White Ownership of Buddhism

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Southeast Asians may add yoga and meditation to this title as well. In the US, 67 percent of Buddhists are Asian. Yet, the face of American Buddhism is predominantly white as Asians have been marginalized. Funie Hsu, an assistant professor of American Studies at San Jose State University and a board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, addresses this in a frank and forthright manner in the Lion’s Roar. This post highlights major points but interested readers should read the whole article. As we resist the inequality, racism, and bigotry, let us not forget that they all exist even in the space of mindfulness and meditation–in complete contradiction to the teachings. It is worth contemplation! Hsu suggests: deep contemplation on this can help shatter the fragility of the false self and the delusion of racial colorblindness. 

The points Hsu makes are valid in many ways to yoga which includes meditation. A major difference is that Southeast Asians did not suffer the internment that the Japanese Americans went through.

Hsu writes: it’s time we recognize the contributions of Asian American Buddhists and address the racism and cultural appropriation that marginalizes their ongoing role in transmitting the dharma in the West.

White supremacy has systematically alienated Asian and Asian American Buddhist communities and diminished the validity of our relationship to Buddhism in the U.S. The erasure and exclusion of our communities is not merely about a lack of inclusion; to put it so simply would be dismissive of the facts of history. The exclusion of Asian and Asian American Buddhists from conversations on American Buddhism is cultural appropriation. It renders invisible our foundational role in establishing and maintaining Buddhism in America despite white supremacy. Thus, such erasure denies our right to claim our deep and specific connection—indeed, our centrality—to American Buddhism. It appropriates our historical authority in order to promote the white ownership of an indigenous Asian practice for liberation.

The white ownership of Buddhism is claimed through delegitimizing the validity and long history of our traditions, then appropriating the practices on the pretext of performing them more correctly.

Hsu concludes: In the U.S., that path (the three gems of Buddha, dharma, and sangha) includes the liberation of suffering from white supremacy. This is American Buddhism.

It is also American yoga and meditation.

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