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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
fall 2006| 52 |buddhadharma pure land.” In America, we have a history of being a minority group and a minority religion, so we have a tendency to be more humble. We’re not so inclined to have a presumption about having any kind of predominance. Socho ogui: Yes, many Japanese-Americans who experienced World War II were subject to a great deal of discrimination and segregation. To a cer- tain extent, Shin Buddhism in America is tied up with that identity, and that presents a great challenge in trying to make Shin Buddhism a major tradition here. Despite these problems, I always emphasize that in America each culture and race is very well respected. When we identify as Buddhist followers, we have to go beyond our ethnic boundaries. waKoh Shannon hicKey: Even though I am suspicious of talking about an “ethnic divide” per se, I rec- ognize that there is discriminatory thinking that’s embedded in a history of Asian exclusion and anti-Asian violence, including the internment of the Japanese during World War II. That history is part of a karmic legacy that we’re still having to work through. I’ve definitely seen white convert Buddhists look down their noses at so-called eth- nic Buddhism and arrogantly dismiss it as merely “cultural.” From the other side, for folks who have been on the receiving end of discrimination and hostility, there’s some understandable ambiva- lence to try to bridge what divides us as fellow Buddhists. As Americans and Buddhists, we need to look at issues of power, privilege, violence, and how those of us in the dominant culture have benefited from privileges afforded us, to the detriment of others. It’s hard to do that. It’s easier to gloss over such things and think we are not part of them. We’re not going to really deeply understand our fellow Buddhists or bridge some of the painful gaps unless we’re willing to do the hard work and introspection that our practices are very good at encouraging us to do. ron KoBata: Part of our resistance to expanding out, as an ethnically oriented institution historically, subconsciously comes from wanting to maintain control of our own situation. Being subjected to prejudice from a dominant culture has inclined many of us, particularly from our older genera- tion, not to want to relinquish power within our institution by inviting people from non-traditional backgrounds to take part. The example of the Sokoji Temple in San Francisco comes to mind. When Suzuki Roshi was here, he had to make a deep personal decision between maintaining the ethnic sangha that he was serving versus branching off with a new group of convert Buddhists. When he decided to branch out, that was a very major change in American Buddhist history. Buddhadharma: It seems only natural, and probably healthy, that people who were in a minority and oppressed in various ways would want to have a religious/cultural/social tradition that provided a refuge for them. That was certainly the case with many immigrant Catholic communities, for exam- ple, in the major cities of North America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. waKoh Shannon hicKey: African-American churches provide another potent example of that. duncan williamS: If we talk about immigrant Buddhists or immigrant practitioners of any faith, there’s a first generation that behaves in one kind of way. Once you have people born in the new country, things start to change quite a bit. By the time you reach the fifth or sixth genera- tion, as we have in many religious communities in America – including some Buddhist communities that have been here for over a hundred years – it’s a much different picture. It’s quite important, when looking at that timeline, also to recognize the history of these Americans’ religious life and social life. Most of the Asian-immigrant Buddhist groups have faced challenges that convert Buddhists never faced: exclusion acts, the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, temples that couldn’t incor- porate unless they had white board members, racist land-ownership laws that prevented Asian- Americans from owning the land to put a temple on, and so on. It’s quite remarkable that these people remained Buddhists. There is still an underlying assumption in this country that to be a true American, you need to be white and you need to be Protestant. There are still lingering elements from the American nativism of the turn of the twentieth century. If you aren’t white, you need to act white to be American, and if you don’t convert to Protestantism, you need to try to become as Protestant as possible, even if you’re Jewish or Buddhist, which is why so many Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Korean-Americans converted to Christianity. For those who did not convert to Christianity, there is deep resistance to the notion that to be a good American, you have to be Christian and white. At the same time, everyone in this coun- try who’s a Buddhist is a fellow minority. It’s not the norm to be Buddhist in this country like it is in some countries, so there’s a way in which people can cooperate to take refuge together in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, whatever the history of the community you come from. I’ve definitely seen white convert Buddhists looking down their noses at so-called ethnic Buddhism and arrogantly dismiss is as merely “cultural.” — Wakoh Shannon Hickey donfarber (Opposite) The late Ven. Thich Thien-An and students at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles.