Why are most western Buddhists white?

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.

Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby daverupa » Fri Mar 07, 2014 12:53 am

The thread is being read by the powers that be, so perhaps more will be done as time proceeds. At present I can only speak for myself: I think there is yet some space for the conversation here to seize the teachable moment.

Please breath before posting.

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    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 3:28 am

Racism is not condoned or tolerated. So far there are not any racist posts in this thread. If anyone sees one, please use the 'report' function.

Simply discussing the issues or cultural differences is not racist. In fact some poc (people of color) have stated that ignoring the issues and why more poc are not attending temples is racist. See for example this recent post at our sister site from an African-American member, responding to a poster who felt it should not be discussed.

This colorblind racism only contributes to institutionalized racism by attempting to gloss over the lived experiences of poc and gender/sexual minorities with racism and sexism. Conventionally, we are not the same because we do not experience life the same. Labels have real-world, lethal consequences. To ignore the racial motivation of these consequences, as well as attempting to erase the ethnic identity of poc is just neo-racism.


http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.ph ... 80#p219162

We will continue to allow a diverse set of views here on DW however certainly not any racist views or statements. If any should appear, again, please use the report function.

And now back to topic and to help dispel some stereotypes, see this nice photo:

Image

from: http://www.angryasianbuddhist.com/2013/ ... itate.html
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby JeffR » Fri Mar 07, 2014 4:30 am

Goofaholix wrote:
JeffR wrote:Ajahn Chah established Wat Pa Nanachat for Farang (whites), so those temples established under it tend to be full of white monks.


Just a point of correction, he established Wat Pa Nanachat for foreigners. Nanachat means international, not caucasian.

There have been monks of all different nationalities there aand many are not white.


Pardon me for the misleading information. Although my Thai friends refer to Wat Pa Nanachat as a temple established for Farang, and the monks I know who ordained there refer to it as established by Ajahn Chah for westerners, I do know it's formal name refers to international monastery. I have never been there and have been told it is basically all caucasion with occasional exception, the exceptions being mainly visiting monks.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby pilgrim » Fri Mar 07, 2014 4:37 am

1780783_603773383044021_198433903_n.jpg
1780783_603773383044021_198433903_n.jpg (95.89 KiB) Viewed 458 times
Evidence for slack vinaya in Asian monasteries? Most definitely. The photo above was posted by the abbot of a typical rural monastery in NE India on his Facebook page. The culture is Burmese. I protested that it is against Vinaya for monks to accept money, and the picture is of new monks on the very day of their ordination. He protested that this has been their practice in their communities for ages and will not be changed.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Mar 07, 2014 9:23 am

waterchan wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:And of course western Buddhism is developing it's own cultural baggage!


I don't think Western Buddhism has had enough time to develop its own cultural baggage yet. It's only, what, 80 years old?


That's plenty of time. And many of the Buddhist traditions present in the UK seem to have been designed for westerners.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Kare » Fri Mar 07, 2014 12:19 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:Racism is not condoned or tolerated. So far there are not any racist posts in this thread. If anyone sees one, please use the 'report' function.

Simply discussing the issues or cultural differences is not racist.


I agree. Simply discussing the issues or cultural differences is not racist. But the title of this thread is: "Why are most western Buddhists white?" Sorting people into groups based on skin color, is not simply discussing issues of cultural differences. Sorting people according to skin color is racism. You may try to stick any fancy label on it and call it any variant of "...ology", if you like. I even see that it amuses some to do it. But it still is that old-fashioned, ugly racism.

To me, Dhamma has always been about the mind, not about the skin. I am sorry to see that the administrators of this forum have a different view.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby dhammafriend » Fri Mar 07, 2014 3:18 pm

Kare wrote:I agree. Simply discussing the issues or cultural differences is not racist. But the title of this thread is: "Why are most western Buddhists white?" Sorting people into groups based on skin color, is not simply discussing issues of cultural differences. Sorting people according to skin color is racism. You may try to stick any fancy label on it and call it any variant of "...ology", if you like. I even see that it amuses some to do it. But it still is that old-fashioned, ugly racism.

To me, Dhamma has always been about the mind, not about the skin. I am sorry to see that the administrators of this forum have a different view.


Hello Kare, have you ever considered that people who are not 'white' are not in a position ignore color, race etc? When black men are seen as intrinsically aggressive, black women as hyper-sexual, Asians as submissive, people relate to them based on those pre-concieved notions. So they do not have the luxury of ignoring skin color. Regardless of whether they are Buddhist or not. Buddha Dhamma is not a cart blanche for us to ignore the real world in all its ugliness. It's a tool we can use to improve ourselves, our communities and societies.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby chownah » Fri Mar 07, 2014 4:23 pm

dhammafriend,
I think in some contexts some sort of discussion of these issues is possible but what should we do if someone wanted to discuss why are black men intrinsically aggressive (I shudder to even type such an ignorant idea).......should we just say that the idea is wrong and it is based in racist stereotyping and declare that for these reasons it need not be discussed?.....or should we discuss this and that aspect of it and thus give it the appearance of a legitimate question whose intricasies should be exposed and debated?

I'm glad that Kare has posted. I would like to post straight to the op to say that the topic has been framed in a racial way and as such is not suitable to discuss......maybe it would be good if you rethink what you want to discuss and pose your query in a more reasonable way...if it in fact can be asked a better way.....if not then better to forget it and do some serious thinking about the subtleties of racial prejudice.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:09 pm

Kare wrote:To me, Dhamma has always been about the mind, not about the skin.


I agree with you, of course. Racism is about the ignorant thinking that one race is superior to another and/or the attempt to exclude certain race(s) from participation in some organization, event, etc. I don't see the OP doing that. The OP simply made an observation and was wondering what reasons there might be for that. Others including myself noted that most Western Buddhists are in fact Asian. For example in the U.S. there are some 5 to 6 million Buddhists. About 4 to 5 million of the American Buddhists are Asian ancestry, not white.

Ignoring this issue or refusing to discuss this is considered racism itself, by some. They feel that just ignoring the reasons why certain races or cultural groups are not drawn to Dhamma centers is just pushing the issue under the carpet, rather than dealing with it. It is not necessarily my view, but know that this is a view of many poc. So simply ignoring this and telling everyone that we cannot discuss this sensitive issue is not a good option. But of course we will ensure that there are no racist statements made while this discussion takes place.

There are some 'Western' Dhamma centers that have meditation sessions and retreats for poc. I have mixed feelings about this. Of course I would like to see more poc in the Dhamma and come out of suffering, but I personally don't like the segregation of races even when the intentions seem to be very good. For example, does that mean I can't meditate with my [African] wife if she attends one of those sessions? These are difficult and sensitive issues that sometimes need to be discussed . . .
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Kare » Fri Mar 07, 2014 5:25 pm

I fear that as long as we accept skin color as a premise for our discourse (except, maybe, for a discourse on skin tan products ... ;) ), those abuses will not come to an end. Therefore I refuse to accept this premise.

And, if we feel the pressure of the 'majority', let the Sallekha sutta (MN8) serve as an inspiration to take a firm stand: "Others may ... we will not ..."
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:02 pm

Kare wrote:I fear that as long as we accept skin color as a premise for our discourse...


Over a decade ago, one of the studies of interest in the field of psychology was why whites outperformed blacks on IQ tests by 15%, and why asians outperformed whites on IQ tests by 15%. Now these were hard facts. One of the resultant findings was that starting from primary education (i.e. age 5), mathematics was taught at a significantly faster pace in asian schools, and in many asian cultures it was considered more normal for women to pursue higher stutdies in engineering and science than in white or black communities.

These objective studies helped dispel the myths that some races were inherently more stupid than others. I feel that investigating the question of "why most Western Buddhists are white?" could lead to similar insights on Buddhism in the West. If having an objective discussion or investigation based on skin color is racism, then maybe this is the racism that leads to the end of racism, and should be encouraged.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby culaavuso » Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:19 pm

waterchan wrote:These objective studies helped dispel the myths that some races were inherently more stupid than others. I feel that investigating the question of "why most Western Buddhists are white?" could lead to similar insights on Buddhism in the West. If having an objective discussion or investigation based on skin color is racism, then maybe this is the racism that leads to the end of racism, and should be encouraged.


Interestingly, the study seems to have helped dispel myths by discovering that the original question was incorrectly phrased in terms of skin color. Confusion between correlation and causation seems to be a major factor in the perpetuation of racism. The result of the study mentioned seems to be that IQ results varied between schools and there happened to be a correlation between ethnicity and attendance of any particular school. Understanding that allows changes to the way that schools are run, which makes it a useful question for improving everyone's education universally. In this way the study seems to be useful by showing that the original premise that race was a direct causal factor was a faulty premise, the demonstration of which helps lead to the end of racism. A more directly useful question at the outset would have been "what makes some students perform significantly better or worse on IQ tests than others, and how can IQ test outcomes be improved?"

In this way, perhaps the OP is trying to address a useful question of "what makes some people who are interested in Western Buddhism experience difficulty in integrating themselves into existing meditation communities, and how can those barriers be eliminated without compromise to the integrity of the Dhamma?"
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby binocular » Fri Mar 07, 2014 6:57 pm

culaavuso wrote:Interestingly, the study seems to have helped dispel myths by discovering that the original question was incorrectly phrased in terms of skin color. Confusion between correlation and causation seems to be a major factor in the perpetuation of racism. The result of the study mentioned seems to be that IQ results varied between schools and there happened to be a correlation between ethnicity and attendance of any particular school. Understanding that allows changes to the way that schools are run, which makes it a useful question for improving everyone's education universally. In this way the study seems to be useful by showing that the original premise that race was a direct causal factor was a faulty premise, the demonstration of which helps lead to the end of racism. A more directly useful question at the outset would have been "what makes some students perform significantly better or worse on IQ tests than others, and how can IQ test outcomes be improved?"


And then there is stereotype threat:

Stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety in a situation in which a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about his or her social group.[1] Since its introduction into the academic literature, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology.[2] Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups.[3] If negative stereotypes are present regarding a specific group, group members are likely to become anxious about their performance, which may hinder their ability to perform at their maximum level. For example, stereotype threat can lower the intellectual performance of African-Americans taking the SAT reasoning test used for college entrance in the United States, due to the stereotype that African-Americans are less intelligent than other groups.[4] Importantly, the individual does not need to subscribe to the stereotype for it to be activated. Moreover, the specific mechanism through which anxiety (induced by the activation of the stereotype) decreases performance is by depleting working memory (especially the phonological aspects of the working memory system).[5]

Stereotype threat is a potential contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender gaps in academic performance. It may occur whenever an individual's performance might confirm a negative stereotype because stereotype threat is thought to arise from a particular situation, rather than from an individual's personality traits or characteristics. Since most people have at least one social identity which is negatively stereotyped, most people are vulnerable to stereotype threat if they encounter a situation in which the stereotype is relevant. Situational factors that increase stereotype threat can include the difficulty of the task, the belief that the task measures their abilities, and the relevance of the stereotype to the task. Individuals show higher degrees of stereotype threat on tasks they wish to perform well on and when they identify strongly with the stereotyped group. These effects are also increased when they expect discrimination due to their identification with negatively stereotyped group.[6] Repeated experiences of stereotype threat can lead to a vicious circle of diminished confidence, poor performance, and loss of interest in the relevant area of achievement.[1]

Proponents of stereotype threat have been criticized for exaggerating the importance of stereotype threat as an explanation of real-world performance gaps[7][8] and misrepresenting evidence as more conclusive than it is.[9][10]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby dhammafriend » Fri Mar 07, 2014 7:09 pm

chownah wrote:dhammafriend,
if someone wanted to discuss why are black men intrinsically aggressive (I shudder to even type such an ignorant idea).......

Sit down in the lotus postion, place a picture of your favourite Disney Princess in front of you, set your iPod to your Taylor Swift playlist. Any shudders induced by typing the words aggressive black men should subside in due course. :smile:

Seriously, there are ways to approach the topic where we all can learn from this. As long as we approach it with a bit of empathy, humility and the willingness to see ourselves in the other.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Mar 07, 2014 7:18 pm

Kare wrote:I agree. Simply discussing the issues or cultural differences is not racist. But the title of this thread is: "Why are most western Buddhists white?" Sorting people into groups based on skin color,


The wording of the OP was poor. If it had read "Why are most Buddhists in the west european? or "Why are most Buddhists in the west caucasian? Then it would have meant the same thing that the OP was intending to ask and be less likely to offend.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 7:32 pm

culaavuso wrote:the original premise that race was a direct causal factor was a faulty premise


No, there was no implication of causality from the start. This study was done while I was at the University of Miami, whose psychology department is one of the most prestigious in the country. It's inconceivable that any proposal implying causality from the outset would have made it past the very initial approval stage.

culaavuso wrote:The result of the study mentioned seems to be that IQ results varied between schools and there happened to be a correlation between ethnicity and attendance of any particular school.


The result of the study maintained that the correlation between ethnicity and IQ test scores is very real. When people take IQ tests, they may tick a box indicating what general ethnicity they are, and from collecting this raw data you can observe a strong correlation between skin color and IQ. Of course that doesn't imply causality. Attendance as you said is one factor, but there are many others. One is that in asian countries, it's quite the cultural norm for women to engage in studies that require critical thinking, such as mathematics, science, engineering, and philosophy. It's quite the norm for women to become computer programmers, technicians, scientists, and robotics engineers. The Japanese in particular stand out as highly adept test-takers; they have to take highly competitive entrance exams just to get into high school.

Similarly, the correlation between skin color and university entrance test scores is very real. One of the reasons is simply that young asian students are more used to taking tests than other races, and have more test-taking experience.

To the non-scientific readers of this post, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. When one says that there is a correlation between skin color and IQ score, this statement implies only one thing: that people of some races are better at taking IQ tests than others. Don't read into it what is not there.

culaavuso wrote:A more directly useful question at the outset would have been "what makes some students perform significantly better or worse on IQ tests than others, and how can IQ test outcomes be improved?"


I agree that investigating some questions can lead to the discovery that the question itself was misguided, but I disagree that this is a more useful question in research, simply because it is too broad. When you choose a topic of research, you never start with a broad topic. You always start with a narrow topic, e.g. "Why are Asian students who go to middle-class universities scoring higher than others on the SAT?" and then as you gather more data you may find it desirable to broaden the focus of your research at some point.
Last edited by waterchan on Fri Mar 07, 2014 7:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 7:46 pm

waterchan wrote:To the non-scientific readers of this post, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. When one says that there is a correlation between skin color and IQ score, this statement implies only one thing: that people of some races are better at taking IQ tests than others. Don't read into it what is not there.


The way that is written, it looks to be racist. There is no correlation between skin color and IQ score. I am sure you did not mean that, but I can see how some might read it that way. There is perhaps a correlation between ethnicity / culture due to some of the factors you mentioned but absolutely not color. If for example a child of European or African ancestry were raised by Asian parents, then the score would just as likely be high, according to the other factors you mentioned.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby binocular » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:00 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:The way that is written, it looks to be racist. There is no correlation between skin color and IQ score. I am sure you did not mean that, but I can see how some might read it that way. There is perhaps a correlation between ethnicity / culture due to some of the factors you mentioned but absolutely not color. If for example a child of European or African ancestry were raised by Asian parents, then the score would just as likely be high, according to the other factors you mentioned.

It is safe to assume that there is a correlation between ethnicity /culture and skin color. Hence when there is a correlation between a characteristic and ethnicity / culture, there is therefore also correlation between said characteristic and skin color.

If for example a child of European or African ancestry were raised by Asian parents,

Which seems like a statistically rare occurence.
Of course there are white rappers, for example.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:01 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:The way that is written, it looks to be racist. There is no correlation between skin color and IQ score. I am sure you did not mean that, but I can see how some might read it that way. There is perhaps a correlation between ethnicity / culture due to some of the factors you mentioned but absolutely not color. If for example a child of European or African ancestry were raised by Asian parents, then the score would just as likely be high, according to the other factors you mentioned.


Heh, I knew someone would raise this point about ethnicity vs color...

Those are rare exceptions, David, as binocular has pointed out above. Scientific research is often cold-hearted, as you probably know yourself as a Ph.D, and not every research takes into account minutiae such as the possibility that a white person might be raised by Chinese parents, or the possibility that some students in the data pool might have Down's syndrome, or the possibility that some students might have a hard time using a pen because they are missing three fingers (I had a friend like that), or the fact that clinical depression is most commonly diagnosed among white people.

Such exceptions may be addressed in the details of the research paper, but when you're presenting it to an audience, it's usually African = black, European = white, South American = Hispanic, and Asian = Asian, and everyone is reasonably healthy. And when your sample space contains literally billions of samples spanning a few decades, that's not a terribly unreasonable assumption at all.
Last edited by waterchan on Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:08 pm

waterchan wrote:Such exceptions may be addressed in the details of the research paper, but when you're presenting it to an audience, it's usually African American = black, European = white, South American = Hispanic, and Asian = Asian, and everyone is reasonably healthy. And when your sample space contains literally billions of samples spanning a few decades, that's not a terribly unreasonable assumption at all.


That is fine, but you can't make the cause sound as if it is skin color when it clearly is not. It is obviously culture, socioeconomic status and other factors, nothing to do with color.
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