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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
fall 2006| 56 |buddhadharma churches, including many in the Buddhist world, offer rituals and rites of passage such as weddings and funerals; religious practices that range from silent reflection to singing, chanting, and move- ment; social events; and pastoral care, such as car- ing for the sick, elderly, and those in crisis. Have some Buddhists rejected religiosity and cultural practices to such an extent that they have cut themselves off from the fuller role that spiritual- ity can play in people’s lives? duncan williamS: The question here is how do we transmit Buddhism and what is it that we are transmitting? Sometimes Buddhism is best trans- mitted in strict, formal, highly controlled ways. At other times, it can be most powerful in an informal and subtler vein, like a mother saying something to her child that may not be scriptural but is a Buddhist teaching nonetheless. Sometimes it’s best transmitted ritually, and with music. It can be transmitted in a temple, a cave, or a family room. Some things cannot be learned in a meditation center or transmitted in a program. We should be glad we have the full range of transmission here in America. There is a lot we can all learn from the larger Buddhist culture. waKoh Shannon hicKey: I would like to add that Buddhism can also be transmitted in nonreli- gious ways, and even in therapeutic ways, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The pro- gram may seem individualistic, but I have noticed that many people who go through this eight-week training find themselves wanting community afterward. A seed gets planted in somebody who might otherwise not be interested in Buddhism. I am at times concerned, though, that in presenting Buddhism outside the tradition, something might get lost in translation. Socho ogui: Since there is no end to how much sit- ting you can do, I think those who have been sitting enough should stand up, walk into the community, and work for the people. They can teach in schools and activate the Buddhist teachings in their commu- nities and societies. Better to not just keep sitting. ron KoBata: Today, the responsibilities and expecta- tions of Buddhist priests in the BCA are quite dif- ferent from what is expected from priests trained in our Shin tradition in Japan. As a result, when they come here we have to put them through a reorien- tation, a minister-training program. They have to expand their understanding of their role and what is expected of them as American Buddhist priests. They are often under the impression that we’re simply maintaining a tradition, whereas over the course of a century in this country, we have devel- oped something new. We’re not essentially ritual- ists and performers of ceremonial functions. We are much more pastoral. We do not have a feudal relationship. Members are not blindly obligated to support us. We’re kind of like employees, serv- ing the goodwill of our members, including what Socho was just talking about. We are obligated to reach beyond our members to share the dharma with the larger community. Buddhism can play an important role, providing an alternative view to the fundamentalist orientation that is the domi- nant cultural presumption in this country. waKoh Shannon hicKey: In the American Soto Zen Buddhist community, we have also been discussing the way clergy are prepared, because as Ron was saying, what is expected of clergy in this culture is different than in some of the Asian Buddhist cul- tures. We need to prepare clergy to be more pasto- ral and to meet the diversity of people and diversity of need we encounter in American culture. Perhaps the most American characteristic of American Buddhism is that it’s diverse. In the Buddhist community at Duke University, we have Caucasian, African-American, and Latino folks, most of whom were raised Protestant and got interested in Buddhism later. We have interna- tional students from Buddhist countries who are cradle Buddhists. We have international students who got interested in Buddhism after they came to the United States. It’s not a simple picture. Buddhadharma: What you all have pointed to in various ways is not so much a divide in Buddhism in America as a tremendous diversity, which can be regarded as richness. But of course, as you have noted, there are still prejudices, some quite deep-seated. Are there things that Buddhists and Buddhist groups should do in an effort to take part in the larger Buddhist community and share in the richness of each others’ heritage? Socho ogui: In Los Angeles and San Francisco, we are very active in the Japanese and American Buddhist Federations. This fall we are going to begin trying to organize a national Buddhist council, which would bring together all the different types of Buddhists in the United States and create something very benefi- cial for the nation and the world. ron KoBata: The BCA has also been invited to sit on a committee to organize a conference in 2008 under the topic of race and ethnicity in American Buddhism, which should be very similar to the discussion we’re having. Representatives of all the various traditions are coming together to address these kinds of concerns. waKoh Shannon hicKey: In addition to having a very diverse group of Buddhists, and even non- Even today we use the word “church” instead of “temple.” Originally that started so someone could say they were going to church on Sunday, which was very important for Japanese- Americans during a period when they were too intimidated to identify themselves as Buddhists. —Socho Ogui Photos(toPtobottom):tobiasKlutKe;donfarber.