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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 53 offerings, and not meditating” fails to capture the complexity of these young adults’ Buddhist prac- tices. Indeed, all twenty-six interviewees had medi- tated before, though its salience to their Buddhist lives varied from “most important practice” to “on par with other practices” to “not at all important” (for Ratema, a Cambodian Buddhist, “meditation is different from the Buddhism I practice or my family practices”). Clearly, these young adults are not hewing to the “two Buddhisms” typology’s standard for Asian American Buddhists. What about matters of belief? I asked for responses to eighteen different state- ments about Buddhism and again heard a wide range of opinions. My interviewees debated whether meditation was necessary to achieve enlightenment and proposed different interpretations of rebirth. They questioned the absence of an eternal self/soul and whether Buddhas and bodhisattvas respond to prayers. Ironically, the closest thing to an ortho- doxic standard was the absence of a single stan- dard, as seen by strong opposition to the statement “I should convert other people to Buddhism.” The young adult Asian Americans I spoke to are both evidence and upholders of American Buddhism’s multivocality. This multivocality came as a huge relief to me. With my confusing mess of identities—1.5-genera- tion immigrant daughter of upwardly mobile Shang- hainese parents; fluent English speaker and far less fluent Mandarin learner; Chinese American inter- ested in a spectrum of Asian and Buddhist cultures; “convert” Buddhist (it was more a gradual immer- sion than sudden conversion) with strong atheist roots; (post-?)modern Westerner who prefers bow- ing and chanting to vipassana retreats and zazen, yet sometimes feels more at home in nature than any dharma center—I never seemed to meet the criteria for either of the “two Buddhisms” categories. The greatest gift my fellow young adult Asian American Buddhists have given me is the permission to stop straitjacketing myself into either category. “Asian American Buddhist”: a heterogeneous category that transgresses the boundaries of “two Buddhisms.” A category that forces us to question the dichotomies of immigrant/convert, modern/ traditional, devotional/rational, meditative/ritu- alistic, ethnic/white. A category that makes room for Alyssa, who values bowing, community ser- vice, offering donations, and meditation as equally important Buddhist practices. A category that sees no contradiction with Thomas understanding “hell realms” as psychological states while believing that bodhisattvas respond to prayers. A category full of alternatives to the normative story of American Buddhism. As Kaila, who attends both a Jodo Shin- shu church and her fiancé’s Khmer Buddhist temple, put it: “I would like to see Asian American Bud- dhists represented, as we are: diverse.” Invisible to the Mainstream and to Each Other “What are the best-known types of Buddhism or Buddhist organizations in America?” I asked this question at the East Bay Meditation Center to fel- low participants of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) 2014 Summer Gathering. Of the thirty-two people who came to my workshop about Asian American Buddhists, more than a dozen identified as Asian American and/or people of color. After twenty-six in-person interviews, an additional round of sixty-two email interviews, and count- less informal conversations with and about Asian American Buddhists, I was beginning to expect a common set of responses: Zen, Tibetan, Theravada/ vipassana/mindfulness. No one mentioned Jodo Shinshu (Shin) Bud- dhism, one of the earliest forms of Buddhism in America. From the time Shin Buddhism put down institutional roots on the West Coast in the late 1800s, it began to confront the challenges of adapt- ing to a Christian-dominated society. By 1910, the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) had switched from a lunar calendar system to weekly