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Archive for March, 2009

West Los Angeles Obon Festival

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.

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One of my recent general observations about religion is that its role in the lives of the younger generation has been deteriorating. While I do not have the numeric data that my fellow blogger arunlikhati is so skilled in collecting to support my claim (I tried to sort out some PEW stats but gave up…), I think many readers will agree with my claim just through each of their personal experiences with the youth, namely children up until high school. I am well aware that this is not the case for all youth and each of us can easily come up with children who do hold their faith close to their hearts. However, I do think that in a society where people share their latest thoughts and status with Facebook and Twitter more often than God, where money and power have become society’s determining factor for success rather than morality, and where Miley Cyrus has become a more influential icon for children than most religious figures, religion certainly has much more competition nowadays especially in finding a place among the youth.

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One thing I carried away from this past election cycle was that in certain parts of the country, people refer to their ancestry as “American.” This juicy tidbit about American demographics was gleaned from Nate Silver‘s highly influential blog, where he wrote:

Recently, the Census Bureau has begin to ask for an ethnic classification in addition to a racial one (e.g. “Cuban”, “Lithuanian”). However, about seven percent of Americans decline to check any of the boxes that the Census Bureau provides, and instead write in that they are simply “American”. As you can see, this practice tends to be highly concentrated in certain parts of the country, especially the Appalachian/Highlands region:

To be perfectly blunt, this variable seems to serve as a pretty good proxy for folks that a lot of us elitists would usually describe as “rednecks”. And for whatever reason, these “American” voters do not like Barack Obama. That is why he’s getting killed in the polls in Kentucky and West Virginia, for instance, where there are high concentrations of them.

So what does this have to do with Buddhism? Nothing.

But coincidentally, the other day, Rev. Danny Fisher posted a link to an article over at elephant journal, where Waylon Lewis defined the term Dharma brat in a way that made my heart skip a beat:

One day I visited with Ben Moore, a fellow “Dharma Brat” (child of American Buddhist parents).

So what then does it mean to be an American Buddhist?

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Pew ForumEver 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.

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I realize this must be getting tedious. There is so much more to life than counting the Asians in Buddhist publications. I continue to do this count for two reasons. First, I’m learning how to use Microsoft Excel, and these numbers are fun, simple and original data to work with. Second, there is so much that I learn when I plug these numbers into the charts! For example, it never would have hit me that Tricycle had fewer Asian writers (proportionally speaking) than either Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma. That bar graph really speaks to me. (Update: I also do this because I think someone should find out what the numbers say.)

Asian MeterThe Best Buddhist Writing data was still lying around on my antique laptop, so I dug it up and dropped it into an Asian Meter graph. Three points jumped out at me. First, there is the obvious fact that even when it comes to The Best Buddhist Writing, the Asian quotient is still under-representative. Second, there are more Tibetan writers than all the other Asians combined. The third point is something that I only discovered after looking at the graph and comparing what I was seeing with the number I had written down in my previous post on these books.

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I usually get to bed well before midnight so I can wake up at 5am, meditate, and go to the gym before work.Sayadaw U Tejaniya 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.

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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!

Asian Meter

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