This “Dharma Brat” just found out he’s “racist.”

Via Waylon Lewis
on Mar 25, 2009
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An anonymous blogger out there in the blogosphere just decided I’m racist, though he/she doesn’t know me…but because I define the term “Dharma Brat” as “children of American Buddhists.”

Now, let’s get something straight: Dharma Brat as a moniker evolved in the 80s, as a sort of humorous Bud-Lite Commercial synergy of two other terms: “Army Brats,” children who are dragged from base to base by their Army families…and Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums.” It might’ve originated in Boulder, around Trungpa Rinpoche’s community. It might not have.

In any case, starting more than a decade ago, I started pushing the term (in a cover article for the Shambhala Sun, most notably, when I was still in college. Jesse Thompson and other “Dharma Brats” also used the term in their work. I thought it was fun, hip, accessible—and the ‘brat’ word ably referenced our responsibility to do something with our great inheritance, the precious holy Dharma—and not merely lead self-satisfied navel-gazing lives of veiled selfishness.

That said, dear anonymous blogger friend “arunlikhati“, with respect, a few points:

1) If you want to call someone racist, consider having the courtesy to email or call them first and clarify if I really was, in some veiled way, referring to “White Buddhists,” as you assumed. I’m one google search away, my email is on (the site where you read the reference to “Dharma Brat”), I’m not hard to find on FB, twitter, linkedin, etc. Otherwise it might appear that you’re after controversy—ie, web traffic or scoring points out of anger—rather than dialogue and understanding, which is good for all of us.

2) “Dharma Brats,” as a term, applies to any second-generation American Buddhist: Black, white, Jewish, Asian, rich, poor, female, male…it’s all good. I’ve never said (or believed or thought) anything to the contrary. So go ahead, American Buddhists of any color*…call yourself a Dharma Brat if you like!

3) Children of Buddhists in other countries, not just America, can call themselves Dharma Brats if they want to, too. Go nuts! Of course, our Asian sisters and brothers were the original Dharma Brats!

Who needs coffee in the morning when you’ve been called a racist on the blogosphere?


Note: In my Shambhala Buddhist sangha, we often refer to Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche as our community’s first Dharma Brat—despite his lack of white-ness.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


22 Responses to “This “Dharma Brat” just found out he’s “racist.””

  1. Alexis Shotwell says:

    Hm. The "racist" tag is always a trigger – and as such it's interesting to practice with! But I think arunlikhati has a point: You, me, others *often* use "American Buddhist" to distinguish convert from immigrant buddhist communities. And alot of what that usage is marking, along the way, is predominantly white-racialized people (though not exclusively, of course). I thought about this a lot when I was teaching a class in Santa Cruz about American Buddhist Thought And Culture – there were a number of books that did use the "American" tag to mean non-immigrant. And that usage of "American" is tied to just the things aurnlikhati talks about – white Americans trying to frame America as a properly white nation-state, making any one else a "hyphenated" American (Mexican-American, Asain-American, African-American, etc). So I think this is worth thinking about.

  2. Robin says:

    It looks like you can't please everyone.

    My understanding of the term "Dharma Brat" was the children of parents who had sought out Buddhism, the parents who may not have been raised Buddhist…. For example I was raised in the Christian tradition. When I have children and should I choose to raise them Buddhist, logically would they then be "Dharma Brats"? I first stumbled upon this concept during one of my Shambhala Trainings in which many of the participants were "Dharma Brats." I found their experience interesting as individuals who had been raised in the Shambhala tradition as opposed to someone like myself who sought it out later in life….

    I think Waylon by using the term is offering up his unique experience and had no intention of hurting or alienating any person or group of people. We're all Americans. Get into it.

  3. Darrin Daniel says:

    wow, that guy must be friggin' bored to death to want to even raise the term as a racial matter…

  4. Wow—a lot of points there—Angela, he directly used the term racist. If he or she meant 'racial,' in that I was in some way making a 'racial' distinction, that would be one thing. I do personally find it hard to swallow the notion that I could be offering my heartfelt devotion to the Buddha, or Trungpa Rinpoche, or the Sakyong, or whomever…and be racist. That doesn't mean I'm color-blind, as Obama often point out—but that wasn't arunlikhati's point. I have never used the term "Dharma Brat," nor ever will, to connote non-ethnic. So I know, Angela, that you're trying to make peace and be thoughtful…but these are serious questions, and I take them seriously, as I should.

    Alexis: my dear sister, great to hear from you. Dharma Brat may connote second-generation American Buddhist, for sure. So maybe that does leave immigrant Americans out of the term—but only bc they're far more than second-generation, they're often 200 generation. Still, the vital point here is that second-generation American Buddhists of any color, heritage, persuasion can be "Dharma Brats." The term may be linked to a generation, but certainly not to an ethnicity. And I would think that at least half of non-immigrant (your term) American Buddhists are of Asian origins…at least.

    I feel like I'm in a bad PC quota-ful Buddhist liberal Sesame Street nightmare—and I'm a knee-jerk Buddhist liberal Sesame Street lover. As they say, with friends like these…

  5. via FB:

    Erika Zamcheck Wilton at 1:13pm March 25
    likes yr response.

    Waylon Hart Lewis at 1:24pm March 25
    nothing compared to Carl Castro's response, on the anonymous blogger's article–he made some great points, without aggression, home run.

    Steven Whitacre at 2:47pm March 25
    There are some silly people out there on the Internet.

    Liz Joseph at 2:48pm March 25
    I'm so confused. HOW does the term "Dharma Brat" correlate w/racism? Does not compute.
    Wanna see a real racist? Come to Central Va! I'll show ya some fugly stuff.

  6. Oh, and please, seriously, show me where I've used the term "American Buddhist" to connote "white." Ever. Once. If I have, I'll immediately enter long period of introspection.

    Secondly, I reject the notion that being defensive or dismissive here is improper. Racism is a serious charge—and if there's no ground for it, then as Carl said (he's Latino, PC lovers) that charge undermines the calling-out of real racism, however subtle or blatant.

    Finally, I love how you say "he's Asian and we're white." Who's "we" you're referring to, the commenters or readers or Dharma Brats or what? In any one of those groups many of "us" aren't white. And my grandparents still recall a time when being Jewish was a terrible societal weight—my last name, in fact, is fake—my grandpa, in order to do business in NYC, changed it from a Jewish name to "Lewis." I hope that little tidbit of personal familial prejudice allows me to say, with impunity, "[email protected]#$%^&U* off."

    Like I said on the anonymous person's blog, have the courtesy and curiosity to talk to someone directly before going after them in the blogosphere. It's not kind.

  7. so does that mean that Kerouac was a racist when he entitled his novel "Dharma Bums". I think most understand this to be Americans who have grown up as Buddhist or in families committed to Buddhism; you could be pink, brown, green, and from Bangkok, Brooklyn, Halifax, Boulder, Oaxaca City…i think it is mute point and Waylon is being called out on for no good reason at all…since the turn of the 20th century there has been an obvious exchange of Buddhist oriented strains from many countries (Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Japan) bringing enlightened teachings of Buddhishm to the Americas and the "bratism" is just an Americanization, if you will, of Buddhism moving through America's post WWII mainstream into something truly global and completely not racist or divisive…

  8. Thanks, Darrin, appreciate it. As one commenter said, such accusations undermine the very real sort of racism. In any case, makes me question myself, which is always healthy (however hurtful/unfair).

  9. kudos says:

    I think it was more of the way "Dharma Brat" was define that correlated w/racism, not the term "Dharma Brat" itself, hence arunlikhati's mentioning of Waylon.

  10. Frank says:

    Just because you have a teacher who isn't white – doesn't even for a second guarantee that you are aware or knowledgeable to barriers to participation by people of color. These barriers can be personal and organizational. They can range from lack of sensitivity to outright racism.

    Your refusal to even consider the possibility that what arunlikhati has said might have some validity is disappointing.

    Your belittling, defensive and arrogant tone is not appropriate for such a serious topic.

    Perhaps you might want to read some of the diversity resources that are on the Shambhala website:

    Or this from Spirit Rock:

  11. Frank says:

    "We're all Americans. Get into it. "

    Robin – I would love to but every time people ask me where I am from and I answer "New York" they say "No but where are you really from?" I also get a lot of "Wow your English is so good!" even though I was born and raised in NY. This is despite the fact that I was born in Flushing, Queens, and fortunate to attend a very prestigious liberal arts college and also have 2 masters degrees.

    Attending public school in NYC I would have loved to have gotten into being American except I was too busy being called racist names, chased and beaten by white football players.

    I think you need to get into understanding that racism is very deeply ingrained in American society and culture. It is something that has been and continues to be very hurtful to those who experience it.

    It is absolutely NOT a matter of getting into being American.

  12. Frank says:

    "my grandpa, in order to do business in NYC, changed it from a Jewish name to "Lewis." I hope that little tidbit of personal familial prejudice allows me to say, with impunity, "[email protected]#$%^&U* off.""

    Actually it doesn't.

    Its revealing that you think it does.

  13. Frank says:

    I like that arunlikhati is willing to clarify and modify his/her position based on reflection.

    I also think Angela has shown willingness to understand all points of view and bring additional perspective/context.

    Again its disappointing that all Waylon has offered is defensiveness and has chosen to belittle other points of view.

    I also think telling people "with impunity, "[email protected]#$%^&U* off." shows an arrogance, lack of awareness and lack of respect that does not seem in line with the aims of this journal and the practice we share.

  14. Thanks, Frank. As evidenced by your tone, things can come across as 'arrogance, unaware, disrespectful' in print when we don't intend them to be. I apologize if I come off as hurt, or defensive, that a still-anonymous web site accused me of being racist. Why don't we try an experiment, Frank without a last name. I'll ask a friend of mine to blog on their site about how you're a sexist, and we'll see how well you embrace their concern.

    As for my "[email protected]#$%^&*" off, that was meant with some measure of humor—thus the story preceding it about my grandpa having to change his name in order to do business in NYC in the 50s…but I keep forgetting: humor and PC racism-accusers don't mix.

    Angela and others, to their credit, have forced me to consider and contemplate. The whole subject is troubling, and gets under your skin (no pun intended…), and that's a good thing. It forces me, however defensive I may come off (and understandably, I think, again considering the sucker punch aspect of arunikali's blog) to consider: am I, on some level, racist? Do I view white Buddhists as superior in some way?

    I can tell you that I find no racism within me. I am not colorblind—none of us are. But I can not find any sense that "American Buddhist" or "Dharma Brat" was ever subtly intended to refer to "white Buddhists," nor should it.

  15. Great to hear from you, arunlikhati. I think this little web-isode points to two things. One, casually blogging about others in light of serious discussions, such as racism, is a danger the web too easily affords. It's hurtful. Better to be direct, and then go public if dissatisfied. Having hear directly from you, I feel immediately far less defensive, far more open in considering your very valid concerns.

    Secondly, you have good points and this whol tempest in a tea pot does point to larger issues, and force us to contemplate our hearts and minds and…mindful speech. So I thank you for that.

  16. Oh, also, if you'd ever like to write something on this or another subject on, I'd be honored.

  17. […] a walking St. Francis or Gandhi-like figure. He no longer has political ambitions, is no longer racist, and no longer abuses his dog, […]

  18. John says:

    Hey, I didn't know you were in that club too. Arun has had the pleasure of calling me a few choice words as well. It must be nice to be anonymous on the web! Arun is very nit-picky over labels attached to Buddhism but has the tendency to read too much nuance into simple terms.

    I was even yelled at for not mentioning Asian Buddhists in particular when I was posting on Buddhist Fundamentalists. Most of which were white, BTW!



  19. Very good blog post I love your site keep up the great posts

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