by Ronald Epstein

We live in a time of increasing awareness of the unsatisfactoriness of global mass culture. Although the world has shrunk to become a global village, its culture has embraced the lowest common denominator: the reinforcement of short term sense-gratifications among the masses as the engine of a greed based world-economy. Since there is nothing within that schema to provide a sense of meaning and dignity for people's lives, there has been a widespread movement to reexamine ethnic origins to see whether satisfying meaning can be found there. Certainly in most cultures there is worthwhile traditional wisdom that can be dusted off and retrofitted for use in the modern world. Unfortunately ethnicity can also embrace the quest for negative identity that establishes itself through the age-old paradigms of racial and ethnic superiority: "We are the chosen, the superior ones, and all other ethnic and national groups are simply barbarians."

This important modern trend has not only influenced the secular world but has also become an important factor in modern Buddhism. All too often in the contemporary Buddhist world the main function of many Buddhist organizations has become the satisfaction of the yearnings for ethnic identity of their members. For many of these groups, the quest for psychological comfort in their particular ethnic variation on modern society leads to the phenomenon of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater," so their Buddhism becomes all ethnicity with little or no real Buddhadharma. And so we have a proliferation of ethnic Buddhisms identified primarily by their ethnic or national tags.

In recent years scholars of the post-modern movement have reaffirmed the idea of so-called ethnic Buddhism and categorically denied that there can be any reality to a Buddhadharma that claims to transcend particular social-historical circumstances, that is based upon transmission of Mind, or Truth or Dharma from generation to generation, from nation to nation, from culture to culture. In other words, these scholars teach about a plurality of Buddhisms--devoid of any underlying or unitive thread--that include a heterogeneous mix of practices and understandings, that shift and flow, transforming and adapting themselves to specific times, places and customs. The "Buddhism" that they have in common is nothing more than a convenient label.

There are two challenges here. First, while affirming the importance of our affinities with persons and cultures within the Dharma, we need to guard against falling into one-sided views based on the arrogance of ethnic considerations. Second, we need to try to reaffirm constantly in our own lives the reality of the source of our practice and understanding, the Buddha-nature. Different ethnic groups do not have different ethnic Buddha-natures. We all have the same Buddha-nature and it is the only ultimate refuge of meaning and satisfaction in our lives. Finally we should remind ourselves that it is those one-sided views--limited ethnic visions and identifications taken to be Buddhadharma--that estranges us from the true Buddha-nature source within.

The name of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association can be a constant reminder to us that any group identification less than the group of the living beings of the Dharma Realm is mere limited one-sided attachment and not truly in the spirit of the Buddhadharma.

(Reprinted from Vajra Bodhi Sea)