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.

Working Your Way into the Buddhist Community

Over the years this blog has had plenty of questions and comments from people asking how to join a Buddhist community, or sharing stories of their failed attempts. Truth be told, it is not always easy to become part of a Buddhist community. For many people who do not live near major cities, the nearest temple or meditation center can be far, far away. But even people who have a temple in their own backyard can have a difficult time joining a community when they don’t have a friend to guide them into the fold.

A tip from someone who has stumbled through a number of communities: to become part of the community, sometimes you have to work at it. Literally. Continue reading “Working Your Way into the Buddhist Community”

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?

Continue reading “Is Western Buddhism White?”

Asian Watch

One of the perks of my new place is that I live across the street from Border’s. Shambhala SunMy cold still has not gone away, so after zipping through Trader Joe’s (also across the street), I made a quick swing by Borders, where I noticed that the new issue of Shambhala Sun is out. The Tenth Annual All Buddhist Teachings Issue. (Wow!)

With my newly-bought Shambhala Sun in hand, I zoomed straight to my kitchen, turned on the stove, cooked up some rice porridge (I was inspired by a friend who assured me that shoveling in onions and pepper would smack that cold over to the next life), and then sat down and started counting the Asians.

Continue reading “Asian Watch”

Level 8 Buddhist

So there’s this great blog called the Level 8 Buddhist. It was online as recently as yesterday, but it was gone when I logged in to check it out today: “The authors have deleted this blog. The content is no longer available.” It was quite without warning, and I was shocked and am still pretty sad about this. Whether intentional or otherwise, all things are of course ever-changing.

I really thought this was one of the best Buddhist blogs out there, a great resource to many and the heart of some great discussions. The owner had on various occasions mentioned that the effort he put into blogging took away time from his practice. Blogging was also sometimes a little bit stressful. I hope he has much more time on his hands now to practice and spend time with his family.

Now if this deletion happened to be accidental, I hope we get the Level 8 Buddhist back soon!

Angry with Asians

(Warning: disorganized rant.) Over on the Buddha is my DJ, Yuinen brought up the situtation that many Asian American Buddhists are unaware that there are other types of Buddhists in the United States. Many assume that it’s only people from their ethnic group, whether it be Chinese/Thai/Japanese/etc., who are the only Buddhists in the United States. This is a very real problem that is helped along by the lack of interaction among Asian American Buddhist institutions.

I’ve ranted about the plight of young Asian American Buddhists before. If you want to bring the Buddhist youth community together, the place to start is close to home. For me, that’s with youth groups — whether in high school, college or recently graduated. We may come from many different cultural backgrounds, but current AA Buddhist youth have more in common with Buddhist peers across ethnic/cultural lines than they do with their parents’ institutions. We’re neither here-nor-there, and as we grow up in the context of the American Buddhist community, that means that there are few Buddhist groups that appeal directly to our social background.

Wat Thai of Los Angeles

Our cultural isolation is set in place by the older established authority. In the temples I frequent, young AAs have little say, and they’re not often steered towards networking with other temples, especially temples from other ethnic groups.

Why is this the case?

Continue reading “Angry with Asians”

An Asian American Misunderstood

Time for a bit of an apology. I’m sorry if you feel that the Angry Asian Buddhist unfairly criticized the Next-Gen Buddhism piece for being white-centric. There was lots of interesting stuff in that article, and I didn’t talk about any of it. Over on Shambhala Sun Space, Barry Boyce very kindly links to my post and explains:

If I had phrased the whole thing in a subtler–yet somewhat blunter–way, I might have asked, “Is White America’s love affair with Buddhism a fad that will die with the Baby Boomer generation?”

Until I read that line, I hadn’t properly understood where the piece was coming from. I thought the article was about young Buddhist Americans, questioning if present institutions are enough to engage them and if these institutions are sustainable. These are the questions that I deal with in the Asian American Buddhist community, and I felt that we had something worthwhile to say. So let me tell you where I was coming from.

Continue reading “An Asian American Misunderstood”

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.

Continue reading “Reaching Across the Divide”

Angry Asian Buddhist

The Buddhists in North America referred to as “convert Buddhists” — those who did not inherit it as a part of their ethnic background — are largely baby boomers. Are enough younger people coming up through the ranks to sustain healthy Buddhist communities? Thus begins the article Next-Gen Buddhism: The future of Buddhism in a post-baby boomer world in the current issue of Buddhadharma.

Buddhism in America is headed for exciting times, agreed the four esteemed participants — Sumi Loundon Kim, Rod Meade Sperry, Iris Brilliant and Norman Fischer. They discussed the separate communities of formal convert Buddhists and casual Buddhists-by-affiliation. Also mentioned were emerging trends, such as a need for innovation, the hunger for engaged Buddhism and the mixture of Buddhism and modern technology. But what did they not mention?

Asians. In fact, the esteemed moderator Barry Boyce makes clear from the outset that he just doesn’t want to talk about Asian Buddhists. He wants to talk about the Buddhists “who did not inherit it as a part of their ethnic background.” In other words: not Asians.

Continue reading “Angry Asian Buddhist”

Geting it Right: Ritual and Communal Learning

I played the wooden fish for the first and currently only time on May 17th, 2008. I had received a call that same morning half-asking but mostly telling me to do it at a Vesak celebration later that day.

I had never abused fish, gong, nor bell before, and hurried to try and be hastily taught by a friend of mine before show time. Education be damned, I ended up flustering about and striking the thing about twice as much as I should have. Rolling Stone praised my “rock steady baselines and infectious hooks,” but Buddhist chanting it was not. It was one of the most horrifyingly embarrassing experiences I have ever weathered and I regret not skipping town and hopping a freight train the morning of.

And nobody who wasn’t wearing robes knew the difference.
Continue reading “Geting it Right: Ritual and Communal Learning”