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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
72 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 buddhism in the West R We’re Not Who You Think We Are by Chenxing Han Race is a touchy subject in discussions of American Buddhism. Those who address the issue head-on risk being accused of reverse racism against white Buddhists. Pointing out racism in Buddhist communities may also lead to people discrediting your religious credentials (“real Buddhists would be more compassionate”) or a dismissal of your grasp of Buddhist teachings (“if only you could understand that reality is non-dual, then you wouldn’t get so hung up about race”). These responses bring to mind African American writer and activist bell hooks’ encounters with white Buddhists who, as she puts it, “are so attached to the image of themselves as nonracists that they refuse to see their own racism or the ways in which Buddhist communities may reflect racial hierarchies.” hooks observes that she rarely sees prominent white Buddhists grappling with issues of ownership and authenticity as she does, leading her to pose the question: “Will the real Buddhist please stand up?” The more I encountered depictions of the docile Oriental monk, the more I read about Asian immigrant Buddhists whose chanting and devotional practices were deemed too superstitious for today’s rational Western meditator par excellence, the more I wanted to ask, Will the real Asian American Buddhists please stand up? Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie warns us that “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I was seeking an alternative to the Tale of Two Separate (and, apparently, not quite equal) Buddhisms that I kept encountering, since I couldn’t place myself in either category. Nor was I content to be an American convert Buddhist who just happens to be Asian—a yellow-on-the-outside-white- on-the-inside “Banana Buddhist,” to borrow a provocative phrase from the Angry Asian Buddhist. The category of “Asian American Buddhist” is one that forces us to question the dichotomies of immigrant/convert, modern/traditional, devotional/rational, meditative/ritualistic, ethnic/white. A category that makes room for Alyssa, who values bowing, community service, offering donations, and meditation as equally important Buddhist practices. A category that sees no contradiction with Thomas understanding “hell realms” as psychological states while believing that bodhisattvas respond to prayers. A category full of alternatives to the normative story of American Buddhism. As Kaila, who attends both a Jodo Shinshu church and her fiancé’s Khmer Buddhist temple, put it: “I would like to see Asian American Buddhists represented, as we are: diverse.”