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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 55 being discriminated against or stereotyped. Some- times it comes from a sense of inadequacy and inau- thenticity when comparing ourselves to the white Buddhists who seem to be doing most of the defin- ing in American Buddhism. Yet I am also reassured by a reminder from Alyssa, an interviewee whose Buddhist journey has taken her from a college medi- tation group on the East Coast to a Buddhist nun- nery in China to various sanghas in her native Bay Area: even if they aren’t a trending topic on social media, Asian American Buddhists are everywhere. Why, then, is American Buddhism so white? In a podcast on the Secular Buddhist, Charles Prebish, a pioneering scholar in the field of American Bud- dhism, counters with the question “Why are Asian American Buddhists so invisible?” Some of my interviewees thought this latter question suggested that Asian American Buddhists are to blame for their own lack of visibility. Peter, a Taiwanese American Buddhist and LGBTQ activist, gave an impassioned reply to this viewpoint during his interview: A bodhisattva is an ally! A bodhisattva is some- one who forsakes her enlightenment for those who cannot yet attain it. An ally recognizes and forsakes his privilege for those who do not yet share it. Prebish could be an ally: he’s starting to ask the right questions. It’s his responsibility to take that white space, that space where white people get to talk about Buddhism, and turn it into an ally space. Don’t question why Asian American Buddhists are invis- ible. They are invisible because you’re not looking for them! The invisibility of Asian Ameri- can Buddhists is compounded by the challenge of coherently defining such a diverse group. As I discovered when recruiting interviewees, there are multiple competing definitions of “Asian American,” Andy Su | Community organizer for LGBTQ advocacy | Los Angeles, California | Unaffiliated I was raised in the Taiwanese Mahayana Buddhist tradition, but in a white suburb. I didn’t really understand my parents’ dharma; I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe in the Pure Land. But every year, I did get to go to a Buddhist summer camp. There, I got to play, sing, and laugh with other Asian American Buddhist youth. We attended workshops about the dharma and discussed how we could apply it in our own lives. We created space to make the dharma our own. I guess summer camp was my Pure Land. Farrahsu ➤ continued page 83