Stūpas hold endless fascination for me.  They are constructions with no purpose other than religious significance. Some representations are tiny, and can be placed on your desk.  Some are among the largest constructions of the ancient world. Jetavanārāmaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, built with over 93 million bricks, was one of the largest structures of the ancient world, the largest after the pyramids. 

Jetavanārāmaya Stupa in Anuradhapura (photos by the blogger). For scale, the seated Buddha in the image (yellow figure seen past the middle pillar, is life-size)
A nāga image at Jetavanārāmaya

They have different names and different shapes and styles, depending on the region. They may be called zedi (Myanmar), chorten (Tibet), chedi (Thailand), dagoba (Sri Lanka) and their counterparts found from Japan, Korea and Mongolia to Vietnam, Cambodia and India.

Some of them are said to hold relics of the Buddha himself. In many cases, they have some kind of a treasure in them, not necessarily of material value, but a reliquary nevertheless.

While these are the current interpretations by tradition, some believe that historically, they originated as burial mounds for important figures, common in the first millennium BCE in a large part of the world, from Phoenicia, across the fertile crescent, into Persia, Afghanistan and India and perhaps some other areas. The samaṇas (the Buddha was one) might have also used such structures before the Buddhist era began.

The shape itself, apart from the significance that various traditions attach to it, seems very calming and pleasing to me.  I’m not sure why, but the image of numerous stūpas passing through the mind as we go into the new year feels good.  Another such image that I find universally calming is the image of a person in meditation. It doesn’t have to be the image of the Buddha or any other famous person of any tradition.  The image of any woman or man in meditation or prayer is something pleasant – perhaps the stillness and non-threatening nature of the image is what attracts us. Which makes me feel – is it the agitated mind (of others, our own) what we really fear?

 Perhaps a New Year’s resolution-ish thing for me would be to share a little bit about some of the great stūpas and pagodas that I’ve had the good fortune to visit or hope to see some day.

Among the prominent ones, Ruwanwelisaya, the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Bodhnath and Swayambhunath, Abhayagiri and Shwedagon Phaya.

What’s right about right view?

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Right View (sammā diṭṭhi) is the first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path and is also the culmination of the path. It can also be viewed as the summary of the Buddhist worldview. There are excellent books and articles describing Right View – generally taken as consisting of mundane right view (cause and effect) and supramundane right view (the Four Noble Truths). You can read different ways of presenting it discussed here, in an excellent essay by the Venerable Ṭhānissaro. Let’s discuss first, though, what does “right” mean? It’s not what we may first understand when we hear the words “right” or “good” in usual speech.

To understand it, let’s examine what the word “good” means. In many popular traditions and consequently, in the societies where these traditions have been dominant, acts can be classified into good, bad (with some allowances for gray areas and debates) based on whether an authority (a deity or temporal or even secular entity) approves of it or not. In other words, a deed is good if if can be found in a pre-defined list of good deeds and bad if in similar list of bad deeds.

In the Buddha Dhamma, on the other hand, the discussion is centered around dukkha (translated as unsatisfactoriness or suffering). An act is good (kusala) if leads to good results (removal of dukkha) and bad (akusala) if it leads to more dukkha. This definition allows the possibility of exploring for oneself whether an act is good or bad. It’s no surprise that in terms of practical acts, one would come up with lists that have a lot of commonality with most religious traditions. It’s in this sense that some other aspects of the path (right speech and right action, for example) are also translated as wise speech and wise action, or even better beneficial speech and beneficial action.

This is not to say that there aren’t clear statements of morality in the Dhamma-Vinaya, just that these training rules are derived from this view of good and bad rather than the rules being a philosophical starting point.

Sammā diṭṭhi or Beneficial View too is beneficial in just this way. To the question of what’s a beneficial view to hold for one who is keen on being free of dukkha, the answer that the Buddha provided is this one. It would be reasonable to call it a belief system that one on the path would take on. All the background above is to point out that many questions that are often asked about Sammā diṭṭhi are tangential to the teachings. These focus on whether the view is true or not, in some objective, externally verifiable sense, what constitutes sufficient evidence of these beliefs etc. That is not the sense in which it is Right. You can choose to translate it also as the Prescribed View.

This does not mean they are going to be found lacking in veracity. The Buddha says they are truths, but not truths that are in any way verifiable by one who has not yet crossed over. It is in this way that it is the culmination of the path. Once you truly understand the Four Noble Truths fully, you are already liberated. At that point, there is no need to adopt this view as a matter of taking the Teacher’s word that this is beneficial view.

A couple of other points to note: The first is that there is a self-referential aspect here. Right View lays out a few ideas. These ideas, as discussed earlier, are Right to hold in the sense of being beneficial in the contexts of kamma and dukkha, which are in turn, contained in Right View.

The second is that views, all views, are chosen. All our thoughts are formed against the background of our view, the colored glasses we wear through which we are forced to filter every experience we become aware of. What this teaching shows is that the view itself is something we have a choice over (and we can choose one that is beneficial). So let’s be aware of our view and that the same phenomenon appears differently to me relative to another person because of our view vs. theirs. This should help us be more understanding of another’s reaction.

The word “westerner”

Going back to the frequent use of the word “westerners” and “western” in American Buddhist circles, I have to always wonder what exactly the word means. I’ve already discussed some of it here. But today, I wanted to just look at the history of this word and the senses in which it’s been used in the past.

Sense A: Post World War II, as the Cold War was getting started, a new definition of “the West” was taking shape – it represented a military alliance – and this west was a concept shaped by the US. It stood in opposition to the Eastern Block of nations led by the Communist USSR. This distinction was not by skin color but more along politics and culture – Western Europe, USA and allies like CAN, AUS and NZL. It was a perfectly acceptable term in polite society.

Sense B: But prior to that, in the 19th century and upto the World Wars, as European colonial regimes observed cultures, usually of their colonies and studied them, colonial scholarship produced a clear “us” and “them”, the westerners and the “orientals” (no longer an acceptable term in polite American discourse).

Much of this scholarship also sought to establish the superiority of the west in racial terms, introduced words like “caucasian”, established that “logic” and “linear thinking” and “science/technology” as originated in the West, while it conceded/asserted that some kind of “spiritual” endeavors was the realm of the East. Often the studies were alongside religious studies by Christian missionaries/priests whose intention it was to learn enough about the religions of the east like Hinduism and Buddhism so as to be able to compare them unfavorably to Christianity.

The meaning that is in vogue these days among American Buddhists seems closer to sense B (minus any claims about racial differences or even a mention of race) as evidenced by the fact that Polish, Yugoslav, Russian, Romanian Buddhists are western Buddhists under the prevalent nomenclature. So we clearly don’t mean former NATO countries, but white/European countries.

Some will argue that this is not the case at all – the term means a person of European cultural heritage – and not race. So, they would argue that Black people in the US, for example whose cultural life may have been shaped by their American experience solely (which in turn is shaped at least in large part by a European heritage) and not by African culture would be westerners and therefore it’s fine as nomenclature. In effect, that this is a geographical term – all people in “the West” are westerners. But is that an honest line of argument?

Here are a few questions for pondering:

  • Do you think of Mexicans of largely indigenous blood, but maybe Spanish-descended culture, when you use the word ‘westerner’? What about non-white people of South America?
  • What about the Americans who have immigrated from Africa in the last few decades? They are definitely not eastern. Do they fall under your use of the word ‘western’, though?
  • And of course, Asian Americans – westerners or easterners? Clearly, there was Buddhism in the West from the 19th century onwards, long before “Western Buddhism” of the westerners came into existence in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I can’t think of a clearer demonstration of the fact that in Buddhist discourse, Asian Americans are not considered westerners.

Just know that the sense in which Buddhist circles use the word is as the opposite of a word that is no longer okay to even say.

As I mentioned in this post, go to any Asian American Buddhist community and tell me if the teacher uses words like “we westerners” in their teaching. If they don’t, one has to wonder why they don’t consider themselves included in by the word. Is it enough to just insist that all Americans would feel included if we say “in our western culture/upbringing/way of thinking”? So why is it a term that enjoys such popularity in certain other Buddhist circles?

Same spelling, but different meanings when said differently?

A post on a lighter topic. My dad showed me this example when I was less than 10 years of age:

MINUTE can be pronounced in two ways to mean different things – a noun which means 60 seconds or an adjective which means very small. He asked me if there are other such pairs.

As it happens, I came across one such this week

WOUND: past and past participle of the verb wind (like winding a watch, if anyone remembers such an activity)

WOUND: n. an injury to living tissue caused by a cut, blow, or other impact, typically one in which the skin is cut or broken. Also, a verb to connote inflicting such injury.

Right there is another pair

WIND: noun, as in The Wind in the Willows

WIND: the verb whose past participle is the aforementioned WOUND.

If you know more such pairs, please mention them in the comments below.

Note: different accepted pronunciations of the same word to mean the same thing do not count. Nor do the words which have multiple meanings with the same pronunciation (for example, ‘set’ has 58 meanings as a noun and 10 as a verb, but it does not count here)

Where can I find the Buddha?

Why, everywhere, of course! I mean evvvvverywhere. I’m speaking about images of the Buddha here.

You can expect to find him represented in a lot of the usual places – shrines and walls of people’s houses (the purpose is similar). But then also in some places you don’t expect, like billboards. Then there are some that can be quite disturbing to people who hold an image of the Buddha as sacred (and they number in the hundreds of millions too). For example, on this trash can, seen on Telegraph avenue in Berkeley, California.

Another common place to find Buddhas images in countries not traditionally Buddhist is the bathroom – unimaginable in a Buddhist culture.

I can see why people do this: In a century that saw bathrooms go from a place you want to spend the least time in, to a trendy, cool part of the house, it’s natural to want a peaceful setting. And there are few sights as calming to behold as a person sitting in meditation. However, can’t one be a little sensitive to those who view a buddha rūpa as more than more decoration? Whatever, one does in their house, at least avoid such bathroom decorations in public places where such people might have to come upon them, like in restaurants and spas?

Btw, it can be go beyond space decoration, as this toilet seat shows.

I have seen a Buddha head holding up shoes for display in a shoe store in California. Numerous images of the Buddha on shoes, like this one. All unimaginable in traditionally Buddhist countries. There have been some concerns about similar use of images of the Hindu deity Ganesha on toilet seats.

This has been discussed previously in many corners of the ‘net, such as on this thread. Many have pointed out – in a Western country, would you encounter a sacred symbol from Christianity, Islam or Judaism in a toilet? Then why so many Buddhas and the occasional Ganesha. Of course, on these threads, you will also find several people claiming that the Buddha himself would not be offended and that people objecting to this don’t really understand the “real” teaching of the Buddha. And that whole ball of string about “you are confusing Buddhism with a religion” etc. and a repetition of the supercilious view that Buddhists from Buddhist cultures don’t really understand the Buddha’s teachings – and their objections arise from such ignorance.

What a strawman argument, the one about the Buddha being offended! As if anyone said the Buddha could be hurt by this…the point always was…are you being disrespectful to Buddhists. Furthermore, there are accusations of intolerance aimed at those who aren’t chill about this – a bit ironic.

Oh, somewhere in this gamut, are gardens. In some cases, they are mere garden decorations, in others, they are outdoor shrines, tended with respect…Just know this – the practice of religious heads as decorative items in western gardens began in colonial times, which colonial officials in Asia bringing priceless art works and broken heads, the heritage of the people of the colonies, back home to Europe to display – not out of any reverence for the deity, but as decorative pieces and proof of the travels and worldliness of the “owner”.


Inside the Wonder House: Buddhist Art and the West, In Curators of the Buddha, edited by Donald Lopez. University of Chicago, 1995.

Other related reading.

The Buddhist Icon and the Modern Gaze, Critical Inquiry, Vol 24, No 3

Is Buddhism a hobby?

The work week is for work and the weekend is personal time, at least for those of us who are fortunate to still have jobs, yet not so fortunate that it requires working on the weekends too. “Work” here is stuff that involves earning a living. What is personal, though? Most people save time to be with family, meet with friends and family not living with them. 

Where do hobbies fall? I know gyms and fitness programs that have classes scheduled only on weekdays, and maybe a small schedule on Saturday, and nothing on Sunday.   Language classes, art classes, sports classes, music classes – things that don’t need a block of many hours like a long hike – are scheduled on weekday evenings so as not to encroach on the weekend. 

Where does spirituality fit in all of this? Does it belong in personal time or in work/hobby (weekdays). It seems most religions in the US choose the weekend for communal gatherings in addition to daily private practice.  This is true for all faiths including “traditional” Buddhist parisas (assemblies).  But a number of “western” Buddhist circles have gatherings and meditation almost exclusively on the weekdays, meeting every Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, etc.  This despite the fact that the original reason for the weekend was to set it apart for spiritual practice – a tradition from the western world. 

It’s also not common to see  families attending together, which would have made the weekend a natural time for practicing together as a community.  Children at such Dharma gatherings are a rarity and a source of some attention and “awww”s.

All of this leads me to wonder what kind of place meditation and Dharma, that I would normally think of as situated in the personal and the spiritual, is assumed to hold in these communities. Is this considered a hobby?

The power of truth and nonviolence

A good bit of the story of Aṅgulimāla is told in the pāli canon in the Aṅgulimāla Sutta (MN 86). A small part of this sutta, a single verse, is often chanted as a protection.  The Elder Ahiṃsaka (Aṅgulimāla) is something like a patron saint of childbirth.  His story of becoming a bloodthirsty killer and then redeeming himself by becoming a monk and living the holy life is a rich starting point for various explorations – on causes and conditions, the ripening of karma even on one who has attained nibbāna, how one can be set on a destructive path by one’s own teacher, how excellence can engender jealousy, how one can be blinded by fervor of belief or a slavish sense of duty to carry out the most heinous of crimes and turn on even the ones who have been the most loving figures in one’s life, restorative/transformative justice, the power of love/courage and wisdom to subdue what even the most powerful weapons cannot.

In this post, however, I wish to focus narrowly on the immediate context of the paritta. One day, on alms round, the reformed and gentle monk Ahiṃsaka, whose name translates literally to “the non-violent one”, came across a woman undergoing the pain of a breech birth (feet-first birth) and as he was moved by her suffering, the thought arose in him – ‘How afflicted are living beings! How afflicted are living beings!’*

After discussion, the Buddha asked him to go and tell the woman –

Ever since I was born in the noble birth, sister, I don’t recall having intentionally taken the life of a living creature. By this truth, may both you and your baby be safe.

The story goes on to say that the woman and her baby came out of the childbirth safe and well and the birth became easeful.

I write this post to highlight two things about this very short verse.

  • The enormous task of not killing any living creature. One who is really serious about the first precept will find how hard the task actually is. If one expands the meaning of avoiding intentional killing as avoiding activities where one might end up killing a living being (cleaning, walking without being too careful not to crush creatures which could easily have been seen, drowning creatures as collateral damage),  it is a mighty hard task.   This is significantly harder in a rural/wild setting. Not having cruel intentions is not enough.  It requires care and consideration and a lot of continuous mindfulness to keep just this precept that many of us assume is something that we obviously don’t violate. And to not have ever done that is quite an achievement – one that the Buddha considered quite powerful.
  • The respect for the miraculous power of truth in the mythology/allusions of the time/place. There are several stories in various Indian traditions of a truthful statement having actual force to cause an effect in the physical world. In this case, a safe childbirth.  In other instances, people being unaffected by fire because of the truth of some fact or the other.  Not that society at any time or place was/is entirely truthful in practice, I am referring to the power attributed to the ideal in the common reference system of the teacher and the taught. 


  1. Apart from being recited to pregnant women, this paritta (chant of protection) is also recited as a matter of routine on Fridays in many countries.
  2. Some chants frame the paritta itself with a description of the protective power of this paritta in this way – even the water used to wash the seat of one who has chanted this paritta can ward off all danger/trouble!
  3. The line here (kilissanti vata bho sattā) would be literally ‘How defiled are living beings!’ and in this context of physical childbirth, perhaps better translated as ‘How tormented are living beings!’, I have chosen ‘afflicted’ as an attempt to bring together these two meanings.
  4. The sentence spoken to the woman concludes with the words “May your fetus be safe” (rather than baby), but I have chosen the word baby here as it accords with our normal way of speaking about something like this.

The image below is of the scene of Ven. Ahiṃsaka making his assertion of non-killing at the site of the childbirth by the great Burmese artist U Ba Kyi. In this conception, the monk makes the statement seated on a platform outside the home of the pregnant woman with the childbirth happening behind the screen. This and the painting at the top of this post of the Buddha’s first encounter with Angulimāla by the same artist are illustrations from The Illustrated History of Buddhism by Ashin Janakābhivaṃsa of Myanmar.


  1. Sutta Central for the text:
  2. “Angulimala Sutta: About Angulimala” (MN 86), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, 
  3. A translation of MN 86 by Venerable Sujato 

Baggage Buddhism

A suggested experiment for anyone who thinks that Asians come to the Dharma with “cultural baggage”: Try translating the word sīla as morality or mention morality to a Dharma audience in a “western sangha” and watch for the reaction.  Wait, wait, don’t call it morality, it’s better translated as ethics, you might hear. Well, why not morality, you ask. Explanations are forthcoming along the lines of how it has negative connotations from Christian conditioning/society, how some grandparent used to behave. Any signs of baggage there?

Other triggering terms are right/wrong as taught by the Buddha, translating someone’s address of the Buddha as “Lord”, translating pāpa as evil – people have objections to all of these. Same with the translation of the deva as god or hiri as shame.  Perhaps reflecting on these will reveal that everyone approaches the Dharma from their own context, baggage if you will. Shame, god, Lord, morality, right and wrong – these things exist in languages independent of Christianity/Abrahamic faiths and it’s a person’s conditioning that makes them evoke mythology of a certain religion when they hear these words.  

Furthermore, it’s a person’s particular experience with said faith/society that makes their reaction about the word negative or positive.  Someone inclined to Christianity might view the use of these words favorably while someone allergic to it has a different reaction. Both reactions are baggage specific to a Christianity-dominated society. Someone with a different religious upbringing (say, Hindu) but who also grows up with the English language, might have an altogether different reaction to these words.

As another example, translate dāna as ‘giving’, which is what it literally means rather than ‘generosity’, which is the preferred choice and see how that plays out.  Would it be easier to be called upon to cultivate a quality in our mind rather abstractly than to actually give stuff? 

This is a little like accents. It’s fairly frequent occurrence in some US cities, to hear people say “…Where are you from…you have an accent…”.  Mostly innocuous, and the meaning is quite clear to me, but I want to point out that this forgets the fact that the person asking has an accent too – an American accent! 

It is fine – come one, come all to the Dhamma, as you are, with your baggage. The Buddha’s teaching is truly universal.  One thing that’s not helpful, seeing another’s “baggage” while being blind to your own.

Asian Americans speak on the assumptions about them

Here’s an excellent article from the journal Religions, by Chenxing Han, author of the article We’re Not Who You Think We Are that I mentioned in the previous post. It features interviews with 30 young adult Asian American Buddhists as they share the type of issues faced and assumptions encountered that I described earlier.  Some of these matters are encountered also by AABs who aren’t quite young adults. The author has summarized the overarching themes revealed by the YAAABs in these interviews into an enlightening and enjoyable read. It includes discussion from 30 “first gen Buddhists” out of 89 interviews conducted by her in 2012-13. It includes interviews of YAABs who grew up in Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, multi-religious and non-religious families, from a variety of ethnicities – Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Iranian, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, Turkmen, and Vietnamese as well as from multi-racial families which include European, Central Asian and Latino ethnicities.


This paper engages the perspectives of thirty young adult Asian American Buddhists (YAAABs) raised in non-Buddhist households. Grounded in semi-structured, one-on-one in-person and email interviews, my research reveals the family tensions and challenges of belonging faced by a group straddling multiple religious and cultural worlds. These young adults articulate their alienation from both predominantly white and predominantly Asian Buddhist communities in America. On the one hand, they express ambivalence over adopting the label of “convert” because of its Christian connotations as well as its associations with whiteness in the American Buddhist context. On the other hand, they lack the familiarity with Asian Buddhist cultures experienced by second- or multi-generation YAAABs who grew up in Buddhist families. In their nuanced responses to arguments that (1) American convert Buddhism is a non-Asian phenomenon, and (2) Asians in the West can only “revert” to Buddhism, these young adults assert the plurality and hybridity of their lived experiences as representative of all American Buddhists, rather than incidental characteristics of a fringe group within a white-dominated category

Why so swayed by visual appearance?

It is understood that there are two Buddhisms in this country.  One for the “people from traditionally Buddhist countries” (call it type A) and one for the “modern” rational, Westerners”, who “bring an intellectual curiosity to Buddhism as we do with everything” (call it type B). 

Never mind if these Asians or Asian Americans have never in their lives previously encountered Buddhism or if some of them might even be scientists. For some people, one look at their Asian face and there’s the illusion of knowing something about their practice – that maybe they are superstitious, that they were “raised Buddhist”, maybe follow some rites and rituals and most of all, don’t really know what the the Buddha actually taught, that their practice is “devotion based”, they are unquestioning etc. There are references to “cultural baggage” in the way Asian communities practice Buddhism. 

Two less-obvious areas  for this that I find quite jarring and to be based on misunderstandings are the veneration of monastics and dāna.

Is the special status of monastics important for the practice of the Dharma? I won’t debate this here except to acknowledge that this is at least a reasonable question to ask.  However, if you are one who thinks that veneration of monastics is irrelevant, is it necessary to ascribe the motives of the other side to be “blind following of Buddhist authority figures that is part of the Asian/(insert country name) culture”?

Or dāna.  I understand if some people are distrusting of giving money or material support as a means of supporting a religious org.  Maybe some people have had negative views from the relationship of certain spiritual leaders with wealth.  Maybe they don’t yet really understand how material support is essential to preserve the teachings.  In any case, there is no pressure on anyone to make dāna.  Then is it necessary to mock the dāna practiced by Asians? To call it blind faith, a practice based on superstition about a future life, to debase it as transactional just because the other person subscribes to the concept of good karma?  I have personally come across this condescending sentiment many times, including from people who are *huge beneficiaries* of this very generosity.

As I wonder about this kind of attitude towards Asians, an episode  comes to mind that not all people of color are the same in this context.  I was at a retreat where a young Latino man was on a scholarship (I appreciate the center for making that effort), for which he offered thanks to the center.  There was one other older latino man attending (let’s call him Edward).  Later, when we were all doing dishes in the kitchen as part of the chores, the young man remarked how grateful he was to see Edward there because it made him realize that someone like him, a person of color, could also practice meditation and that it’s not only for white people.  Most of the people present thought the remark made perfect sense but one person pointed out that it was never supposed to have been the preserve of people of European descent or some activity invented by them. In fact, until quite recently, the Dharma had always been practiced and preserved by “people of color”.

Yet the young man was not totally off.  He had deduced that the community is predominantly white and is led by white people.  People of color walk into that space with diffidence and uncertainty, wondering if they do belong.

The kind of people of color that had been practicing and preserving the Dharma are of course, not the kind that the community was making an outreach to.  There is membership focused outreach to African Americans and Latinos. There is sometimes also a welcoming, at least in lip service, of native American practices or Middle Eastern wisdom and not to mention any number of European philosophies, whereas the only practices to which I hear a discouragement or avoidance of is on something from a type A congregation and not really much outreach to Asian Americans for membership. It’s as if the type B communities are open to evolving in many different directions except the direction of the type A.  

This would all be kinda honest if type B were a community where Asian communities are explicitly excluded.  You know, just block type B groups out of your mind and move on.  But they claim to be communities which are inclusive, universal etc. When in reality, for all the show of trying hard to bring in people of color (and to some extent, they are trying – with races other than Asians), they really aren’t.  Type A communities are more clear and open about it: e.g., this is a Thai temple, you can expect to encounter Thai language and culture, foods, religious practices and monks ordained in Thailand.  Anyone is welcome to attend, but such and such is the practice here.  But type B does not claim to be a white-centric place, which is the reason we all wander in.  Then we are showered with messages of welcome and inclusion while the more subtle signs simultaneously tell us there is a certain mainstream here, that there is a certain dominant culture, that we can only belong if we integrate into this dominant culture.  The culture is not going to be flexible for us, it’s we who have to change.  In other words, no different from many workplaces or some other spheres of American life where white culture is dominant and normative and others are, well, fringe.  In other words, a place that operates with a rather narrow view of who is really American. 

Perhaps this concern about becoming a type A community is what drives the force field that many Asian Americans experience as they try to approach type B sanghas, where in paper, based on their own outlooks, they feel they might find a more natural spiritual home. 

Am I late to the discussion?  Maybe so given the attention that leaders like Larry Yang and several writers have pointed out have brought to the matter.  I also know that the leadership of several communities are making an effort to make changes to include people of color.

This is a hard post to write because things are not clear cut, provable.  On the one hand, I see some leaders in the predominantly European American Buddhist community* exert themselves to change the white dominance of the space and make it open to all and on the other hand, I see a number of members behaving as if to say “This is a white space” and not a space for all Americans by simply bringing their assumptions about other races right into the Dharma circle.  

In fact, as I write this, I find in my own mind a softening of the irritation in my own mind in the way Asians are perceived in type B sanghas.  On the one hand, I see type B sanghas partly defining themselves by saying what they are not – they are not Tibetan Buddhism or Thai Buddhism. They are not the Catholic church, not Christianity etc. Their distancing from Asian roots of the tradition is part of that negation. Unfortunately, that does not make them universalist and welcoming: they are not as clear-eyed about what they ARE permitting themselves to be – predominantly white, middle-class, politically liberal.  And people who can check off these three boxes of self-view have a different experience when they walk in and different ability to take ownership compared to the discomfort felt by those who don’t check all three.  But like many things – the fact that it’s not intentional is not sufficient reason to not wake up, acknowledge, understand, react, fix.

Writing about it is also hard because of being perceived as creating divisions where none exist. For example, I sent Funie Hsu’s and Chenxing Han’s articles to someone about this kind of thing in Dharma communities, only to get a reply that these articles are full of identity politics.  Well, that’s a bit interesting, isn’t it?  The nonchalant putting down of people of color is not identity politics, but speaking about it is? Right in the midst of a decade where people are occupying positions of high power by riding/inciting race-based identity, fools still see only the pointing out of such reliance on identity as “identity politics”.

Do I sound angry? Maybe, maybe not.  I’d like to be spared the burden of having to not sound angry. I’m stating the facts and experience for anyone who cares to see/hear what another’s experience has been.   Do I speak for all people of color? No, but I can speak for one – what that one has directly seen/heard. 

As to how all this appears to Asians, I plan to post a paper written by Chengxin Han that captures these feelings and experiences over a broader section than just one person’s.

* I called it European American Buddhist community above. I’m not sure what else to call type B since I’ve already expressed why I don’t want to call it:

a. “American Insight” (since the Burmese/Thai/Sri Lankan groups ARE American too).

b.“Convert Buddhism” (since many members consider Asian Americans who are also new to Buddhism to not belong there).

c.“Scientific/Intellectual” – because well, I totally reject that Asians are not that or that “westerners” have some kind of monopoly on that.