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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 49 |fall 2006 Buddhadharma: Does an ethnic divide exist in West- ern Buddhism? duncan williamS: Yes of course there is a divide, and that’s quite natural. There are many divisions between Buddhist groups in North America, and these divisions are not just on ethnic lines. There are many traditions of Buddhism, and styles of practic- ing Buddhism, as well as countries of origin. The ethnic makeup of a Buddhist temple or community might be predominantly Thai, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Caucasian, or mixed. If we think of Christianity in America, we could ask the same question. There have been Irish Catholics, Swedish Lutherans, Russian Orthodox. They’re all Christian, but they come out of different religious lineages as well as countries of origin, and they bring with them all the things that go with that – language, culture, and so forth – which always creates a certain kind of division. It’s not unique to Buddhism. Socho ogui: We are all very different, and have very different backgrounds, so of course there is a divide. Yet I think we are all working toward enlightenment awareness. The divide – between traditional and non-traditional or Americanized and non-Americanized – should not be personal. This is a very Buddhist principle. We can see and enjoy our unique differences. For myself, I am making an effort to make Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism, a major religious tra- dition in America. We have our unique differences from other groups, but at the same time, we are working to be part of the dynamic Buddhist move- ment in America today. To do so, we may have to change a lot of things but also maintain the best of our tradition, the uniqueness of the tradition. When I came over in 1962, it was such a shock to see how things were done in the Buddhist Churches of America, so different from what I had experienced in Japan. I was almost going to give up and go back home. The different lifestyle, culture, and language seemed more than I could overcome. But I met Shunryu Suzuki Roshi at the BCA bookstore, and I started going to Soto Zen meditation at Sokoji Temple, and that encouraged me to stay. Before that, my eyes had been more concentrated on the movement of the community and the society, but I did not pay attention to myself and allow myself to sit down and settle. waKoh Shannon hicKey: The tendency to talk about American Buddhists as either “ethnic Buddhists,” which is usually code for Asian-American or Asian- immigrant Buddhists, or “convert Buddhists,” which is usually code for Caucasians, is problem- atic. As Duncan was implying, we don’t think of African-American Christians as ethnic Christians; we think of them as Christians first, and then Photos(lefttoright):donfarber;eliWilliamson-Jones Buddhist Faith Fellowship gathering in Middletown, Connecticut. Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. Photos:sochoKoshinogui/courtesyofbuddhistchurchesofamerica;WaKohshannonhicKey/deborahr.broWn