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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
fall 2006| 54 |buddhadharma Buddhism; in fact, given that it comes from the post-World War II generation, it tends to mean white countercultural Buddhism. It’s about the rejection of something in their culture. Why, for example, does this brand of American Buddhism need to be rational? It needs to be rational because Christianity is seen as irrational. On the other hand, it often rejects priestly forms of Buddhism and is more individualistic, which is very Protestant. It’s also very non-institutional, which is a certain strand of Americanism. If these characteristics are used to develop our model for American Buddhism, then I don’t think we will end up with a very helpful umbrella. I think it’s better to think about American Buddhism as being in a continual process of formation that includes the type of Buddhists that have been around for a hundred years and those for whom Buddhism is not necessarily counter-cultural. If we think of the people in the Vietnamese- American community today or the Cambodian-, Laotian-, or even Japanese-American communi- ties, Buddhism might be actually a somewhat con- servative element in their respective communities. I think of the Japanese-Americans who served val- iantly in Europe in World War II. The majority of those people were Buddhists. They put Buddhism on the map even in an institution as conserva- tive as the American military. There was a “B for Buddhism” campaign right after the war, to have that put on soldiers’ dog tags. These people are a very good example of a racial minority that is clearly American, served the American nation, and were also clearly Buddhist. So there is a thing called an American Buddhist that’s not white countercultural and does not reject clergy or ritual. For American Buddhism to have a positive meaning, it has to include a much wider range of people, which may not be quite so simple. For example, the Vietnamese-American Buddhists in Orange County are probably the most Republican-voting group in this country. American Buddhists are both liberal and conservative and include people from all kinds of different political, social, and economic backgrounds. So let’s have a broader and more open definition of American Buddhism. To uphold American Buddhism as a countercultural movement is not an ideal that we should strive for. ron KoBata: I will add, though, that I was part of the sixties generation, and some of us felt we had to try to Americanize our church, in the sense that we saw American as being less feudalistic than we perceived the institutional traditional church as being. We were looking at the term “American” in its more democratic sense, the sense of equality, creativity, and so forth. That was part of what you would call our countercultural experience. tHe next generation sumi loundon explains how young american buddhists are crossing the ethnic-convert divide. I recently attended a Jodo shinshu friday evening service, attended by older Japanese people. the monk from Japan, in long black robes leading the service, closed with a metta meditation that had the flavor of a yoga technique, though he just called it meditation. i asked him after the meeting if this prac- tice was native to his tradition, and he replied that he actually picked it up through living in new york city. he felt it helped the parishioners focus on the other aspects of the ceremony, such as the bells, chanting, and the dharma talk, because they were more focused and relaxed. it was surprising to see a fairly traditional group casually bringing in a distant buddhist cousin from a non-mahayana lineage... there is now a substantial generation of asians who have lived most of their lives in america, gone to school with non-asians, and know english fluently. young non-asian buddhists today attend colleges and live in dormitories with a high proportion of asians in a way that the older generation did not... [and] there is a small but substantial group of non-asians who have also “inherited” bud- dhism as kids. likewise, there are some asian-americans who have converted to buddhism. in my view, there is a tremendous amount to be gained if young buddhists can continue to cross the divide between so-called convert and ethnic buddhisms. young asian buddhists have said that buddhism in asia has gotten too heavy with tradition and isn’t evolving to the immediate needs of modern people rapidly enough. similarly, it seems that buddhism is losing its appeal to many young asians in the West, many of whom like to attend christian church with their friends. non-asian buddhists say that they feel like the buddhism in america doesn’t have enough tradition or institution to sustain families, social needs, and communities in the long term. some aren’t happy with just meditation in medita- tion centers; they also want chanting, monks, child care and education, potlucks, community outreach, and so on. if the two sides begin to take steps to visit with one another, then there may be a refreshing exchange of ideas and support that may not be generated if the communities continue to develop separately. from Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists, edited by sumi loundon. Published by Wisdom Publications. eliWilliamson-Jonesdonfarber Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, Los Angeles.