"Convert" Buddhism?Convert Buddhism has a class problem: it appeals mostly to a narrow demographic of well-off college graduates.
"Problem"? In a non-proselytizing practice, whose teachings traditionally must be requested and which holds that karma determines who encounters it?
"American" Buddhism?So, how does class show up in American Buddhism? What role has it historically played in Buddhism? How can more class consciousness benefit the future of Buddhism?
"Benefit the future of Buddhism"?
If you interview people intent on finding a problem, guess what, you will. But if you're going to talk to Americans about class, you will almost always find it a difficult topic on which to have a conversation, because unlike the UK, it was never really the dominant axis of social analysis: things like race and gender were. To misquote John Lennon, you think you're so clever and classless and free.During interviews with Gen X Buddhist teachers, I asked them a series of demographic questions. Each teacher moved through the categories of race, gender, and sexuality with ease. But nearly all hesitated with class.
The article then goes into a long paean on the merits of adapting/simplifying practices so that they "appeal" to "everyday blue-collar Buddhists". It also comments that "...teachers need to embrace the pragmatic benefits of Buddhism. I have heard many Buddhists snigger about people doing mindfulness practice for stress reduction or chanting for job promotions. This patronizing dismissal of real-world needs is a major barrier to working-class participation." I'm going to assume all readers here understand how absurd these comments are. It goes on in the same vein: "Closely related is teaching the dharma in ways that translate into modern life. As one practitioner put it, “Speak directly to people’s everyday experiences and needs in the plain, everyday language that they speak.” ".
The author is so close here, but yet so far away. Nothing needs to be adapted or changed in the Dharma to make it more relevant. Sanghas need to be welcoming of new people and help them to establish their practice. That's it. They don't need to have the Dharma wrapped up in 21st-century American pop sociology.Recognizing that class has always mattered in Buddhism and bringing more consciousness to how class preferences and prejudices operate in American Buddhist sanghas can push meditation-based lineages beyond the Upper-Middle Way. It can also increase appreciation for the forms of Buddhism flourishing in the United States that have already made Buddhism relevant to economically and socially marginalized communities.