Why Are There So Many Black Buddhists?

Most people who have spent time in American Buddhist communities would read my title as sarcastic. As numerous writers have noted, many Buddhist sanghas in the United States are largely white. Practicing in these spaces is often an isolating experience where people of color feel erased and invisible, or at times so hypervisible that simply being in the room invites the assumption that they will educate others about race.

Link to the Full Article.

J. Sunara Sasser really hits the nail on the head here.

At the start of my Buddhist journey, social anxiety, travel issues, and this were some of the reasons why I didn’t rush out to find a teacher—as I was often pressured to do. Today, the social anxiety is mostly under control, and travel is less problematic, but I still prefer practicing alone, or with people I’ve already built relationships with.

I’d, possibly, be less apprehensive about physically going to more Buddhist communities if I knew there’d be a variety of people there (white, black, hispanic, asian, etc). Apparently, J. Sunara Sasser had a good experience at Soka Gakkai International in Chicago, which, surprisingly, is close to where I live.

Are you comfortable with visiting Buddhist communities, or practicing in public?


@tonysharp, what you have experienced doesn’t surprise me. I live in a small town that is close to a medium-sized city as well as a major metropolitan area in the United States. In the limited time since I have been practicing Buddhism I have observed that in the area in which I live there are two sorts of Buddhist communities:

  1. Communities of Asian-American Buddhists who are comprised of individuals who group together on the basis of their specific Asian ancestry (e.g., Thai, Japanese, etc.);

  2. Communities made up of individuals of European ancestry who for the most part started practicing Buddhism as adults.

Many of the groups in the second category approach Buddhist practice with an emphasis either on “mindfulness,” or with a commitment to social justice, the environment, peace, gender equality, racial justice, etc. To put a fine point on it, these groups are comprised in large part of what are referred to as “liberals” in the United States. As such, there is a lot of attention ostensibly paid to being tolerant, open-minded, and, to use a trendy (if not controversial) term, “woke.”

The irony is that a lot of these groups seem to be predominantly made up of, let’s just say it, white people. Or, at the very least, that’s what the pictures in their online photo galleries seem to indicate. The irony of white liberals professing themes of social justice is not entirely lost on the casual observer. I imagine that members of these groups would love to have more people of color practice with them. But it is entirely understandable how their public face, pardon the metaphor, would be off-putting to individuals from diverse backgrounds.

For my own part, I practice at a Wat that mostly serves the Southeast Asian community in the area (I am of European ancestry). I feel very comfortable at the Wat. To a person, everyone I have met there has welcomed me with open arms. I have felt comfortable there from day one.


I, myself being an Eastern-European, had no issues whatsoever participating in certain activities of a Sri-Lankan community. I didn’t see any obvious notions they care of my descent. Colour of your skin or passport itself is hardly an issue in my opinion.

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Thanks for sharing the article!
Much metta😊


I usually feel relatively comfortable practicing in different groups, though I do take note of any one group’s makeup every now and then. Having to be hypervisible in other social spheres of my life probably prepared me for that.

I notice that monasteries tend to have a huge variety of people visiting, and the younger, cost-free, meditation groups in New York City tend to be like that as well. On the other hand, I find that meditation groups that charge admission have a way of catering to a very specific audience.


If someone is put off by a group because the members of the group are of a certain race… isn’t that just racism though?

No, it’s not.

When you have to deal with racist crap for a significant chunk of your life, you naturally don’t feel comfortable being the only “minority” in the room.

Just a couple years ago, I was surrounded by armed police while walking home from the store. It was evening, and it was cold. I had my gloves in my hand, and someone thought I was brandishing a weapon. Experiences like this can traumatize you, and make you—understandably—paranoid. And this isn’t the only time something like this has happened to me, and it’s a common thing for people like me to have to deal with.

Women endure similar crap. Because of the prevalence of harassment from men, women’s only groups exist to give them a space to meet without having to worry about the people around them. Doing this doesn’t make them sexist. With how society is now, doing this is necessary.

We can’t deny or make assumptions about people’s experiences just because we haven’t lived them.


So the feeling is that being in a crowd of mostly white people makes you more likely to be exposed to racism? And therefore it feels less safe?

(Honest question, no derision intended)

I’m sorry you had to go through that, policy brutality seems to be a particular problem in the US (I’m not from the US).


A lot of black Buddhists seem to practise with SGI, or other Nichiren derived traditions. I wonder what they are doing differently, marketing-wise.


SGI specifically targets recruitment of black communities (including where I live). Because of many of the cult-like attributes of SGI, I am surprised that Tricycle runs anything regarding them at all-- I believe in the past they were not in the pages of most mainstream Buddhist magazines.

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I personally haven’t found SGI any more cultish concerning their supreme leader than, say, the Roman Catholic Church concerning their Pope, in my dealings with them.

I am sorry to hear about your ordeal.
The police brutality is common in every country. Bigger the problem the police has to deal with they become more brutal. Remember policeman is just another man in uniform. You can train the same person in a temple or in a police academy and produce different results. I think we have to educate both ploice men/ women and the general public.
For the first time, a black man (Obama) became the president of US. If I am not mistaken Meghan married to Prince Harry got some black ancestry.
So we can do it!

Not really, and yes. Not really, partly due to slight hearing impairment & social anxiety; yes, because i don’t see practicing as just devotional services or meetings for meditation or chanting. (Replying before reading all comments; reading those next.)

No problem.


Pretty much, sadly.

They seem to proselytize more overtly than other Buddhist sects, which I don’t see a problem with. I mean, many people won’t know about the dhamma unless someone tells them about it. Further, speaking for myself, I’d be more inclined to visit a monastery or community gathering if I was personally invited. It would be less awkward than just walking in unsolicited.


And why is this happening ? Well, as you said, because of your past experience when dealing with white people. That’s the same reason why those policeman were scared that you might be harboring a gun.

And, in my opinion, this reaction based on past experiences is something normal. As a romanian, I would be reluctant to hire a gypsy, same as a western european would be reluctant to hire a romanian.

All people take into consideration their past experiences, and this is something normal. In my opinion, your concerns about such all-white groups are perfectly legitimate, same as the concerns of those policeman are normal and legitimate. When your life could be in danger you can not take any risks. I see nothing racist neither on your part neither on their part, despite both you and the policeman being wrong in these particular cases. (you had no gun, buddhist groups in USA are as liberal as they get)

Indeed, everything in our lives is driven by conditioning, sankharas and kamma. Being aware of how our mind creates reactive thoughts and translates them into actions is the practice.

This topic is rich with opportunities to observe these things - but a good excersize is try to do so without involvement.



This is not similar to how I feel. I don’t judge individuals in this way. If someone is qualified for a job, their race and nationality are completely irrelevant. When I walk into a room that’s predominantly of a race other than my own, I usually just worry about if I’m not welcomed by someone.


From my limited experience with SGI (attended 2 meetings) I came away with thinking it was somewhat like visiting a Baptist church. A evangelical Baptist church at that.
The home meeting I attended was designed as a meeting to bring guests to. I don’t think it’s too critical so say it was somewhat designed as a recruitment meeting.

In the old EST (a San Francisco based self improvement course heavily influenced by Buddhist ideas) Werner Erhart sometimes warned us that “getting it” didn’t mean you would always find a parking spot right where you want one. A couple of the testimonies in the SGI home meeting were of the form “because I did this chanting bad things happened to people right next to me but not to me”.

In AA they say “keeping coming back, it works”. The flavor I get from most other traditions is somewhat anti-marketing: “it isn’t easy but if you keep at it (maybe over many lifetimes) it works – but don’t expect to find a parking spot in front of the meditation hall”.

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I believe it was women moderators, not gay or trans people.


I’d just like to remind everyone, that there are community guidelines in place, and that all participants are expected to abide by them.

We are an online spiritual community. Language unsuitable to be spoken in a temple will not be accepted here. When issues are sensitive, refrain from making posts when your emotions have been stirred.

This community is committed to being a safe and welcoming place for all - Based on the Noble 8 fold Path. We don’t want to have to shut topics down, because individuals are not able to excersize sufficient restraint and thoughtfulness in their comments.