digest: deep fried dharma

As the first official the buddha is my dj post of 2010 (feel free to pronounce it twenty-ten or two-thousand-ten), I give you the following digest post.

  • I’m not sure which is worse, the stupid things that people say on Fox News or people actually being upset about the stupid things that people say on Fox News. I mean, yes, I agree, Brit Hume’s fifteen-second rebuke of Buddhism was both offensive and ignorant. But being surprised and offended by the stupid things that people say on Fox News makes about as much sense as expecting to loose weight while eating deep-fried butter. You know it’s not going to end well, no matter how good it tastes. My advice, fellow Buddhists (and left-leaning bloggers everywhere): ignore them. Every time you click that video, Fox News has one more reason to shill patently offensive schlock and boost their ratings.
  • In self-promotion news, I’ll be attending (parts of) this year’s BCA National Council Meeting in San Jose at the end of February, specifically for the BCA’s Shinran Shonin 750th Memorial Observance. (Remind me at some point to talk more about this important event.) I’ve been asked, among other things, to do a presentation of Shin Buddhists on the Internets from around the world. If all goes well, I hope to take this information and start up a new web project, something of an online directory of Shin resources. There’s a lot out there, and it would be good to help folks sort through it all and better connect with one another. That’s the hope, at any rate, and details remain fuzzy, to be sure. But keep your eyes on this one in the weeks and months to come, and I’ll let you know how it’s coming along.
  • On that note, and in carrying on my desire to present less-obvious, less Zen-centric Buddhist bloggers, today I’d like to point your attention to OneInchBuddha. Written by Wamae Muriuki, a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University (I’m told by my mother-in-law that it really is the Ohio State), OneInchBuddha hasn’t been updated in the last couple of months, but what’s there is worth reading. It’s more on the academic side, buyer beware, but oftentimes academic stuff is downright necessary. And if more folks show up, maybe we’ll see more posts from OneInchBuddha in the year to come.
  • Planning continues for the Institute’s March conference on Buddhism in the West. If you haven’t already made your spring plans and want to spend the weekend in beautiful, sunny Berkeley, California, register now. Oh, and apart from the weather, the conference promises to bring together some of the best thinkers on American Buddhism around which would probably be worth it even if the IBS was located in a yurt in Alaska or something.
  • Rumor has it you may be seeing my rambling shenanigans elsewhere on the Internets in a week or two. I don’t wanna tip my hand too much on that one, but I’ll pique your curiosity by telling you to look for my by-line in an unexpected place. And while I have your curiosity piqued, look for a more formal, bigger, exciting announcement of Things to Come early February. Along with the help of some friends, something new and exciting is coming to the Internets, and you, dear readers, writers, artists, and ne’er-do-wells, may be playing a role in it.

last post of the year

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.

my awkward summary post

I’d like to switch gears here for a moment, away from all that sardonic snark of earlier this afternoon. (I’m not sure if sardonic is the right word, here. Sure it was mocking, but not really grim. Oh well. Let’s let it ride.) The Bottom of Heaven, one of my favorites, routinely posts short summaries of random media or links. I like this idea. It seems to me a good way to deal with something I struggle with; namely, how do I share information with my readers without resorting to the restrictions of 140 characters which, it seems to me, often get lost or go unnoticed?

So, without further ado or explanation, I’d like to draw your attention to the following…

adrift on a post-modern sea of relativity and uncertainty

I just wrote, and deleted an exceptionally long and self-reflective post about, among other things, my lack of critical posts over the past few months and a central question of mine of late: why the hell am I blogging?

Then I got up, went to get some coffee, and, having returned to the computer, realized that that post was really the kind of thing I should have written for a private journal, were I the kind of person who still kept a private journal. (This may be a subconscious plug that I should start keeping a journal again like I did when I was younger.) And I’m guessing that no one wants to read that. Or, maybe more likely, that I don’t know if I want to share that much with you.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of things in that post that I think are worth putting out there. But they come with the following disclaimer. In my now deleted post, I wrote at length about how I don’t know anything. About how I’ve come to see the world not in terms of absolutes, of rights and wrongs, but instead as a series of complex and nuanced issues that have no right or wrong answer, and that at the end of the day we’re going to have to live with uncertainty, we’re going to have to live with inadequate, crappy answers that make one or two people, if not happy, at least less irritable, and leave the rest of us more or less in a bummed out state of resignation. A state of, “Well, I guess that’s just how it is. And how it is sort of sucks.”

end of summer

We got some weird weather in these parts in September. September in the Bay Area is usually a late summer, dry and hot. Instead, we got thunder storms. A somewhat fitting end for a summer of contentious, Buddhist blogging about the politics of race and representation.

Over the last couple of days, I have tried to write a blog post about these issues, some sort of summary post, or some sort of recap of the issues, or even a response to some of the more slanderous things that been said out there. But I can’t seem to get the right tone, get my thoughts in order. I keep getting distracted.


This post has been updated.

This much I know.

No one likes their identity to be defined or described by a third party, particularly when that third party is an anonymous total stranger. No one likes to be labeled or defined or described by someone else; and when they are, they’re understandably upset by it.

Here’s a couple more things I know.

I have absolutely no problem, in principle, with white folks “remaking” Buddhism to suit their particular cultural needs. I have no problem, in principle, with Buddhist teachers reinterpreting Buddhist doctrines or practices to better serve the needs of some group of practitioners, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background. (I say “in principle” because the Buddhist apologist in me has concerns about some of these changes, but that’s beside the point. Or, rather, beside the point of this particular post.)

coming out again

Earlier this summer, I started a little research project based on this post. I asked folks to submit their own coming to Buddhism stories. While the project is still on-going, I wanted to report some initial thoughts as well as where I’m thinking of heading with it.

First and foremost, an update and hearty thank you!

I received a number of responses from my initial post from Buddhists who had either converted or had rediscovered a forgotten family tradition. Much thanks to everyone who contacted me; you’re willingness to share your experiences, I believe, will go a long way in helping us understand the nature of the American Buddhist landscape.