This is from an article I wrote that was published last year on a website/podcast I follow called www.dailybuddhism.com
In it I describe my experience as an African-American Buddhist practitioner and the lack of diversity in American Buddhism.
The Colors of Our Practice: Buddhism without Boundaries
By LaToya Springer
I am a fairly new Buddhist practitioner. My introduction to Buddhism
was Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse which I read in the 10th grade. My
Buddhist education continued when I went to college. I took some
religious studies courses that fueled my interest in the practice. In
the meantime, I was still trying to be a “good Christian” and attend
church but there was something about Buddhism that interested me. After
a long period of soul searching, I dedicated myself to the path. I
can’t really say that I converted; Buddhism seemed natural to me. It
fit with my personal philosophy. There is nothing spectacular about me.
I’m 25-years-old and married. I love to cook and read.
And I happen to be African-American.
I had initial reservations about sharing my new practice with others
for good reason. A few people in the Black community took my decision
personally. They felt that I was turning my back on my family and
culture. Suddenly Easter gatherings and Sunday dinners became a war
front in the battle of religious wills. I found myself constantly
having to justify my practice. As a result, much of my first year as a
Buddhist was spent cultivating patience and loving kindness.
I am met with both curious glances and open arms when I attend
retreats or gather with fellow practitioners to meditate. Though I am
often the only African-American present, I have never felt out of
place. In fact, I am more at ease in these situations than in the past
when I attended church services with my peers. While I value my sangha
and my experiences, I am concerned about the lack of people of color in
American Buddhism— particularly those in leadership roles. The sangha,
or Buddhist community, plays a crucial role in the practitioner’s
spiritual development. It is the community we go to for support and
But what do we do when our sangha is not representative of us?
I have found the Web to be an excellent tool for expanding my
Buddhist community. Sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter are a
great way to reach out to others. The Web has been essential in helping
me find other African-American practitioners. Blogs and personal
websites that share the experiences of others like mine have helped me
to grow in my practice. In addition, I have found great books written
by African American Buddhist.
There are more of “us” than one might think.
There are times when I find myself outnumbered. I’m either the only
Buddhist in a group of my peers or the only African-American in a group
of Buddhists. In these moments it is helpful, when appropriate, to
initiate dialogue about my experiences. As a result, I have learned a
lot from others and others have learned from me. Educating others or
offering a perspective not of the norm has been rewarding.
The Buddha’s teachings transcend race, color, gender, and sexual
orientation. We are all brothers and sisters in the practice. However,
we must be realistic and not ignore the fact that many of the prominent
faces of American Buddhism do not fully represent the community in its
entirety. We cannot be naive to think a lack of visible diversity has
no effect on the growth of Buddhism in this country. Nobody wants to
take part in something that is—real or perceived to be—exclusive or
exclusionary. For that reason, it is important to reach out to other
communities and make them feel included. Providing a platform to share
experiences can be the best kind of spiritual education.