Several Buddhist boycotts have been bubbling up over the past few months. In August, Ethan Nichtern announced his resolution to boycott Whole Foods to protest the CEO’s stance on healthcare reform. Burmese monks announced a potential pattanikkujjana, a boycott on alms from the undeserving in the military. Thich Quang Do, leader of GHPGVNTN (Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam) pressed for Vietnamese at home and abroad to boycott Chinese goods in response to “the grave effects of poor quality and toxic Chinese goods on the health and environment of Vietnamese consumers.” More recently, Ajahn Sujato reports of boycotts on monasteries that oppose bhikkhuni ordination—and also provides his tacit support. And the dismay over the Tricycle article “Dharma Wars” has prompted others to talk of boycotting Tricycle itself.
I recently bought a new computer, and on this new computer I decided to install OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. The unintended consequence is that my Asian Meter graphs were no longer rendered the same way. Instead of tinkering around with OpenOffice graphics, I decided to go back to my grad school toolbox and write a script to generate Asian Meter graphs using R. But part of this meant that I had to re-enter my data (long story) and I will probably have to continue fine-tuning my R script. That said, here’s the most recent Asian Meter graph comparing just Tricycle and Buddhadharma (I still have to re-enter the Shambhala Sun data).
There are about 1.5 million Asian American Buddhists in the United States. Or at least, that’s my estimate. My confidence interval is pretty big, but I feel certain enough to start tossing this number around from now on. This figure keeps the data and assumptions of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, but adjusts them to address discrepancies related to the U.S. Census, linguistic preferences of Asian Americans and geography (i.e. counting Hawai‘i and Alaska).
In past posts, I observed that the Pew Forum severely underestimated the size of the Asian American community (by about 56%!), and I also investigated what it meant to exclude Buddhists in Hawai‘i. I even tried out my own deliberately-flawed estimate. But there was one issue that I left off until now: language.
Tricycle printed a letter to the editor from Scott Mitchell that criticized their “Buddhism by the Numbers” piece in the Fall 2008 issue. If you can’t read his whole complaint, it’s also available on his blog. There are four specific issues, but in this post, I’m addressing one in particular:
The exclusion of the Hawaiian population is troublesome for a number of reasons: chief among them the continual marginalization of Hawaii as part of the United States, and the marginalization of Japanese-American Buddhists generally. In other words, these Asian-American Buddhists were literally not counted in this report.
That’s one side of the coin. Here’s an alternative perspective: I imagine that the Pew Study did some internal analysis and concluded on excluding Hawai‘i, since the Aloha State’s unique contribution to the national profile would not have justified the extra contract cost in contacting them. Now I’m not saying that excluding Hawaiians is fair, but it’s worth crunching the numbers to see to what extent the Buddhists of Hawai‘i really do change the national profile.
I previously blogged that the numbers in the Pew Study severely underestimated the size of the Asian American community. They don’t hide this fact, either. Their number is roughly 30% to 40% smaller than the 13.2 million Asian Americans that the U.S. Census published for the same time period. (Hapas excluded. I know, it’s unfair.) According to the Pew approximately 675,000 Asian Americans were Buddhist in 2007, but this number is far too small.
How small is too small? Let’s put these numbers into perspective. If there were only 675,000 Asian American Buddhists in 2007, that number would be less than if we said that Buddhism was practiced by a mere 20% of all Americans of Southeast Asian heritage and a token 5% of all Americans of East Asian heritage. And I’m not even counting multiethnic Americans here. That number is too small.
Ever since I started making my Asian Meter graphs (here, here and here), I’ve been trying to find a good measure of the proportion of Asians in the Buddhist American community to use as a sort of benchmark. I’ve used two percentages: 32% from the Pew Forum and 80% from David N. Snyder. Both are flawed estimates, but here I’ll just focus on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Religious Landscape Survey (the “Pew survey” for short).
For the past week I’ve been mulling over two percentages that the Pew survey provided. There is the widely circulated number that 32% of Buddhist Americans are of Asian descent (and not hapa). You can find this in Tricycle‘s Fall 2008 issue. Then there is the less commonly known number, which is ostensibly the flip-side of the first, that 9% of Asian Americans are Buddhist. The problem is that these two numbers don’t add up.
I usually get to bed well before midnight so I can wake up at 5am, meditate, and go to the gym before work. But tonight a friend called me around 10:30pm, and we talked for about half an hour, after which I wasn’t able to fall back asleep. Next to my bed was a copy of Don’t Look Down on the Defilements by Sayadaw U Tejaniya, a gift to me from one of his Dharma brothers.
I sat up in my bed and started reading through it. It’s a good book, and I especially appreciate it’s simple and friendly style of writing. Of course, I decided I wanted to post about it. Online, I found that Sayadaw U Tejaniya has his own website with many of his teachings and in multiple languages. You can also find Don’t Look Down on Defilements there too. He even posted his interview from the Tricycle Winter 2007 issue.
This is a boring post, beware. It took a while for the local Borders to stock the most recent issue of Buddhadharma, but they finally did. I am going to just bite the bullet and subscribe to these magazines online. Somewhere, a tree spirit is heaving a spontaneous sigh of relief and doesn’t know why.
Anyway, I now have the third piece to plop into my Asian Meter. I also moved things around a little and added some detail to the graphic. Voilà!
It took me a while to get my hands on the latest issue of Tricycle because they hadn’t restocked it at the Borders across the street. I ended up grabbing a copy at Barnes & Noble downtown. I have plenty of things to say about the issue, such as the Big Sit (I have much good to say) or “Why Buddhism Needs the West” (or: David Loy summons the Angry Asian Buddhist). But I thought of something that would be a little bit more fun. I bring you the Asian Meter.
I promised I’d talk about it and so I will. Even before I persued the by-lines of Tricycle, I’d already coded the Best Buddhist Writing of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. This list was easy enough to get because all the contributing authors are listed for each book in my local library catalog. Plus, these authors are much more famous than the individuals who publish in Tricycle — of course, we’re talking about the authors of the Best Buddhist Writing here — and the famous factor means that they’ll have Wikipedia pages! That makes finding out race, ethnicity and birthplaces much, much easier. So following the same methods as in the Tricycle study, here’s what I found.
Out of a whopping 136 unique authors, 21 were Asian. Percentage-wise, this is 15.4%, which is remarkably close to the 15.9% I found in the last year’s issues of Tricycle. This similarity in turn reminded me of a long ago grad school class where we discussed Thomas Schelling and mild racism.