Tag: America

Running in the family

Tonight is the last of three nights that I’m staying at my brother’s place in the Bay Area. I came back up here for the first time in two years to run a race and see family that I don’t usually get the chance to see. This weekend has also made me realize the comforts and importance of having a Buddhist family.

Not all of my family is Buddhist. Five generations ago, everyone was supposedly Buddhist or followed our indigenous religion. Many converted to Catholicism and later to Protestant Christianity when they came to the US in the years before and just after WWI. My grandmother clung steadfastly to the “old ways”, and some aunts and uncles “reverted” to Buddhism. But it was the Buddhist practices of my grandmother that left the strongest imprint on me and my siblings, who have come to embrace our Buddhist heritage.

Buddhism was never forced on me, but neither did it hang as some sort of background tapestry on the wall. It was the little symbolic things that I built my practice on later in life, even if I didn’t know what they stood for.

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Oh, that Dharma, it is `emergin

…Our people are foolish, narrowminded, and petty. They cling tightly to transitory successes and delight in surface virtues. Will such a people, even if they do sit in meditation, succeed in quickly realizing the Buddha Dharma?”

“American Buddhism” is a curious creature. One of the constantly touted accomplishments of Buddhism is that it has transitioned to so many cultures, adapted authentically to suit each culture, while retaining the noble aspects of the Dharma which lead to liberation.

In most instances, pioneering monks and nuns entered new lands, learned the language and the culture, and slowly started to turn the wheel of the Dharma. Wether it is Bodhidharma journeying to China, or Mahinda traveling to Sri Lanka, these tales and treasured and worn, and ring with the resounding resonance that the Dharma is alive and vibrant in the world and expanding.

While America has these stories as well, and I do not wish to diminish them, I feel like American Buddhism, especially amongst non-Asian non-heritage Buddhists, is asked for. Converts contend with the opposing needs of wanting Buddhism just as it is, with all of its cultural trappings in order to indulge in the myth that by being from somewhere else it can solve our capitalistic post-modern ills, while at the same time wanting this mysterious distant answer to conform to a four-dollar coffee venti mocha lifestyle.

In some ways, the clearest picture of an “American Buddhism” can be seen in Japanese American Buddhist organizations like Buddhist Churches of America. Japanese Buddhism has been here for over a hundred years, and has had to change both to protect itself by protestantizing some of its outer trappings as well as changing to serve its members by being a Jodo Shinshu organization that offers meditation instruction. It has become something different though related to the Japanese Buddhism that first came to America, while retaining the liberating qualities at its heart.

The quote that opened this blog sounds like it is describing Americans, or perhaps Westerners in general: a flighty bunch short on virtue and addicted to instant gratification. But its not talking about that at all.

That is from the Shobogenzo, and it is talking about Japan about eight hundred years ago.

Here is part of Dogen’s response to the question:

“…Shakyamuni’s instructions have been spreading through the three thousand worlds for something like two thousand years. The countries within these worlds are of all kinds and are not necessarily lands of benevolence and wisdom, nor are their people necessarily always astute or intellectually brilliant! Even so, the true Dharma of the Tathtagata has always possessed a marvelous, unimaginably great, meritorious strength so that, when the time is ripe, It spreads throughout those lands.”

What is there to do? Plenty of work! We can work together, grow together, reach outward, and search inward. The American Buddhist Community needs engagement and protection. However, I do believe, and I think it is a reasonable belief, that the greatest protection that Buddhism in America has, and indeed, Buddhism in the world, is that the truth is there to be known, and we all yearn to know it.