Several issues ago Professor Robert Thurman outlined his view of Buddhist politics in "The Politics of Enlightenment" (Vol. II, No.1), which was a clear example of what I perceive to be a bias in your magazine and the Western Buddhist press in general. It seems that we are being led to believe that politically, socially, and economically Buddhism equals liberalism. It's difficult for me to accept Professor Thurman's idea of "welfarism," a term he apparently feels will be less objectionable to your readers than "socialism." I don't presume to question the Professor's erudition, and he certainly is entitled to his opinion, but I find it impossible to reconcile his idea that "every living being in society is owed a livelihood" with my own limited understanding of the dharma. Firstly, it is unclear to me who owes this and to whom it is owed. Do individuals fall into both categories simultaneously, or are we making a distinction here between two classes of people in society? Secondly, does this line of reasoning lead to the conclusion that capitalistic or "conservative" views are opposed to the teachings of the Buddha? I suspect that what many Westerners find attractive about Buddhism is the concept of karma, which places responsibility for our actions squarely on our own shoulders and makes "destiny" something that we create for ourselves at every moment. The idea that as individuals we are somehow "owed a livelihood" does not seem consistent with this.
I would guess that many Buddhists in this country came of age in the liberal sixties and I am willing to concede that many, maybe even most, Western Buddhists consider themselves liberals. It seems to me, however, that the inherent connection between Buddhism and liberalism is more apparent than real.
I find Tricycle consistently engaging, and "The Politics of Enlightenment" was no exception, but I think your readers would be better served if you ran more articles with a less liberal bias.
Bag the Polybag
My friend gave me a subscription. I will not renew unless you stop the plastic! Yes! I am willing to receive it damaged, etc. NO PLASTIC PLEASE!
Saugerties, New York
Love the magazine. . . but what's with the plastic wrapping? Landfills don't need it nor do I.
New York City
Okay, dear readers, you win. We tried mailing magazines without wrapping and you complained of damaged covers; we tried kraft-wrapping (brown paper sleeves) and you complained that the wrapping arrived sans magazine; on sound advice that there is no difference between the biodegradable capacity of high-cornstarch polybags (the kind we used) and kraft-wrap, we tried that. Now, as a result of letters like these, with this issue we are trying envelopes—the most expensive method available. If you would like to help us offset this expense and/or join our efforts to replant trees to compensate for paper use, you may send checks payable to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, 163 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011.
I applaud the last issue (Vol. II, No.4) for having so much material on people of color. From South Africa to the internment camps for Japanese-Americans and Norman Fischer's article on racism, this issue reached way beyond "white Buddhism." Even the article on Bernardo Bertolucci's movie investigated the views of Asian Buddhists.
I know that many Asian-American Buddhists are not interested in your contemporary way of presenting Buddhism. I happen to love your magazine even though my own family has no interest in it. I am happy when it combines different worlds.
Your last issue smacked of political correctness. I hope you are not buckling to the fascistic forces that want to make everything look like it was sponsored by a United Nations council. What is best about Tricycle has always been its sincerity about the dharma and clarity of vision. To sacrifice this to the secular values of multiculturalism is to pay too high a price.
A comment on the article "Buddhism, Racism, and Jazz" in the Summer Issue (Vol. II, No.4).
African-Americans don't need you.
Mr. Fischer would make a great sociologist but what is a Zen man doing whining about why blacks are not involved in Buddhism. Why should Afro-Americans come to a white roshi who probably is unqualified to teach the dharma or even lead the way?
Many black people are masters of martial arts, and enjoy experiences similar to the kind that are produced in Buddhist practice. Also, just because you don't see them, there may be black Buddhist practitioners.
The point is Afro-Americans will find their salvation when and where they wish. They do not need a bunch of evangelistic American roshis looking for more clients to help them. The understanding America needs is the understanding of enlightenment as taught by the Buddha. His teachings transcend all racial problems and proper practice could do the same for America. Buddhism is an individual practice and unless, Mr. Fischer, you have become a bodhisattva, sit down, shut up, and "work out your salvation with diligence."
Harold T. Reid,
I am grateful to Norman Fischer for sharing his thoughts about race and American Buddhism, race and American society. They are mostly on the mark, but there are several key places where I think his analysis moves away from past and present reality.
Most immediately, it seems to me that even in his sincere wish for inclusion, people of color—African-Americans, Asians, Latinos—are rendered invisible again, if only for the sake of making a larger point. Fischer describes "looking around and noticing that there are no dark faces in the meditation halls. . ." I practice in several of the same Bay Area communities, and looking around the zendo day to day, week to week, I see such faces steadily coming to zazen, lecture, classes, community gatherings. Certainly the numbers are small, but their practice and spirit of inquiry are strong. If "white" teachers say they see only "white" people, is anyone else who is actually there likely to feel welcome and come back? Can we strike through the veils covering our own eyes and acknowledge each person's presence? To do any less causes pain and reinforces the unthinking power of white Americans.
This brings me to a second point. "African-Americans from slavery times until World War II carried this suffering in secret." Is this true? I would suggest that there have always been those who would speak the truth loudly, and the price they paid (and continue to pay) is trivialization, repression, even death. I think this secret is fundamentally kept by white societies—American and European—whose domination was/is based on power and violence, who for reasons of greed, hatred, and delusion ignore their true minds' message that all beings wish and deserve happiness.
(Alan Senauke is the national coordinator of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.)