food? oh, we got food

After last week’s hullabaloo about “American” Buddhism, blah blah blah, I went out and bought said issue of Buddhadharma. Ick. I was reminded why I don’t like reading the mainstream Buddhist press.

There’s a couple of things I want to talk about. I want to point them out free of last week’s debate. I want to avoid conversations about race or ethnicity or immigration or access to power…. Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t want to avoid those things! And I probably won’t!

In the article, there’s a back-and-forth between the commentators about getting more people (specifically young people, queer folks, and people of color) more access to meditation retreats, etc., and Sumi Loudon Kim eventually raises what I think is actually a very apt point:

I have a beef about the whole dharma scene being so meditation-oriented and retreat- and program-oriented. As a mother of young children, I have no time for retreats, or even to go for a little sitting at the local temple. There’s a pretty strongly antisocial or nonsocial component to dharma centers in general.

They go on to talk about how these retreats and meditation programs are actually really lonely — people go, they practice, then they leave, and there’s no sense of community. Kim ends the exchange by joking, “And no food.”

And this is really where I think Buddhadharma could have benefitted by including the voice of an Asian American “next-gen” Buddhist. Or, hell, even the voice of someone like me who’s a white convert but has dared to do something none of these people seem willing to do — not meditate and still call themselves Buddhists.

If they had included an Asian-American Buddhist voice, I imagine that voice would say something like this: “What are you talking about? At our local temple, not only do we serve food — lots of food — but we have a Dharma School for kids. You don’t need to leave your kids at home to come and practice. Bring them with you. They go off to Dharma School, you can practice with the grown-ups. Because that’s the very definition of community. It’s includes everyone. Adults and children.”

To be perfectly frank, this was the part of the article that depressed me the most. It didn’t depress me because of the whole “two Buddhisms” thing or the access to power thing or the sociological definition of “religion” thing. It depressed me because I found myself thinking, how sad. Here are these guys who are really seriously searching for other ways to practice Buddhism, to deal with real issues like how to balance Buddhist practice and parenthood, and they’re totally missing a set of answers to these problems that are right here in their own backyard. All they had to do to was pick up the phone and call the nearest Asian-American community and get one extra voice in the room. It feels like they’re so close. But they’re just not getting it.

And in this way, they’re doing a great disservice to their readers.

Oh well. To each their own.

As an antithesis to this, I strong encourage you to read this really good article about the Oregon Buddhist Temple which did something for Bodhi Day that I think is freakin’ brilliant. They had an all-night nembutsu practice session. They stayed up for twelve hours chanting the nembutsu. Which is pretty cool, I think.

Oh, and expect a part two to this post since there’s more in this issue of Buddhadharma worth tackling.

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4 thoughts on “food? oh, we got food

  1. Wow, thanks for linking with the OR Buddhist Temple article. An all-night nembutsu “practice session”? At a Jodo Shinshu temple? I hear the charges of jiriki already 😉 For anyone unfamiliar with Jodo Shinshu doctrine, this would be considered VERY unorthodox, but it’s something to think about, to get members to think about coming to temple, other than for…food!

  2. It is very unorthodox, isn’t it? That’s one of the reasons I was excited to hear about it. The rabble rouser in me loves the unorthodox!

  3. Great post! If you actually bought and read a copy of Buddhadharma, then can I claim credit that my post actually brought the Buddhist community a little closer together? 😉 (j/k)

    Sometimes communities can’t see their own problems or solutions until there’s a real diversity of experience in the room. I think all our kvetching might have encouraged them to think about including more Asian Americans in the future. In Sumi’s defense, her kids are (I believe) 3 and almost 1, so she really has her hands full for now…

  4. Ah! We’re all coming together! As my mom would say, “It’s a Christmas miracle!”

    Oh I meant no disrespect to Sumi’s situation. I was just noticing that trend I see where people ask “how can I practice and be a parent?” but never notice that (Asian) Buddhists have been doing that centuries! Uh… ask them?

    Thanks for your inspiration, by the way. It’s been great thinking/writing about this stuff!

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