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

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

Postby Yudron » Mon Mar 04, 2013 12:00 am

Namgyal wrote:I joined the Buddhist society at my university and discovered that it consisted of ten elite white postgraduates whose only desire was to sit in a circle discussing Buddhist philosophy, at great length. Later, when I had to try to defend the society from the university administration I hit on the idea of asking my department's lecturers to translate the society's advertising into eight different Buddhist languages. The next week a hundred and fifty Asians appeared, and the ten elite white philosophers left in disgust. Thereafter, as an (ethnic) Buddhist society we did exactly what the Asians wanted, which was to have communal meals together, invite monks and teachers to visit, and above all to go on minibus trips to visit different temples around the country, which was a lot of fun.
:namaste:


It does sound like a lot more fun! I'm tired and bored of intellectualism, especially my own.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Simon E. » Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:55 am

Namgyal wrote:I joined the Buddhist society at my university and discovered that it consisted of ten elite white postgraduates whose only desire was to sit in a circle discussing Buddhist philosophy, at great length. Later, when I had to try to defend the society from the university administration I hit on the idea of asking my department's lecturers to translate the society's advertising into eight different Buddhist languages. The next week a hundred and fifty Asians appeared, and the ten elite white philosophers left in disgust. Thereafter, as an (ethnic) Buddhist society we did exactly what the Asians wanted, which was to have communal meals together, invite monks and teachers to visit, and above all to go on minibus trips to visit different temples around the country, which was a lot of fun.
:namaste:

So the white guys ended up dispossessed from their own society ?
That doesn't sound like a completely satisfactory answer either.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Namgyal » Mon Mar 04, 2013 2:52 pm

Simon E. wrote:So the white guys ended up dispossessed from their own society ?That doesn't sound like a completely satisfactory answer either.


Tibet has always had a close connection with Indian culture (Zhang-Zhung etc.) yet it took them hundreds of years to assimilate Buddhism. So the idea that we can create a new Western Buddhism overnight is not realistic. Those young Western scholars were practising a version of Buddhism which existed in the West until the 1950s. In this version, which subsequently proved to be completely inaccurate, Buddhism was seen as some kind of rarefied philosophy, free from superstition and ritual. Unfortunately, as a result these young men could not cope with the actual reality of Asian Buddhism, and so they chose to continue their debates elsewhere.
If you confine yourself to makeshift Western versions of Buddhism you will not get a realistic view of the Dharma. I'm not suggesting that one should dress up in Tibetan robes and so forth, but I do believe that some exposure to ethic Buddhism is essential. Ideally, you should completely immerse yourself in Asian Buddhist culture over the course of many years until you have totally absorbed it, which is not at all easy, and then step back into your Western shoes again. You will see that in many respects Asian Buddhist culture is defective, and that modern Western culture is often much more advanced, but you will not be able to change anything or produce a workable hybrid. Instead you will just have to maintain an awkward internal balancing act. It is not 'completely satisfactory' but until such time as a Western form of Buddhism develops naturally, it is the best option.
:namaste:
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 04, 2013 3:32 pm

Namgyal wrote:
If you confine yourself to makeshift Western versions of Buddhism you will not get a realistic view of the Dharma. I'm not suggesting that one should dress up in Tibetan robes and so forth, but I do believe that some exposure to ethic Buddhism is essential.


I agree to an extent, especially because it will offer an alternative to beliefs and worldviews which one was inevitably brought up with as default by virtue of being born and raised in a western country (like materialism), but then such influences also permeate Buddhist traditions around Asia.

Tibetan Buddhism is so potent in one respect: it never went through the process of "Buddhist Modernism" like Japan and the rest of the Buddhist world did. Most of the premodern values and perspectives are still there and were not erased or reformed in favour of contemporary western ideas. It wasn't really exposed to protestantism and Catholic ideas either.

Here in Taiwan I see a lot of subtle and obvious influences from Catholicism actually. The power structures were recreated in emulation of the Church for example. There's also a lot of capitalist ideas that have been absorbed. A lot of what goes for Buddhism now around much of Asia actually wouldn't have been accepted a century ago. There's been a lot of reform and westernization. A lot less so with Tibetan Buddhism.



Ideally, you should completely immerse yourself in Asian Buddhist culture over the course of many years until you have totally absorbed it, which is not at all easy, and then step back into your Western shoes again. You will see that in many respects Asian Buddhist culture is defective, and that modern Western culture is often much more advanced, but you will not be able to change anything or produce a workable hybrid. Instead you will just have to maintain an awkward internal balancing act. It is not 'completely satisfactory' but until such time as a Western form of Buddhism develops naturally, it is the best option.


Interesting idea. For most people of course this isn't viable. If you're anthropologically minded, it can be interesting and rewarding to participate in a whole other culture as an outsider and observe how things work from within, though I don't think many people want to do this.

One admirable feature that many western Buddhist organizations have is democracy and transparency. The decision making processes are decided by members. Even if you're a new guy you have a voice and the right to be heard out as much as the senior members. You also have the right to disagree and voice disapproval (it might not be appreciated, but it is your right nevertheless). This does not really exist in most of Asia. Usually the upper echelons of clergy decide things and everyone is expected to fold their hands and follow along.

In terms of management this has some advantages, but the huge disadvantage is a lack of perspective and planning from the actual ground level. The lowly people are unlikely to have their issues really appreciated. So in a religious organization you might end up with senior administrators with grand ideas that don't reflect what the common people really want or need, and so things decline and nobody understands why.

In a democratic model where the young and old both have equal voice and feel comfortable expressing and promoting their own ideas, an organization will be directed by collective concerns rather the vision of a few people who might be divorced from the reality most of the membership face.

Actually this is probably the greatest problem facing Buddhist organizations around Asia. Elderly clergy who have no idea what younger generations are thinking and doing. They might let a youth group have their own activities, but that's not letting them actively participate in the decision making process (in many places I imagine they would think twenty something year old kids are too inexperienced and immature to be trusted with such responsibilities).

Nevertheless, I believe if youth were given power and a voice in decision making processes, then organizations could address the needs and concerns of younger generations and not fall into decline.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Simon E. » Mon Mar 04, 2013 4:42 pm

Namgyal wrote:
Simon E. wrote:So the white guys ended up dispossessed from their own society ?That doesn't sound like a completely satisfactory answer either.


Tibet has always had a close connection with Indian culture (Zhang-Zhung etc.) yet it took them hundreds of years to assimilate Buddhism. So the idea that we can create a new Western Buddhism overnight is not realistic. Those young Western scholars were practising a version of Buddhism which existed in the West until the 1950s. In this version, which subsequently proved to be completely inaccurate, Buddhism was seen as some kind of rarefied philosophy, free from superstition and ritual. Unfortunately, as a result these young men could not cope with the actual reality of Asian Buddhism, and so they chose to continue their debates elsewhere.
If you confine yourself to makeshift Western versions of Buddhism you will not get a realistic view of the Dharma. I'm not suggesting that one should dress up in Tibetan robes and so forth, but I do believe that some exposure to ethic Buddhism is essential. Ideally, you should completely immerse yourself in Asian Buddhist culture over the course of many years until you have totally absorbed it, which is not at all easy, and then step back into your Western shoes again. You will see that in many respects Asian Buddhist culture is defective, and that modern Western culture is often much more advanced, but you will not be able to change anything or produce a workable hybrid. Instead you will just have to maintain an awkward internal balancing act. It is not 'completely satisfactory' but until such time as a Western form of Buddhism develops naturally, it is the best option.
:namaste:

In my experience people will approach how they need to approach and any attempt to prescribe to others is usually doomed.
If and when the conditions are right then Dharma arises. You cant push the river.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Mar 04, 2013 6:27 pm

I think the hardest thing for westerners is just shutting off the voice that wants a detailed ontological explanation for every single thing. Especially middle and upper class people have been raised in an educational environment where this is the norm, it's not a bad thing at all, in many ways it's fantastic. It gets weird when one is delving into another worldview though. I think it's not about trying to appropriate cultural identity or "be Asian" in some way, it's just about accepting traditions as they are rather than trying to make them accommodate your every whim, for me I know it's just a bit of cultural arrogance I have to let be, if there's something that seems too fantastic to be real, I just let it be and don't try to explain it - this is not how we are raised!

Incidentally, this exact same thing exists outside of religion/spirituality, you can find the exact same issues in martial arts for example.

I have to say though, i'm coming to think the "modern Buddhism" people are actually ok, it isn't the direction for me, but truthfully if the choices are between someone doing snobby intellectual Dharma and no Dharma at all, i'd think we would want them to go with the former.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 04, 2013 6:45 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I have to say though, i'm coming to think the "modern Buddhism" people are actually ok, it isn't the direction for me, but truthfully if the choices are between someone doing snobby intellectual Dharma and no Dharma at all, i'd think we would want them to go with the former.


We all have to start somewhere. I started off not really wanting mysticism and devotional practices (hence the appeal of "just sitting" coupled with studies of Buddhist philosophy), but as I pursued my study and practice the more traditional aspects of Buddhism became important to me.

The intellectual approach is important to retain and foster, especially with folks who would otherwise take little interest in Buddhadharma.

But on that note, if you pursue the intellectual approach you'll inevitably have to address questions related to more intuitive matters and the supermundane aspects of teachings (like multiple realms, non-corporeal beings, magical thinking, merit, karma, demonic possession and so on). Some of these subjects are regarded as childish and unbecoming an "educated person" in polite society, but they go hand-in-hand with Buddhism.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:40 am

Huseng wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:I have to say though, i'm coming to think the "modern Buddhism" people are actually ok, it isn't the direction for me, but truthfully if the choices are between someone doing snobby intellectual Dharma and no Dharma at all, i'd think we would want them to go with the former.


We all have to start somewhere. I started off not really wanting mysticism and devotional practices (hence the appeal of "just sitting" coupled with studies of Buddhist philosophy), but as I pursued my study and practice the more traditional aspects of Buddhism became important to me.

The intellectual approach is important to retain and foster, especially with folks who would otherwise take little interest in Buddhadharma.

But on that note, if you pursue the intellectual approach you'll inevitably have to address questions related to more intuitive matters and the supermundane aspects of teachings (like multiple realms, non-corporeal beings, magical thinking, merit, karma, demonic possession and so on). Some of these subjects are regarded as childish and unbecoming an "educated person" in polite society, but they go hand-in-hand with Buddhism.



I agree fully there, once it comes down to the first 'big questions' of things like karma and rebirth, it seems like this is place where many people either drop it or keep going.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby ocean_waves » Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:54 am

“Hearing a crow with no mouth
Cry in the deep
Darkness of the night,
I feel a longing for
My father before he was born.”

― Ikkyu


there is the sun... and there is the sun's reflection upon water. western, asian, tibetan, elite, popular buddhism... these are all reflections of the dhamma upon one culture or another. where is dhamma sun in this thread?

If one is practicing the dhamma then they are actively engaged in "letting go" of the habitual/conditioned thinking that is often the root of our feelings of discomfort/suffering, so everyone will experience periods of discomfort... with themselves and others. In America this means that many blacks will need to let go of the psychological scars and emotional pain [especially the anger] passed on to them by their ancestors who experienced the tragedy of slavery, and many whites will need to let go of the feelings of superiority and white privilege passed on to them by their ancestors. ALL Americans [black and white] refuse to discuss the huge pink elephant sitting in the middle of the room [the idea of "race"] and until they do most of them will experience discomfort when in the presence of the "other".

The topic has morphed into a discussion about the "form" of buddhism, as if to avoid the original topic. Why do some so-called African-Americans feel uncomfortable in predominantly white buddhist settings.

The answer is relatively simple... for the same reason many whites feel uncomfortable with the presence of blacks... Americans do not want to confront the remnants of racism that still prevail in their culture and society. :anjali:
"True seeing is called transcendence;
False seeing is worldliness:
Set aside both right and wrong,
And the nature of enlightenment is clear."
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:27 am

Not sure how you get that, we were all discussing it just fine, the thread just went off on a tangent as they tend to sometimes.

For sure though, America is far from free of it's problems with racism, it is still institutionalized and bred thoroughly into our culture and politics, whatever picture gets painted to the contrary.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby ocean_waves » Thu Mar 07, 2013 4:18 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Not sure how you get that, we were all discussing it just fine, the thread just went off on a tangent as they tend to sometimes.

For sure though, America is far from free of it's problems with racism, it is still institutionalized and bred thoroughly into our culture and politics, whatever picture gets painted to the contrary.


Your probably right Johnny. It just seems to me that when individuals are having a dialogue about why a so-called African-American may feel uncomfortable in a predominantly white environment [in America] and no one speaks about the myth of race or racism, that some avoidance is definitely going on. However, I am open to the possibility that this may just be my particular view [that is why I said, "as if" ].
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:14 am

Sure, there is racism in some Sangha for sure, I don't know that i'd call it overt racism though exactly, more like a sort of low level..lack of comfort with non-whites. It's a bad thing but it is not (hazarding guesses here of course) intentional or malicious either. And, the only way to get past it is to bring in a wider range of people so that there is no more room to be uncomfortable, with, or "for" someone.

If you don't know what I mean by being uncomfortable for someone, come to the PNW sometime and watch how a roomful of upper middle class liberal whites will walk on eggshells while celebrating diversity with a "minority" present, it's well-meaning, but completely counter-productive, one can't really get to know someone if you are constantly worried about upsetting them, and won't be yourself around them.

Being comfortable around different cultures and types of people only happens by exposure, there is no theory or doctrine that can help that, so it's hard for me to include these kinds of people in the umbrella term "racism", as to me racism implies some actual negative belief about race rather than just confusion and apprehension due to lack of exposure..I don't know, maybe that's splitting hairs on my part. I personally doubt there are many overtly racist Sangha out there, though i'm sure there are a few.

I think people have been talking here conventionally about race, because it most certainly exists conventionally, and has a huge effect, not because we believe that race is an inherently real thing.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Mar 07, 2013 6:31 pm

I really think that racism is very much connected to how people grew up as well.

My high school in Canada was extremely multicultural- everyone including Jamaicans, Russian Jews, Viet Namese and Bangladeshis. In the classroom we learned how to relate to eachother and fortunately this continued outside of classes, with groups of friends often quite multicultural with the exception of students who were very new immigrants and struggling with English.

Other members of my family, such as a cousin in Tennessee, have very racist attitudes that have a great deal to do with the society in which they grew up and the attitudes they learned.

I actually don´t think that really tackling racism is hopeless- I see huge progress in the last 50 years or so. Canada has pretty strong laws regarding hate and multiculturalism which ensure that people usually get along. Racism is present in society but increasingly taboo, and my cousin´s kids who are now in elementary school have MANY bi-racial classmates, which indicates that barriers are continuing to dissolve.

This was a recent article in Toronto Life Magazine- ´The End of White Toronto´ http://www.torontolife.com/daily/inform ... /mixie-me/

Hopefully we will be able to throw racism into the dustbucket of history. I do realize, though, as a white man perhaps my privleged position in society makes me see things in a more idealistic way that someone who does experience racism. On the otherhand, I do wear what many consider a red skirt on a daily basis.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Namgyal » Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:11 pm

JKhedrup wrote:On the otherhand, I do wear what many consider a red skirt on a daily basis.

You should come to visit Scotland, brother, you'll have no bother fitting in... :smile:
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Chi Wai » Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:54 am

Reading this thread I am shaking my head....hehehehe.... This sense of generalization is almost non-Zen quality. And what? White Western Buddhism? Versus Asian Buddhism? White Buddhism trying to become a Buddhist missionary? How Christian is that? How many great Zen masters has the so-called Western Buddhism produced versus those in China and Japan? Like I said, I am shaking my head in disbelieve. Stop trying to convert people to Buddhism. The West (at least the middle class America) is not the center of Buddhism.

What about the black folks in the US? The Christian Church played a crucial role in the Civil Rights movement. Naturally, they found their salvation in Christianity.
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Chi Wai » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:17 am

ocean_waves wrote:
“Hearing a crow with no mouth
Cry in the deep
Darkness of the night,
I feel a longing for
My father before he was born.”

― Ikkyu


there is the sun... and there is the sun's reflection upon water. western, asian, tibetan, elite, popular buddhism... these are all reflections of the dhamma upon one culture or another. where is dhamma sun in this thread?

If one is practicing the dhamma then they are actively engaged in "letting go" of the habitual/conditioned thinking that is often the root of our feelings of discomfort/suffering, so everyone will experience periods of discomfort... with themselves and others. In America this means that many blacks will need to let go of the psychological scars and emotional pain [especially the anger] passed on to them by their ancestors who experienced the tragedy of slavery, and many whites will need to let go of the feelings of superiority and white privilege passed on to them by their ancestors. ALL Americans [black and white] refuse to discuss the huge pink elephant sitting in the middle of the room [the idea of "race"] and until they do most of them will experience discomfort when in the presence of the "other".

The topic has morphed into a discussion about the "form" of buddhism, as if to avoid the original topic. Why do some so-called African-Americans feel uncomfortable in predominantly white buddhist settings.

The answer is relatively simple... for the same reason many whites feel uncomfortable with the presence of blacks... Americans do not want to confront the remnants of racism that still prevail in their culture and society. :anjali:



Interesting and it would be ironic that these Buddhist practitioners are clinging to forms while practicing Buddhism....sigh....
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Mar 08, 2013 11:11 am

Many of the methods used in anti-racism training in Canada are meant to challenge privilege and give people an idea of what it is like to walk in the shoes of a disenfranchised visible minority.

Perhaps the ´Blue Eyed Brown Eyed´ excercises of Jane Elliott that are used as the basis for some of these methods are exactly the kind of shake up upper class Buddhist communities would find transformative. Fascinating watching but not for the feint of heart

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nqv9k3jbtYU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bf2LB0IG1xo

Personally I think the method is brilliant and I benefitted from it but certainly on the surface it doesn´t seem Buddhist. But the realities is brings to the surface can lead to a Buddhist like transformation.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:42 pm

I believe that what is important, apart from the analysis about the underlying racism inherent in almost any society I care to think of (and this links into this racism) is whether one feels a sense of community with fellow practitioners or not. I believe a lot of western "Buddhists", being disenfranchised from mainstream culture, turn to Buddhism for a sense of community (rather than a driving need for enlightenment or, in the case of "ethnic Buddhists", cultural habit). Minorities, already disenfranchised from mainstream culture find this sense of community amongst themselves anyway on the basis of shared cultural and/or physical characteristics.

Buddhism, in the west (apart from "ethnic Buddhism"), is a subculture, or even counterculture, rather than a naturally existing cultural entity. I think that people from ethnic minorities may turn to Buddhism (in the west) if they feel alienated from their own cultural group, but will find it difficult to enter existing western Buddhist groups since the people that establish these groups (being mainly white and middle class) carry with them the racist habits of mainstream culture and society.

The covert, or underlying, racism of Buddhist groups in the west cannot (easily) be overcome if the overt racism in mainstream society is not (effectively) dealt with. Buddhist groups are, after all, just microcosms of the society they exist in.

This is based on my personal experiences growing up as the offspring of Greek emigrants in New Zealand (where we were not "white" enough to be part of the ruling elite and not "black" enough to be a part of the indigenous community) and Australia. In Australia, for example, I was always considered too Greek and, now living in Greece, I am always considered not Greek enough.

In terms of the Greek sangha? Well, a large proportion of the sangha are the offsprings of Greek emigrants, and/or middle-class as hell, and/or from counter/sub-cultural groups. What a surprise, right?
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: African Americans & people of Color, & Buddhism in the W

Postby LastLegend » Fri Mar 08, 2013 11:53 pm

ocean_waves wrote:
“Hearing a crow with no mouth
Cry in the deep
Darkness of the night,
I feel a longing for
My father before he was born.”

― Ikkyu


there is the sun... and there is the sun's reflection upon water. western, asian, tibetan, elite, popular buddhism... these are all reflections of the dhamma upon one culture or another. where is dhamma sun in this thread?

If one is practicing the dhamma then they are actively engaged in "letting go" of the habitual/conditioned thinking that is often the root of our feelings of discomfort/suffering, so everyone will experience periods of discomfort... with themselves and others. In America this means that many blacks will need to let go of the psychological scars and emotional pain [especially the anger] passed on to them by their ancestors who experienced the tragedy of slavery, and many whites will need to let go of the feelings of superiority and white privilege passed on to them by their ancestors. ALL Americans [black and white] refuse to discuss the huge pink elephant sitting in the middle of the room [the idea of "race"] and until they do most of them will experience discomfort when in the presence of the "other".

The topic has morphed into a discussion about the "form" of buddhism, as if to avoid the original topic. Why do some so-called African-Americans feel uncomfortable in predominantly white buddhist settings.

The answer is relatively simple... for the same reason many whites feel uncomfortable with the presence of blacks... Americans do not want to confront the remnants of racism that still prevail in their culture and society. :anjali:


I would say the peak of civil rights movement started 50 years ago. This is not very long ago at all. So I imagine the effects that we see now will not go anywhere soon. The psychological scars will still manifest. The feeling of superiority, privileged, and precious of whites will still manifest for some if not most, maybe not overtly though due to be being politically correct. But I must say whites are most fair and liberal which is not a bad thing. From reading history of slavery, prior to abolition of slavery in North US colonies, slaves were treated humanely as compared to South US colonies. Anyhow, I think the descendents of whites or white immigrants should not feel guilty for the past deed. They should not have to justify anything, but rather seek to understand the effects of slavery have on race relations in the US; in a way to say they should take themselves out of the picture. Cause and effect. I know this is a sensitive issue.

Peace.
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NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

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

Postby LastLegend » Sat Mar 09, 2013 12:47 am

dzogchungpa wrote:May I ask if there are any "African Americans or people of color" reading this thread who would be willing to share their thoughts on this issue?


Yes sir. I am Asian and I am Vietnamese. Call me any color you want, I could careless. I am willing to discuss people's attitudes about skin colors in relationship to their own skin color if anyone is down.
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