Highlights from the 2022 Future of American Buddhism Conference

August 6, 2022

From the BZC August Newsletter, by Weishin Huang:

L to R: Chenxing Han (author,”Be The Refuge”), Cristina Moon (Rinzai Zen priest), Devon Matsumoto (founder, Young Buddhist Editorial), Weishin Huang (Brooklyn Zen Center), Rev. Blayne Higa (Kona Hongwanji), and Ru-Jün Zhou (Hemera Foundation)

Highlights from the 2022

Future of American Buddhism Conference

Who and what is America?
Do we mean the one-hundred-and-eight military bases we have around the world?
Do we mean the territories? American Samoa? Puerto Rico?

 

Dr. Larry Ward, in his gripping baritone, uttered these questions into the still meditation hall at the opening of the four-day Future of American Buddhism Conference in Garrison, NY, this past June. I went, hoping an event of this ilk would offer some stirring, inspiring, and challenging conversations about the state of our mahasangha. I got those, and so much more. Here are some of my highlights:

Discussing her research on cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power in Buddhist communities, Dr. Ann Gleig, wielding Manjushri’s sword, shared a no-nonsense finding: major corporations have handled things better. The charge was clear—Buddhist communities must support the survivors, heal the harm, hold individuals accountable, and put in measures to reduce and prevent future acts of misconduct and abuse.

Chenxing Han and Rev. Blayne Higa busted the myth that American Buddhism was created in the 60s in the Bay Area. Buddhism arrived in the United States by way of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Right now, Asian American Buddhists make up over two-thirds of Buddhists in America. Rev. Blayne himself is a fifth-generation Japanese American Shin Buddhist, born and raised in Hawaii. He is the resident minister at Hawaii’s Kona Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, which has been serving the local Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community since 1897.

Devon Matsumoto talked about the Young Buddhist Editorial (YBE), the online publication and community of young Japanese American Shin Buddhists he co-founded. YBE focuses on young Buddhists building connections with one another, fostering Japanese American cultural and religious resilience in the face of structural domination, and engaging with social justice movements as Japanese and Asian Americans.

There were also moments that rippled and jolted my whole being, in the best of ways:

Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett blasted a rousing rendition of drumming and chanting that transformed the subdued room into a pulsing lotus bloom. Chenxing invited everyone to join her in prostrating to the Buddha, filling the hall with, to echo her words, a feeling of arrival and spiritual kinship. Cristina Moon woke us up with a sharp, clear bellowing katsu. She then shared the ways the highly rigorous physical training at the Rinzai Zen Daihonzan Chozenji in Honolulu are at once traditional and innovative forms of Zen practice.

Cristina also served tea to several of the conference guests, including our dear SFZC teacher and City Center Abiding Abbot Rev. Tenzen David Zimmerman. I also had the delight of being served. Cristina’s serene, gentle, lighthearted, precise-and-never-uptight, and yes, badass expression of Chado, or the Way of Tea, filled me with the sustained transmission of the practice. The six paramitas were all there, like a lotus floating, a breeze through the willows. Plus, she brought mochi from Hawaii, which was, I’m just going to say it, pure ecstasy.

Many other moments, many of them gestures of kindness, are quiet and simple. The kind that have no intention of drawing any attention to themselves. One speaker fills the cup of another before their panel, gently holds and moves their glass with a napkin. An attendee sprains their ankle, another lends them their set of crunches. Someone finishes their lunch, but not their conversation, as another offers and takes their plate. Each act lasts but a moment, a breath; a gift, given, received. Each time, my heart feels the dewdrops of dana.

Our time together concluded with dedications of merit from various panelists, organizers, and attendees. Each dedication reflected a different Buddhist tradition, expressed by each person through their unique heritage, age, gender, mind, heart, and hara. With each dedication, I felt the joining our hearts to the one heart of the world, in awareness and love. American Buddhism is messy, complicated, and, at times, painful and fraught. Yet, if those present at this two-hundred-plus-person gathering, onsite and online, were reflections of the Buddhdharma in this also-messy nation-state, then I have full faith that the three jewels—already carefully cared for on Turtle Island for two centuries—shall continue to glisten, like Indra’s net, amongst the multitude of intersectional inter-beings, for many more moons.

In community,

Weishin Huang
Brooklyn Zen Center Board Chair


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