“C” is for Chinese Buddhists (aka “When Buddhism Came to America”)


“C” is for Chinese Buddhists in North America             (aka, “Beyond Entitled Mainstream Views”)

Recently I was at a Dharma talk and this is what I heard, more than once, “Buddhism came to America 49 (or 50-some) years ago.”

There are no “C’s” to “appropriation” but there are 2 “C’s” to ACCESS. Even when I was writing the HOME page I was asking myself what/when I would talk about how ACCESS is about speaking truths from outside of the mainstream? At the time it didn’t seem right for what I wanted to say. AND, I’m glad for this opportunity to talk about how ACCESS to Zen is about naming when instances of appropriation of Buddhism in North America (perhaps elsewhere but “North America” [“Bay Area” one could even say] is what I have experienced).

Oh, how easily it has been to forget/block-out/omit that many Asian Buddhist teachers did NOT come to “start” various Convert-Mainstream-Buddhist centers/organizations. MOST were brought by their ethnic (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, to name the ones I personally have some knowledge of) to lead these specific congregations. Mainstream, mostly Caucasian, practitioners came after, often at a loss to these ethnic communities as these teachers were drawn away by the needs of these later students.

From The Faces of Buddhism in America
Edited by Charles S. Prebish and Kenneth K. Tanaka, 1998
In the Chapter entitled “Chinese Buddhism in America, ” some details I’ve pulled out:

Buddhist monk landed on western coast of Mexico in 458 CE! Debated in European scholarly community since 1761, having to do with using the word for horse….Did they really come to “the New World” with the Spaniards? While the various texts on this are hazy, it IS recorded that the first ship of Chinese came to North America in 1849 because of the Gold Rush;  increasing to 63, 199 by 1870.

I will say that I’m disappointed ’cause then Prebish and Tanaka talk about maybe these immigrants did not have “truly Buddhist” communities because the places of worship they created did not last. My thought is that they were “Buddhist” in faith and culturally; which, when evaluated from outside their own communities, were often labeled as “not-really-Buddhist.”

Read for yourself in the book.

A main aim of this site is to bring MORE perspectives to the mainstream, entitled sense of what constitute “Buddhism in America.” Ignorance is another way Buddhism describes Delusion.

May we all be freed from our narrow thoughts and perspectives.  I invite you to show me when I’m stuck in such perspectives.

May ALL beings KNOW that their point of views, especially from outside the mainstream, IS seen and validated. May we not engage in stealing of history through our promotion of ignorance and entitled perspectives.

** Related video:Not taking what is not freely given” — a project for Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

photo: “C” created by Netsui. Go to “Netsui Arts” for her great works!


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