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 Go Clubbing with the Buddha

This picture frustrates me over and over again. It’ disrespectful, insensitive, and offensive.

My friend tells me that I’m overreacting and taking it too seriously.

But would they say the same if a Christian person complained about their religion taken out of it’s context and being used for commercial purposes?

Why, for some reason, do some religions in America seem to carry more legitimacy, treated with more respect and sensitivity, over other religions in America?

Can you imagine a scenario in which Las Vegas opened a new nightclub called “Trinity” that themed all it’s decorations and advertising material around Jesus and other Christian icons? Would Christians (and Americans in general) find that disrespectful and offensive? Would their feelings be treated as melodramatic and inappropriate?

Religious nightlife indeed.

I find that this doesn’t only happen with Christians or Americans. I went on a tour bus trip from Los Angeles to Yellowstone National Park. On our way back to Los Angeles, we stopped in Utah to visit their famous Mormon church. We had several tour guides who gave us a brief tour of the church and basics about the Mormon faith.

One of the tour guides was a girl from Korea who is spending about a year and a half studying and volunteering at the Mormon Church. She was younger than the other “Sisters” who helped lead the tour. Halfway though the tour, it became obvious that many of the men on our tour were intentionally trying to talk to the Korean tour guide or get a photograph with her. I heard men around me talkinabout how pretty she was, encouraging their friends to also take a photo with her. In comparison, the other two tour guides who were just standing to the side, apparently not interesting or attractive enough for the tourists to interact with.

I found this to be greatly disturbing – the idea that people were flirting with one of the religious representatives of the Mormon faith. Those men didn’t seem to care or see anything wrong with what they were doing. But would those men treat representatives from their own religion (monks, pastors, nuns, etc) in the same way?

How come we cannot follow one of the simplest pieces of advice taught to us as toddlers – to treat others the way we’d like to be treated?

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?”

Vince Horn on Secularizing Buddhism

I overposted over at Angry Asian Buddhist, so I’m continuing over here. Let me just say that I love Vince Horn’s recent post on the One City Blog.

The problem with not seeing how Buddhism has evolved, and in not seeing ourselves as a part of Buddhism’s evolution, is that we can believe we are somehow the holders of the “essence” of Buddhism.  But what is the essence stripped from the practices, realizations, models, and people who have contributed to this living tradition?  Is there really such a thing?  Could it be that the whole idea of there being an essence to Buddhism that is distinct from it’s extraneous forms–those forms that are so irrelevant that we can simply ignore them or dump them–is coming from a set of cultural assumptions that exist here in this place and time?  We need to recognize that possibility, and see that there is a kind of violence in trying to strip something from its historical roots, and also a kind of arrogance in thinking that we can even do that successfully.

Now I have to go read the comments!

Times are Changing – and so should Buddhists

One of my recent general observations about religion is that its role in the lives of the younger generation has been deteriorating. While I do not have the numeric data that my fellow blogger arunlikhati is so skilled in collecting to support my claim (I tried to sort out some PEW stats but gave up…), I think many readers will agree with my claim just through each of their personal experiences with the youth, namely children up until high school. I am well aware that this is not the case for all youth and each of us can easily come up with children who do hold their faith close to their hearts. However, I do think that in a society where people share their latest thoughts and status with Facebook and Twitter more often than God, where money and power have become society’s determining factor for success rather than morality, and where Miley Cyrus has become a more influential icon for children than most religious figures, religion certainly has much more competition nowadays especially in finding a place among the youth.

Continue reading “Times are Changing – and so should Buddhists”

Of Culture and Generations

I recently had a talk with a monk who helped me reconcile a problem I have had with Buddhism for a long time, at least ever since I really started to learn about it.

My exposure to Buddhism started as a child, passed down through temple visits, chanting, praying, incense-burning – all of which can be roughly categorized as the devotional practice of Buddhism. These traditions have been passed down to my parents by my grandparents, and this chain of religious inheritance probably goes several generations back. Many of these practices seemed to originate from culture, meshing with folk traditions and superstitions to create a mixed approach to Buddhism (e.g. burning paper money for ancestors).

Continue reading “Of Culture and Generations”

Chinese New Year a Religious Holiday?

As many of you probably already know, this past weekend, and for some this week as well, has been the celebration of the Lunar Chinese New Year. Our family did common New Year activities that many people probably also partake in – visiting a temple, burning paper money for ancestors, gathering for a big family dinner, receiving red envelopes. While scanning through Google Reader this morning, I came across an interesting article titled “Business of Chinese New Year”, featured on the Belief.net website. The article basically talks about how Chinese New Year has become one of Las Vegas’ “most critical holidays”, as vacationers come for gambling, performances, shopping, and even just a short getaway.

While reading the article, what got to me was not the main issue at hand, but rather that the article was posted on Belief.net in the first place. There were no religious/spiritual references in the article nor did they mention anything about how religion plays a role in Chinese New Year. I could not figure out why Belief.net would post such an article, especially since their mission is “to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness”. Unless of course, they assumed Chinese New Year is a religious holiday! Well, is it? Continue reading “Chinese New Year a Religious Holiday?”

Asian American Buddhists

I don’t want to sound like the Angry Asian Man, but I’ve had a hard time finding articles about Asian American Buddhists.

This is one of the classic issues for Asian Americans. The underrepresented minority caught between two worlds. Asian Americans born and raised in North America must continually confront a mainstream perception that they aren’t American enough. At the same time, Asian Americans face pressures from both within and outside the Asian American community of not being Asian enough.

The real issue for young Buddhists in the Asian American community is that there are very few Buddhist communities that they can go to without having to suppress part of their identity. Culturally Asian temples emphasize language and culture, which can be really intimidating for Asian American youth who feel excessively high cultural expectations placed on them. There is probably no coincidence that the virtually all Asian American Buddhists who are active in their communities are also fluent in their parents’ native language and culture.

But on the other hand, culturally American Buddhist centers often feel impersonal when stripped of culturally Asian (but maybe spiritually-lite) practices. And it’s hard for these American centers to understand the perspective of young Asian Americans, who may be intimately familiar with Buddhist symbolism and ritual, but don’t know what it all stands for. An iconoclastic emphasis on philosophy often smacks of inauthenticity.

Then again, there are organizations like the BCA that have really, in my opinion, managed to forge a unique Asian American identity. But cultural divisions in the Asian American Buddhist community continue. BCA Youth are more likely to play basketball with Japanese Methodists than with GĐPT youth (who also have basketball teams).

So is there a place for Asian American Buddhists in today’s Buddhist community? Maybe this is why the Pew study said that 50% of Buddhists choose not to keep the faith…