Racial Diversity and Buddhism in the U.S. (2006)

When we speak of BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... 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 DharmaDharma means religion, religious duty, religious teaching. The word dharma comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “to uphold, support, bear,” thus dharma is that order of things which informs the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings ..., 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 AmericansEach of the many Native American nations has its own distinctive life-ways, although there are some widely-shared characteristics. most Native life-ways are primarily transmitted through oral traditions; they are oriented toward living in relation to a sp..., as well as all other people of color who practice Buddhism.

People of color are negotiating spaces within predominantly European American sanghasThe Sangha is the community of monks or, more broadly, the community of Buddhists. To formally become a Buddhist, one takes refuge in the Three Treasures: the Buddha, Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings), and Sangha. In its widest sense, “sangha” refers ... (Buddhist communities). Buddhist centers across the country are starting to host people of color retreats and meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... 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.

—Kate Dugan and Hilary Bogert, Pluralism Project Research Associates

To download the full report, click here [.doc with hyperlinks] or  here [.pdf without hyperlinks].

(1) Baldoquín, Hilda Gutiérrez, ed. Dharma, Color, and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2004: 18.