I was very happy to see Osamu Tezuka’s drawing of the Buddha on your [Spring 2004] cover, because watching his Astro Boy on TV when I was seven awakened in me an interest in Japan, then Asia, then Buddhism. So it seemed to come full circle for me.
—Paul A. Johnson, E-mail
I found Michael Soulé’s response to his critics, which was printed in your Spring 2004 issue, rather lacking. Mr. Soulé’s argument in defense of hunting amounted to no more than simple apologetics. He is, of course, correct when he points out that our civilization harms many life forms and damages the environment. He is also correct to point out that our agricultural practices threaten the lives of many animal species. But to use these facts to justify the violence and cruelty of hunting is not reasonable. It seems to me that the most compassionate and humane response to our destructive practices is not to kill animals but to find ways in which to live in greater harmony with the natural world. I am fairly certain that the Buddha’s response to our environmental and agricultural practices would not be to pick up a high-powered rifle, run into the woods, and shoot the first mammal that went running by. There is no doubt that as a species and as individuals we do many things that indirectly harm others and the environment. Even if we were all pacifists, this would perhaps always be true to a certain degree. But dowe not simply compound our negative impact if we use this fact to condone violence? Even the greatest pacifists, like Gandhi, would acknowledge that we can never be truly harmless. But to justify violence with this is sophistry rather than Buddhism.
—Kirby Evans, Manotick, Ontario
Follow the Yellow Springs Road
The author of “Zen Cowboys: Teacherless Sanghas in Middle America” [Spring 2004] seems to suggest that the issue of choosing a teacher for a dharma center may only be a problem in the Midwest, but this is an important concern for dharma centers everywhere. Furthermore, the author gave the impression that all the members of the Yellow Springs Dharma Center, in Ohio, practice Zen; however, the center (of which we are members) is actually composed of practitioners from Vipassana and Vajrayana, as well as Zen. Each of these three groups practices according to its respective tradition, and each determines which teachers it will follow. This rather unique organizational model emphasizes the mutual support and cooperation of all three of the practice groups at Yellow Springs. Since its founding, our center has advised sangha members to obtain instruction in meditation from experienced teachers, and we have sponsored residential retreats that were led by teachers from all three traditions. While the Zen group has chosen Daniel Terragno as a guiding teacher, the Vipassana and Vajrayana groups will continue to practice under the guidance of a variety of visiting teachers, as they have done in the past. As a matter of fact, at present we have two Burmese nuns living and teaching in the Theravada tradition at the center.
—Donna Denman and Robert Pryor, E-mail
The White Ghetto
As a white woman involved in diversity issues in predominantly white Buddhist sanghas, I want to contribute to the discussion taking place in “Letters to the Editor” in the Spring 2004 issue, in response to Clark Strand’s Winter 2003 article on Soka Gakkai. To make sanghas more inclusive, we need to ask why many American people of color (including some Asian Americans) who are already interested in Buddhism do not feel comfortable in mostly white sanghas; in northern California, where I live, some Buddhists of color have even formed their own sanghas. We still have a long way to go in this country in terms of true racial equality and harmony. Being a practitioner or even a teacher of Buddhism does not necessarily free us from deep-seated racial conditioning or from our ignorance of white privilege. It can be difficult for white people to realize that being well-intentioned is not enough in terms of race relations. We have to investigate our racial assumptions, acknowledge our privilege, and recognize the exclusiveness of dominant white culture. Case in point: In Paul Volker’s letter to the editor, he implied that recruiting African Americans to Buddhism would be done in the “inner city”—often a code phrase for “ghetto.” Imagine how a middle-class African American might feel about this implication. This is not to single out Mr. Volker, however; many white people unconsciously make the same assumption. This is exactly why, as white Buddhists, we need to “unlearn” our racial conditioning before people of color will feel comfortable in white sanghas.
—Sheridan Adams, Oakland, California
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Image 1: © Neal Crosbie
Image 2: © Mike Taylor