November 16, 2012

Buddha Buzz: Buddhist news from around the world, week of November 12th

If there's anything we American Buddhists love to talk about, it's the emerging face of American Buddhism—whatever that means. Despite all the chatter, in my humble opinion the average American Buddhist isn't all that informed about some very basic realities of American Buddhism: who its adherents are, where they are located, what kind of Buddhism they practice, etc. Cue the Huffington Post, who this week published a slideshow of "Most and Least Buddhist Cities in America," based off of 2010 data by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Although HuffPo reports that "the survey differentiates between specific denominations," that's not exactly true; the survey actually lumps all of the Buddhist traditions into one category called "Buddhist groups." So although it might not tell us in a very detailed way which Buddhists are practicing where, it is interesting to take a look at the survey's Buddhist adherent population penetration map:

Buddhist Population Map
Unsurprisingly, most of the American Buddhist action is concentrated on the coasts, with big numbers in California, Hawaii, and Colorado. But look at some of those orange pockets across the country—in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas! It's hard to tell from this map, but it looks like Kentucky and West Virginia might be the least Buddhist states in the U.S., closely followed by North Dakota. Alaska's lookin' pretty gray out there, too. According to HuffPo's analysis of the survey results, the top ten Buddhist cities are San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Las Vegas (who knew there were Buddhists in Sin City?), Oklahoma City, Denver, and Raleigh (another surprise!). They seemed to have left out any cities in Hawaii, however, for no discernible reason. The least Buddhist city is Birmingham, Alabama.

Over at the Gray Lady this week, I was appalled to read an article by Andrew Jacobs about the silence of Chinese intellectuals on behalf of the Tibetan plight—Chinese intellectuals, who, as Jacob writes, are "usually eager to call out injustice despite the perils of bucking China's authoritarian strictures." Why so quiet, hm? The truth is really ugly this time:

One prominent filmmaker, speaking more candidly than usual, but only under the condition of anonymity, noted that many Chinese are alternately fascinated and repulsed by Tibetans. 'We Han love their exotic singing and dancing, but we also see them as barbarians seeking to split the nation apart,' he said.

Lovely. Here's another gem of a quote from a Chinese party official who was trying to point out that suicides happen everywhere, even in developed and democratic countries: "People kill themselves, they set fire to themselves, they shoot themselves every day. I think some media organizations are trying to sensationalize the very few cases that have happened in Tibetan area because they have ulterior motives." First of all, my friend, people setting fire to themselves out of desperation is not a common occurrence. Second of all, the "very few cases" of self immolation in Tibet in fact number over 70, with 10 occurring this month alone. Meanwhile, Vice is reporting that China has started to offer Tibetans $8,000—about a year's wage there—to snitch on their friends or family who are planning on self-immolating.Phra Sivali IPad

Elsewhere in the world, the techno-Buddhist crusade marches onward. A temple in Thailand is building a statue of Phra Sivali who, instead of carrying the traditional walking stick, umbrella, and alms bowl, will forego the stick for…an iPad. Somewhere, Steve Jobs is celebrating the beginning of his total world domination.


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Will.Rowe's picture

The article is revealing, despite coming from the Huffington Post, which can hardly be considered objective. Living in a small community in Arkansas, I was interested to note the many other “small pockets” of Buddhists across the land. While I was curious to see our numbers on the map, I think we should beware of seeing us versus them. People are people, and I do not like to consider myself as a different group from Christians or Hindus, etc. We are often individuals with the same goals but different paths.
The truth is ugly indeed when Tibetans are viewed as “barbarians seeking to split the nation apart”. Considering the one party rule of communism that has led to approximately 60 million dead Chinese, not including the Tibetans even; one could but hope the nation of totalitarianism, forced abortions, and outright murder of dissidents is split apart.

karladiane's picture

Perhaps this is just a bit of a bad day for me, but why is that in Buddhists writing about Buddhists, there is no shortage of sweeping generalizations made about entire populations, from only one's own limited anecdotal experience? Thus, "the average American Buddhist isn't all that informed about some very basic realities of American Buddhism: who its adherents are, where they are located, what kind of Buddhism they practice, etc." Evidence here? Evidence that would support this claim on a truly national scale?

Sorry to be so picky - but I am always suspect of grand claims such as the above. We all throw them around much too easily.


Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi Karla, thanks for commenting! That was a rather sweeping generalization for me to make, wasn't it? Of course, I did preface it with "in my humble opinion"—because it is, in the end, my opinion. It's not entirely without basis, though. I don't think that the average American Buddhist is very well informed about what American Buddhism looks like because, well, there's not a whole lot of comprehensive information out there about American Buddhism in the first place that's based on scholarly research and statistics. And a lot of it, like this survey itself, have limitations on the conclusions that you can draw from it or problems with the way the survey or study was conducted. So, it wasn't meant as a judgment on the average American Buddhist—more a comment on the fact that at the moment, given what limited information we have, it's rather hard to draw a clear picture of what American Buddhism looks like.
Perhaps I should have expressed myself more clearly! Sorry about that, and I hope your day is on the upswing.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Common default, Emma! For me it helps to keep mindful of American diversity, e.g. is the average American Republican a Mitt Romney-type? Obama the average American Democrat?

karladiane's picture

Hi there - thanks for the thoughtful response. The day has at least leveled off, so that's good! Yes, the cyber-world is short on nuance, and often, statements take on a tone of their own. I like your mention of the "in my humble opinion" phrase. We have a phrase here in the South that sort of does the same thing --- "with all due respect....." haha.