November 16, 2012
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:
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.
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.