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.
So there are problems. There really is discrimination, poverty, sexism, and homophobia in this country, no matter how much we would like to believe that these things are nothing more than ephemeral prapaÃ±ca, illusory delusions of the unenlightened. The fact that they are real means that there is suffering out there, that people cope in a variety of ways. Some of us write exceedingly long blog posts about it. And this one attempts to answer the question of why you should care.
There are those who wish this conversation would go away, who staunchly claim that “race is a construct” and that we, especially as Buddhists, should be “better than that.” I want to address that point of view. I want to answer the question of why I think that having this conversation is important for Buddhists, for Buddhists of a certain political persuasion, and for people in general.
This post will focus more on that issue the of whitewashing culture, of the homogenization of culture. This will bring us closer to the task at hand, namely, figuring out why this issue is important for Buddhism in the West.
But perhaps the best way to understand this is to take a step back away from Buddhism, and even a step back from race, and examine a different homogenization of culture. And we can find such an example in the current debate raging over gay marriage.
Here are my final words on this whole â€œWestern/Americanâ€ versus â€œnot-Westernâ€ Buddhism thing that just wonâ€™t. Go. Away.
The question isnâ€™t whether or not white folks should infuse into Buddhism their own cultural expectations. The problem isnâ€™t whether or not itâ€™s appropriate for white folks to practice Buddhism. The question isnâ€™t whether or not the West needs Buddhism or Buddhism needs the West. The problem isnâ€™t reverse racism. The problem isnâ€™t that there arenâ€™t more white folks in Asian temples or Asian folks in white temples.
The problem is simple: â€œAmericanâ€ does not equal white. Whenever someone paints a portrait of American Buddhism as white Buddhism, they are necessarily suggesting that American-ness equals whiteness.