I’d wanted to elaborate on how a “western sangha” is a hard place for you to find a Dharma community if you don’t fit certain profiles, but first, in this world, where everything cool is called “Zen” and a Buddha face is a great ornament to decorate anything from your living room to your nightclub, some following of history is in order for all of us to understand. Many people have worked to bring the Dharma to this country, since a time before we, or even our grandparents were born.
I cannot possibly provide you a better place to start for this, than Funie Hsu’s exceedingly beautifully written article published in Lion’s Roar.
…which gives us an introduction to the double standards applied to Asian American communities when it comes to the Dharma. How their Buddhism is seen by some as “baggage” Buddhism, of a “simpler” kind, maybe superstitious even, trapped in rituals and “faith”, while that of European Americans is “real”, and bringing an intellectual approach and curiosity (which Asians lack, I suppose).
You’ll see that this story is one of effort and of pain and of a form of theft. I did not grow up in a place where I saw even a single self-identified Buddhist growing up, but I have spent enough time in Buddhist countries to know the tremendous efforts made even today just so that the Dharma can survive and be there for future generations. And this has been happening for thousands of years and every one of us today, if we only knew, owe a debt of gratitude our spiritual ancestors in these countries.
In more recent times, it is a story of pain inflicted on those who brought these here (inflicted for doing the same things that confers coolness on you if you are of the right race today). I can’t begin to elaborate on how Asian Americans were treated in their own country by their own compatriots. Anyone who’s somehow managed to live under a rock and avoid knowing anything about the shameful history of Japanese internment camps, read up, or at least stop by the little free museum in the Presidio if you are in San Francisco.
As for theft, it’s not because I can’t spell “appropriation” that I call it theft, but why call a spade a hammer? And no, it’s not anyone’s newly taking up Dharma practice that is theft, not at all – by that token, I’d be a thief many times over. Rather it is the taking away of the legitimate place of these Asian traditions in the space of American Buddhism.
Why? Answer me this – are these Americans following Asian Buddhist traditions not real Buddhists or nor real Americans – what is it that makes anyone want to exclude them from American Buddhism?
And after reading the article, if you’re tempted to start a “reverse racism” line of thought, I refer you to the response to that kind of thinking by Buddhadharma’s editor Tynette Deveaux and the Ven. Ajahn Amaro.