American history Buddhism
The commentary below was first published online in 1998. It was one of the first open commentaries on American Buddhism's disparity with people of color in history, and became widely appreciated for its clarity of thought and insight. Although many Buddhist institutions initially challenged its relevance, the work went on to become seminal in the minds of those who initiated the first people of color meditation groups and sanghas in America. Lama Choyin Rangdrol, 2006; Whidbey Island, Washington State, USA
Part 1 - Why is a dialogue on American Buddhism Necessary?
Experience for yourself whether your local Dharma center or organization represents the diversity of America. If a particular racial group is dominant at the center or organization ask yourself, "What would be the experience of someone not represented by this group, if they were to come here?", "What would someone not from the majority group have to do to fit in?"
Perhaps you will find, as I have, that some Buddhist centers in America are racially and culturally segregated. They appear to be segregated for the same reason churches, synagogues, masques, and temples have been segregated throughout the history of America. Segregation by race, culture, or economic affluence is not the mutuality taught by the Buddha. Segregation is not beneficial to any religion or society entering a global community of increasing diversity and multinational interaction. Segregation is attachment to separateness, which is also the root cause of one group believing they are better than another. A belief that, even in the mind of one individual, can be extremely dangerous and threaten peace throughout the world, like Hitler for example.
Separatism and mutuality are equally free to emerge in the splendor of freedom in America. For some Buddhists, this causes confusion. Some American Buddhists who believe in the mutuality of all beings conversely find themselves practicing racial, cultural, and economic segregation in their Dharma activities. Mere mention of this contradiction makes them very upset and can cause them to condemn, cold shoulder, reject, and even eject someone from their Dharma center. I have witnessed this personally.
In my opinion, the enigmatic contradiction is based in the history of how early European Americans acquired wealth and power in America. Many of their descendants are embarrassed and shamed by their heritage, to this day. They seek to disengage themselves from the catastrophe of conquest leveled on people of color by their forefathers in the name of peace and justice for all. Their ultimate frustration is similar to a person trying to run from his/her shadow. Diversity, multiculturalism, multiracial, and interracial dialogue cast the light from which their shadow continually emerges to haunt them. I have great compassion for this kind of suffering. Its insidious nature does not liberate those afflicted even though they have majority power in a democratic society, nor is it pervious to economic affluence, gated communities, or media propaganda to its contrary. I know in my heart that some people from the dominant...
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