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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
49 WINTER 2 01 1 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY for me is that when the areas in which the centers reside are not shifting with the demographic that they find themselves within, it speaks a little more deeply to how we as dharma practitioners are presenting ourselves in a way that’s either welcoming or potentially unwelcoming. BUDDHADHARMA: If there are people who feel unwelcome, that is clearly an obstacle. What in general, then, are the obstacles and challenges to having more diverse communities? What would cause some people to feel that becoming involved in Buddhist practice or a Buddhist community was something that didn’t make sense for them? LARRY YANG: One of the main obstacles is how long it takes to cultivate an increased multicultural awareness. This always takes a lot more time than we would like because, as we know, awareness practice is incremental. It blossoms slowly. To increase this kind of awareness requires role models—teach- ers of color, diverse teachers, who tell a diverse set of life stories and use a diverse set of materials in their teachings so they can reach a multiplicity of audiences. To have that, you need to develop teachers from diverse life backgrounds and communities of color. That has slowly been happening, but of course we know that the practice cycle required for teacher development is very long. Time itself becomes a little bit of an obstacle when the need is so present right now in these cultural conditions. It’s not just about making different cultures feel welcome in our environments, but how to actually reach into the culture itself so people recognize a piece of their lives when they walk through the door. When they recognize a piece of their lives, they can relax and begin to explore whether the place can be a spiritual home for them. Opening to diverse groups is an extension of the effort to create a real dharma community, which requires going beyond our own cultural experience. BUDDHADHARMA: To be very specific, you are talking about, for example, the sorts of metaphors and examples that a teacher might use and the style of presentation. A teacher might not even see that how they’ve chosen to frame their talk on imper- manence actually comes out of a limited cultural context. LARRY YANG: One of the ways good teachers teach is from their own experience. But if you don’t pay close enough attention and you only draw on your own life experience you probably are only going to reach those people who have similar life expe- riences. It will resonate deeply with them, but others may be left out. To reach beyond that, you have to go into life experi- ences, life stories, and the ways that communities communicate differently and incorporate that into your presentation. Even if I am rooted in my Asian American culture, the fact that I’ve lived and played and worked in other cultural contexts or other cultural communities allows me to bring that experience into my dharma talks. I can talk beyond my personal experience. PHOTOS(LEFT—RIGHT):STEPHENPICKARD;SUSANFORNER;BETHANIEHINES;ELIZABETHVIGEON PHOTOS (LEFT) DZUNG VO, (RIGHT) A. JESSE JIRYU DAVIS People of color retreat at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California (Above, below) New York Insight Meditation Center