July 20, 2012

Buddha Buzz: Buddhist News from Around the World

There's a lot going on in the world—it's hard to keep up! This is "Buddha Buzz," our weekly roundup of Buddhist news from around the world. Check back on tricycle.com every Friday to see the latest.

Take a look at the mock-up plans for a Buddhist temple planned to be built in Taicang, China. I like to call it the "Aladdin genie" of Buddhist temples...because you ain't never seen a temple like this one. (And Aladdin ain't never had a friend like the genie.)

Chinese Temple

To represent the importance of interconnectivity in Buddhist thought, the temple architecture functions somewhat like a Mobius strip, with interior and exterior "ribbons" meeting together in the middle of the temple. Etched glass will lie in between the ribbons, and the entire structure will "rise from a pool of floating lotuses." It makes me wonder if this is the first Buddhist temple that will need a drawbridge.

In other news, the New York Times featured a story on Monday about Dayangji Sherpa, a 54-year-old Tibetan Buddhist woman who spent her life savings—$50,000—last month to host the first full-recitation of the Kangyur in New York City. It's an act of devotion and practice that is not commonly undertaken by those who are not wealthy, simultaneously making Dayangji a heroine and an exemplar. 

“People can do this, but nobody does it,” she said. “I’m not rich. I wanted a do a good thing.”

Speaking of doing good things, check out this story by the Palm Beach Post, about a Buddhist woman, Jacie Keeley, whose home was hit by lightning last month during Tropical Storm Derby. The electrical fire that the lightning created devoured the inside of her house, melting appliances and possessions and spreading smoke and soot damage throughout. Keeley's response is another example of fine Buddhist practice at work: "It's inconvenient, it's an obstacle," she said, "but I did want a new beginning" (her father died earlier in the year). One of Keeley's friends, another Buddhist named Nick Ribush, started a fundraising page for her on Indiegogo.com, coordinating efforts to raise thousands of dollars for Keeley to rebuild her burned home.

"But wait," the article's author writes about this effort, "aren’t Buddhists supposed to be stoical, supposed to accept suffering as their lot in life, and just, well, suffer through it?"

Ribush's answer is spot-on.

“Yes, there is suffering," he responds, "and the way to respond is with compassion. Not just mental compassion, but active compassion.”

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life came out yesterday with a new study on Asian American religious life called "A Mosaic of Faiths." Previous Pew studies about Asian Americans have been criticized by Buddhist bloggers such as the Angry Asian Buddhist due to their inaccurate numbers. Before this study, the Pew Forum estimated that about 32% of American Buddhists are Asian-American. This study, however, more than doubles that percentage, saying that Asian-Americans comprise 67%-69% of American Buddhists. Numbers like this may seem dry, but it's important to have an accurate picture of what American Buddhism looks like.


Image 2: Dayangji Sherpa celebrates after the Kangyur recitation finishes. By Brian Harkin, from the New York Times.

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Emma Varvaloucas's picture

The Pew Forum responds to the difference in numbers between the two surveys:

Your 20 July 2012 blog post points to the difference between the new Pew Forum estimate of the share of the U.S. Buddhist population that is Asian American and the estimate based on the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which was conducted in 2007 and released in 2008. This same point arose during a July 19 press conference we held in conjunction with the release of the new report, “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths.” For a variety of reasons, we think the estimate in the new report—that roughly two-thirds of U.S. Buddhists are Asian Americans—represents a better estimate than does our 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (in which roughly one-third of Buddhists we interviewed described their race as “Asian”).

One key factor in the difference between the two estimates is related to the languages in which the surveys were conducted. The 2012 survey of Asian Americans was conducted in English and seven Asian languages (Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese), and 42% of Asian-American Buddhists completed the survey interview in one of these seven Asian languages. By contrast, the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey was conducted in English and Spanish and thus would have missed any Asian-American Buddhists who were unable or unwilling to complete a survey in English.

There also are differences in the methods employed by the two surveys that may help explain the different estimates. For example, the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey was conducted entirely on landline telephones, while the 2012 survey of Asian Americans was conducted on both landlines and cell phones. (Interviewing on landlines and cell phones is now standard operating procedure on all of our surveys; this was not the case in 2007.) This is an important distinction because we know that new immigrants are more likely than the general public to live in cell-phone-only households.

Third, it is worth pointing out that the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates of the racial and ethnic composition of religious groups come from interviews conducted in the 48 continental states, while the 2012 survey of Asian Americans was conducted in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Hawaii is the only state in the union with a majority-Asian population. It includes a relatively high proportion of the Japanese-American population, a quarter of whom are Buddhist. (We conducted supplemental surveys of Alaska and Hawaii as part of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, but they were completed after the publication of the survey’s initial results).

In short, while the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey provided valuable information about the English- and Spanish-speaking Buddhist population at the time, we think the updated estimate in our new report is a better reflection of the composition of Buddhists in the U.S. today. We hope that our new survey will be a good resource for those seeking to understand religion among Asian Americans for many years to come.

—Gregory A. Smith, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life

jackelope65's picture

Building ego destroys compassion.

fightclubbuddha's picture

It's the Guggenheim Museum of temples, at least in terms of design. Not so sure it's a good idea.