I had hight hopes. I had hoped to write a grand and sweeping assessment of 2009 (perhaps this whole decade), a look back at the terrifying highs, the dizzying lows. But to hell with it. I don’t have time. And, really, I’d rather look ahead, to 2010, to a year for which I have even higher hopes than I do for writing a reflective blog post.
In lieu of that, I give you the following paragraph, in full and without (much) commentary. It’s from Jeff Wilson’s book, Mourning the Unborn Dead. I’m quoting this paragraph because, it seems to me, incredibly appropriate in the context a good number of conversations we’ve had in this blog (and elsewhere) in 2009. If it’s appropriateness to this blog is lost on you, you must be new or weren’t really paying attention (which, in some cases, was probably pretty smart!). But I’d also like to point out that, despite this decontextualized paragraph, this book doesn’t really have anything to do with the conversations on this blog over the past year, at least not directly. The book is really about a post-pregnancy loss ritual, mizuko kuyo, and how it is being practiced in American Zen Buddhist communities (both the Japanese- but especially the non-Japanese varieties). It’s an engaging read, one I recommend (especially the footnotes), and Dr. Wilson is certainly going to be someone to keep an eye on in years to come.
So without further ado:
Stories from these communities suggest that acculturation of Buddhism (and perhaps other religions as well) in America is a never completed project, a process that continually slides back and forth along a spectrum rather than one that moves confidently forward from a beginning point called “tradition” toward a destination called “American innovation.” One reason for this is that transnational ties continually introduce foreign innovations and practices to American religious communities, even those that settled in the United States prior to the twentieth century. These stories also reveal that Americanization is often the product of ignorance rather than conscious adaptation, and that the Buddhist contribution to rituals and ideas in some Zen communities is rivaled or even bested by influences from psychotherapy, feminism, and other elements of white middle-class American culture. This points to potential weaknesses in our typologies. The “ethnic” in the category “ethnic Buddhism” seems justifiable when it refers to how certain practitioners understand themselves: as Buddhists by ethnicity, rather than by individual belief. But when it becomes a racial signifier as in “ethnic” versus “white” Buddhism it breaks down, for how can we allege that Japanese ethnic influences are greater in Japanese-American Zen than European-American ethnic influences in convert Zen? What is whiteness if not yet another ethnicity? Convert Zen is not a return to the Buddhism of Shakyamuni (or Dogen) as some scholars have suggested but yet another flavor of ethnic Buddhism, one created largely by and for Americans of white cultural background.