Racial Diversity and Buddhism in the U.S. (2006)
When we speak of Buddhism in the United States, we are speaking of a cultural movement that has brought to this continent ancient Indian, East and Southeast Asian, and Tibetan spiritual teachings and practices. For the first time in history, these teachings have arrived in a land that is racially heterogeneous. At the same time, they are taking root in a society that was founded, by a white majority, on the unwholesome seeds of colonialism, genocide and slavery. In this meeting, the values of community, interdependence, and collaboration come face-to-face with the values of the pursuit of individualism, self-interest and competition. Deep bow meets handshake (1).
With these words, Hilda Guitiérrez Baldoquín, the editor of Dharma, Color, and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism, describes the historical and current diversity of Buddhism in America. In the almost one hundred and fifty year history of Buddhism in the U.S., racial diversity has been an ever-present concern. One of the challenges facing American Buddhism today is the need to fully recognize the experiences of Asian immigrants in the U.S., Asian Americans, European Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, as well as all other people of color who practice Buddhism.
People of color are negotiating spaces within predominantly European American sanghas (Buddhist communities). Buddhist centers across the country are starting to host people of color retreats and meditation groups. These efforts are led by Buddhist teachers of color whose work to reduce the isolation people of color have felt is starting to have an impact. They work in tandem with a handful of organizations for people of color to sustain these efforts beyond just one or two retreats. Additionally, White people active in Buddhist centers are working to understand racism in their own lives and communities. Together, these efforts are attempting to reshape American Buddhism into racially diverse and integrated communities.
This report provides snapshots of the work American Buddhists are doing to nurture racially diverse sanghas—it is not a comprehensive collection of these efforts. The research is based on journal articles, books, email and verbal conversations and interviews with several Buddhists of color in the U.S.
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(1) Baldoquín, Hilda Gutiérrez, ed. Dharma, Color, and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism
. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2004: 18.