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Backing Up #TeamEngaged on Tricycle?

Backing Up #TeamEngaged on Tricycle?

You’ve probably heard of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, one of the foremost English-language Buddhist journals. Maybe you’re even a subscriber. And perhaps, if you follow their online Blog section, you’ve seen comments like this one, left on an article about institutional racism.

aewhitehouse's picture

Reply by aewhitehouse on August 21, 2013, 3:10 pm

Very disappointed to read this entry which basically just propagates the neo-liberal practice of turning over rocks and inventing asinine concepts like “white privilege” to root out so called racism. We need to look past this continued victimology and examine the cultural issues that keep these issues of race festering, rather than the “engaged Buddhist” crowd trying to foist their hard leftist brand of shame on people who have done nothing to deserve it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, not all Buddhists approve of combining dharma with anti-oppression politics. Or politics, period. Take this other commenter, responding to a very well done, re-posted entry about the “bourgie” upper-class bias of positive psychology:

Reply by buddhaddy on September 9, 2013, 1:39 pm

More politics again? I thought this was about buddhism. does not each one of us create our own karma? Is not this existence we see an illusion?

Despite knowing that social justice dharma is not everyone’s bag, to be honest I was a little shocked to see some of the hostility toward the “socially engaged” crowd. Disagreeing I get, but lashing out or dismissing wholesale?

I get the feeling that this beef goes back a long time. (Maybe some of y’all can attest to this.) Over 30 years ago, BPF was founded on the somewhat controversial idea that one should not have to choose between Buddhism and politics. To divide them is itself illusory. Furthermore, we BPFers do consciously cast our lot with a certain kind of politics. Not so narrowly as to stomp out discussion, debate, and a range of views — but we are feminist, for example, in the sense that we oppose sexist oppression (which also involves recognizing that sexist oppression exists). To fake total relativism, pretending we have no ideological starting point or context, would be disingenuous.

Fortunately, for those of us who do believe in “applied Buddhism,” there’s also a lot to celebrate over at Tricycle, from articles and webinars to lively comment threads. Without creating an adversarial Us vs. Them, I wonder whether we might be able to comment, support, and cheer on the examples of social justice dharma over there, standing up for #TeamEngaged where appropriate and relevant. (Keeping in mind that “standing up for” can include practicing kindness toward ourselves and others as much as possible.)

Here are just a few recent articles where #TeamEngaged might be able to offer smart, thoughtful contributions and stories to the discussion.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s latest piece on “the attack at home,” warning against the proposed federal cuts to food stamps.

When a proposed bill puts lives at risk and endangers the future of millions—including millions of children—it must be flatly rejected on the most compelling moral grounds.

Mushim Ikeda’s webinar series, Real Refuge: Building Inclusive and Welcoming Sanghas. (First session is free.)

How accessible and culturally supportive are our sanghas for people of color, members of the LGBTQI community, people with disabilities, and people of all income levels and ages seeking the dharma? In this retreat with East Bay Meditation Center’s Mushim Patricia Ikeda, we’ll explore key practices that can help us build multicultural sanghas where we can all take refuge.

Joshua Eaton’s recently boosted post on Making Buddhism Accessible to Working-Class People.

In addition to the solid essay, I’m loving a couple of the comments, like:

Reply by amayfaire on August 4, 2011, 10:30 am

I have learned much from this discussion, but would like to add a different approach. Quite frankly, it sounds to me as though the focus has been to solve a class problem with material solutions. Buddhists would be much better served to open themselves to the idea that the working classes have much to teach, not just to learn.

I came to Buddhism as a working class kid, seeking some sort of spiritual home that didn’t require me to rely on fancy clothes, or tithes, or praying to deities that seemed to have little connection to my daily life. I found Buddhism as a spiritual home that argued against all those systems that held me in. Nobody brought me Buddhism, I found it.

And don’t forget the two pieces I mentioned up top: “Bourgie” Bias of Positive Psych and Racism With A Smile.

To be clear, I’m not advocating the use of the #TeamEngaged hashtag over there; just wondering aloud whether we could help out by speaking up and thoughtfully participating more often in a few of the major Buddhist forums. I know some of us have had pretty negative experiences in the past (honestly, when comment threads get super racist it’s hard for me to even stomach reading them, let alone responding), and I’d appreciate hearing about those, too, if you wouldn’t mind.

What do you think?  Benefits and drawbacks of “engaging” the “engaged” articles? 

Comments (12)

  • Richard Modiano

    It’s good to see that “Tricycle” is opening its pages and website to discussions of engaged Buddhism given its long standing elitist positions and its presentation of the Dharma as another consumer item. But I’m not surprised at the hostility coming from one layer of “Tricycle’s” readership.

    I remember the excitement “Tricycle” stirred in the US Buddhist community when the first issue appeared, but by its fourth issue traditional Buddhists lost interest; I recall a letter from the late Hevnepola Ratnasara of the International Buddhist Meditation Center expressing his disappointment with the magazine’s lack of coverage of the ethnic Buddhist community, exacerbated even more when then editor Helen Tworkov dismissed the contribution of ethnic Buddhists to American Buddhism in a later editorial. It was around then that I stopped reading it, though from time to time I perused it at the library. At its worst “Tricycle” is the epitome of bourgeois life style Buddhism with articles surrounded by advertisements that present the Dharma as a commodity. But the inclusion of articles on engaged Buddhism is worth praising.

  • Jay Garces

    Damn! I thought we had some lower-case-named good ol’ boys over here, but after looking at Racism With A Smile on Tricycle, they’s some stone Saltines! I need to shower now, then I’ll try to wipe that smile off…

  • Bezi

    yupyup – we mos def need to be in on the convo over there. I don’t keep up with the whole hashtagging thing, nor do I particularly know what it is (lol), just assuming as a middle-aged person that it’s something the kids do ~ with all their twitting and tweeting and facebooking and instagramming and whatnot *wheeze!* On the reals tho': I read the linked articles and comments. I got heated for a hot second (the redundancy is intentional) then quickly cooled down. For me, even the most provocative posts just felt like garden-variety lack of awareness.

    I may have only scratched the surface tho’. We’ll see…

    This disconnect between internal cultivation vs. external agitation, which I see as a false construct, is older than the Buddha and from my vantage point looks pretty well insinuated upon the way we humans generally intellectualize about society and the individual’s relation to it.

    I’m finna get registered up over thurr @ Tricycle and put in work. I let someone talk me out of submitting an article to them years ago, but today is a NEW day. Bump that. Gotta go where the action is, and the site clearly has a large megaphone in American Buddhism and beyond. I see the bourgie, products-and-lifestyle imperative, as well as other things, but the discussion is purposeful and engagement-worthy. Thanks Katie ~

  • Jeff

    Not another Buddhist “white privilege” backlash?! Of course, it’s understandable that middle class whites feel defensive when this term is used – after all, it implies complicity in the ugliest form of oppression, one step removed from slavery. Much easier to accept that we need to change our carbon-squandering habits or abandon ego-driven attachments than recognize that our economic comfort derives not just from personal hard work but also from the vast but unequally distributed wealth that the US has built up on the backs of peoples of color here and abroad.

    Contrast that with the easy appeal of “1% privilege.”

    Would it help if we visited the kids next door? Won’t hurt to try…

    Maybe I’ll drop a Spinna-Bomb on ‘em: Fly or Burn, baby! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvSDWs8cnqI

    Nah, maybe not. Frame that message peacefully, like Katie said.

  • Bezi

    ahahahaha!? My dude said “the American Dream, full of cavity-filled CREAM…”

    *as in: cash-rules-everything-around-me…*

    any rapper who’s up on game theory is aiight in my book. See this is what I mean: nobody’s minding the store – some got their radios tuned to the “liberation-some-kinda-damn-way” channel. It’s a dope spot on the dial but it’s kinda low-powered and on da’ unda’. It just needs one or three integrity-holding breakouts and BAYUM! It’s on…

    I got an essay in the pipes about hip hop through the lens of Buddhism hopefully TWM will decide to post. If so, it’ll be interesting what the response (if any) will be…

    almost enuff to make a fool wanna dust off his mic and ‘have another go…’ (lol)

  • Nathan G. Thompson

    Richard’s take on the Trike is pretty much mine. And the cynical part of me sees the taking up of engaged Buddhism by them as an attempt to cash in on some heat and controversy. But I think those conversations need to be had all the same. So, whatever their motives, opening their platform to these issues is worth supporting. We’ll see what comes of it.

  • Jeff

    Would love to see that essay, Bezi! (and hear it once you put it to music)

  • Bezi

    well… we’re still checking out the whole music side of things (ha ha) but… okay did you hear that TWM? Got to Give the People What they Want! (or: it would be nice to give a particular person what he wants, lol)

  • Bob

    My response posted to Tricycle

    Well folks we live in a world of staggering inequality. People don’t seem to need much of an excuse to hate one another and perceptions of social difference are hardwired and not easily dislodged. I remember traveling through Kenya with an asian woman who was clearly the victim of discrimination by blacks. And having worked within institutional, corrections and homeless services centers one can witness plenty of hatred between Native American and Black street gangs. I remember treating a hospitalized patient, a disturbed, homeless, addicted black woman who looked me straight in the eyes with a face full of hate and yelled “Craker! Honky!” she wasn’t fooling around.
    But anyone, I repeat anyone with my color of skin who cannot appreciate the staggering benefits of whiteness, really has NOT thought very deeply about these things. Traveling in African, third world countries, I am an instant celebrity. Feared, respected, admired. For anyone who doubts it, I suggest looking at the America criminal justice system. A system that overwhelmingly brings the pain to poor people of color. I suspect for many of us this is not merely academic. How many of us white professionals would have our current jobs, lifestyles, loans, and licenses if DRUG LAWS were equally enforced. Ha ha, thats a good one. Take your hard workin, “I earned everything myself” ass to prison for a couple years cuz of that weed, coke, ecstasy you smoked in college, or last week. We’ll see how hard you work in prison. Work it! Yeah. The warden likes when you work extra hard to earn everything you get.

  • bezi

    Go Bob, Go Bob! My own experience has been one of complete solidarity between blacks and First Nations peoples, but. That may have to do with being part Seminole (the family tradition being that we have a direct blood relation to chief Osceola… which would make a LOT of sense). This world has countless permutations of “reality”. I’m sorry to hear about the honky accusations but the fact that you parlayed it into activism, as indicated in this response, is a testament. Hopefully… well, assuredly, those comments will have an impact. Now if we could just get a good ten thousand or so to do the same, we might just have a party!

  • Katie Loncke

    Speaking of white privilege, just had to share this story from today.

    A fellow half-white, light-skinned friend and I needed to go pick up some speakers from someone’s house, a close friend and co-organizer. Our friend was at work, with no spare key hidden outside, so she invited us to “break in” to her place. We’ve been there a million times and in short order we found a half-open window for entry. As I was scaling the wall, with a boost from my friend, and pulling up the window, we hear a voice behind us — “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

    It was the next-door neighbor — who also happens to be the LANDLORD of our friend’s building. A white lady.

    We quickly whipped out our most convincing Standard White English and middle-class politeness to calm her down and dissuade her from calling the cops. Think that would’ve worked had we been dark-skinned, masculine-presenting friends “breaking in” to our friend’s place in an area where real robberies are not uncommon?

    White supremacy so often takes the form of light-skinned, white-passing, white-performing people being let off the hook for transgressing rules that people of color are criminalized and punished for breaking. (Or looking like they might be breaking them. Based on their hoodie.) That’s why theorists like Charles Mills talk about legal systems and modern law as being based in a “racial contract” — a double or multiple standard, always already racialized, underlying laws and their mechanisms of enforcement.

    It’s a trip to experience this playing out on the day-to-day.

  • Bob

    Thanks Katie and Bezi.
    The time I was angrily called “Honky” and “Cracker” I truly felt awful, but not for the reason you might think. At the time I wasn’t doing anything bad, though I was in an authority position as a hospital staff. When she hurled the insult my first thought was “Are you joking?” When I realized she was dead serious and livid, I felt terribly guilty. The worst terms of racial hatred you can level against me as a white man, sound like a joke. Imagine the reverse, If I called a black woman the N-word. The historic memory of lynching, trauma and rape that would hang in the air at such a moment. But I’m untouchable, a mere “cracker”. A joke word lacking the power to inspire fear.

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