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Posts Tagged ‘Asian American’

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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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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It’s obvious anyone who’s been reading this blog for some time that I’ve got a thing Alan Senaukeor two to say about Asian American issues in the Buddhist community — and also that this thing or two has changed over time. I spent some time today skimming back over the Angry Asian Buddhist posts, and it was humbling (as in embarrassing) to read my own words. There are some things that I would never write again. And there are some things that I wrote again and again and again…

In reviewing the trail of the Angry Asian Buddhist, I ran across a new comment on an old Tricycle blog post with a link to an even older essay “On Race and Buddhism” by the Zen teacher Rev. Alan Senauke. It may be 12 years old, but it still rings true. I didn’t feel it said anything special up until one line that resonated with me:

Several years ago at a meeting of international Buddhist activists in Thailand I realized that in the first day I had figured out who (among the westerners) was Jewish. And even stranger I realized that all the Jews were doing the same thing and had “signified” to each other. We knew who each other was, and we were more comfortable for it. This, I am sure, is a pattern that goes back through centuries of being ghetto-ized, of being the other. It’s not a genetic thing. I can remember my mother telling me how to watch out for myself. That some people would exclude and threaten me just for being Jewish. It’s so deep that sometimes I find myself looking around the zendo and counting those I think are Jewish. Some of you may find yourself making a similar census. From talking with them, I know that people of color do this.

Sometimes I find myself looking around the zendo and counting those I think are Jewish. Well, he definitely did what I do when I open the pages of Tricycle and start counting the Asians.

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I recently had a talk with a monk who helped me reconcile a problem I have had with Buddhism for a long time, at least ever since I really started to learn about it.

My exposure to Buddhism started as a child, passed down through temple visits, chanting, praying, incense-burning – all of which can be roughly categorized as the devotional practice of Buddhism. These traditions have been passed down to my parents by my grandparents, and this chain of religious inheritance probably goes several generations back. Many of these practices seemed to originate from culture, meshing with folk traditions and superstitions to create a mixed approach to Buddhism (e.g. burning paper money for ancestors).

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One of the perks of my new place is that I live across the street from Border’s. Shambhala SunMy cold still has not gone away, so after zipping through Trader Joe’s (also across the street), I made a quick swing by Borders, where I noticed that the new issue of Shambhala Sun is out. The Tenth Annual All Buddhist Teachings Issue. (Wow!)

With my newly-bought Shambhala Sun in hand, I zoomed straight to my kitchen, turned on the stove, cooked up some rice porridge (I was inspired by a friend who assured me that shoveling in onions and pepper would smack that cold over to the next life), and then sat down and started counting the Asians.

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Wendy MiyakeLast week Andrea Miller posted a short story over on Shambhala Sun Space: “Remembering Koizumi” by Wendy Miyake. I’ve tried countless times in the past thirty minutes to try to give a one-sentence summary of this story. Each time I try, my words cannot seem to do the story justice. You just have to read it for yourself.

Miyake manages to weave Buddhist ritual and philosophy into her story both lightly and meaningfully. Her writing is colorful, funny, engaging and touching. I was delighted to read her writing, and I was even more delighted that it was Shambhala Sun Space that brought Miyake’s work to my attention.

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