BRN Statement in support of our Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander (AAPI) community - March 23rd 2020
The Buddhist Recovery Network is writing to address the recent shooting in Atlanta because we are deeply committed to openness and inclusivity in our meetings. Our community of Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander (AAPI) is still reacting to the tragic event, but for many of those in the AAPI community, they are not surprised by this. The violence and hate against the AAPI community have been rising lately that at the bottom of their hearts, they knew something was bound to happen soon. Moreover, hate against the AAPI community is unfortunately part of the American history, and aggravated by the reactions to COVID-19 by the previous administration. This is the burden that all Asians in the states grew up with and practiced their entire life to cope with. It was a tragedy that it took multiple deaths for this country to finally look at this community and let them speak. We just hope that the country keeps looking at the AAPI community and letting them speak. Don’t just move on from this after a few days.
The subject of invisibility and being perpetual foreigners have long existed in the AAPI community and it is a label that cannot seem to be shaken off. The invisibility is true in this shooting when the police officer said the suspect was just having a bad day. A subtle form of this invisibility is also true in the American Buddhist communities.
Buddhism is a religion, philosophy, and lifestyle that the AAPI community has practiced for thousands of years. It is deeply rooted in their culture, philosophy, and all traditions. However, for a lot of Asians, when they start going to meditation centers and different sanghas, they would experience culture shock. More often than not, they would be the only Asian in the room. More often than not, the teacher would be white. Every single time, the Buddhism that is taught in the Center would be quite different from the Buddhism they practice at home. The terminology would be the same, but the way it is explained and practiced would be completely different. A lot of them have to start learning Buddhism from a different angle and perhaps even doubt if they know Buddhism as well as they originally thought, until they realize that it is because they are learning the white dharma.
When Westerners in the early days studied in the East, they brought back aspects of Buddhism that could be accepted easily in the American culture, namely, the white culture. As a result, they left behind a huge part of Buddhism that they thought would not be accepted. And it worked. Buddhism became popular, focusing on meditation and psychology, and meditation centers were built and charged a huge amount of money for classes and retreats. Most participants would be white middle class people, and ironically the AAPI community wouldn’t be able to afford it. White Buddhists took the parts they could accept, made it fun and fancy, and tend to leave behind a lot of history in Buddhism. Additionally, in many white meditation centers and sanghas, it is not easy to see a lot of aspects of Mahayana Buddhism. Occasionally people talk about Guanyin or of the Bodhisattva vow, but never in depth and always more like a slogan. By neglecting Mahayana Buddhism, the entire East Asian community and an important part of the history of Buddhism are excluded. The Buddhism that anyone learns in a white sangha is going to be white dharma, a packaged form of Buddhism specifically for the white American culture.
This phenomenon is especially true in the Buddhist recovery community. It is a painful fact that the Buddhist recovery community is predominantly white, and the AAPI community is still the minority in their sanghas where this religion has been practiced by their ancestors for generations. One of our board members once wrote a paper in her graduate school, examining all the Buddhist recovery programs in the states. What she found was sad, because in all of the Buddhist recovery programs, the core of their programs is all white dharma, without any exception. The Buddhism that is practiced in Buddhist recovery in the states is exactly the kind of Buddhism that was brought back by the Westerners decades ago.
Buddhist Recovery Network is learning as the world is learning how to be more culturally sensitive and respectful towards all People of Color. We are outraged by the shooting in Atlanta and we are looking inward to see how we can support the AAPI community during this difficult time so that they can feel more seen, heard, and respected. We are committed to creating a safer space for the AAPI community for the future, as we have always strived to be inclusive and we are determined to keep doing so. Buddhist Recovery Network is standing together with our AAPI community in solidarity, and we are reflecting on how we can decolonize, how our country has been shaped by white supremacy, and how Buddhist Recovery Network can be a refuge for all.
With Warm Regards,
The Buddhist Recovery Network