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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
AMANDA RIVERA: Yes, for example, our Spanish-language group is one of the fastest-growing language-based groups in the country. In some places in the United States we have neigh- borhood meetings that are held in Spanish because people in those neighborhoods have limited or no English-speaking skills. The leaders come from those neighborhoods and are Spanish-speaking, so they’re able to chant, study, share their experiences, and deepen their understanding of Buddhism together, as well as introduce other people who speak Span- ish. We have the same for people who speak Korean, Japanese, or other languages. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS: I want to say that I’m especially appre- ciative of SGI being in this conversation, because I think for quite some time, the American Buddhist community did a poor job in making sure that SGI’s voice was present. What Amanda has pointed out about SGI notwithstanding, I would affirm what Larry said about an overall lack of diversity and attention to diversity. An important transition in my dharma life was to stop expecting something particularly different from the Buddhist community, so for me the lack of diversity in Buddhism is not as interesting as the differential, especially in the last ten years, between the Buddhist community and the mainstream community. That’s what is really notable. The mainstream community that surrounds predominantly white Buddhist communities has changed and become more diverse. Never- theless, those predominantly white Buddhist communities are remaining predominantly white. Where there’s real concern and I start counting the different varieties of people in the room. I think to myself how very uncommon it is in America to find a setting where so many different types of people are gathered. When I look around I can see an African American, an Asian, a lesbian, gay, or transgender person, a young per- son, an elderly person, a Hispanic person, and more. I find it very comforting and validating. I don’t think our organization is really focusing on diversity per se. It just kind of happens and we respond to the need and inspiration that people have and we have to find ways to address the different types of people who come to us in a way that is respectful and inclu- sive. We encourage everyone to practice Buddhism, regardless of their race, color, sexual orientation, or class. Buddhism is not exclusive. BUDDHADHARMA: Why do you think that what you’re offering appeals to such a diverse group of people? AMANDA RIVERA: I think the appeal comes from the fact that the Lotus Sutra emphasizes the absolute equality of all people to be able to attain buddhahood, to attain their enlightenment. Nichiren Daishonin wrote letters of encouragement to female disciples in thirteenth-century Japan reminding them of their equality, their equal ability to attain enlightenment. We follow in that spirit. We may look different but we are all equal in our potential to achieve enlightenment. BUDDHADHARMA: You’ve created separate language groups so people can come together for something specifically for their language or ethnic group, but also in settings where there is diversity, right? AMANDA RIVERA is a Soka Gakkai International member and long- time practitioner of Nichiren Bud- dhism. She is a leader of the SGI-USA culture department and national language coordinator for Spanish-speaking members. LARRY YANG is a leader of the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland and a member of the teachers’ council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. He has taught many retreats for communities of color and LGBTQ communities nationally. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS is the leader of the New Dharma com- munity and the founder of the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, California. She is the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearless- ness and Grace. BOB AGOGLIA is executive direc- tor of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where he is working to ensure that IMS better serves a more diverse population. PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):STEPHENPICKARD;SUSANFORNER;BETHANIEHINES;ELIZABETHVIGEON BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 48