Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Orientalism and The Dharma

Used to know western Buddhist monks who swore that the only way to practice Buddhism, or at any rate the superior way to learn about Buddhism, was in Korea from people with Asian faces. The orientalism of American Buddhists still makes me giggle. It's about as valid as arguing, "My training as a hairdresser is better because I learned it from a gay hairdresser!"

Yesterday I met one of two other Buddhists in Deming. It was in the used bookstore, and we both have fliers in the window there. He gives private instruction in Buddhist practice, I invite people to come sit with me on the front porch. Very nice fellow who was interested in my dharmagree (where I studied Buddhism and where), and made sure to let me know he spent time in Sri Lanka with Asian monks.

Because, you know, the real dharma comes to us in broken english from Asian men with mysterious smiles. For the same reason that you get the best haircuts from gay men. That's just how things work.

Silly. Of course, we all know at our clearest moments that the dharma does not have Indian, American, Korean, or any of that other stuff. It doesn't have monk or layperson. It's just us, greeting one another. And he did give me a warm welcome to town, for which I was grateful.


Adam said...

I had a room mate Neil Bartholomew who was very into Zen and went to Korea for four months to study Buddhism.

After he came back, we had a discussion about it. He said that it was very easy to study and practice Buddhism in a monastery in a remote corner of Korea. Much harder to do it in the everyday world, where you have lots and lots of distractions.

Algernon said...

I knew Neil at Providence Zen Center and his presence there is greatly missed.

The point he makes here is right on. It's the same reason retreats are invaluable. That's a good reason to go.

It cost me thousands of dollars to take 3 months off and do a formal retreat - and that retreat was on the American continent. I didn't have to fly internationally.

As another generation of western teachers pass their batons and more retreat centers are established on our continent, Zen training in America will enhance its credibility and we will have choices. Do your ango in California or Japan, as makes the most sense for your situation.

quid said...

I don't know about the haircuts, but my gay men hairdressers do a superlative job with color. And I am a 3+ decade afficianado of a color (several different) that is not my God given. Don't tell Maria.