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Lions Roar : May 2019
Convert Buddhism has a class problem: it appeals mostly to a narrow demographic of well-off college graduates. Buddhist scholar ANN GLEIG offers some class consciousness to help Buddhism drop the barriers and benefit many more people. IN A DISCUSSION on a Facebook group for Buddhist scholars, one member asked whether there was an “eye-rolling” term associated with Western Buddhism. Among the different responses, it was “the Upper-Middle Way”—a term coined by practitioners—that resonated the most. Academic studies of meditation-based convert Buddhism have confirmed that the demo- graphic of such communities is predominantly middle- and upper-middle class. Despite recognition from both scholars and practitioners of the troubling lack of class diversity in these communities, class remains an undertack- led issue in American Buddhism. We haven’t seen 4. Giving dharma talks about noble black manhood, by any means necessary, to black male children and adolescents Given the obstacles to growing up as a trauma- free black boy or man, noble black manhood dharma talks, to borrow from Imam Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X), should be dis- seminated “by any means necessary.” Unfortunately, in the face of mass incarcera- tion, disseminating dharma wisdom to boys and adolescents through the oral tradition is too ephemeral. Therefore, noble black manhood talks also need to be published in printed books, ebooks, on social media, and wherever black boys and men retrieve their information. Noble black manhood, however it is taught and published, needs to be in schools, where many black boys experience what el-Shabazz experienced—the diminishment of their intellect and dreams. This creates the school-to-prison pipeline. THE FACES OF BUDDHIST LEADERSHIP in the U.S. continue to change. African American men rising to dharma leadership are more visible than ever. At the same time, African American boys and men have particularly difficult chal- lenges living intellectually-affirming, dream-filled, liberated lives. School becomes a pipeline to prison, and prison becomes a rite of passage into manhood. Noble black manhood, a Buddhist-inspired approach to healthy black male human develop- ment, is an alternative if dharma teachers under- stand the threats (stigma, shame, criminalization, and incarcerated slavery) against healthy black male human development; are open to critical sutta and sutra reflection; are willing to revive Buddhist humanism; and will deliver noble black manhood dharma talks by any dissemination means necessary. How this develops will depend on the black Buddhist leaders who take on this mission. May your own lived experiences as noble black men be witnessed by black boys, the next generation of black men, for their liberation from oppression and the fulfillment of their potential. The pas- sage to noble black manhood will be a remarkable hero’s journey. Beyond the Upper Middle Way the emergence of “blue-collared” affinity groups, for instance, the way we have with people of color (POC) or LGBTQI populations. And while there are certainly working-class Buddhists of color and many shared challenges faced by POC and working-class Buddhists, the two groups are not synonymous. In my research with Buddhist teach- ers of color, many acknowledged that it was their class privilege that had enabled them to navigate the “white space” of convert communities. So, how does class show up in American Bud- dhism? What role has it historically played in Buddhism? How can more class consciousness benefit the future of Buddhism? During interviews with Gen X Buddhist teachers, I asked them a series of demographic questions. Each teacher moved through the cat- egories of race, gender, and sexuality with ease. But nearly all hesitated with class. While they had experienced living in a low economic bracket, they also recognized they came from middle-class backgrounds and/or had college educations, and LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 72