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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
50 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 cHenxing Han holds an ma in Buddhist studies and Buddhist chaplaincy from the graduate theological Union and institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, california. She is currently completing a book based on interviews with young american adults of asian heritage from a wide range of Buddhist traditions. “A religion that attracts so many high-status profes- sionals is harder to dismiss than a faith of the poor and minorities.” A 2013 encyclopedia entry on “Buddhism in Asian America” contrasts “nominal cultural Buddhists” with “awakened convert Bud- dhists,” implying that it is white meditators who are spearheading the “enlightened” American Buddhism of the twenty-first century. I could go on. These examples underscore the racist, exclusion- ist logic that relegates Asian Americans to perpetual foreigners within American Buddhism. The notion that Asian American Buddhists are “ethnic” Bud- dhists who need to shed their cultural baggage conveniently exempts white Buddhists from an examination of their own ethnic identities and “cul- tural baggage.” In his book Race and Religion in American Buddhism, Joseph Cheah asks “modern- ist Buddhists of the West” to “honestly acknowl- edge the Orientalized Buddhist baggage they have been carrying for the short time they have been around”—an exhortation that seems to have largely fallen on deaf ears. Race is a touchy subject in discussions of Ameri- can Buddhism. Those who address the issue head- on risk being accused of reverse racism against white Buddhists. Pointing out racism in Buddhist communities may also lead to people discrediting your religious credentials (“real Buddhists would be more compassionate”) or a dismissal of your grasp of Buddhist teachings (“if only you could under- stand that reality is non-dual, then you wouldn’t get so hung up about race”). These responses bring to mind African American writer and activist bell hooks’ encounters with white Buddhists who, as she puts it, “are so attached to the image of them- selves as nonracists that they refuse to see their own racism or the ways in which Buddhist communities may reflect racial hierarchies.” hooks observes that she rarely sees prominent white Buddhists grap- pling with issues of ownership and authenticity as she does, leading her to pose the question: “Will the real Buddhist please stand up?” The more I encountered depictions of the docile Oriental monk, the more I read about Asian immi- grant Buddhists whose chanting and devotional practices were deemed too superstitious for today’s rational Western meditator par excellence, the more I saw the “two Buddhisms” model slip from sociological description to racial disparagement, the more I wanted to ask, Will the real Asian Ameri- can Buddhists please stand up? Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie warns us that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I was seeking an alternative to the Tale of Two Separate (and, apparently, not quite equal) Buddhisms that I kept encountering, since I couldn’t place myself in either category. Nor was I content to be an American convert Buddhist who just happens to be Asian—a yellow-on-the-outside-white-on-the- inside “Banana Buddhist,” to borrow a provocative phrase from the Angry Asian Buddhist. The Angry Asian Buddhist concludes his blog post on the “Stereotypology of Asian American Buddhists” with a recommendation: If you choose to think of us as Superstitious Immi- grants, you will never accept us as real Americans. If you choose to think of us as Banana Buddhists, you then trivialize the value of our heritage. The best way to uproot these stereotypes is first to stop perpetuating them, to encourage others to stop per- petuating them, and then to actually start spending some more time getting to know Buddhist Asian Americans for who we really are. This is precisely what I set out to do through my master’s thesis research: get to know some young adult Asian American Buddhists. trentWalker