Here’s a bunch of stuff that you’ve probably already seen (and some you might not have) around the Internets.
Over the past few months, in several places and conversations online (not to mention several places out here in the real world over the last few decades), I’ve come across stories of seemingly well-intentioned young “Westerners” (i.e., white folks) who have gotten discouraged because some Asian Buddhist teacher has failed to allow him or her entrance into the “true path.” I’ve seen a stream of references to instances where white folks were “shut out” of Asian Buddhist communities. Or something. Often, these stories are used to counter the arguments of folks like myself who like to point out that, yes Virginia, there is (white) racism in American Buddhism.
Something about this line of reasoning really bugs me.
Presented as part of a panel on Shin Buddhism in the west at the XIV Biennial meeting of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies, this paper is a more reasoned, researched, and well-articulated version of some themes with which my long-time readers will be familiar: Orientalism, the dumbing-down of Buddhism, and the politics of representation.
Something buried in this post â€” this delightful, insightful, post-colonial critique-ful post â€” by Arunlikhati (of course) caught my eye. â€œDharmic evolution.â€
Iâ€™m going to say it. Evolution has nothing to do with the Dharma.
Now look. I love evolution as much as the next guy. In fact, Iâ€™m a big fan of science in general. I mean, how can you not like science? Itâ€™s given us USB flash drives, penicillin, and the new Star Trek movie. Câ€™mon. How cool is that? But the theory of evolution cannot be applied to human culture, society, or religion. It just canâ€™t.
Thoughts on the Kalama Sutta inspired by a recent discussion on the H-Buddhism listserv.
At the risk of being permanently labeled “that guy who does nothing but bitch about what’s wrong with everyone else’s approach to Buddhism but rarely advances his own cogent ideas or practical solutions,” allow me to explain what I think multiyana would mean and how it could be put into practice and why I think it’s important or worth talking about in some sort of general way.
The estimable Arunlikhati over at Dharma Folk has recently created an Asian Meter to track the instances of Asian voices in the mainstream Buddhist press. (Props all around, by the way.) His post has generated a few comments that are, well, let’s just say interesting. But they prompted me to finally get around to write a post about diversity in Buddhist communities and practice, what that means or what it would look like (to me anyway), why it’s important, and how the mainstream Buddhist press sometimes fails and sometimes does an okay job in this regard.
When we say that we should spread the dharma in the West (or anywhere), exactly which dharma are we talking about? The dharma that says full awakening isn’t even possible in this lifetime but takes aeons of rebirths? The dharma that says awakening is a possibility, right here, right now, in this very body? The dharma that says not only is the Buddha’s teaching going to vanish from this world, but that it already has and the only hope any of us has for awakening is reliance on the Lotus Sutra?
It does mean something to be a Buddhist. Every day people make claims about Buddhism. And every day we think of ourselves as Buddhist or not Buddhist in some way. And those claims, ultimately, effect what Buddhism means. Buddhism as an institution, as a socially constructed reality, exists as such because we keep talking about it in very specific ways. Which means (and I think here is my point) that we can change it. The institution of Buddhism can be whatever we want it to be, based on whatever interpretation of the Dharma we think is most apt, or most applicable to our lives today. Which is both terribly liberating and a little unnerving.