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Asians Meditate Too

Asian Meditator

Some recent blog posts relating to race and meditation.

A recent post by Scott Mitchell lists “several concerns with the meditation-centric rhetoric of contemporary Buddhism in America.” One of them was written with a sharpness that perhaps only the Angry Asian Buddhist could love: the rhetoric of “meditation is practice” but chanting and other Buddhist practices are “just ritual” perpetuates the notion that white folks are doing something unprecedented in American Buddhism while Asian folks are simply carrying around their cultural baggage.

To be honest, I found this viewpoint somewhat unfamiliar. But as I read on, Scott put things into perspective for me.

But you’ll notice that all of those worries, save the first one, have to do with largely academic issues, with the way in which Buddhism and Asian Americans and white folks are represented in scholarly conversations. And while these representations certainly have repercussions outside the Ivory Tower, they’re still academic questions and don’t really have anything to do with how Buddhists practice. With how I practice.

Oh those academics. And this reminded me of a post on deathpower about one particular academic who I have much respect for, Dr. Gregory Schopen (I previously mentioned him here). At the bottom of Erik’s post was a link to the original article about him, which contained an interesting quote regarding what Scott expounded on above:

One of his favorite images of Buddhism as it’s practiced in America is from a photograph of devotees in a Thai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles: “All the local Thai people are doing worship to the Buddha image in the front; in the back is a whole row of white guys meditating,” said Schopen. “These are completely different approaches to the same phenomenon – the picture is worth a thousand words.”

Now Dr. Schopen isn’t trying to say that white guys meditate while Thai people worship. He’s just pointing out that there are two different communities in the photo, side-by-side, who are taking completely different approaches to the teachings of Lord Buddha. And these two communities just happen to be some white guys meditating and some Thai people “doing worship.”

So maybe there was some truth to this sentiment. Could this temple have been my beloved Wat Thai of Los Angeles? The one where they did shut down the food court?

Well, coincidentally I found myself reading Ven. Konchog’s blog, where he talks about a fellow monk/blogger friend who happens to be teaching meditation at no other place than Wat Thai of Los Angeles. So what does Ven. Yuttadhammo have to say about the meditators there?

“Many meditators. All Thai.”

Update: Admittedly not the best or most appropriate title, but I was looking for something that would grab your attention.