african-american buddhists

like me

“African-American Buddhists” Why are we even having this converation? Why is being Black and a Buddhist a Big Deal? Cuz it is.

Calculated IncenseI meditate and consider myself a simple householder; a Black householder. Yet when I look around, I don’t see many other African-American Buddhists. Not many brothas and sistas sittin I tell ya. Little Dharma in the hood.

Well I’m one! A Black man who’s taken refuge in The Three Jewels. And Bodhisattva vows too.

Want to hear something funny? At a teaching in San Francisco given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama I met a Black monk. He was amazed at meeting a Black nerd, an African-American who owns a software company. To him, I was the rarity. To me, a Black man studying to be a geshe was near-inconceivable. An African-American monk? A man who looked like me, with similar life experiences? Sangha??

Surprisingly meeting Michael the Monk unsettled me so much that I stopped meditating for awhile. Why? As long as I read about Buddhism and studied Buddhism and watched DVDs about Bhuddism and listened to webcasts on Buddhism, Buddhism remained something “out there”, an abstraction vis-a-vis my “real” life.

Standing there in front of me, he was proof positive that an African-American who grew up in So Cal could grow up to be a sangha. To whatever degree race defined who I am, it had nothing to do with defining me as a Buddhist (or not). At that moment the path before me appeared and that in and of itself was scary.

Michael split his time between Dharamsala and the States. I keep an eye out for him whenever I attend teachings and other events. I want to tell him the end of the story (or at least an update). “I’ve taken vows. You inspired me. Thank you!”

I’ve never encountered anything but love and compassion from my Buddhist sisters and brothers. I have never experienced even so much as a raised eyebrow let alone any hint of racisms. I have met other Black Buddhists, many online including on Facebook. For me, there’s a sigh into the comfort of being with not just another ABC (American Buddhist Convert) but a Black ABC.

Here are several books by African-American Buddhists. The first one I read was Being Black. She’s an ordained African-American Buddhist!

Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun was interesting but not as inspiring given that her commitment to ordained life wasn’t a lifelong commitment. Next I read Dreaming Me. One of these days I want to read Dharma, Color, and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism. (Santa are you listening???) Switching back and forth between “traditional” Tibetan Buddhist titles and contemporary African-American books was a nice contrast and juxtaposition. Mirrored some of what I was going through.

Other resources you might want to check out:

"Something Has to Change": Blacks in American Buddhism

American Buddhism: What does it mean for people of color?

Zen Under the Skin, Reflections of an African-American Practioner

Dreaming Me, Jan Willis

Guess Who’s Coming to Dharma