[Buddha-l] Ethical Dilemmas

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 14 22:17:22 MDT 2010

Aloha, Donna.

>   The equation of Aztec sacrifice and the entire current U.S. legal system
> is unfortunate.


Lynching, racism, etc., you might have also mentioned the Dred Scott 
decision in which the Supreme Court showed how racist it could be.

Similarly abhorrent racist decisions flowed from the Court against Asian 
immigration and Asian immigrants in the early 20th century, with decisions 
and precedents that only began to be overturned during the 1960s.

Today I live in Boston which even 20 years ago was largely an Irish and 
Italian town with severe racial discrimination against African-americans. 
Today it is multicultural -- the Irish and Italians have become a minority 
(though still over-represented in local govt, the police force, and other 
state and municipal offices, though the current Massachussetts governor is 
African-American, a Harvard buddy of Obama). In my neighborhood of 
Brookline, when I leave my building the languages I hear on the street are 
Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Chinese, Haitian French, some English, 
Spanish, and a smattering of other tongues -- roughly in that proportion. 
Before moving to Brookline I lived in Malden (another Boston neighborhood), 
which has sizeable Chinese, Indian, Tibetan, Southeast Asian, etc., 
communities; when I got on the subway in the morning, for a stop or two I 
would usually be the only non-Asian for a stop or two -- listening in to 
Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Vietmanese, Thai, etc. conversations. Having 
come to Malden from Columbia, Missouri, where non-whites are a rarity, I was 
overjoyed to have returned to civilization. One day another non-Asian, late 
teens, was in the car -- I glanced over at what he was reading and working 
on... his Japanese homework. Other neighborhoods have likewise been 
undergoing major demographic changes, and the old Boston is becoming a mere 
memory (one not possessed by many of its current inhabitants). Is everything 
peace and love and harmony here now? No, but it's a major improvement over 
what used to be, and seeming to be moving in the right direction. White 
Boston is enthusiastically cheering for an all-black Boston Celtics team 
that is closing in on the championship. This would have been inconceivable 
20 years ago here. The Asian communities would have been legally impossible 
prior to the 1960s.

That is why I stressed a distinction between a certain ethos -- in the 
culture at large and in the legal system -- and the everyday reality. And 
progress is clearly uneven, since this is a huge country. The Bible Belt 
(where I lived for too many years) is decades behind this, and fighting it 
all the way, with increasingly sophisticated means. Boston is behind San 
Francisco, but catching up. Sounds like the Southwest is going back through 
the Texas time-machine to some imaginary 1950s when damn furners and colored 
people knew their place (also a popular sentiment in the South). In the 
South "damn furners and colored people" includes anyone from New York or 
Jewish (a double hex if one is both).

The ethos is aimed in the right direction, while the everyday reality varies 
from place to place, but is gradually getting better in most places. Plenty 
of unwilling obstructionists throwing up roadblocks, but the march seems to 
be pretty steady in the right direction, so despite the annoyances and loud 
noises, there is reason for much optimism.

>How does this relate to Buddhism?  I realize that I'm one of those
> knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal, vegetarian former flower children
> Buddhists that have been referred to with some disdain in the past on
> Buddha-l.

As a current vegetarian and former flower child (actually we called 
ourselves "freaks," not "flower children," the latter mostly a media term, 
along with "hippies"), I have no disdain for that life-style (in whatever 
forms it survives today in places like Boulder and Key West). There is a 
problem, however, when this sentiment is projected inaccurately onto an 
Asian religion, obscuring the historical and political-theoretical reality 
of that tradition, particularly when that relgion itself stresses seeing 
things as they are (yatha-bhuta), unlike some religions that encourage 
people to believe that believing the ridiculous is truer than truth. 
Unquestionably, of the three major missionary religions -- Christianity, 
Islam and Buddhism -- Buddhism has far less blood on its hands, but it is 
not bloodless. Not in the past, not in the 21st century. To borrow Al Gore's 
line, that's an inconvenient truth for some, a shock for many, but it is 
true, and the sooner and better we acknowledge and deal with it, the sooner 
we can move from platitudes or outrage to actual effective strategies.

>But I will hold to my image of the Buddha as a man who would
> not have been enthusiastic about watching someone be lynched, especially
> for the crime of having a different skin color and whistling at a woman
> with paler skin.

That was never in doubt.


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