The other night, I was eating dinner with a scholar of Cambodian literature and his family, and somehow we got onto the topic of Buddhism and chanting. I mentioned that I chant in the style of the Dhammayutt.* His children (all my age or older) had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of the Dhammayutt.
We had some discussion about the two orders of Theravada monks in Cambodia. There is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya and Maha Nikaya, they have different sangharajas, and their practices and chanting differ. But I didn’t do the subject justice. This topic has come up a couple times before, so for the sake of reference, here is a background sketch of what I’m referring to when I talk about the Dhammayutt order.
(What I know is incomplete and admittedly biased, so feel free to set me straight.)
I spent the last week sick in bed at my Mother’s house, and among the panicked bathroom trips and bubbly fever dreams I clawed at a paperback of some of the dialogs of Plato.
It was a book from a critical writing class I took in community college, from one of my very favorite professors who taught me so much of what I know. It was then, reading Phaedo, that I remembered the story of his own encounter with Buddhism.
My memory betrays whether he was a layperson or a monastic, but his teacher had come to Buddhism directly via the first noble truth. He was a trucker, crisscrossing the country with the lived in experience of his own separation and sorrows and the stories of the hardships of others.
He knew this is suffering. Then, probably through some bookstore somewhere, he found the Dharma.
(Warning: disorganized rant.) Over on the Buddha is my DJ, Yuinen brought up the situtation that many Asian American Buddhists are unaware that there are other types of Buddhists in the United States. Many assume that it’s only people from their ethnic group, whether it be Chinese/Thai/Japanese/etc., who are the only Buddhists in the United States. This is a very real problem that is helped along by the lack of interaction among Asian American Buddhist institutions.
I’ve ranted about the plight of young Asian American Buddhists before. If you want to bring the Buddhist youth community together, the place to start is close to home. For me, that’s with youth groups — whether in high school, college or recently graduated. We may come from many different cultural backgrounds, but current AA Buddhist youth have more in common with Buddhist peers across ethnic/cultural lines than they do with their parents’ institutions. We’re neither here-nor-there, and as we grow up in the context of the American Buddhist community, that means that there are few Buddhist groups that appeal directly to our social background.
Our cultural isolation is set in place by the older established authority. In the temples I frequent, young AAs have little say, and they’re not often steered towards networking with other temples, especially temples from other ethnic groups.
Why is this the case?
To celebrate the holiday spirit, the Level 8 Buddhist has posted a delightfully original Maha Santa Claus Sutra. I know that many Buddhists look down upon even a for-laughs fake sutra. But this is too good to ignore! Happy Holidays!
Image of “Buddha Santa” from the Buddhist Blog
After the Kathina holiday, I made a pact with my friend Rith that we would sit for an hour every morning and every evening. We had shared very personal stories about our meditation practice and discovered many exceptional similarities. The two of us also happened to be stuck in a meditation rut. We were determined to get back on track.
We failed miserably from the very first day. When we did sit, we failed to sit for an hour and never on a regular basis. Many weeks passed without any communication at all.
Recently inspired by a certain Buddhadharma forum, we decided to try again and start sending text messages to encourage each other every day.* At first I couldn’t sit for even an hour. I texted Rith and told him it was harrowing, but I’d try again anyway. It took a couple days before I could sit an hour both morning and night, and of course I’m still struggling. Naturally, he got this news by text too.
Time for a bit of an apology. I'm sorry if you feel that the Angry Asian Buddhist unfairly criticized the Next-Gen Buddhism piece for being white-centric. There was lots of interesting stuff in that article, and I didn't talk about any of it. Over on Shambhala Sun Space, Barry Boyce very kindly links to my post and explains: If I had phrased the whole thing in a subtler–yet somewhat blunter–way, I might have asked, “Is White America’s love affair with Buddhism a fad that will die with the Baby Boomer generation?”
Until I read that line, I hadn't properly understood where the piece was coming from. I thought the article was about young Buddhist Americans, questioning if present institutions are enough to engage them and if these institutions are sustainable. These are the day-to-day questions that I deal with in the Asian American Buddhist community, and I felt that we had something worthwhile to say. So let me tell you where I was coming from.
As I often do while I wait for programs to compile, I was browsing Wikipedia one day when I came across the page for Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh. I was surprised to see my query for “Thich Nhat Hanh” redirected to “Nhat Hanh,” and when I read further, I was disappointed by the explanation given:
Commonly referred to as Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese: Thích Nhất Hạnh), the title Thích is used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, meaning that they are part of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan.
Almost right, but not quite. The Wikipedia article unfaithfully refences the Order of Interbeing, which actually informs us that Thích is a name, not a title:
Thích (釋) is Vietnamese for Sakya, which is the Buddha’s family name. Every monastic member in the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition has a name which begins with Thích.
Back in the 1930’s Christian missionaries sponsored my grandmother for immigration to the United States. My father and his siblings were born here, grew up here, were baptized Roman Catholics and attended the local Catholic school. My father and his brother also won scholarships to Saint Ignatius College Prep. Though they were Asian Buddhists, they were helped along by white English-speaking Christians who had the goodness of heart to reach out to them across racial and cultural lines. It made a difference (and some even stayed Christian).
It’s this kind of spirit that the Buddhist community needs to bridge its cultural and demographic boundaries. I’m not talking about evangelism or buying souls. A significant portion of the Buddhist community here in North America is made up of immigrant Buddhists, virtually all Asian, and many of whom are still in the process of fully adjusting to life in North America. They are the ones who could use a helping hand.
But how to help? I came up with a page full of ways that white Buddhist Americans can reach out to their Buddhist immigrant brothers and sisters. Here are just three.
Earlier I posted some thoughts on the political situation in Thailand. Five minutes later I deleted my post. For the most part, I unnecessarily rehashed an old court case back in 2001, but my emotions on the political scene are pretty simple. I’m skeptical of all sides, I don’t trust any of them in government, and I hope that democracy can be restored and a stable government achieved. Any other opinion I have on this situation, specific or otherwise, isn’t something I care too much about.
But more to the point, I want to write about Buddhist-related issues here. That political post was out of line. Granted, even highly revered Buddhist monks mix into the current Thai political crisis (a [in]famous blog post here). I suppose that topic’s fair game, but then this is one issue that saddens me too much to write about it. Given how much I rant, that means a lot. Maybe more on that topic once this crisis has moved on and emotions have cooled somewhat.
Many thanks to Dan who posted a link to Making the Invisible Visible in the comments from the Angry Asian Buddhist post. (Another worthwhile article is Stories We Have Yet to Hear: The Path to Healing Racism in American Sanghas by Mushim Ikeda-Nash.) I still have a little bundled up stress from the last post, but reading this booklet was a real weight off my shoulders. You hear this all the time, but I have to say it again: It’s good knowing that I’m not alone.
My Angry Asian post was about how I felt a core demographic of the Buddhist community was being ignored. This core demographic is the next generation of Asian American Buddhists.