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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
fall 2006| 50 |buddhadharma whatever you choose to call it. There tends to be devotion to one teacher or lineage first, before one feels commonality with people of other lineages. For some Buddhists, that’s very important. In other denominations, that is less emphasized, but it is not about ethnicity. It’s about practice. waKoh Shannon hicKey: I do think there’s an unfor- tunate human tendency in religions for people not only to be committed to their own religion but also to think that they have the one truth above all others. Self-righteousness feels so satisfying. We all like to belong. I’ve certainly heard various kinds of Buddhists try to talk about pure or essential Buddhism. Even within various traditions, people will speak of what they’re doing as the purest form, such as say- ing that the essence of Zen is zazen, to the exclu- sion of other aspects of the tradition. As Reverend Kobata said, Buddhism is always changing and adapting according to time and place. For anyone to think they possess the one true thing perhaps reflects a lack of awareness about the broad and diverse history of the Buddhist tradition. duncan williamS: The question is, how can one have a healthy attitude about the preferential veneration of one particular lineage and at the same time respect that other people have their own way of approaching Buddhism? We know that all Buddhists are trying to tackle a common problem: how to alleviate suffering. Some people do it through devotion to a particular buddha or bodhisattva, other people may practice medi- tation, other people may practice chanting, and other people may venerate or study texts. The Buddha taught many different things, and in the history of Buddhism, Buddhists have come maybe as Baptists or some other denomination. There is also ethnic diversity among convert Buddhists that is overlooked by using the “ethnic” label. Such categorizations also disregard people like Duncan, who are of mixed parentage. There are simply too many kinds of Buddhists and too many diverse communities to fit neatly into categories. That said, there are some impor- tant differences that we ought to take seriously in how the various communities function and the roles they play in people’s lives. ron KoBata: The differences among the various practitioners of the Buddhist path in America are nothing more than a reflection of the unique character of America itself. The key thing about our differences is that we are different. No more than that. Historically, Buddhism developed in more or less homogenous societies and cultures and was first brought here as so-called “baggage” with our ancestors. Now, Buddhism of all kinds is going through a process of adapting to the unique multicultural circumstances of America, just as Buddhism has always done through its 2,500-year history. It adapts to the host culture – in this case, one that is extremely diverse – in order to make dharma meaningful in today’s context for as many types of people as possible. Buddhadharma: Wakoh was talking about African- American Christians being considered Christians first. Do most American Buddhists think of them- selves first as part of a large community of many types of Buddhists and then as part of a particular tradition, or the other way around? duncan williamS: That distinction arises apart from anything to do with ethnic versus convert, or donfarber “For the first time in the history of Buddhism, we have this multiplicity of traditions in one place at one time. We can choose to be grateful about that or we can consider it a problem.” — Duncan Williams Members of the Los Angeles Sangha Council gather to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday.