Western Buddhism Needs Racial Diversity and Teachers

Western Buddha

Racial diversity is an issue in the development of Western Buddhism that I feel is often ignored. Recently I learned that a Buddhist conference is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles during July sponsored by Buddhist Geeks. Most of you readers are probably more familiar with this group than I am. I understand from my online reading  that it’s a company, half for profit and half not, which basically operates a podcast aimed at “exploring trends in Western Buddhism.”

Well, diversity does not seem to be one of those trends. I don’t mean to beat up on the Geeks as I am sure they are fine people, but I do have some concerns about this upcoming conference which connect to some relevant issues. The conference is tagged with the line “Discover the Emerging Face of Buddhism.” Apparently, that face is decidedly Caucasian, because out of the 19 presenters they have thus far announced, only 3 are non-white. I wonder where are the African-American Buddhists, the Hispanic Buddhists? I know they are out there and some are monks and teachers. Asian Buddhists are also underrepresented as presenters. They are part of the West, too. In fact, here in Southern California where the conference is being held there are probably more Asian Buddhist temples and groups, not to mention teachers, than anywhere else outside of Asia itself. I find it difficult to believe that all Buddhist Geeks could find is one Tibetan and one Japanese guy.

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Others have blogged about the sameness of these faces, most notably a fellow who describes himself as Angry Asian Buddhist.

Ironically, the location for the conference is The University of the West in Rosemead, founded by a Asian teacher, Master Hsing Yun, also founder of the Taiwan-based Buddhist order Fo Guang Shan. For some further irony, look at the screen shot from the Buddhist Geeks site: UWest has studies you can afford, but you probably can’t afford to attend the conference there.

The Geek’s conference costs a whopping $400-$500 to attend, which leaves me, and most of the people I know, out in the cold. I realize that conferences of this sort are usually pricey, but I have to wonder about the value of a conference that only the well-heeled can attend and is so lacking in diversity.

Now, they don’t indicate if their conference has a theme or not, but from the tagline you would assume it has something to do with the development of Western Buddhism. Check out some of the topics to be discussed: Lessons From The Interdependence Project, The Mind-Body Connection…The Next Frontier, Meditation by Design, and The Three-Speed Transmission.  My impression is that these are probably the pet projects and topics of the presenters themselves. They don’t seem to be topics dealing with the “emerging face of Western Buddhism”. So, combined with the high price, the whitebread look, there also seems to be a lack of cohesiveness and purpose.

I am concerned that we Western Buddhists, meaning white Buddhists, have the wrong priorities. I’d like to see conferences that focus on the problems real people face in their daily encounters with Buddhism, beyond the practice or philosophical aspects – topics that deal with questions on the minds of “rank and file” Buddhists and not the subjects that a small elite group of teachers and leaders want to discuss. Really, I think one pressing issue is how to wrestle Buddhism from the grip of so-called intellectuals and put it in the hands of the people who could most benefit from the teachings – everyday people.

Again, I want to be fair to the Geeks. I don’t know any of the background or what challenges they might be facing in pulling the conference off. Perhaps this is the best they can come up with, but I hope if they continue with this effort they will strive to do better.

I am waiting for the conference that has topics like these: Bringing Buddhist teachings to more rural areas. Creating better training and certification opportunities for those who want to be dharma teachers. How to start and maintain dharma/meditation groups. Making Buddhist groups more racially diverse. The ethical responsibilities of spiritual teachers. How to relate to traditional Buddhist customs, rites and ceremonies. The question of “cultural baggage”, gender issues and so on.

What the emerging face of Western Buddhism needs more than anything, besides diversity, is teachers. I don’t know how it is in other Western countries, but in the United States there are few avenues open to those who want to be dharma teachers and they are not very good. Perhaps, a degree in Buddhist studies from UWest is one way, but it seems rather limited.

We definitely need more teachers on the ground.  We should to populate the cities and small towns of this nation with qualified dharma teachers, because the best mode of teaching is face to face, in real life, in brick and mortar sanghas, and they should be largely non-sectarian teachers acquainted with more than one tradition so that they can serve a diverse Buddhist community. This is not only a daunting challenge, but to my mind, an absolutely necessary one.

It’s not a gauntlet we pick up out of a desire to proselytize, but simply to make Buddhist teachings more accessible. Nothing wrong with that. We don’t have to become missionaries, but I do think we need to focus on the problem.

Buddhism was not meant to be a purely cognitive affair. Mindfulness should be coupled with action, and not just the politically “Engaged Buddhism” sort of action. We have a opportunity not only to reshape Buddhism so that is truly a living dharma, but also to put it into the hands of everyday people in a much more meaningful way than has ever been done before. We should have a burning desire to reach out to those who suffer the most in our society: the poor, the disenfranchised, minorities. If we can put chaplains in prisons, why can’t we put monks, nuns and dharma teachers in ghettos? It’s not something that can be done overnight, but something to aim for.

Buddhism must never become an instrument of power in the hands of great prelates or priests, however venerable these may be. It must present to all people the simple wisdom and truth of the Enlightened One and of all those great beings who followed in his footsteps and realized it for themselves in order to reinterpret it for their own times.

Lama Anagarika Govinda


41 thoughts on “Western Buddhism Needs Racial Diversity and Teachers

  1. Exactly! Not only does this conference have a price tag that is ridiculous — who can afford this, flight, and lodging? — it leaves off real issues of Western Buddhism.

    I’ve done two interviews so far on the concept of racial diversity in our community, if you’re interested:


    Eagerly looking for more discussions on this topic, and thank you for posting this article!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ted. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out and how the Geeks respond, if they do. Hopefully, they will take some of this to heart and view it as a learning experience.

      I’ll check out your links. Gassho.

  2. Yes, yes, and….yes. Couldn’t agree more that what is needed and what is being addressed are simply not jiving. I think people have the idea that “modernizing” Buddhism in the West means making it compatible with their iPad and lifestyle, rather than dropping the BS and making a change in lifestyle to pursue the Buddhist path whole-heartedly. To echo the words of Tyler Durden “Hitting bottom is not a weekend-retreat, its not a goddamn seminar.” We can’t pencil in Buddhism between appointments and work schedules. What we need is more teachers that will open up the ways in which we can integrate the teachings fully into our lives, not ones that give us clever fucking sound-bites.

    Nice post.

    1. Thanks, thanks, and . . . thanks.

      The only problem is, Adam, that most people like clever fucking sound-bites more than they do integrating the teachings into their lives. As long as there are teachers and leaders who are willing to give into that, nothing much is going to change. You can use your own experience with the SGI as a prime example. Ikeda is the sound-bite king.

    2. Hmm, I happen to know many of the teachers presenting at the Buddhist Geeks Conference and all that I know definitely integrate the teachings fully into their daily lives, or at least sincerely do the best they can. None of them seem particularly adept at sound bites either compared to say your typical guest on Oprah.

      While the lack of racial diversity and topics of social justice leads much to be desired, there are some good things going on here too that shouldn’t be ignored either.

      1. Thanks for your comments, Duff.

        It’s their conference so it can be about anything they want. All I am really saying here is that if a group says their aim is to “explore trends in Western Buddhism” or that by attending their conference people can “discover the face of emerging Western Buddhism” then your group and conference should at the very least reflect racial diversity and social justice. To me, “trends” would include more than just practice and philosophy. Perhaps if the Geeks were less vague about the theme of the conference, there would be less confusion. I will also submit that diversity should be a strength of any Buddhist organization.

      2. Hi Duff,
        I wasn’t referencing any of the Buddhist Geeks presenters in particular, rather the culture I see surrounding it. I also had just read Barbara’s about.com article on a similar subject, so had Deepak on the mind there (though he certainly has nothing to do with Buddhist Geeks!).

        I suppose my comment lacks sources, but what I was pointing at was a general feeling that there is a growing community that sees Buddhism like an iPad ap for their life, something to do on a cushion once or twice a day.

        But examining this feeling, I’m trying to pinpoint where that feeling comes from and I’m at a loss, so probably its something I should take a deeper look at. Thanks.

  3. This is good stuff. One of the things about the Geeks work, as I have seen it, is a deep interest in the ways technology can serve as another vehicle for dharma practice. I support that effort, but totally agree that there are a lot of issues that seem to get left out of the vision. I’d also say, though, that Vince Horn’s Geeks podcast has covered a wide variety of issues with a lot of different teachers and students, so I do think he’s interested in some of what you bring up – and perhaps some of that is included in the conference under the fancy titles.

    Conference fees are an issue I have brought up before, most recently with the Socially Engaged Conference held last summer, and which cost several hundred dollars to attend. I, too, can’t afford most of these events.

    The teacher development issue is interesting in that I think it comes up against the whole transmission model, which tends to require years of practice under a particular teacher, and doesn’t really have easily definable markers. Unlike the pastor training models Christian churches use, where the time frame of study is basically limited and set, and the numbers of new pastors is more predictable.

    And it’s interesting that even the socially engaged Buddhist frameworks here in the U.S. are limited, and privileged. Outside of the two coasts, there’s little of this kind of activity going on. And amongst those involved along the coasts, it’s often the same types of folks that pepper the Geeks conference – well educated, mostly white practitioners. I’d like to see more of this kind of work going on, with a much more diverse base of folks doing so. And I’m all for your call for more focus on the kinds of practical issues you mention, like ethics, relating to Buddhist rituals/customs, etc.

    1. Thanks, Nathan. As I said in the post, I don’t know that much about the Geeks, never listened to any of their podcasts, and don’t know the background on the conference. I want to be fair and give them the benefit of the doubt. I suspect there may be more meat to this conference than meets the eye. If that’s the case then they could do a much better job at communicating what the conference is all about. It seems like they are promoting it pretty much on the basis of the “star power” of the presenters and little else. Even if I had the bucks to shell out for this, I would be more interested in content than celebrity, although to call these presenters celebrities is a bit of a stretch, but you understand what I mean.

      The points you bring up regarding teacher development are pertinent. I’ve done a lot of thinking and research on this issue and I think I will address it in an upcoming post, as soon as I can pull everything together.

      By the way, what do I have to do to get out of your spam folder?

      1. You freely admit to not knowing anything about them or the conference, really, but your “Right Speech” is to criticize your own image of them?

        Good job.

      2. I have to agree with Anonymous and say that perhaps you really should check out Buddhist Geeks before throwing up such hasty judgement. The issues that you raise in your post are important ones that could certainly be brought to the attention of Vince Horn who is working tirelessly and without much in the way of financial reward to explore Buddhism in the 21st century. Starting such polemic diatribes really does not serve the interests of what you’d wish to see. Why not try building on what he’s doing by contributing your views directly to him in a constructive manner as oppossed to getting on you high horse. What are you doing to make the changes that you wrote of happen? That would be interestign to hear about, right. Critiscism is great when constructive, and, I repeat, and, addressed directly to the parties interested. Be the better man and contribute to the Buddhism you’d like to see.

        1. Matthew, I stand behind the remarks I made in this rather old post, even more so now that I am more familiar with BG. The BG response here was mild compared to some of the remarks I saw elsewhere, remarks not really befitting those who imagine themselves to be dharma teachers or mystics or whatever they think they are. I bent over backwards to be fair in offering a few constructive remarks and they couldn’t handle it. Their response was frankly, childish. You obviously did not read the comments because this was brought to Horn’s attention and he was one of the responders.

          What do you know of what I am doing to make the changes that I wrote of happen? Maybe you should follow your own advise and not be so hasty in your judgment.

  4. I am waiting for the conference that has topics like these: Bringing Buddhist teachings to more rural areas. Creating better training and certification opportunities for those who want to be dharma teachers. How to start and maintain dharma/meditation groups. Making Buddhist groups more racially diverse. The ethical responsibilities of spiritual teachers. How to relate to traditional Buddhist customs, rites and ceremonies. The question of “cultural baggage”, gender issues and so on.

    That would be an excellent conference! You are unlikely to get that from Buddhist Geeks however, which almost certainly will remain focused on techniques of practice and philosophy. I love the Buddhist Geeks podcast (and a friend of mine runs it), but it’s strengths are not in the area of social justice and diversity.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Duff.

      It’s their conference so it can be about anything they want. All I am really saying here is that if a group says their aim is to “explore trends in Western Buddhism” or that by attending their conference people can “discover the face of emerging Western Buddhism” then your group and conference should at the very least reflect racial diversity and social justice. To me, “trends” would include more than just practice and philosophy. Perhaps if the Geeks were less vague about the theme of the conference, there would be less confusion. I will also submit that diversity should be a strength of any Buddhist organization.

  5. It really is fascinating that our attempts to put on a really great event has caused such a furore. And I say *our*, because I’m part of the organising team, doing what I can from my front room in Scotland.

    I just want to echo @Nathan’s point in that there is space for the issues which you bring up – diversity, rural/urban, relating to traditions etc. And it may be down to our “fancy titles” that that’s not clear – we have long stretches of the event which we call unplugged” where the participants have space to have whatever conversations they want and need to have.

    For me, a conference works by programming some great speakers which attract a community who are interested and able to attend – who then have an intense and multi-faceted conversation, in both the programmed sections and the more informal sessions. And that’s our intention here.

    Re: the celebrities point – I’m surprised you find it communicated like that. Conferences have speakers and these speakers are promoted, that’s sort of how it works. And if you think they don’t have any interesting content, please do listen to some of the podcasts by some of the speakers. You may not like them all, but they are high quality contributors with experience and fresh voices. It’s not the full picture – it’s of course partial – but it is a good picture.


    1. Hi Rohan. It is not my intention to slight your attempts to put on this event. I said in the post that I don’t know what challenges you face. So I think I am trying to be fair. Instead of being defensive about it, I would hope you guys would sit back and think, what have we overlooked here, how can we improve the conference in the time remaining, how can we do better next time.

      Okay, so you have an hour and 45 minutes each day for the “unplugged” stretches. Yet, I have to say that it’s a bit vague. You don’t indicate these conversations are to take place. In small groups? One large group? How will the topics of discussion be decided upon? What if you have 60 people with 60 different topics they want to talk about? Are there moderators? It is a free-for-all? Maybe you don’t have all that worked out yet. I don’t know.

      Celebrity was a bad word to use but the only one I could think of at that moment. But, yes, it does seem to be that the conference more or less hinges on the drawing power of your presenters.

      Again, I don’t mean to be overly critical. I’m sure you guy are doing the best you can. At the same time, on the face of things it would seem that the Geek’s “Emerging Face of Western Buddhism” could and even should look different.

  6. I’ll be interested to see what you think about teacher training. It’s a rich topic. I don’t know what to think, which is probably just fine. But given my role as board president at our zen center, the topic has been up for us a few times in recent years. And I also know that when Zen teacher James Ford came out with an article saying we should have a dual model – maintaining transmission, but also developing a priest training approach similar to the Christian pastor models, so that we’d have more teachers around – there was a fair amount of resistance.

    I’m really not sure what’s going on with the spam box. I just put your comment up again. I’ll see if there’s something going on because another commenter also landed in it.

    1. My approach is similar to Ford’s. I read his article, or part of it – it was waaaaay long. (I should talk.) Frankly, that guy’s thinking is infused with too much Christian stuff to suit me. The other guy he had an e-mail conversation with said the same thing, only he said it better. I know it sounds very fundamentalist or something for me to say this, but I think you should either be a Christian or a Buddhist. I don’t think the two mix very well. Now, UU is not supposed to be about Christainity per se. It’s about everything I guess but I always wonder if in the long run its about anything at all. I will have that post on teacher development up shortly. Now that it’s on my mind I probably won’t be able to stop thinking about it, so it’ll probably be sooner rather than later.

  7. I don’t think it should be the purpose of every organization to cover every niche. Buddhist Geeks targets a specific community (geeks). Just as the (imaginary) Association of Wiccans for Tree Worship should not have to include non-Wiccans or appeal to non-tree-worshippers, or the (also imaginary) Organization for Chinese Buddhists from New York should not have to reach out to non-Chinese or people from Florida. Buddhist Geeks does a delightful job of covering subjects of interest to a specific audience. There are numerous Buddhist organizations throughout the nation (and world), each with its own flavor – and there is room for anyone with a specific interest to create another group. Diversity does not mean that every individual or group has to be interested in or of interest to every other individual or group!

    The diversity of *groups* means that people can find an organization, teacher, sangha or community that fits with their own priorities and perspectives, and enjoy the company of others with similar views, if that is what is desired.

    I do not attend a traditional Korean, Japanese or Chinese Buddhist group, because it is not my culture, I do not speak the language, and I don’t know anyone in those communities. If I were married into a Chinese family, had lived in China, or had grown up in a Chinese community, a Chinese Buddhist group might be a wonderful fit.

    Finally, most small groups, and even a lot of large ones, grow by word of mouth and google search. One sangha near my house which I have visited on occasion has a membership composed largely of psychiatrists, professors and doctors. Why? Not because they avoid anyone else, but because people tell their colleagues and acquaintances about it, and invite them to come along, and people tend to spend time with others from their area of work, thus through word of mouth the sangha has grown, organically, in that particular direction. If the first members had been car repair people, the likelihood is that the entire sangha would be full of car repair people and car enthusiasts.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Ona. You might want to check our the conference page and read what it has to say. It’s not just for geeks and they make that quite clear. So, the point is that if you are putting on a conference that is open to a wide cross-section of people with presenters that come from various and differing traditions and approaches and you suggest that you are representing the “Emerging Face of Western Buddhism” then I think it is incumbent upon you to show the true face. It’s not just a white face – it’s black and brown and yellow, too.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think the small group examples you give fit this situation. I appreciate that fact that smaller groups can have a much narrower focus, it’s just that’s not what this conference is. Again, thanks for your comment.

      1. Perhaps “An Emerging Face” would be better? 🙂

        I have been a long time reader/listener of BG, and am attending the conference; no, it’s not “just for geeks” but it always has appealed to and been aimed at a rather tech/geeky audience. Given it started as a podcast, I would not have encountered BG had I not been an iTunes-using, iPod-owning, IT-sector-employed quasi-geek who happened to be interested in Buddhism. The speakers are largely people who have appeared repeatedly in the podcast series or written for the blog-a-zine. Personally, I think it would be patronizing for the organizers to deliberately seek out and pick presenters for their race.

        1. Thanks for pointing that out, Ona – they overlooked smiley faces, too! Well, at least you brought one along.

          Seriously, as I mentioned in the post, I don’t know that much about Buddhist Geeks, and I am not suggesting that they are deliberately seeking anyone out or excluding anyone based on race. Until I have more info, I am chalking it up to a consequence of a general trend among many Western Buddhists.

          Alas, I have never used i-Tunes (but I still have Napster), or have I ever owned an Ipod. However, I was in IT for a time, as the Asst. Data Processing Manager for a large metropolitan hotel. So I guess that makes me part Geek.

  8. Hi David, I support Buddhist Geeks because they clearly make a significant impact on the dialogue of western Buddhism, especially amongst the younger generation. I know the Geeks personally and can attest that they are seriously engaged with the philosophy and practices of which they speak. However, their primary mission, as Drew pointed out, is utilizing emerging technologies to engage Buddhists in new ways.

    If your primary mission is promoting social justice and diversity then by all means pursue these and create your own conference to address these issues. There may be a real demand for such education. But I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the Geeks because they don’t share your priorities.

    1. Hi Dan, I appreciate where you are coming from, however I have to say that your remarks don’t jive with what it says on the Geeks conference page.

      You say, “their primary mission, as Drew pointed out, is utilizing emerging technologies to engage Buddhists in new ways.” But here’s what the Geeks themselves say about it: “The Conference brings together some of the most exciting teachers, leaders and thinkers from the US and beyond as Buddhist Geeks continues its ongoing mission to discover the emerging face of Buddhism.” And “To us here at Buddhist Geeks, being a geek isn’t about technology or gadgets, it’s about passion and interest.”

      I am not questioning their sincerity, whether or not they are seriously engaged with the philosophy and practice, or criticizing because they don’t share my priorities. My priority, in this case, is the development of Western Buddhism. I will say that if they really wanted to make a significant impact on the dialogue, especially amongst the younger generation, then they would put on a less expensive conference. I don’t know many young people who could afford the price of the conference , plus airfare, plus a couple of hundred dollars for hotel accommodations. Not in this economy. By the way, who’s Drew?

  9. Dan – I also have supported the Geeks, love the podcast, have written articles for the website. I think they’re doing some excellent stuff.

    What’s challenging here though is that the expansiveness of the title “the emerging face of Buddhism” – which is both the conference header and the BG motto. Everything in the conference write up is expansive and suggestive of covering “21st century Buddhism” – which isn’t really possible of course in a single conference, even if the panel of speakers/leaders was much more diverse. But all that bigness implies, or looks to imply, that this is IT for emerging Buddhism.

    I’d say a fair amount of this is simply “big” marketing. “Discovering AN emerging face of Buddhism” just isn’t as hot and sexy.

    But somehow, these Buddhist conferences need to start taking race and class issues much more into account. In terms of conference fees, I know the Engaged Buddhist conference last summer offered some scholarship/work-study opportunities, but there wasn’t much publicity for that, and some of those who did work-study had some interesting stories to share – particularly feeling like they stood out because of things like not getting official nametags. That might sound like small gripes, but when you’re sweeping the floor and taking dishes off tables half the time, and the other half trying to just be a participant – it does make you stand out. So, there are challenges with offering work-study in a way that allows conference organizers to get some additional help (instead of fees) and allows work-study participants to feel like they belong.

  10. What I find most troubling here is a sort of tribalism that seems to be taking shape, of which the lack of diversity in the conference panel is only a small indication. While this may be the way the world works, we have an opportunity to do things differently–more inclusively, and as Buddhists we should.

    Although this is criticism that may have better been directly addressed to those being criticized, there is nothing in David’s post that seems “furious” or “outrageous” to me, as some have noted. I am, however horrified to see the disparaging and flippant tweets flying around in response to this post. A consequence of feeling somehow excluded myself–even though I’m white, privileged and a geek–I am aware of this only in my capacity as voyeur.

    I have no idea how to engage in meaningful dialogue on this issue but I do hope we can begin to do so.

  11. Hi All,

    I’m sorry I haven’t had time to respond earlier. My wife and I have been moving across the country this last few weeks, and now I’m laying bed with a stomach bug (no doubt because of moving across the country!).

    Anyway, I don’t have time to go into the super complex nitty gritty of this situation–and also don’t have the mental power at the moment–but I would say a couple things in response to the comments above and the overall criticism that the Buddhist Geeks Conference doesn’t have enough Asian American participants.

    First, there is a bit of a gap between our tagline, “Discovering the Emerging Face of Buddhism” and the conference content. That is very true, and this whole situation does highlight that gap. Originally we considered naming the tagline of Buddhist Geeks, “Discovering the Emerging Face of Western Buddhism,” but honestly it just didn’t have the same ring to it. So I think some of this is just in the challenge of having a broad tagline, and clearly we can’t cover every dimension of such a complex tradition. But our main focus, as many people here can attest who listen to the show, is to focus on emerging trends in Western culture, primarily with a focus on convert Buddhist communities, younger practitioners, and the intersection of technology with Buddhist theory and practice. Try encapsulating that into a tagline! Well, you may do better than I did, but nonetheless it was my best attempt. 🙂

    The other factor, and why there may be a gap between the conference content and the broad sub-title of Discovering the Emerging Face of Buddhism, is because there’s only so much content you can fit into a 2 1/2 day event. We did, as Ona mentioned, invite people we already knew and had spoken with, who were available, and who we felt had fresh ideas and perspectives to offer that our community, and then hopefully a small segment of the broader Buddhist population in the West would also enjoy. The majority of ethnic Buddhists will likely not find the material all that relevant or interesting, but then we were trying to have this conference be everything to everyone. That said, I can see why there was some confusion and why the diversity police came out in full force.

    The other thing I would say is that most of the people criticizing us don’t have much awareness of what we do (as this author doesn’t appear to) and are criticizing the financials of the event–come on people, putting on a physical event and having it even break even is really hard–and our intended market in a way that feels fairly uninformed. And on top of being uninformed we are being asked to reflect on your feedback and take it into consideration. That seems a big arrogant and also lacking in a basic kind of compassion, even to this sick, tired, young Buddhist. That said, we will do our best to take the nuggets from these criticisms and learn from them. But I’d also ask critics to do the same.

    And for those people who are informed, or who are willing to get informed about what Buddhist Geeks is, I would invite you to contact me directly and discuss these matters for your blog, podcast, magazine, etc. I’m more than happy to have an open conversation about these topics, and respond to them directly. But only if you do your homework first.

    Alright, back to hydrating!


    Vincent Horn
    Founder & Chief Geek

  12. Ah, sorry forgot to mention one piece, that many people probably aren’t aware of. We decided for this conference–and by “we” I mean the organizing team of myself, Emily Horn, Rohan Gunatillake, and Hokai Sobol–that we would open up the content of this course to be quite broad, showcasing some of what has been the most provocative or well received of our interview content. And then learning from this year, assuming we do it again, we would then narrow the focus for the next one to be something more specific (like Young Buddhists, or Technology and Buddhism, etc.). But we wanted to find out what participants were most interested in exploring and also what felt the most relevant, before narrowing the scope. Anyway, just a little tid bit on why the focus is so broad. 🙂

    1. Vincent, thanks for your response. First off, I’m sorry that you folks view my remarks as criticizing. I thought of them more as questioning. Perhaps that’s just a semantic difference, and no doubt I could have done a better job at expressing myself. Yet, I did say several times in the post that I wanted to be fair and give you all some benefit of the doubt.

      I feel anyone who puts themselves out before the public, myself included, is what you might call “fair game.” For any of us to think that somehow we will be spared criticism, whether just or unjust, is unrealistic. So I am perfectly willing to take some heat for what I wrote as long as it’s reasonable. Thanks why I appreciate the responses you and Rohan offered, but I have to say that the comment of one of your organizers, hokai sobol, who described my post as “pseudo-anti-elitist bs” on Twitter as a bit surprising. Not only do I think it is way off, I also think it behooves us as teachers, leaders, organizers or what have you, to respond to criticism or questioning is a more responsible way.

      Now, as far as being informed/uninformed goes, it is really not up to the general public who see the advertisements and announcements for your conference to research it. It’s up to you to be clear about the purpose and content of the conference. If I don’t express myself very well, I have only myself to blame, and I feel the same applies to you folks if there is some misunderstandings or confusion about the conference.

      Frankly, I don’t see that much difference between “Buddhism” and “Western Buddhism” especially when you say that “our main focus . . . is to focus on emerging trends in Western culture” in your comment. But regardless of what kind of Buddhism you are exploring, I still think it should be inclusive. And it’s not just about including Asians, it’s also about including African-Americans, Hispanics and others. Now, you do have a very good representation of women as presenters and that is certainly admirable. But I suspect that geeks come in all colors and from all ethnic backgrounds, so I really don’t understand your logic that that ethnic Buddhists would not find the material all that relevant or interesting.

      I can’t speak for any other so-called critics, only for myself, and I reject the characterizations of “arrogant and lacking compassion” and “diversity police.” To me that comes across as somehow expecting us to feel sorry for you because you have taken on this big task. I have helped organize conferences before, so I know what a big job it is, and I also understand how important it is to plan well and to clearly articulate the aims of the event.

      Having said all that, I will also say that I have learned something here, and I suppose I was off base to begin with, as far as the financial aspect goes, for not realizing that Geeks is synonymous with a certain amount of affluence.
      Anyway, I appreciate your comment, didn’t mean to “attack” you unfairly (and don’t think I did), and hope there are no hard feelings.

  13. David, I think the need for integrity rests on both our shoulders. For me in how I choose to promote the conference, which clearly contained some confusion for a few people, and in you in how you throw around irresponsible speculations and frame them as “questioning.” Why not go answer some of your own questions first, or seek someone out who can answer them, before just launching them onto a public blog? That’s the peace I find really sloppy.

    And as far as your desire for what our event should be, there’s a reason we didn’t consult with people who have almost no involvement or awareness of our community. It’s because they aren’t the ones we designed the event for. I’m really not that interested in what you think it should be about.

    As for Hokai’s comment, I can’t possibly speak for him, though I think the ease by which folks start tossing around public accusations of racial intolerance, does lend credence to his strong response.

    1. Vincent, I could give your responses more consideration if you didn’t characterize my remarks as “irresponsible” and “tossing around public accusations of racial intolerance” which is not the case. If I accused you of anything, it was for being (using your own word) sloppy.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “answer some of your own questions first.” I think you’re saying I should have done more research or contacted you folks first. Well, perhaps I should have, but at the same time this is just a blog, not the NY Times. As you are well aware, I was not the first to raise these issues and you had an opportunity to clarify things with your comment on Angry Asian Buddhist. But frankly your response on that blog just raised more questions because on one hand you talk about exploring trends in Western Buddhism and then you say “why anyone would think that we’re trying to represent Asian Buddhist trends” as if the two are completely separate things. You leave me with the impression, and others as well I’m sure, that you are slighting Asians and not including them in the big picture. I am not saying that is your intention, but that’s the way it comes off.

      To be honest, I am getting a bit tired of discussing your conference, but I won’t close the door to further dialogue. I’ll also say for the umpteenth time now that I have tried to be fair. I just wish you and your crew could do the same by not mischaracterizing my remarks.

      1. Yeah, my first comment was ill-considered. I wrote it right in the middle of a move across the country and didn’t expect this to be such a big deal in the buddhoblogosphere (or attract so much attention). Ah, well, shit happens. 🙂

  14. David,

    I think it’s a fair request on Vince’s part to do a bit of research before posting. I have been nailed for my lack of research and piggy backing on faulty assumptions of other bloggers a few times in the past, and it’s made me a little more careful in what I present. Certainly, we aren’t NY Times reporters, but a little bit of digging on a subject is putting in due diligence, and also might prevent mistaken perceptions from getting spread around.


    I think financial details are important, especially if a main target audience is younger practitioners, who often don’t have much extra income to spend. I have repeatedly called for better awareness around class issues in American Buddhism, both in my own sangha and on my blog in a more general sense – and that includes how fees for conferences, retreats, and other programs create barriers for poor and working class practitioners. Having been steeped in my own sangha’s finances for the past 4 years, I’m well aware of the challenges that face any group in putting on programming and trying to stay afloat financially. It’s not at all easy, but if class considerations don’t get raised by someone specifically, and pointedly, they often stay hidden.

    Best to you both,

    1. Nathan, you’ve been at this blogging business longer than I have so I appreciate that you’ve share some of the wisdom you have picked up along the way. Point is taken, and certainly, I would hate to be a cause for spreading rumor or misinformation, however unintentional it might be.

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