"Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

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"Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Jikan » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:29 pm

Can you not flick the shit out of your fingernail these days and not have it hit one of those damn White Buddhists right in the lotus?

Just a few years ago, it seemed like they were all Hindu, buying up all the sitar music at Street Light, and taking cooking lessons at the Bombay Culinary Institute in Sunnyvale. The lucky ones who dared venture to Chinatown to the cheap cheap travel agents managed to find a good ticket, dashing off to India for a good deal of Indiany stuff, swimming in the holy Ganges and coming home with parasites swimming in their blood, which I'm sure many mistook for some kind of divine blessing of enlightenment. Until the harsh reality of blood in the stools took over.

But now, nothing beats the calm, centered, self-actualization of the Buddhist Thing.


this essay is published in the book Mongrel by Justin Chin, and quoted somewhat heavily by Jane Iwamura in Virtual Orientalism

Chin goes on to lament the fashionability of Tibetan Buddhism in particular, the omnipresence of HHDL in the media, and so on, coining the term "Lamapalooza" to name this sort of spectacle.

Thoughts?
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby JKhedrup » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:38 pm

From what I could find of his writings Justin Chin is a satirist, but he is making a sound point about eastern spirituality as a commodity being marketed to the white people with disposable income. But his chronology is off, I think Buddhism is less popular and it is now Kirtan and yuppy yoga that are growing.

As for his lamenting the popularity of HHDL, many young Chinese-Americans I have met don't like white people commenting on the oppression of the Tibetans by China because tgey feel we still benefit from our privileges in a White society. I actually feel this is a narrow attitude because Tibetan culture is on the verge of extinction and everyone needs to speak out. Sometimes urgency precludes other consideration.

Some people do not like HHDL merely because of his popularity.
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: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Namgyal » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:54 pm

In Chinese restaurants waiters sometimes comment 'Oh! my goodness you can actually use chopsticks' or 'I cannot believe that you understand Cantonese!'. I am tempted to reply 'Oh! my goodness you are wearing a suit and tie!!!'.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:40 pm

This sort of violent speech only facilitates hostility and even hatred. It serves no useful purposeful whatsoever and at first glance sounds like an inferiority complex.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:20 pm

It was published in 1998. I wonder what he thinks of the whole scene now, a decade and a half later?
"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: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Adamantine » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:34 pm

Well 1998 was the height of all things Tibetan's flash fire in mainstream culture and media in the USA.
The Beastie Boys had launched their Tibetan Freedom concert tour, which perhaps
could be nicknamed lama palooza.. The movies Kudun, Seven Years in Tibet and Little Buddha
all came out around the same time, etc etc. but it burned to bright and thus too fast.
Youth culture's ADD did not sustain it for long. Looking at the general age breakdowns
of white Buddhists, especially Tibetan Buddhists in the US today, it would seem the
1960's and 70's produced a hell of a lot of devoted white practitioners but the late
90's not so much. But it certainly was a zeitgeist thing for a few years. Certainly not something
beyond critique, but I'm no fan of that guys writing or his tone.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Jikan » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:01 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:It was published in 1998. I wonder what he thinks of the whole scene now, a decade and a half later?


He'd be writing about mindfulness, most likely.

I didn't know Chin's original essay was so dated... I'd found it in Iwamura's book, which is from 2011.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Namgyal » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:38 pm

Why is it that the entire world adopts aspects of Western culture, but when Westerners learn from the East they are pilloried as faddish hippies and freaks? Apart from anything else most young Orientals aren't really interested in their own culture, and they are only interested in Western culture. In due course their societies will be as messed up as ours, so it is up to us to pick up the baton of Buddhism. Perhaps we can pass it back to Asia when they finally realise that they have been sold a defective product.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Simon E. » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:39 pm

To borrow a concept from Alan Watts,..it seems to me that what was happening in the '60's was characterised by being "Square Zen " .( for Zen substitute any school of your choice )...then there was a long period of " Beat Zen "...Now there is reason to think that we might be seeing the era of " Zen Zen ".
I think that Chin may have seen the fallout from the " Beat Zen " period.
Which had positives and negatives...but could be beyond satire at times.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Yudron » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:41 pm

Namgyal wrote:Why is it that the entire world adopts aspects of Western culture, but when Westerners learn from the East they are pilloried as faddish hippies and freaks? Apart from anything else most young Orientals aren't really interested in their own culture, and they are only interested in Western culture. In due course their societies will be as messed up as ours, so it is up to us to pick up the baton of Buddhism. Perhaps we can pass it back to Asia when they finally realise that they have been sold a defective product.
:namaste:


Their societies are already as messed up as ours, just in different ways. Societies are made by humans.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Pero » Fri Mar 08, 2013 4:49 pm

Jikan wrote:I didn't know Chin's original essay was so dated... I'd found it in Iwamura's book, which is from 2011.

And you dare call yourself time? For shame. :tongue:
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Mar 08, 2013 5:34 pm

The commodification of spirituality is an issue for sure, but none of this stuff is specific to Buddhism. Modern people, especially westerners it seems grope around for something other than the "Spend, Buy, Hump something, Acquire more, Die" mentality that is the real ideology of our times. It's true that plenty of people drop it in favor of the next big thing..but that's samsara for ya. Would be even worse if the interest simply wasn't there in the first place, even if it's shallow and caricature-like to "real Buddhists" (whatever that means :thinking: ), at least there is a break in the continuity of the status quo, however limp the effort ends up being.
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is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby shaunc » Fri Mar 08, 2013 9:59 pm

There's good & bad in all cultures/societys/religions. How to take only the good from all these things & combine them to make one I don't know, it's going to take people that are a lot smarter than me. In a way I suppose that's what buddhism teaches, the middle path is always the best way.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Sherlock » Sat Mar 09, 2013 5:02 am

JKhedrup wrote:As for his lamenting the popularity of HHDL, many young Chinese-Americans I have met don't like white people commenting on the oppression of the Tibetans by China because tgey feel we still benefit from our privileges in a White society. I actually feel this is a narrow attitude because Tibetan culture is on the verge of extinction and everyone needs to speak out. Sometimes urgency precludes other consideration.


Are they recent immigrants or second generation from the PRC? Do they follow any tradition of Buddhadharma or are they atheists/Christian converts?
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:03 am

My experience of this was during my university studies and the students holding this view were 2nd generation, with parents from either Taiwan or Hong Kong. I think the identity politics paradigm of our university during those years had some effect in terms of the development of these views. Of course, none of them had spoken to Tibetans or Tibetan-Canadians for their ideas.
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: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Indrajala » Sat Mar 09, 2013 3:25 pm

Namgyal wrote:Why is it that the entire world adopts aspects of Western culture, but when Westerners learn from the East they are pilloried as faddish hippies and freaks?


I've often wondered this as well, but the reality is that western civilization dominates the planet culturally and economically. Like in past times as always the lesser cultures seek to gain power by emulating the dominant culture. Beyond the borders of Rome chiefs would wear togas. In East Asia the Japanese and Koreans readily adopted Chinese clothing, state models and food among other things. It feels unnatural for things to go the opposite way, though when it happens it is perhaps a sign of cultural decay on the part of the dominant culture.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby uan » Sat Mar 09, 2013 6:22 pm

JKhedrup wrote:My experience of this was during my university studies and the students holding this view were 2nd generation, with parents from either Taiwan or Hong Kong. I think the identity politics paradigm of our university during those years had some effect in terms of the development of these views. Of course, none of them had spoken to Tibetans or Tibetan-Canadians for their ideas.


I think the underlying views of young Chinese go much deeper than identity politics at the university level and really have nothing to do with the DL or Tibetan issue. It's about finding their own cultural identity when they are a minority people in their society. The central theme of Jane Iwamura's book Virtual Orientalism is rooted in, from her perspective, the western appropriation of Asian cultures. There's much I disagree with in her writings (based on reading to reviews of her book and reading her book may cause me to change my thoughts here), but I acknowledge that Asian communities (at least in the west) feel violated by the appropriation of their cultures, especially as a minority culture where there is little around them that is their own. This wouldn't be restricted just to 2nd generation Chinese, but Vietnamese, Japanese, etc.

I think there's an underlying feeling that "whites" shouldn't, or don't have the right to, comment on "their" culture or have the right to integrate at a fundamental level in their culture. As an example, check out some of the American Asian reaction, especially by men, to white men dating Asian women.

JKhendrup, I wasn't there, but it's just as likely that these Chinese students you spoke to had zero interest or knowledge or informed position on the stance of the Chinese government towards Tibet, but saw you, at a meta level, as a white person finding another indirect method to put Chinese people and culture down and in its place (I'm not saying that was your intent, but our intent is separate than how what we do is viewed, which is always through the eyes of the other - in your case, by young Chinese university students).

You mentioned that none of the students had spoken to Tibetans for their (Tibetan) ideas. I wonder, did you sit and discuss at length with these Chinese-Canadians about their own culture, their own cultural identities and what it was like to be Chinese in Canada? In some ways, these Chinese students should be more capable of understanding the situation in Tibet, and empathizing with Tibetans at a personal level, as the Tibetans are being relegated to a minority culture/people in their own land.

JKhedrup wrote:I actually feel this is a narrow attitude because Tibetan culture is on the verge of extinction and everyone needs to speak out. Sometimes urgency precludes other consideration.


Urgency should never preclude interacting with an individual, in an individual setting, as an individual, with love and compassion and a genuine heart to understand. Nor should it allow us to hold on to conveying negative views towards people who don't have our same sense of urgency. Urgency should never supersede the six paramitas, or the teachings on emptiness and impermanence. What if we substitute your words with "I feel this narrow attitude that samsara is the end all and be all of everything will lead to more suffering and everyone needs to become practicing Buddhist right now." That would be silly of course. Though much more real (and urgent) in many ways - 10,000 years from now Tibet, China, the US, Canada, Buddhism etc. more than likely won't exist. But we will continue to take rebirth in the human realms, or lower realms, over and over again.

I'm not saying that the Tibetan issue isn't important, but perhaps 2nd generation Chinese-Canadian university students have other issues they are trying to cope with and if you had addressed those first, then they might have a different view on matters important to you. Often people who appear indifferent to the suffering of others have much suffering of their own. Nor would it be a wonderful thing if they were to agree with you about the Tibetan issue ("some Chinese get it!") yet be committed themselves to a life of materialism and desires that could lead to rebirth in one of lower realms.

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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby uan » Sat Mar 09, 2013 6:31 pm

Huseng wrote:
Namgyal wrote:Why is it that the entire world adopts aspects of Western culture, but when Westerners learn from the East they are pilloried as faddish hippies and freaks?


I've often wondered this as well, but the reality is that western civilization dominates the planet culturally and economically. Like in past times as always the lesser cultures seek to gain power by emulating the dominant culture. Beyond the borders of Rome chiefs would wear togas. In East Asia the Japanese and Koreans readily adopted Chinese clothing, state models and food among other things. It feels unnatural for things to go the opposite way, though when it happens it is perhaps a sign of cultural decay on the part of the dominant culture.


What I'd be curious to know, is who is pillorying the Westerners? Is it other Westerners and Asians living in the west as naturalized citizens? That's what it seems to me. I'm not sure the average Chinese person in China or the average Japanese person on the street in Japan thinks too much about the Westernized view of the Oriental Monk as created by Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu (as Jane Iwamura goes on about) or any other adoption of Eastern culture in the West. Or they look at it with pride and perhaps disbelief that more of their culture isn't adopted elsewhere.
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Re: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Mar 09, 2013 7:03 pm

I cannot speak on behalf of "Asians" but I will address it from the angle of my own "ethnic" background as a Greek born in New Zealand (and having lived in Australia).

When the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" came out it was received with interest by Greeks here in Greece. I was asked if the situation being depicted in the movie had any relation to the reality of the specific situation (wedding) amongst the members of the Greek diaspora (much like the degree to which the character and circumstances portrayed in "Kung Fu" had any relation to the reality of Chinese emigrants to the US). Truth is that there were many (embarassingly) true references in the movie. Thing is though, that any attempt to portray an ethinc minority through the eyes of the majority (American culture, in this instance) is going to involve a degree of stereotyping and a lack of depth. No matter how honest the attempt may be.

When, for example, the whole economic debacle that is currently destroying Greece started, there were a number of videos produced by US born Americans in support of Greece and Greek culture. The attempts were (again) honest and well intentioned, but frankly they were embarrassing. Why? Because they lacked any real concrete knowledge about the actual reality of modern Greece. This is to be expected, because the people producing the videos normally have no real (ongoing) contact with Greece past a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the homeland for summer vacations and/or their contact with Greek culture via their emigrant relatives (and again within the cultural context of the country they are living in).

I imagine that Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese etc... born Americans would suffer from the same myopic view of what it means to be Chinese/Japanese etc... So when they see honkys trying to emulate/understand/experience something that "Asians" consider theirs by birthright, well then you have a distortion of a distortion taking place.

Another example:

Somebody here at Dharma Wheel once said that they attempted to practice Greek Orthodox Christianity (before becoming a Buddhist). I was stunned. I thought to myself: How the f*ck can somebody who is not Greek practice Greek Orthodox Christianity? I mean, given the liturgies are in Byzantine Greek, it is near impossible for a Greek to understand what is going on anyway. Given the amount of specific cultural influences within Greek Orthodoxy, cultural references and influences that are nearly impossible for me as the offspring of Greeks to understand, well, how could they possibly even begin to grasp what is happening? Why would they want to try to practice a religion that is so closely tied to a racial/national identity that they are not a part of? Why would they not just practice a form of Christianity that is indigenous to their culture? etc...

I imagine our friend Chin would be asking themselves the same questions.

The difference is that as Westerners, trying to practice Buddhism, we do not have an indigenous form to practice, so we are "forced" to adapt "foreign" forms.

Just like Greece is not philosophy and souvlaki, but is considered such, in the same way "Asia" is not martial arts and stir fry, even if it is considered as such. At the end of the day though, ethnic minorities (and this is a weird one because in the US the American Indians are an ethnic minority, like in Australia the Aborigines are an ethinc minority) and especially their offspring in the countries they emigrated to never have a full picture of what is going on in their homelands and always tenaciously grasp to the final snapshot that they have of their homeland. Many time grasping so tightly that they do not wish to share it.
"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: "Attack of the White Buddhists" by Justin Chin

Postby uan » Sat Mar 09, 2013 7:36 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:I cannot speak on behalf of "Asians" but I will address it from the angle of my own "ethnic" background as a Greek born in New Zealand (and having lived in Australia).
...
Many time grasping so tightly that they do not wish to share it.


:good:

One interesting point, regarding Buddhism and Greek Orthodox Christianity or "fill in the blank". There are definitely cultural elements to each, however, at their core, each professes to have insight into the "truth" which goes beyond all cultures. With Iwamura's book, it felt as if she was saying people were only adopting a form "Japanese Buddhism" or "Indian Hinduism" etc, and that the attraction was only to the form. That's sort of like saying falling in love and getting married is just a function of the species procreating itself. At one level, it is true. But it's not the "truth".

While we need to be careful not to mistake the culture for the teaching, the teaching itself stands on its own. The west doesn't have a market on the "I" or ego which needs to be burned away to achieve enlightenment.

I do think there is difference between Justin's Chin's work that is being referenced and Jane Iwamura's book. In a sense, Iwamura is appropriating Chin's work to make her own academic/intellectual point. Chin on the other hand, is writing from a very singular point of view, his own, to make sense of who he is. I think both works need to be taken on their own merits and purposes.

From the publisher of Chin's book (http://us.macmillan.com/mongrel/JustinChin:

In a time when memoirs are often less than they claim to be and essays do not say enough, Justin Chin breaks onto the scene with a collection that is a combination of confession, tirade, journalism, and practical joke.

Mongrel is a cross-section of Chin's imagination and experiences that calls into question what it means to be an Asian-American in San Francisco, the effect your family will always have on you, and the role sexuality plays in your life. Whether it be Internet pornography or family history, Chin manages to dig deep and uncover not only the truths of everyday life, but also the absurdities that surround them.

Mongrel is an exploration and distillation of the experiences and imagination of a gay Asian-American whose sensibilities were formed by the maelstrom of '80s American pop culture. A unique collection from a brash, funny new voice.


Here are two links to reviews of Imamura's book:

http://www.globalbuddhism.org/13/leeoniwamura12.pdf

http://www.academia.edu/382809/_Virtually_Oriental_A_Review_of_Jane_Iwamuras_Virtual_Orientalism_Asian_Religions_and_American_Popular_Culture_Oxford_University_Press_2010_

Chin's a poet/artist (orginally from Singapore I believe) and Iwamura's an academic.
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