November 09, 2012

Buddha Buzz: Buddhist News from Around the World, Week of November 5

As we all know, President Barack Obama was re-elected for another four years on Tuesday. Our commander-in-chief may not have changed, but the Senate and the House of Representatives did get shuffled around, making way for a whole host of firsts:

Tammy Baldwin


The first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin, a democrat from Wisconsin.





The first Hindu congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard, a democrat from Hawaii. (She'll be taking her oath over the Bhagavad Gita.)



HironoAnd the first Buddhist senator, Mazie Hirono, a democrat from Hawaii! She is also the first Asian American female senator and the first person who was born in Japan to be elected to the Senate.

Hirono, 65, was born in Fukushima and moved to Hawaii when she was 8. She will be replacing Daniel Akaka, Hawaii's 88-year-old junior senator who was the Senate's only Chinese American. Although there have been five Asian American senators in the past—four have been from Hawaii, and one from California—Hirono is the first representative to have been born in Asia. Hirono was raised in the Jodo Shinshu school of Pure Land Buddhism, but does not identify herself as a daily practitioner.

Our two other Buddhist congressional representatives, Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, and Colleen Hanabusa, a democrat from Hawaii, both won re-election on Tuesday. Johnson is a member of Soka Gakkai and Hanabusa practices Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Congratulations to all of our new and returning dharma Congresspeople!

As the dharma slowly trickles into American politics, it's making speedier rounds in American pop culture. The latest Buddhist reference was in the preview clip of the third season of Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that proudly mocks the indie/hipster/vegan/spiritual/artsy culture best exemplified by Portland's own population. You'll enjoy this if you've ever been sitting on a cushion pretending to follow your breath while what you're really doing is planning your wedding with the cute stranger on the adjacent cushion. C'mon, we've all done it...

In other Buddhist news this week, radical Buddhist groups in Burma are still preventing aid from reaching the Rohingya, who are living in camps with widespread malnutrition and malaria. The Dalai Lama was also recently interviewed by NBC's Ann Curry about the self-immolations that continue to occur across Tibet.


 Images: Tammy Baldwin; Tulsi Gabbard; Mazie Hirono.

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Will.Rowe's picture

Quite correct, Congressman Frank who was openly gay since 1987 and the most prominent gay in Congress was a representative not a senator. However, I fail to see how further dividing ourselves into more subcategories is helpful as Buddhists. I know many, especially liberals, love classifying Americans into categories. Yet this plays into the “us versus them”; it separates us.
With the reelection of Obama by merely 50% of Americans, we are already divided enough. There are ideological differences, and this will likely not change; however, recognizing another person instead of their race, gender, religion, practicing/non-practicing, ethnicity, and all the many divisions seems to work best for me. Accent the similarities not the differences. We are divided enough already. I don’t care whether the person is Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian. I do care if they are going to spend another $6 trillion in 4 years, they are fine with another $1 trillion deficit, they want to bailout big business then require taxpayers to pay for it with tax hikes, and they are trying to take over private industry by the government.

jwilson101's picture

Will, Barney Frank is a U.S. Representative, not a senator. So Tammy Baldwin is indeed the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate. Mazie Hirano is currently herself a U.S. Representative, one of at least two Buddhists. She'll become the first Buddhist senator when she switches from the House to the Senate next year.

It is not unusual for a Japanese Buddhist to describe themselves as non-practicing. Indeed, it would be more unusual for them to describe themselves as a practicing Buddhist. These things aren't contextualized the same way in Japan, and we often see similar patterns in Japanese-American Buddhism. It doesn't mean they aren't Buddhists, it mostly just means that--like most people in Asia--they don't attend temples regularly.

Will.Rowe's picture

Senator Barney Frank was openly gay. He even dated his male pages, as I recall.