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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 43 |summer 2005 People of color usually can’t do long retreats with- out a scholarship. But even if you have a scholar- ship to do the retreat, you still need income to take care of your basic needs and the needs of your chil- dren and family. I have noticed, in fact, that many of the people of color who do come to Spirit Rock tend to be pretty educated. Some have advanced degrees; some are published authors. Many of them are similar to the European-American population here at Spirit Rock. Buddhadharma: So, beyond the cultural and racial barriers, there is a strong class barrier as well. marlene Jones: Absolutely. That’s something we’re now spending some time talking about. We decided a long time ago that to begin with we were going to focus mostly on racial issues, as opposed to class, gender, and sexual orientation issues, just because they were so very prevalent. At the last meeting of the diversity council, though, we decided to start looking at class issues because they really seem to be popping up, and people are very concerned. Many people are feeling left out. I have heard complaints from some of the cooks, who live on dana. They don’t get paid a salary, and they contribute a great deal to the community. They cook our meals, yet they feel left out of the main- stream. Another area that people with less money can feel left out of is our development efforts. Spirit Rock is about to enter a large capital campaign that’s going to go on for several years. It’s going to depend on the kind of people who make large donations, and there are quite a few of those here. People who don’t have the resources can’t really get involved. There are many benefit events mainly for those who can afford to go and a small number of volunteers, so people with less money feel less a part of everything. Like the cooks, they feel overlooked. We will need to explore this more, just as we have with racial issues. It’s a new frontier. Guy mCCloskey: One reason our community has less of a class divide, I would say, comes about because of how Soka Gakkai was originally propagated here. It started with Japanese war brides who mar- ried GI’s in post-World-War-II occupied Japan and moved to the United States. A lot of them just wanted out of the country because conditions were so horrible at that time. They didn’t make many class distinctions about whom they married. And of course Uncle Sam didn’t make many class dis- tinctions when it came to drafting soldiers. Right from the beginning, then, Soka Gakkai had a built- in socioeconomic diversity. Then, in the sixties and seventies, when we really started to expand our membership, Soka Gakkai appealed to a lot of young people, both here and in Japan, who were seeking something different. Who Are AmericAn Buddhists? James Coleman surveys America’s “new Buddhism.” there is no douBt that the membership of the new western Buddhism is overwhelmingly white – only about one in ten of my respondents identified themselves as Asian, Black or hispanic – a matter that has been of consider- able concern to Buddhist leaders. when asked about their family’s religious background, 8.6 percent said it was nonreligious, 16.5 percent Jewish, 25.6 percent roman catholic, 42.2 percent protestant, and 1.9 percent Buddhist. A comparison of these findings with the demographics of the entire u.s. popula- tion confirms that the often made observation that Jews – who make up only 3 percent of the total population of the united states but more than five times the percentage of my respondents – are more likely to be attracted to Buddhism than other Americans. My survey did not, however, support the common belief that people with a catholic background are also more likely to be become involved with Buddhism. the percentage of Buddhists from a catholic family was virtually identical with the overall percentage of catholics in the American population. those with protestant backgrounds, on the other hand, appear less likely to get involved. whereas they made up 42 percent of my respondents, they constitute 56 percent of the total American population. My data clearly indicate that American Buddhism appeals most strongly to the middle and upper-middle classes – another fact that is generally recognized in the Buddhist community. About a third of the respondents reported their family income to be between $30,000 and $60,000, while another 19 percent fell in the $60,000 to $90,000 range. About 20 percent of the respondents had incomes over $90,000 and about 30 percent fell on the other end of the spec- trum, making less than $30,000. Although these income figures were somewhat higher than the national average at the time the survey was conducted, the edu- cational level of American Buddhists was right off the charts. of the 353 people who responded to the question on educational achievement, only a single person reported having failed to finish high school, and less than one in twenty said that their education stopped with high school graduation. eleven percent said that they had some college, 32 percent were college graduates, and surprisingly, more than half of the respondents (51 percent) had advanced degrees. thus it may be that the participants in new Buddhism represent the most highly educated religious group in the west today. Just as these Buddhists are far more educated than the average American, they are far more liberal as well. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said they were democrats, while only 2.6 reported a republican affiliation. surprisingly, the republicans were outnumbered by members of the tiny Green party by more than three to one (the Greens were 9.9 percent of the total sample). A self-ranking on a left-to-right political scale also produced a distribution heavily skewed to the left. on a one to ten scale, with one being the furthest right and ten the furthest left, the average respondent ranked him- or herself as an eight. from The New Buddhism, by James william coleman. copyright © 2001 by James william coleman. reprinted with permission of oxford university press. photo:MichAeldAvidMurphy,reproducedwithperMissionofthediAArtfoundAtion,nyc