This post and the accompanying video are part of an assignment for my Cultural Diversity class. I got a solid B and I learned a ton!
SOWK 1030 – Cultural Diversity
December 8, 2018
On December 8, 2018, I had the incredible opportunity to interview Repa Bushi Yomato Damashii, a Buddhist teacher, master martial artist, and Yogi at an event at Lotus Light Contemplative Community Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
(Identifying Information Shared with Permission)
Name –Repa Bushi Yomato Damashii
Age – 49
Race – African American
Birthplace – West Palm Beach, Florida
City of Residence – Thomasville, North Carolina
Marital Status – Married
Employer – Thomasville Buddhist Center
Occupation – Lama (spiritual teacher)
Religious Affiliation – Buddhist
“I’m a native Floridian,” says Repa Bushi, “I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, and we were – my family was one of the few families in Palm Beach during the 70’s that was listed in the middle class.”
Repa Bushi went on to tell me about his early childhood religious experiences, stating that much of his religious upbringing was, “shaped by the firm hand of God,” and how he first experienced Buddhism as a young Marine stationed in Japan. Repa Bushi referred to a temple in Kyoto, Japan as a “utopia” and spoke reverently about the Buddhist teachings of peace.
When asked about the influx of interest in mindfulness and Buddhist practice in the West, Repa Bushi said, “Buddhism has largely made its way to the West through mindfulness. I think, however, if we’re not careful, that mindfulness could be a little less concentrated in its theory and its practices if we’re not careful to make sure that authentic teachers indoctrinate this way into the West.”
His concern for the preservation of the authenticity of Buddhist practice makes sense, especially considering the Western tendency to appropriate cultures which it encounters. Cultural appropriation is the unauthorized borrowing of customs, rituals, or objects specific to a certain culture – often with sacred or spiritual significance. (AORTA, 2015) Often, in the refiguring and commercialization of these things, the original context and significance is lost and it becomes representative of a hollow part of the dominant culture rather than of something holy.
A 2015 resource sheet on cultural appropriation published by the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance quoted author Susan Scafidi about cultural appropriation: “It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.” (AORTA, 2015)
We went on to discuss Repa Bushi’s current home – Thomasville, North Carolina. “Thomasville’s a very conservative town,” he says. “Its social makeup is very religious but also very racially divided. Our center is in the epicenter of the conservative divide. We are so out of place. We’re right in the heart of Klan activity. There are a number of anti-Black Lives Matter groups that are in the area, Daughters of the Confederacy are right there.”
With this in mind, I expected to hear horror about experiences of discrimination and acts of violence, but Repa Bushi told me that is not the case. He told me that Thomasville Buddhist Center is visited by all types of people from various backgrounds. He stressed the importance on focusing on our shared humanity, rather than differences, and in meeting peoples’ physical needs first, saying, “even though the guy’s like a black monk, it’s hard to hate when I’m eating food that I needed for my body.”
Repa Bushi spoke some before the interview about his childhood. He mentioned many times that he believes many people “live in the PTSD of their parents” – meaning that those who have a good childhood go on to have similar adult lives, but those who have difficult childhoods often strive to get very far away from that difficulty. By his own report, Repa Bushi’s childhood was extremely difficult, and he has created a great distance between that difficulty and his adult existence. I think that resilience is an interesting concept, as are the factors effecting it. Psychology Today lists “the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback” (Psychology Today, n.d.) as a factor contributing to resilience. Toward the beginning of our time together, Repa Bushi said, “if something fails – celebrate it,” which comes from Buddhist teachings.
In my experience living as a non-Christian in the Bible Belt, I understand the loneliness of not being a part of the dominant culture. Repa Bushi spoke some about racism that he has experienced. I imagine it must be incredibly frustrating to be so immersed in a tradition which promotes tolerance, acceptance, and love but to live in a culture which often practices the exact opposite.
This opportunity to interview Repa Bushi was unexpected in many ways. While I pride myself on being tolerant and accepting of others’ beliefs, I found that there is a stark difference between accepting and understanding. I find myself incredibly interested in learning more about Buddhist teachings and incorporating them into my own spiritual practice. The most important thing that I learned from speaking with Repa Bushi was on the topic of mindfulness and intentional practice: “Never do anything without putting your heart into it.”
AORTA. (2015). Cultural Appropriation. Retrieved from aorta.coop: http://aorta.coop/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Cultural-Appropriation-Resource-Sheet-April-2015.pdf
Damashii, R. B. (2018). (H. Rose, Interviewer) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBYWtmWKzMY&t=540s
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Resilience. Retrieved from psychologytoday.com: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/resilience