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I found this blog post on Celestial Lands today via Buddhist Military Sangha and was captivated. UU Army Candidate Chaplain David Pyle shares some “observations of similarities and surface differences between Sesshin and Military Basic Training, in the hopes that it might inspire thought.”

Just this morning I talked with my youngest brother, who will soon be off to basic training in North Carolina. Usually I can give plenty of advice to my brother ranging from finding memory leaks to playing the guitar, but today I had nothing to say. I have never been through basic training.

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A friend recently sent me an article on the current situation of China’s Uighurs. If you don’t know about the Uighurs, they’re an ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang province. As the Financial Times states, who really cares?

Xinjiang is in a similar situation to Tibet. But it lacks the religious radiation provided by the Dalai Lama … It has no high-profile Hollywood star such as Richard Gere to emote for it; more people probably worry whether giant pandas mate than whether the Uighurs can survive as a culture and a people. If only they were Buddhists.

I took a little offense. Was my friend telling me that the media loves Tibet only because they’re Buddhist? I shot back an email: “Show me the Uighur Nobel Peace Laureates!”

This only got me thinking more about how I approach politics and religion. While I may see the status of Tibet as a chiefly political issue, I am always keeping an eye out to see if Tibetans are taking a “Buddhist approach” (whatever that means). The same goes for Burma. Tibet and Burma aren’t inherently Buddhist issues, so when a Buddhist blog such as the Tricycle Blog talks about them (and boy are they mentioned often), do these issues suddenly become religious? Are we distorting the Tibet and Burma issues by mixing religion and politics?

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While I was going to community college, I took a class on “World Religions.” The text was Michael Molloy’s Experiencing the World’s Religions, which is a comely tome that has only received a more attractive cover as time and editions have gone by.


Notice the multicolored soothing waterfall.

It was an enjoyable class, and as sometimes happens, the class bonded as we probed the questions that really mattered. When it was time for the class to end, I asked a number of my different classmates about how they enjoyed it. I got the exact same response from every single one of them:

“The class explained the other religions really well, but was TOTALLY OFF about my religion!”

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Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture
Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture (from Awakening Mind Zen blog)

The Pew Forum recently published a survey of American religion, and this sparked an interesting discussion in the Buddhist community. If you want to see PhDs analyze it to death and tear it apart, go visit H-Buddhism. I’m going to refrain from tossing in my opinion on the survey. I’m primarily interested in the Buddhist (blogging) community’s reaction on two points, and what this says about the community.

Many people took the survey at face value. Charles Prebish seemed keen to note some surprises. For some, this survey was proof that American Buddhism is in decline, even dying out, especially due to a lack of children. Some found particular interest in the fact that the Pew survey reported more non-Asian Buddhists than Asian Buddhists in America, and vastly more converts than heritage Buddhists.

The first reaction is one that I’ve heard a lot over the past eight years: American Buddhism is getting old. In fact, Sumi Loundon found her inspiration to compile Blue Jean Buddha based on her experience in a retreat kitchen as the lone twentysomething among a crowd of Baby Boomers. Of course, she eventually found young Buddhist voices. But the reaction on these blogs suggests that Boomer Buddhists still get together in groups where active young Buddhists are a tiny minority, if they’re even there at all.

The second reaction — more of a surprise — is nested in the notion that American Buddhism is predominantly Asian American. According to the Pew survey, it’s not. Some bloggers expressed a bit of satisfaction in this result (see here and here, but also note there is some methodological controversy.) The bloggers’ emphasis on this particular result suggests that the division between Asian and non-Asian Buddhist America is just as real as ever. For me, the force of this reaction means that many Buddhists out there still have a strong insecurity with regards to their American Buddhist identity.

These two reactions are often framed as American Buddhism’s two great challenges. How do we perpetuate our community? How do we cross the cultural divide?

I’d like to think that these questions don’t need answering. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. If John and I (your humble “dharma bloggers”) are a representative slice of Buddhist America, then we have already solved both the issues. We are active young Buddhists, of Asian and non-Asian heritage, who work together in the Buddhist community.

There are many more out there like us. But for some reason, we aren’t noticed.

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