This post, written by a young woman from Sri Lanka who lives in Minnesota, has been getting a lot of attention in the Buddhist blogosphere. It's not an easy to read post. And it's gotten a bit of negative attention already, as well as dismissive comments about how she's a just a young, angry, and/or ignorant woman.
This paragraph is probably the one where the rails fall off for many white Buddhist readers.
Much like the commercialization and appropriation of Yoga serves as a profound source of anger and frustration to many South-Asian Hindus, I'm alternately befuddled and angered by white appropriation of Buddhism. No, I don't care how many times Richard Gere used his private jet to visit the Dalai Lama, stripping a belief system of its cultural context and putting it on like a pair of shoes, without acknowledging the struggles and realities of the people whom that culture belongs to, is imperialist, disrespectful, and mostly racist. The shallow ease with which Whiteness claims to understand the experiences of cultures of colour continues to bewilder me. How can you claim something as part of your identity, on par with people who grew up living and breathing that culture everyday? How can you claim to own something you've never had to defend, or fight for? And please, spare me the details of how your white Lutheran parents disapproved of your visits to the meditation center.
I'm not going to write a long commentary on the pluses and minuses of this piece.
While I don’t agree with everything she wrote, I think it’s worth really sitting with her voice if you’re a white, convert practitioner. Yes, she’s young. And yes, she doesn’t really seem to have any sense of how Buddhism has spread, and been re-invented to some extent in every place it has gone. But I have seen some quite hasty and defensive reactions to this post online already, which mirror reactions I have seen in local sanghas to issues brought up by practitioners of color.
Point blank: white practitioners need to stop defending themselves, and pay closer attention to what other Buddhists are saying and thinking. Doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other, but if people are really serious about all the “diversity” talk that goes around convert sanghas, then demonstrate it. Be willing to be with the uneasiness of conflict and difference. Be willing to accept that you might be wrong. Be willing to listen, and perhaps then, you might also be listened to.
This is one of the major pieces of work for the modern, worldwide sangha. I'm convinced of it. So, let's do it.