Lion's Roar

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Globalization has scrambled just about everything, for better AND worse.

Technology has compressed physical space and time, forcing the myriad human tribes to deal more directly with each other. Nor is there any going back — no matter how isolationist, anti-immigrant or simply anti-change some current political rhetoric may be.

This means that ethnic and religious groups many of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, had little chance of meeting in their neighborhoods can now be encountered in any large American city, and also in our nation’s rural heartland.

Buddhism is one such example.

But it's not just that Asian Buddhists — be they Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or others — have come to North America, where their beliefs and practices have attracted considerable interest.

What’s also happened is that some Western Buddhists — formal converts and the larger number of individuals with no interest in converting but who have been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques (myself included) — have melded broad concerns for Western social justice issues with traditional, inner-oriented Buddhist beliefs.

These Western Buddhists certainly did not single-handily start this trend. Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest severe discrimination against their co-religionists by the Roman Catholic South Vietnam government in the early 1960s preceded them.

But these Westerners — many of them marinated in 1960s American liberal anti-war and anti-discrimination activism — pushed the envelope far enough to create a uniquely Western Buddhist path now generally referred to as Engaged Buddhism.

A key figure in this movement died earlier this month. His name was Bernie Glassman and he was 79.

The elite mainstream media, as near as I can ascertain via an online search, totally ignored his death. An error in editorial judgement, I think — certainly for the coverage of how American religion has and continues to change. His contribution to this change was monumental.

Western Buddhist publications reacted otherwise, as you would expect.

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Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Here at GetReligion we're constantly going on about the sources journalists rely upon when reporting religion stories. We keep asking, for instance, why religious liberals are the only voices quoted in stories critical of this or that traditionalist position.

One reason for this is Kellerism, the GetReligion term for when editors at a news outlet decide that it only needs to quote one side in a debate because the other side is simply on the wrong side of history or is flat out wrong.

However, there are many other times when appropriate positions are missing simply because journalists do not know they exist or how to find them.

That’s the case with Buddhist views on the goings on in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being harshly persecuted and forced to seek safety in neighboring, and Muslim, Bangladesh. Even the presence of a Nobel Peace Prize winner as Myanmar’s ostensible leader has not helped the Rohingya minority.

Why? Because Myanmar’s overwhelming Buddhist majority simply has little sympathy for its Muslim neighbors.

Surely, though, there must be some Buddhist leaders who are more sympathetic and who can be contacted for a quote or two that expresses another Buddhist viewpoint? Or do we have to make do with global political leaders and humanitarian groups for comments critical of Myanmar’s handling of the situation, as has generally been the case.

No, we don't. #JournalismMatters

Still, other than the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader that Western journalists, in particular, seem to think speaks for all Buddhists everywhere, prominent Buddhist voices are generally absent from the many stories being produced about the plight of the Rohingyas.

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