“Any scholarly attempt to describe groups should at least consider how members describe themselves. Our descriptions must be nuanced to account for exceptions, parallels, blends, and developmental processes. They also must pay attention to the history and ongoing effects of racism in the United States. As a white scholar, I have tried to use my own privilege to draw attention those effects, in support of efforts to dismantle them. If we cannot do this, then as Jan Nattier cautioned, ‘there will always be “two Buddhisms” in America: Us and Them, however we define each other.'”
“American Buddhism began in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century with the transmission of ideology, artifacts, and people: Buddhism, Buddhist art, and Buddhists. These ideas and objects found their way to the Americas as part of transnational exchanges of translated texts or transported statuary made possible by the process of modernity and colonialism.”
A rather classical way to describe civilization and society is to use a center-periphery model. This is the “all roads lead to Paris” idea wherein Paris is understood to be the cultural, economic, and political center of the nation-state. Anything that happens in the periphery is understood to be happening in relation or reaction to the center, and it is only deemed “high culture” or “important” once it has reached and been accepted by the cultural elites in the center. Otherwise, it remains hidden and obscured in the world of “folk.”
Over the weekend (in addition to everything else) I received a “press copy” of a new, compilation CD from a company called More than Sound (that, oddly, has something to do with George Lucas): “Dhamma Gita: music of young practitioners inspired by the Dhamma.” While the fellow who sent me the copy didn’t say so explicitly, I suspect he sent it to me under the assumption that I’d do what I am currently doing blog about it. And I do have a couple of things to say about this album. One, I fear, may be more the purview of the Angry Asian Buddhist, but I think that it’s nevertheless important to say. So, if you’re of the opinion that these are just nut-job, guilty liberal tirades, feel free to skip the later half of this post. If, on the other hand, you’ve got an open mind to alternative points of views (not to mention music), by all means, read on. But the other thing I want to say about this compilation album is actually about the music which, on the whole, is quite good, Angry Asian-esque asides notwithstanding. So, without further ado, I think I’ll start with the good news.
This past weekend, the Institute of Buddhist Studies hosted a conference on Buddhism in the West called Buddhism without Borders. It was, by most accounts, wildly successful.
(I say “the Institute” hosted it, but let’s be honest myself and my good friend Natalie did most of the work organizing it. I sometimes have a hard time accepting compliments and often feel more than a little uncomfortable boasting my own accomplishments, but I think in this case I can be allowed to sing our own praises. This conference was the coolest thing I’ve ever done as a scholar.)
One of the panelists presented a paper about about Buddhism on blogs, a study that focused on issues of identity and race within the popular discourse of Buddhist practice. While her paper was not directly related to this blog, she did mention it. And by mention it I mean that in her accompanying Power Point presentation, she showed a screen shot of this blog and pointed out that it’s mine, that’s right, me, the same Scott who helped put together this conference. So, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have harbored about no one ever reading this blog, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have that no one in my academic community is aware of this pretty shabby looking blog, well, those illusions have been shattered. I think I’ve been effectively outed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my readership around here didn’t just jump by a dozen or two. (Hi there!)
How narcissistic is it of me that I’ve even brought this up? It’s completely irrelevant. Like I said, the paper in question really had very little let’s be honest, nothing to do with this blog or my little blogging hobby. But then again, aren’t most blogs at least a little narcissistic? Even if we honestly believe that we’re in it for the sharing of knowledge or other high-minded altruistic reasons, we’re still interested in contributing our own opinions and perspectives to some particular conversation here are my ideas, my opinions, me me me, blah blah blah.
Just after the new year, Jerry Kolber contacted me to ask if I wanted to write a guest post over on the One City blog. I have deeply ambivalent feelings about this. I have ambivalent feelings about this because One City has been criticized by people whose opinions I deeply respect. So, part of me feels like a sell out. On the other hand, I have to respect the fact that the editors of that blog are reaching out to a ne’er-do-well such as myself which suggests that they’re willing to entertain alternative viewpoints, an idea I want to support.
I wrestled with the piece that I ended up submitting to Mr. Kolber. And I’m not 100% satisfied with it, truth be told. Part of me wanted to write a massive take-down critique of the whole thing, a snarky, sarcastic “everyone’s wrong but me” sort of post complaining about my usual irks (privilege, diversity, commercialism, the “Buddhism isn’t a religion” crap). But lately I’ve found myself feeling less irritable. Or, more to the point, I find myself tiring of complaining in those terms about issues that I’ve been complaining about for over six years in this space. If my readers really want to know why I think Buddhism is a religion, I’ve covered that territory. And I’m tired of being a critic for the sole purpose of being a critic. There are, at present, other bloggers out there who are better, wittier, and possibly hotter than me. Let them have that lime-light.
So, in the end, while I’m not 100% satisfied, with the piece, I’ve got to keep it in perspective and remember that it’s (a) only a blog piece and (b) does fulfill my primary aim, one that I doubt I’ll grow tired of any time too soon, i.e., reminding everyone that there really is diversity within the broader (American) Buddhist community, that this is a good and necessary thing, an idea that I’ll defend till I’m blue in the face.
But in the interest of space (I got the impression from Mr. Kolber that shorter was better) there was something I ultimately cut out of that piece that I really wanted to leave in. I cut it out because it was only tangentially related, not directly and obviously related, to my main point. And every attempt I made to make it more directly related seemed forced. And I loath (my own) forced writing. What I really wanted to include was the following: I love Oakland.