Buddhists in America: A Short Biased View

Dharma, Diversity, and Race

Addie Foye

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Buddhists in the United States include fifth-generation Americans of Chinese and Japanese heritage, second-generation Korean-Americans, recent immigrants from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia and their American children, along with converts from European, African, and Latino backgrounds. As with other groups, Buddhists with common cultural and sectarian orientations have tended to stick together. With the end of the melting pot ideal, issues that once addressed racial and cultural diversity have been redefined in the political terms of multiculturalism. As this special section on Dharma, Diversity, and Race suggests, the views of Buddhists from different races and traditions reflect the society at large.


Political discourse has made it popular to speak of Asian-American and Euro-American Buddhism as two distinct camps; yet this does not take into account the many divisions under each of these headings. In short, there is no love lost between different Asian groups in America. Just one example: every group with half a memory of World War II—the Koreans, the Burmese—still hates the Japanese, and often the Japanese still think of other peoples as the barbarians. Race and sectarianism are further complicated by the general lack of knowledge among Asian-American congregations about sects of Buddhism other than the ones that they follow; this is logical, as their devotion has not required the labored search common to converts. Another problem with dividing Buddhists into these two groups is that African-Americans are invisible.

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