Why are most western Buddhists white?

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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waterchan
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:15 pm

David N. Snyder wrote: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.


Of course, David, the cause is not skin color, we all know that. I don't recall ever using the word "cause" in this thread, and I wish people would stop equating correlation to cause. But as it has been pointed out,

strong correlation between skin color and ethnicity
plus
strong correlation between ethnicity and X

automatically implies a strong correlation between skin color and X.

I'll repeat again so that everyone understands: correlation does not imply causation, and correlation has nothing to do with cause. Drop the mental association between the words "correlation" and "cause".
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:17 pm

Hi David,

It's not clear to me exactly what your objection is. It's a fact that in may countries, including my own, people of some races/skin colours/ethnic groups/however-you-want-to-do-the-classification/ do worse at certain tests. It's not racist, it's a measurable correlation. That's a matter of concern that I, for one, am keen to address because it's not good for my country.

The causes of these correlations are, of course, complex, and fixing the problems is not a trivial matter. It will take generations...

:anjali:
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:26 pm

Yes, that is fine; as long as it is understood that the color is not a causation. I just want to make that clear. There have been some objections that just having this discussion is racist and want to make sure that this discussion remains on track and not misunderstood, that is all. It is clearly culture and other factors.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:34 pm

Yes, it's clear that colour/race is not causation. However, in some cases (such as in apartheid-era South Africa) there were some rather strong causal factors: being black automatically meant completely different treatment.

The same applied/applies, to a lesser extent, in many other countries, including my own.

:anjali:
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:35 pm

It seems we are mostly in agreement that this discussion is not racist by nature.

Soooooooo... going back to the topic,

David N. Snyder wrote:However, socio-economic class also has a lot to do with it and as more African-Americans come out of poverty, there will be greater participation. I have met several African-American Buddhists, but admittedly most have been middle to upper-middle class.


Are you sure socio-economic class has a lot to do with whether one is attracted to the Dhamma or not? Did most of the Buddha's disciples come from a particular caste?
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:38 pm

waterchan wrote:I'll repeat again so that everyone understands: correlation does not imply causation, and correlation has nothing to do with cause.


It can if a statement is made without qualifications. That is why it is important to discuss the factors and to show what is true and what is spurious. The correlation can be made by other factors which can and should be mentioned.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:40 pm

waterchan wrote:Are you sure socio-economic class has a lot to do with whether one is attracted to the Dhamma or not? Did most of the Buddha's disciples come from a particular caste?


We are not discussing practitioners from the time of Buddha. We are talking about a much more heterogeneous society that we have in modern times.

During the time of the Buddha, participants didn't need to pay thousands of dollars to attend a one week retreat, for example (plane fares, time off work, cost of the retreat, dana for the teachers, etc.).

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:49 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
waterchan wrote:Are you sure socio-economic class has a lot to do with whether one is attracted to the Dhamma or not? Did most of the Buddha's disciples come from a particular caste?


We are not discussing practitioners from the time of Buddha. We are talking about a much more heterogeneous society that we have in modern times.


Does the heterogeneity of today's society make any difference, though? Certainly it seems that religions of all kind attract people from all levels of society, especially free services like church. So why should socio-economic class be a factor in people gravitating to free Dhamma talks in Buddhism?
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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:52 pm

waterchan wrote:Does the heterogeneity of today's society make any difference, though? Certainly it seems that religions of all kind attract people from all levels of society, especially free services like church. So why should socio-economic class be a factor in people gravitating to Buddhism?


I think you responded while I was editing my post, when I was adding this to my post above:

During the time of the Buddha, participants didn't need to pay thousands of dollars to attend a one week retreat, for example (plane fares, time off work, cost of the retreat, dana for the teachers, etc.).

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:55 pm

Speaking generally of course; when people are consumed with most of their time on economic issues and how they are going to pay rent, mortgage, put food on the table; generally don't go out examining other religions and tend to stick with their birth-religions if they have any at all. (of course there are exceptions, but in general this is the case)

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby anjali » Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:30 am

At least in the US, the demographics of the US is going through a major multi-ethnic shift, with whites no longer being the majority race. California is an excellent example of the trend. In California, with a Hispanic majority, I would expect to see more Hispanic Buddhists appearing in various Sanghas, especially as their socio-economic status improves. It would be interesting to see what the demographics of Los Angeles Sanghas are.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby culaavuso » Sat Mar 08, 2014 1:13 am

anjali wrote:At least in the US, the demographics of the US is going through a major multi-ethnic shift, with whites no longer being the majority race. California is an excellent example of the trend. In California, with a Hispanic majority, I would expect to see more Hispanic Buddhists appearing in various Sanghas, especially as their socio-economic status improves. It would be interesting to see what the demographics of Los Angeles Sanghas are.


This assumes that the Hispanic culture has the same proportion of people looking for a new religion as the rest of the population. Hispanics in California tend to be much more family oriented and often have a stronger loyalty to their existing church than others. If they're happy with their existing church, there's less reason for them to take an interest in Buddhism than there might be for someone who does not have an existing church. This might actually address part of the question from the OP in that adopting a new religion is more likely among populations which are not already satisfied with their existing religion, or among populations that do not have a strong religious affiliation at all.

Around the Los Angeles area, the parisā is often comprised of a majority of some Asian ethnicity. At Thai wats, mostly Thai attendees. At Korean temples, mostly Korean attendees. At Chinese temples, mostly Chinese attendees. Some variations on this theme are some Tibetan temples with mostly Vietnamese attendees, or Zen temples with mostly Caucasian attendees.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Kusala » Sat Mar 08, 2014 1:55 am

This might be a good time to reflect on the Vasettha Sutta... http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=329
Image

Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby convivium » Sat Mar 08, 2014 3:14 am

if you think what i said is racist then you never took an ethnic studies, sociology or anthropology class in college. internet conversations
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby hermitwin » Sat Mar 08, 2014 3:57 am

Why are all western leaders white ?

except obama, who is only half-white.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sat Mar 08, 2014 6:16 am

Kare wrote:
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.


Simply because cultural aspects are correlated with skin color. Therefore, if we can explain the difference of attendence as coming from different cultural backgrounds, we can make a reasonable extrapolation to difference of attendence according to skin colour.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby binocular » Sat Mar 08, 2014 9:21 am

waterchan wrote:Does the heterogeneity of today's society make any difference, though? Certainly it seems that religions of all kind attract people from all levels of society, especially free services like church. So why should socio-economic class be a factor in people gravitating to free Dhamma talks in Buddhism?

Speaking from personal experience, I think that socio-economic class is a factor.

From what I've come to know in continental Europe, Buddhism is the domain of the solid middle class and upper middle class, white of course.
The socio-economic factor is not something one can overlook.Someone who is below the middle class quickly realises that he or she just cannot get along or keep up with the middle-class and upwards people in the group. Such a person cannot realistically make friends with the other group members, simply because the poorer person doesn't have the means for it.

Of course, the poorer person can still participate in the free or affordable offerings. But it is just not the same as being a "real member" of those groups.
This can be very alienating. One sees that one doesn't really belong, and eventually distances oneself or leaves altogether.


On the other hand, given that Buddhism in Europe is a foreign phenomenon without a lengthy and powerful heritage and social standing comparable to that of the Catholic Church, it is probably indeed possible to maintain any kind of Buddhist establishment only if those who attempt to do so are relatively well off.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby binocular » Sat Mar 08, 2014 9:58 am

waterchan wrote:I don't think there are many, if any studies investigating why most Western Buddhists are white — it's not really a subject of much interest, but it would be interesting for this niche group in this thread.

Of course, for any statistical investigation we would first need to define who exactly can count for "Buddhist", and whether the people who relatively regularly attend Buddhist groups are a representative and sufficient sample of Buddhists in a particular geographic area.

We can only speculate how many people there are who do not regularly attend Buddhist groups, but who may otherwise be qualified as Buddhists.

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby lyndon taylor » Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:06 am

I can just imagine a lone black person showing up at an all white, middle class Buddhist group, and all the members going out of their way to make the new person feel "welcomed" and "comfortable" and having exactly the opposite effect.......
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John

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Re: Why are most western Buddhists white?

Postby waterchan » Sat Mar 08, 2014 10:39 am

binocular wrote:Of course, for any statistical investigation we would first need to define who exactly can count for "Buddhist", and whether the people who relatively regularly attend Buddhist groups are a representative and sufficient sample of Buddhists in a particular geographic area.


Or we can just ignore that and just get people to tick boxes. That's how the government does it! Whoever ticks the Buddhist box is considered a Buddhist. If we insist on truly valid criteria and only count as Buddhist those who understand the four noble truths, the eightfold path, keep five precepts, have read all the basic suttas, practice jhanas, practice vipassana, listen to Dhamma talks, and take refuge solely in the triple gem, then I doubt you will get a large enough sample space for statistically significant results.
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