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robertogreco : converts   1

The Shifting Landscape of Buddhism in America - Lion's Roar
"The first wave of academic scholarship on these communities was published around the turn of the millennium, as the study of Buddhism in America emerged as a distinct academic subfield. Influential books included Charles S. Prebish’s Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (1999), Richard Hughes Seager’s Buddhism in America (1999), and James Coleman’s The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Religion (2002). One common distinction made in this early research was between the so-called “two Buddhisms” in America: “ethnic” and “convert.” According to the researchers, the ethnic or “immigrant” Buddhism of Asian Americans (what scholars now commonly refer to as heritage Buddhism) focused on communal, devotional, and merit-making activities within a traditional cosmological context, whereas the convert Buddhism of overwhelmingly white, upper-middle class practitioners was individualistic, primarily focused on meditation practice and psychological in its approach.

An early challenge to the “two Buddhisms” typology came from scholar Jan Nattier, who observed that not all converts are white, and that some convert-populated communities, such as Soka Gakkai, do not privilege meditation. She proposed an alternative “three Buddhisms” typology—import, export, and baggage—that moved away from ethnicity and race and focused on the mode by which various forms of Buddhism were brought to the U.S.

As Scott Mitchell and Natalie Quli note in their coedited collection Buddhism Beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States (2015), and as Mitchell unpacks in his Buddhism in America: Global Religions, Local Contexts (2016), there have been numerous dramatic changes in the social and cultural landscape of America since those studies were published over a decade ago. These changes, as evidenced by the Maha Teacher Council, have brought new questions and concerns to meditation-based convert communities: Who has the authority to define and represent “American” Buddhism? What is the impact of mindfulness transitioning from a countercultural religious practice to a mainstream secular one? How have technology and the digital age affected Buddhist practice? In what ways are generational and demographic shifts changing meditation-based convert communities?

My research explores these questions through a series of case studies, highlighting four areas in which major changes are occurring, pushing these communities beyond their first-generation expressions.

Addressing the Exclusion of Asian Americans

Central to the shifting landscape of contemporary American Buddhism is a rethinking of the distinction between “convert” and “heritage” Buddhisms as practitioners and scholars have become increasingly aware of the problematic nature of both the “two Buddhisms” and “three Buddhisms” typologies. An early challenge came from Rev. Ryo Imamura, a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist priest, in a letter to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review in 1992. That winter, magazine founder and editor Helen Tworkov had written that “The spokespeople for Buddhism in America have been, almost exclusively, educated members of the white middle class. Asian American Buddhist so far have not figured prominently in the development of something called American Buddhism.” Rev. Imamuru correctly pointed out that this statement disregarded the contributions of Asian American immigrants who had nurtured Buddhism in the U.S. since the eighteenth century and implied that Buddhism only became truly American when white Americans practiced it. Although written twenty-five years ago, Rev. Imamura’s letter was only recently published in its entirety with a commentary by Funie Hsu on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s website. Hsu and Arunlikhati, who has curated the blog Angry Asian Buddhist since 2011, have emerged as powerful voices in bringing long-overdue attention to the erasure of Asian Americans from Buddhism in the U.S and challenging white privilege in American meditation-based convert communities.

Another shortcoming of the heritage/convert distinction is that it does not account for practitioners who bridge or disrupt this boundary. Where, for example, do we place second- and third-generation Asian Americans who have grown up in Asian American Buddhist communities but now practice in meditation-based lineages? What about Asian Americans who have converted to Buddhism from other religions, or from non-religious backgrounds? Chenxing Han’s promising research, featured in Buddhadharma’s Summer 2016 edition, brings the many different voices of these marginalized practitioners to the forefront. Similarly, how do we categorize “cradle Buddhists,” sometimes jokingly referred to as “dharma brats,” who were born into Buddhist “convert” communities? Millennials Lodro Rinzler and Ethan Nichtern—two of the most popular young American Buddhist teachers—fall into this category, having grown up in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. How do such new voices affect meditation-based convert lineages?

Rev. Imamura’s letter echoes the early characterization of primarily white, meditation-based convert communities, observing that “White practitioners practice intensive psychotherapy on their cushions in a life-or-death struggle with the individual ego, whereas Asian Buddhists seem to just smile and eat together.” It is of little surprise then that the theme of community appears strongly in the work of Arunlikhati, Hsu, and Han. Arunlikhati has most recently written about the need to create refuges for Buddhists of color—”spaces where people can find true comfort and well-being”—and shares that his dream “is for Western Buddhism to be like a family that accepts all of its members openly.” In challenging white privilege, Asian Americans and other practitioners of color have been instrumental in recovering and building the neglected third refuge—sangha—in meditation-based convert Buddhism."



"Three Emerging Turns
In my forthcoming book, I posit three emerging turns, or sensibilities, within meditation-based convert Buddhism: critical, contextual, and collective. The critical turn refers to a growing acknowledgement of limitations within Buddhist communities. First-generation practitioners tended to be very celebratory of “American Buddhism,” enthusing that they were creating new, more modern, and “essential” forms of Buddhism that were nonhierarchical, gender-egalitarian, and free of the cultural and religious “baggage” of their Asian predecessors. While the modernization and secularization of Buddhism certainly continues, there is now much more discussion about the problems and pitfalls of these processes, with some exposing the Western ethnocentrism that has operated behind the “essential” versus “cultural” distinction. This understanding acknowledges that meditation-based convert Buddhism is as culturally shaped as any other form of Buddhism. Some, drawing attention to what is lost when the wider religious context of Buddhism is discarded, have called for a reengagement with neglected aspects of the tradition such as ritual and community.

The contextual turn refers to the increasing awareness of how Buddhist practice is shaped and limited by the specific social and cultural contexts in which it unfolds. In the case of the mindfulness debates, critics have argued that mindfulness has become commodified and assimilated into the context of global capitalism and neoliberalism. Another heated debate is around power and privilege in American Buddhist communities. Take, for instance, Pablo Das’s response to Buddhist teachers’ reflections on the U.S. presidential election, in which he critiques their perspectives as reflective of a privileged social location that negates the trauma of marginalized communities. Das suggests that calls to meditate and to “sit with what is” are not sufficient to create safety for vulnerable populations, and he warns against misusing Buddhist teachings on impermanence, equanimity, and anger to dismiss the realities of such groups. Insight teachers Sebene Selassie and Brian Lesage have fostered a dialogue between sociocultural awareness and Buddhism, developing a course for the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies titled “Buddha’s Teaching and Issues of Cultural Spiritual Bypassing,” which explores how unconscious social conditioning manifests both individually and collectively.

The collective turn refers to the multiple challenges to individualism as a cornerstone of meditation-based convert lineages. One shift has come in the form of efforts toward building inclusive sanghas. Another is the development of relational forms of meditation practice such as external mindfulness. And a third expression is the concept of “collective awakening,” hinted at in Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion that “the next Buddha might take the form of a community,” as well as the application of Buddhist principles and practices to the collective dukkha caused by racism and capitalism.

The first generation of meditation-based convert practitioners brought the discourses of psychology, science, and liberal feminism to their encounter with already modernized forms of Asian Buddhism. With the “three turns,” previously excluded, neglected, or entirely new conversations—around critical race theory, postcolonial thought, and cultural studies—are shaping the dialogue of Buddhist modernism. These are not necessarily replacing earlier influences but sitting alongside them and engaging in often-heated debates. Moreover, due to social media and the lively Buddhist blogosphere, these dialogues are also finding a much larger audience. While it is difficult to predict the extent to which these new perspectives will shape the future of Buddhism in America, the fact that they are particularly evident in Gen X and millennial practitioners suggests that their impact will be significant… [more]
us  buddhism  religion  2018  conversion  race  identity  mindfulness  annagleig  whiteprivilege  inclusion  racialjustice  history  diversity  meditation  babyboomers  generations  genx  millennials  pluralism  individualism  accountability  psychology  converts  boomers 
august 2018 by robertogreco

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