Tag: Asian

Aung San Suu Kyi, please speak out and help to relieve the suffering in Burma

ImageThe fires of suffering and strife rage around the world,” and continue to rage in the Rakhine state of Burma. Recent sectarian strife between Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim community have claimed the lives of at least 78 people, and displaced over 80,000 fleeing from the violence. With the situation degenerating into a vicious cycle of hate begetting hate, it has come to light that some Buddhist monastics are actively engaged in fanning the flames by calling on lay people to disassociate with the Rohingya and actively blocking humanitarian aid to the refugee camps.

Shame on any monastics who would use their moral authority to suade others in enhancing suffering. While their Arakanese identity may compel them to act in ways that hurt others, they also wear the ochre robe and carry with it the freedoms and responsibilities of their monastic precepts. Their renunciation embodied by the first precept has now been made useless. By their own actions, these monastics demonstrate that they do not deserve to wear the ochre robe.

I realize that the situation is not so black and white. However, the Arakanese and Rohingya alike are sharing in pain. The face of suffering is the same among all people and the cycle of violence rings throughout history. In the late 1960’s, my parents, their families, and many of their Toisan community were driven away by the Burmese and fled into Maoist China. Though the conditions were not great, at least they had a state which would accept them as Han Chinese and would provide a home.

The Rohingya have no state advocates and have shuttled back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma for many decades. Burma’s Presidential Office has stated that “It is impossible for Burma to accept people who are not ethnic to the country and who have entered illegally.” Their situation grows more desperate as the violence continues, as more people are displaced, and as more languish in camps without the infrastructure or supplies to support them. Organizations that have stood up for the Rohingya include the UN and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Unfortunately, as the violence continues, the Rohingya’s list of advocates now include the Pakistani Taliban, who have said, “We will avenge your blood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, in your Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, you acknowledged the ongoing strife in your native Burma. We all celebrate your release and your continued work for democracy in your country. This means that you are again a politician for your constituents: speaking on their behalf, and sharing their concerns. Your freedom to speak as you choose is also delicately tied to the whims of a state still emerging and fragile in its transition towards democracy. Nevertheless, the moral authority you possess reaches across national boundaries as we lend you our ears. Please speak out. Your voice as a mediator are needed in this conflict. Lend your compassion with the humanitarian aid organizations  and help to relieve the suffering in Burma.

Let’s Party! (with the Buddha)

My friends recently made a trip to Las Vegas and came back telling me that I should go to “TAO”. For those that aren’t familiar (like me), TAO is popular Asian-themed restaurant and nightclub in Las Vegas. Though I’ve never been, browsing through their website will give you a good sense of what it’s like.

From my friends’ clubbing experience, they described seeing many statues of the Buddha as part of the themed-decoration and scantily-clad woman dancing (probably in the way that young people do nowadays) against the statues. After hearing this, I really wish I could go, take a photo, and post it here. But I can’t so I’m just working off my friends’ description and my imagination.

I think this could possibly be the worse case of using Buddhism out of it’s religious context. And usually, if the Buddha or different aspects of Buddhism are used out of context, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that it may be harmless. But this is different. TAO is using representations of the Buddha to make money from encouraging sex appeal and alcohol without taking into consideration what the Buddha actually symbolizes for the Buddhist community. To me, that is highly offensive.th

What’s even more interesting (and telling) is that this is the first time I’ve heard anyone I know who’s gone to TAO mention the strange paradox of using the Buddha to decorate a nightclub.  I don’t expect people to be hypersensitive and constantly on the lookout for “out of context Buddhism” like me, but doesn’t anyone feel awkward dancing next to the Buddha with Usher’s new song playing in the background? Apparently not.

But if that mouthful doesn’t make any sense, don’t take my word for it. Head on over to Vegas with your makeup and clubbing outfit, bring your ID, buy a few drinks to get tipsy, and party the night away with the Buddha at TAO.

Is Western Buddhism White?

stuffwhitepeoplelikeSome Buddhist writers have an unquenchable fascination with Western Buddhism. Perhaps it’s due to a flaming sense of entitlement, zealous evangelism or cultural elitism. Regardless, I unfortunately seem to have an undying fascination with these people.

Barbara O’Brien addresses Stuff White People Like, a blog and book by Christian Lander, noting that “Lander mentions Buddhism as a popular choice.” She then writes that “[w]hile Lander’s description of western Buddhists is exaggerated, I think it reflects how most westerners view western Buddhists.” But Landers was writing about white people, not Western Buddhists.

After all, Western Buddhism isn’t white—or is it?

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The Wise Latina depicted by The Lazy Americans

I’ve been meaning to write a post for the longest time but gosh darn it, life just gets busier and never seems to give you a break. Well, the academic year has just ended so I’m given a few days to breathe before diving straight into my summer plans. While reading through Google Reader, I came across a post on the Angry Asian Man website that just left me…well speechless:

nationalreview_thewiselatina

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Asians Meditate Too

Asian Meditator

Some recent blog posts relating to race and meditation.

A recent post by Scott Mitchell lists “several concerns with the meditation-centric rhetoric of contemporary Buddhism in America.” One of them was written with a sharpness that perhaps only the Angry Asian Buddhist could love: the rhetoric of “meditation is practice” but chanting and other Buddhist practices are “just ritual” perpetuates the notion that white folks are doing something unprecedented in American Buddhism while Asian folks are simply carrying around their cultural baggage.

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Asian Meter

It took me a while to get my hands on the latest issue of Tricycle because they hadn’t restocked it at the Borders across the street. I ended up grabbing a copy at Barnes & Noble downtown. I have plenty of things to say about the issue, such as the Big Sit (I have much good to say) or “Why Buddhism Needs the West” (or: David Loy summons the Angry Asian Buddhist). But I thought of something that would be a little bit more fun. I bring you the Asian Meter.

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Reaching Across the Divide

Back in the 1930’s Christian missionaries sponsored my grandmother for immigration to the United States. My father and his siblings were born here, grew up here, were baptized Roman Catholics and attended the local Catholic school. My father and his brother also won scholarships to Saint Ignatius College Prep. Though they were Asian Buddhists, they were helped along by white English-speaking Christians who had the goodness of heart to reach out to them across racial and cultural lines. It made a difference (and some even stayed Christian).

It’s this kind of spirit that the Buddhist community needs to bridge its cultural and demographic boundaries. I’m not talking about evangelism or buying souls. A significant portion of the Buddhist community here in North America is made up of immigrant Buddhists, virtually all Asian, and many of whom are still in the process of fully adjusting to life in North America. They are the ones who could use a helping hand.

But how to help? I came up with a page full of ways that white Buddhist Americans can reach out to their Buddhist immigrant brothers and sisters. Here are just three.

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Next-Gen AsianAm Buddhists

Many thanks to Dan who posted a link to Making the Invisible Visible in the comments from the Angry Asian Buddhist post. (Another worthwhile article is Stories We Have Yet to Hear: The Path to Healing Racism in American Sanghas by Mushim Ikeda-Nash.) I still have a little bundled up stress from the last post, but reading this booklet was a real weight off my shoulders. You hear this all the time, but I have to say it again: It’s good knowing that I’m not alone.

My Angry Asian post was about how I felt a core demographic of the Buddhist community was being ignored. This core demographic is the next generation of Asian American Buddhists.

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Western Buddhist Feminist Oppressors

This post contains an article sent to me by a friend, Rethinking Western Feminist Critiques on Buddhism (original link), by Cheng Wei-yi (鄭維儀). It’s sort of timely since I’ve been ranting about cultural issues in the Buddhist community since… well, since I’ve started blogging here. I enjoyed this article and felt it deeply resonated with my perceptions. But then when I came to writing this blog, I remembered the first thing I was ever taught when discussing something that stirs your emotions: question your assumptions. It was very clear to me that different readers would draw very different conclusions from this essay.  So I’m just putting the whole thing out there, typos and all. Take from it what you will.

If you’re interested in modern, transnational Buddhism, feminism and postcolonialism, then you’ll surely want to read on. (But it is long!)

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Buddhist Americans

Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture
Ven Jian Dan giving a lecture (from Awakening Mind Zen blog)

The Pew Forum recently published a survey of American religion, and this sparked an interesting discussion in the Buddhist community. If you want to see PhDs analyze it to death and tear it apart, go visit H-Buddhism. I’m going to refrain from tossing in my opinion on the survey. I’m primarily interested in the Buddhist (blogging) community’s reaction on two points, and what this says about the community.

Many people took the survey at face value. Charles Prebish seemed keen to note some surprises. For some, this survey was proof that American Buddhism is in decline, even dying out, especially due to a lack of children. Some found particular interest in the fact that the Pew survey reported more non-Asian Buddhists than Asian Buddhists in America, and vastly more converts than heritage Buddhists.

The first reaction is one that I’ve heard a lot over the past eight years: American Buddhism is getting old. In fact, Sumi Loundon found her inspiration to compile Blue Jean Buddha based on her experience in a retreat kitchen as the lone twentysomething among a crowd of Baby Boomers. Of course, she eventually found young Buddhist voices. But the reaction on these blogs suggests that Boomer Buddhists still get together in groups where active young Buddhists are a tiny minority, if they’re even there at all.

The second reaction — more of a surprise — is nested in the notion that American Buddhism is predominantly Asian American. According to the Pew survey, it’s not. Some bloggers expressed a bit of satisfaction in this result (see here and here, but also note there is some methodological controversy.) The bloggers’ emphasis on this particular result suggests that the division between Asian and non-Asian Buddhist America is just as real as ever. For me, the force of this reaction means that many Buddhists out there still have a strong insecurity with regards to their American Buddhist identity.

These two reactions are often framed as American Buddhism’s two great challenges. How do we perpetuate our community? How do we cross the cultural divide?

I’d like to think that these questions don’t need answering. Maybe I’m overly optimistic. If John and I (your humble “dharma bloggers”) are a representative slice of Buddhist America, then we have already solved both the issues. We are active young Buddhists, of Asian and non-Asian heritage, who work together in the Buddhist community.

There are many more out there like us. But for some reason, we aren’t noticed.