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Dixie Dharma

Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South

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  • Book Info
    Dixie Dharma
    Book Description:

    Buddhism in the United States is often viewed in connection with practitioners in the Northeast and on the West Coast, but in fact, it has been spreading and evolving throughout the United States since the mid-nineteenth century. InDixie Dharma, Jeff Wilson argues that region is crucial to understanding American Buddhism. Through the lens of a multidenominational Buddhist temple in Richmond, Virginia, Wilson explores how Buddhists are adapting to life in the conservative evangelical Christian culture of the South, and how traditional Southerners are adjusting to these newer members on the religious landscape.Introducing a host of overlooked characters, including Buddhist circuit riders, modernist Pure Land priests, and pluralistic Buddhists, Wilson shows how regional specificity manifests itself through such practices as meditation vigils to heal the wounds of the slave trade. He argues that southern Buddhists at once use bodily practices, iconography, and meditation tools to enact distinct sectarian identities even as they enjoy a creative hybridity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0181-6
    Subjects: Religion, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    “Heart Sutraaaaaa.” The sound of our chanting dies away as we finish reciting a famous Buddhist text, our fading voices an expression of the emptiness that the sutra celebrates.¹ Martin, a white-haired gentleman with an equally white mustache and a look of calm concentration, strikes the dark bowl-bell, which rings once and then slips back into stillness. For a moment, the small room here at the temple is quiet with anticipation, the silence broken only by the muffled rush of cars in the wet street outside and the rain tapping out its own syncopation on the windowpane. Huddled on our...

    (pp. 17-46)

    Before proceeding to a discussion of Buddhism in the South—primarily taken up in the later chapters of this book—it is necessary to lay the groundwork for a regional approach to the subject of American Buddhism. Fortunately, there is a long and fruitful history of regional analysis in the study of American religious history. But why has Buddhism not been a part of this analysis?

    American religious history is in some senses inherently a regional project: it looks at religious phenomena within a certain geographic and national area: the United States of America. As long as people have been...

  6. Chapter Two THE GIFT OF LIGHT: Buddhist Circuit Riders and New Religious Developments in Richmond, Virginia
    (pp. 47-88)

    Many of the houses along Grove Avenue fly flags—the star-spangled banner, the Virginia state flag, banners with animals or floral designs, as well as the occasional Confederate battle flag. So the five-colored flag sometimes flown outside Ekoji Buddhist Sangha of Richmond does not seem to attract much attention from passersby. But this is not simply a variation on the rainbow motif—the stripes of blue, yellow, red, white, and orange form the pattern of the so-called Buddhist Flag, a design originating in the Buddhist revival of nineteenth-century Ceylon and now used by a wide variety of Buddhist groups.¹ To...

  7. Chapter Three THE BUDDHIST CONFEDERACY: Differentiation and Identity in Buddhist Spaces
    (pp. 89-119)

    Ekoji Buddhist Sangha of Richmond is the only temple in the country that shelters five distinct groups practicing in distinct lineages. These diverse groups have found that, in the decidedly non-Buddhist environment of Richmond, the shared label of “Buddhist” is fundamentally more important than their individual differences: that is, they share more in common as Buddhists than they share with the non-Buddhist religious world beyond the temple’s walls.

    However, while this shared Buddhist identity keeps the five groups together at the same temple, at the same time they are among the only local (or even regional) representatives of their specific...

  8. Chapter Four THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS “NOT MY BUDDHISM”: Hybridity, Boundary-Crossing, and the Practice of Pluralistic Buddhism
    (pp. 120-152)

    It is a bright, chilly January afternoon outside, but it is warm inside at Ekoji as I sit on the floor enjoying a casual after-service discussion with the Pure Land group. Their plan was to study a booklet about bodhisattvas, but as we have spent the time sipping tea and passing a plastic baggie full of pistachios, the subject has drifted to the unusual nature of Ekoji. “Is this really one temple?” I wonder aloud. “Or is it more of a bunch of different groups that happen to share a space out of convenience?”

    Li Chen, a member of the...

  9. Chapter Five BUDDHISM WITH A SOUTHERN ACCENT: American Buddhists in a Southern Culture
    (pp. 153-184)

    In chapter 1, I laid out a basic approach to studying regionalism in American Buddhism. Throughout this book, I have referred to the fact that Ekoji Buddhist Sangha of Richmond is located in the South, and that this has an effect on the temple. Now in this chapter I turn to the question of regional Buddhism directly and use Ekoji as a case study for American Buddhist regionalism. Specifically, in this chapter I am concerned to investigate how and why particular elements of Ekoji’s southern location might shed light on the various phenomena one finds at the temple and among...

  10. Chapter Six THE REALITY OF OUR COLLECTIVE KARMA: Slave Trade Meditation Vigil as Southern Buddhist Ritual
    (pp. 185-217)

    Richmond remembers. It is a city of memory and pride, where the useful past is a treasure trove from which can be drawn resources for politics, religion, art, identity, and, especially, money-making. From Hollywood Cemetery to the Arthur Ashe Memorial, its landscape has been a site of memory and contestation carried out in the construction of artifacts and the performance of street rituals. Like all modern cities, it is constantly changing and reinventing itself, but nonetheless in spirit it is a place very different from New York City, which Michel de Certeau described as hour by hour throwing away its...

    (pp. 218-232)

    It is as simple as that: people in different parts of America experience Buddhism through lenses and circumstances supplied by the surrounding culture, and Buddhism impacts how those people navigate their regional culture. At root, that is this book’s primary argument. Furthermore, Buddhism is not an abstract philosophy but a fluid set of practices and attitudes enacted in specific places through the media of bodies and physical objects, which can be used to produce new, multiple, and even competing Buddhisms. Values such as pluralism are instantiated in particular ways related to the specificities of each situation and location, subject to...

  12. Appendix Statistical Data and Questionnaire
    (pp. 233-236)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 237-260)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-281)