Sitting in meditation at the monastery recently, I noticed not one face ‘of colour.’ Everyone appeared to be caucasian; the nearest exception was a man of Mexican heritage. Men and women of all ages were represented. Later, when people shared their experiences, I observed a preponderance of college-student, professional, educated, and affluent voices.
I’ve been puzzled by this phenomenon for years, especially in the USA where the ethnic mix is more obvious than here in Canada. Having sat retreats at 6 centres in 3 countries, I’ve only once seen someone in a wheelchair. Seems as if Western Buddhism appeals mostly to white middle-class able-bodied persons. Assuming reasonably that the doors are open to all, I wonder why people from other realms are not attracted to the practice?
A quick Internet search shows centers offering activities and retreats for various subgroups, from women only, gay and lesbians, single parents, to people of color, those in prison, in recovery, and and and. What is with these distinctions, these separations? If one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is to help us to recognize and let go of dualities, then we ought to come together as one sangha (community) instead of perpetuating this othering along such lines as ethnicity, gender, money, and education.
When preferences are cast aside,
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
From Hsin-hsin Ming (“verses of the faith mind”), one of the earliest and most influential Zen writings dating back to 6th century China. Often referred to as the first Zen poem, it consists of 146 unrhymed four-character lines.