Bodhisattva, Superstar is an interesting movie. A self-described “allegorical documentary,” it’s got all of the talking heads one would expect, but it also has the documentarian himself, Michael Trigilio, right in there along with a few scripted characters who find themselves at various places along the path, struggling with what it means to be a Buddhist in America. America is a place and a time where Buddhist ideas, terminology, images — indeed Buddhists themselves — can be co-opted in any number of ways that often make the purists (for lack of a better word) among us cringe.
There’s a lot in this film. At 83 minutes, it’s practically a feature-length movie, so I don’t think that it would be right of me to try and sum up all of my thoughts on it in a blog post of all places. I find myself at a place in my life where I’d very much like to get off the information superhighway and resist its demand that we always comment on everything and anything that happens, immediately offering up our opinions and criticisms and acting as if those opinions and criticisms aren’t what they truly are — knee-jerk reactions to information overload; no, I’d rather hop off the twenty-four-hour comment-athon from time to time, thank you, and allow for things to sink in, give myself permission and time to reflect on things before coming up with My Definitive Word on the Subject. But, clearly, that’s a different rant for a different day.
I had a morning meeting today wherein I was reminded of the importance of my task blurring the boundaries between “scholar” and “practitioner.”
Also today, when other meetings I (thought I) had scheduled didn’t actually happen, I slacked off and went through over six years of blog posts looking for things that might be controversial. I was thinking about this blog project of mine, my transitional state between grad student and full-time academic, and whether or not this blog may have deleterious effects on the later. I do occasionally look back, of course, at what I’ve written. But not in such a systematic way. Looking over almost everything I’ve written in this space all at one, I am left with the following conclusion: I write a lot of really pointless dribble.
I have been asked on more than one occasion why I’ve chosen to follow the Shin Buddhist path. Many times, I get the strong impression that the asker is thinking to him/herself, “Isn’t Shin Buddhism a Japanese Buddhist path? You’re not Japanese. You didn’t marry a Japanese Buddhist. What’s the deal?” I think, despite the obvious problems with those stereotypes, that it’s still a valid question. It’s as valid a question as why one chooses Zen or Nichiren or Shambhala or any other school of Buddhism.
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.
I really really really like XKCD. There’s the geeky science stuff that one can get into. There’s the crudely drawn stick-figures, a minimalist take on the complexities of modern life. There’s wry social commentary. But I’ll be honest. Half the time, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Whether it’s my lack of a general knowledge of quantum mechanics or the fact that I missed that whole Firefly fan-boy thing, some stuff I only sort of get.
That’s okay though. I think you can appreciate the genius of XKCD on many different levels. As is the case today. In today’s installment, our hero is overstimulated by a cocktail party and longs to be holed up in his room writing papers.
I get that. Oh boy do I get that.
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.
If yesterday’s post made you feel all funny inside, don’t worry. I know. Read this. It’ll make you feel funny inside, too, but in a different way.