Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Hakujin Perspective - Rough Draft

Here is the rough draft for my first issue of "The Hakujin Perspective". It may change a little, but tell me what you think! Remember, to subscribe to HOZO, please email

The Hakujin Perspective

Shin Buddhism from a Non-Japanese point-of-view

By: Hank Sims

In this issue of HOZO, we are going to start a new column. The Hakujin Perspective is going to be a down-to-earth, bare-bones, no nonsense view of this religion that we share, but with one interesting twist: written by a White-Boy.

The first time that I came to temple, I was going there to just “check it out” and see what Buddhism was all about. As you can imagine, I noticed right away that everyone was Japanese. At this point in my life, I really didn’t know anyone who was Japanese despite living in Hawaii for a couple years already. The entirety of my exposure to Japanese culture, language, and customs came from Hollywood. In other words, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid I, II, and III was just about it (Thanks, Pat!).

That being my situation, my experience with Buddhism here in Hawaii has been an exciting adventure. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve been “immersed” in Japanese culture. I attend most Sundays and try to speak with the Reverend regularly. But considering my experience with the Japanese culture, I guess that I could say it has been an “absorption”.

I’ve heard of a method for teaching children to swim that is both dangerous, but effective. I’m sure you’ve heard of it as well. Essentially, you take the child out in a boat and when you get far enough out that they can’t touch the bottom or hold on to anything for safety, you throw them in the water. Of course, the kid is panic stricken… arms flailing wildly… gasping for breath. The adult, having already made the decision to teach this way, just watches with patience from the boat. This might seem very harsh (I thank goodness no one taught ME to swim this way) but I’ve only ever heard of one result of this method: The child learns to swim in about 90 seconds. Imagine, though, if you used the same method in water that the child could stand up in. Would it have the same effect? If the child could simply standup to avoid drowning, I think he probably would, and the lesson would be lost.

I think that for me, and probably a lot of Hakujin (Haole) boys like me, attending service or coming to temple for the first time is a lot like learning to swim in that shallow water. Everything is very foreign and very different. The people that you meet are very nice and welcoming, of course, but the things that you see and the way people talk are very “strange”. While we’re drowning in this new culture, we have the option to stand up at any point, in other words, say thank you very much and walk away. I’m not suggesting that any time you see a new member at your church you lock them up and keep them there… afterall, they’ll learn to swim, right? Instead, I’m suggesting that the option to standup, or leave and not come back, is a very easy one. And who isn’t a bit skittish in a strange environment?

In Gassho,



  1. Good Article. Is Deep water swimming in the next article?

  2. Very good post! I like the swimming metaphor! I also believe arriving at a Shin Buddhist, or even any other Buddhist environment, requires time and patience to begin to understand, and also to feel part of the environment. It's certainly not something anyone should expect to "get" immediately, just like you don't just dive off into the deep end if you are a non-swimmer! Like an instant Michael Phelps! Ideally you would also have someone help you, like a swim coach, to get used to the water, this is where the long-time temple members can come in and help newcomers at the temple.

  3. Hey bro. I love this! Great metaphor. I'm really excited to read the rest of them so I can learn more. Miss you and love you. -Sis