that a little bit racist?" To which Jerry says, "If I like them, then how can that be racist?" I think I deal with a similar issue here with myself with regard to Buddhism. To be blunt, a statue of a white male of European descent (you know, a man who looks like me), doesn't "move" me the way the traditional statues and figures do. The further I go in my study of Buddhism, the more I feel drawn to Asian cultures, understanding them, learning about them, etc. And, for some strange reason, I fear that this is kind of approaching an odd kind of racism, such as what Elaine mentioned. I mean, if I am a truly enlightened person, then I should understand that physical appearances are illusions, race/ethnicity doesn't matter, and a statue or a figure is just a symbol and ultimately just a piece of cement or whatever material it's made of. It "shouldn't" matter to me whether it depicts an Asian man in an enlightened state, or a man of European descent in an enlightened state. And yet it does. (But, to follow my pop culture analysis. It can't really be racist per se on my part, because, "How can it be racist if I like them?")

This is so strange. I'm sorry. But I think that the further I go into my studies of Buddhism, the more I'm confronted with the fact that I'm attempting to reconnect with my childhood experience in Japan -- which I think was the single happiest event of my childhood. (A picture of me as a child in Japan is the background wallpaper on my YouTube channel; link below.) For some reason, for years, I have been trying to push that experience away from myself, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I miss the people I knew then and have no way of contacting them now. I don't know. All I know is that a statue of a Buddha of European descent does nothing for me; as a former Catholic myself, a statue of Jesus basically scares me; and a statue or figure of Buddha soothes me -- provided it's a "traditional" figure/statue. Maybe it's my ego. Maybe I want to be an intellectual and not believe that I have a spiritual dimension and need hope, and have finally found something, or at least a symbol, that gives me that.

With regard to Buddhism and the coolness factor. As I'm sure you can imagine, Portland, Oregon, and I think the entire West Coast in general, is not nearly as jaded as New York City. Well, maybe LA is. Anyway, Portland is relatively famous (at least among people who have heard of the city) for being very idealistic, politically correct, environmentally friendly, you name it. It's said to be the most "Blue"/Democratic city in the country. They had riots there when Bush visited, and the Seattle WTO riots from over a decade ago were started by people mostly from Portland and Eugene. There is a perception in Portland of Buddhism standing for a lot of what, well, Portland stands for, I guess. All the way down the vegetarianism (though I understand that not all Buddhists are vegetarians).
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