Thursday, July 9, 2015

Latino Buddhism in Los Angeles

Wisdom Quarterly* and  Eddie Escalante (University of the West, 626.571.8811, ext. 375)
Statue of Kwan Yin on a lotus pedestal on a turbulent sea (
Pope Francis apologizes for Holy Roman Empire's Catholic crimes against the indigenous (First Nation) populations of the "New" World on his first tour through the Americas (AP).
Native Americans linked to Buddhists (BP)
LOS ANGELES, California - Saludos amigos! Buddhism is on the increase in the Latino/a community. Students at the Buddhist University of the West, editors at Wisdom Quarterly, and Latin youth at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society are part of the reason.

As a native Angeleno and psychology major with a concentration in multicultural counseling at UWest, I exist in a world between cultures, languages and, until recently, between religions.

L.A. meditates for direct experience (LAT).
Many Latinos in the USA -- hailing from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America -- suffer a mild form of cognitive dissonance: conflicting ideas about spiritual truth.

There is a conditioned fear of abandoning Catholic traditions, fear of becoming outcasts in our families, and outsiders in our own very traditional communities.

Goddess of Compassion takes many forms (udayton).

But I now know that I am not alone. There is comfort in my sangha (our supportive "Buddhist community") and in Los Angeles. We share with one another and with every person of every world-religion values that unite us: generosity, unselfish compassion, virtue, acceptance, kindness, mindfulness (as opposed to absentmindedness), and mystic wisdom (mysticism).

With these seven values I go forth into the world as an American of Mexican descent culturally aware and spiritually free.

Who are we?
Rick Fields: Buddhism arrived MX and CA.
Quienes somos? Sometimes proud, sometimes uncertain, sometimes lonely, we are sometimes so full of life that we can hardly contain ourselves with happiness. We laugh and cry and suffer disappointment (dukkha) just like everyone else. And like many in more progressive parts of the USA, we try to make sense of the world, looking for meaning in our lives and a reason for our unsatisfactoriness.

Traveling down town to work, we see that we share our plight with everyone here. Yo soy como tu, soy como mis padres, soy Mexicano, Salvadoreño, Colombiano…Argentino, soy tu hermano, tu hijo, y soy libre, yo soy Budista. (I am like you, like my parents, I am Mexican, Salvadorean, Colombian...Argentinian, I am your brother, your child, I am free, I am Buddhist).

Who aren't we?
Virg Yin Mary and Guan Yin
Quienes no somos? Although we walk hand in hand with our Chinese sisters and brothers, we are not Chinese. Although we live our lives in accordance to the Buddha's teachings, we are not Tibetans. And while we sit still and meditate to strengthen our minds and resolve, we are not (east) Indians. We do not speak Vietnamese, don’t know the Korean word for chile salsa [kim chee].

And while we love exploring the many cultures and spiritual traditions that make up the Los Angeles County quilt, we have our own very good one. Latinas have a storied past, full of flavor, color, and beauty. It defines and permeates our essence.
Be Catholic, we own you! says Church
We are not trying to adopt or misappropriate another culture. We are sharing in the universal appeal of the Buddha's teachings, which are for the benefit of all living beings regardless or era or area, past or status, wealth or wakefulness.

We are only wise enough to know that truth stands like a mountain in any country in any age among any group aligned with any culture. Like Lisa Simpson learned one Christmas, you don't have to give up your culture or deeply held beliefs to practice in line with the wise and kind Buddha-Dharma.

Where are we going?
Guan Yin is a lot like the famous Virg Yin of Guadalupe (Tammy Wetzel/Aloha2you/flickr); she also appears to modern Aztec dancers in El Pueblo de Los Angeles as the Lady Queen of Angels.
A donde vamos? We are not going anywhere. We are here to stay. The German Jewish Theravada Buddhist nun from Sri Lanka Ayya Khema wrote a book Being No One Going Nowhere.

Like her we do not demand that anyone believe anything. We embrace our human family with open arms even as Asian Buddhists in America assimilate to the Judeo-Christian culture and Americans absorb the Dharma that was once called the "Light of Asia."

For the curious we open our hearts and minds with acceptance and patience. Spiritual liberation is not spiritual emptiness; it is opening the doors to experiences that fill one with wonder that searches for truth.

The truth is not easily attained. It takes the eightfold practice, it takes discipline, it takes confidence (saddha), concentration (samadhi), and above all loving-kindness (metta).

Diverse student body at the University of the West, lay and monastic (
That is where we are going as Latinos embracing Buddhism -- a spiritual journey to find the truth and live it wherever and in whatever form we find it.

The truth is like the sun on a rainy day: It is always there obscured by clouds. So how does one clear them away and hold a mind/heart as vast as the sky?

That is what we want to know and show. That is our goal -- a collective effort with readers of this series. Come back soon and together we will get our hands deep in the masa (dough) of nuestro Budismo (our very own Buddhism).

The University of the West ( -- located in the San Gabriel Valley east of the city center at 1409 Walnut Grove Ave., Rosemead, CA 91770 -- is affiliated with the massive Going West (Hsi Lai) Buddhist Temple complex in the eastern end of the valley in Hacienda Heights. Here all Buddhist traditions are at home, and there is a large business school as well as a religious studies program.
  • *Written with the help and encouragement of the editors of Wisdom Quarterly and Andrea, Morgan A.C. Blackledge, Glenn Dunki-Jacobs, Jacob Sky Lindsey, CC Liu, Oscar Martinez, Raymond McDonald, Alma Ramon, Sandy Uzcategui, and Xochitl on 4-20-12.

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