Learning to know and control myself

Dancer in flight

This heartfelt tribute is by a friend who is a dancer, health care professional, community organizer, rights activist and writer who has contributed to the Angry Asian Buddhist blog, where this essay was originally posted. She frequently comments as Liriel.

I started dance late. I was nearly 13 years old and definitely not Misty Copeland. I had rhythm but not a particularly good pointe. I had flexibility but not particularly good balance. I still can’t do a back walkover to save my life. But I had a dance teacher who taught me to know my self, to care for my community, to understand my limitations, but not to quit until I’ve tested them, to love the dance, and to let it go.

I have so many memories of 羅老師. When she allowed me to perform so soon after my promotion to the advanced class that I didn’t know all the steps to the Ami dance. (She wasn’t worried about me embarrassing her; I showed up, so I was going on.) When she hired a Laker girl to teach us a very different style of dance. (She loved all types of dance and wanted us to have as broad an education as possible.) When she choreographed the perfect commencement dance for me upon my graduation from high school. (She then gifted that choreography to me – just in case I ever need it.) But the memory that returns to me most often is one of a fairly unremarkable class on a Sunday morning.

We had spent the class on the basics, focusing on form, doing across the floor exercises for the majority of the time. And I had had difficulty keeping up. My weight was balanced wrong; my fingers, droopy; my turnout, nonexistent. This last defect had 羅老師 coming up to me when I was in passé, taking hold of my leg, and guiding it to the left as I protested that I couldn’t move that way.

“See? You can move that way. You just weren’t trying.”

After class, as we were changing our shoes, 羅老師 came to talk to me.

“Prajña, dance is the art of knowing and controlling your own body. It might sound stupid. You might think, ‘I know how to control my body, I use it everyday;’ but it’s actually very hard. Most people cannot. But in this class, you need to try.”

This was the quiet, understated wisdom of 羅老師. As a full-time county welfare worker, a Saturday Chinese school principal, and a Sunday dance teacher. Dance never paid the bills for her, and she knew that none of us would ever go on to dance professionally. But she understood each of us and what we could learn from her dance class to carry with us through the storms of adolescence into the uncharted waters of adulthood.

I never thanked her for this, and now it’s too late. 羅老師 passed away last Friday, and I am grieving. But in my heart, 羅老師 left a handful of mustard seeds: “Prajña, dance is the art of knowing and controlling your own body.”

Mindfulness is the practice of knowing and controlling my own mind. But meditation has always been difficult for me. I always feel like a fraud. I always feel so alone. But today I will sit with the memory of 羅老師, tomorrow I will dance in her honor, and I will not be alone, and I will not be a fraud. Because it is hard, and I am trying.

S.N. Goenka passes away


It was my first ten-day retreat, and it changed my life. I used to look down on S.N. Goenka’s vipassana retreats, which all seemed to be just another new-agey approach to Buddhist meditation. But I found myself compelled to attend one such vipassana retreat, after I was overwhelmed with regret for mocking some friends about their dedication to this particular vipassana community. After the retreat, I wrote my friends a long apology and then finally wrapped up my studies to pursue the career I had held off on for so long.

S.N. Goenka’s passing brought me to think about the numerous ways in which he had left an imprint on my life. When I was in my teens, it was S.N. Goenka’s book, The Art of Living, that a Burmese monk at temple used as a guide to talk about meditation in English. Many of my friends, from ordained Buddhist monks to ordained Methodist ministers, have found their meditation practices bolstered after attending Goenka’s vipassana retreats. Having attended a Goenka-style vipassana retreat myself has proven to be an important connection point with many other Buddhists, even if it is not exactly the way I have continued to practice.

Perhaps most important is that S.N. Goenka managed to create an institutional movement that embodies many of the Buddhist values that are dear to my heart. His retreats were dana-based, where none are forced to donate and only those who have attended a retreat are allowed to donate. He valued the Mahasangha and saw his position as a lay teacher in complement—not a replacement—to the monastic community. And his teachings, developed by Asians and based in Asia, have been presented in a format that are accessible enough to global audiences that even Westerners are easily able to embrace them as their own.

S.N. Goenka has not been universally praised and his vipassana movement has attracted criticism. But I strongly feel that he has done a great deal to make the world more receptive to the power of meditation and has strengthened the Buddhist community—even without being Buddhist.

Happy New Year!

If you’re from one of the reddish areas, Happy New Year!

Map South and Southeast Asian regions celebrating an April New Year

My first post was a similar new year greeting nearly four years ago. Since then I’ve gone off to be the Angry Asian Buddhist and let my own writing here die down as my talented co-bloggers John, Oz and kudos have taken up some of the slack. There is so much that I have learned about writing and the Buddhist community in these past four years, from my earlier writing on Buddhist Americans to what turned out to be Dharma Folk’s most popular post ever.

Hopefully in this new year I will make more time to write here. There is much that I’d like to share about my practice and my community. For example, this year’s New Year was the most exciting new year that I’ve perhaps ever enjoyed, and being replete with Buddhist themes, it’s an experience I would love to share on this blog. But before then, we Dharma Folk might focus our energies to apply a more unique theme to the site.

Stay tuned.

That could be my mother

Compassion and rebirth are two basic tenets of traditional Buddhism that both came together for me recently as I sat reflecting on how I nearly drove my mother off the road. That incident occurred another night long ago. Irritated by a slow driver ahead of me, I tailgated the vehicle so closely that I could not even see the license plate. I persisted until the car turned off onto a side road.

But that side road was the very road that I intended to take to visit my parents—and the driver was my mother.

Continue reading “That could be my mother”

Engaging the Buddhist Community

Last weekend I participated in a small panel on Buddhism, where a Buddhist student in the audience asked me how I incorporate Buddhist practice into my everyday life. I gave her a fairly lame response along the lines of, “I meditate daily and—gosh, Buddhism practically permeates my life!”

Here is my attempt to give her a slightly better idea of how I have been engaged with the Buddhist community, along with the types of opportunities she likely will have in the Buddhist community after graduation.

Continue reading “Engaging the Buddhist Community”

I don’t have enough time to meditate

If I hadn’t made a stupid resolution to post at least once every month, I would not be writing this post tonight. I would be meditating—because I didn’t meditate this morning. But that’s still no excuse for not meditating.

The most consistent challenge I have to face in my daily practice is dealing with the limitless excuses that bubble up—the excuses that tell me I really don’t have to meditate. I don’t have enough time today. I can meditate better tomorrow. I don’t need to meditate every day. It’s so easy, so tempting to just go and sleep or check the news or eat or shop… But the truth is, I always have time to meditate. I always have ten minutes to squeeze out of my schedule.

For me, inspiration isn’t as much of a problem as is discipline. I am well aware that the biggest lie I tell myself is that meditation is not a priority. So here are some techniques I use for days like today—long days tucked between nights of less than four hours’ sleep.

Continue reading “I don’t have enough time to meditate”

Luangta Maha Bua Passes Away

It’s all over the front page of the Nation. “Thailand’s most revered monk; a guiding light has passed on.” Luangta Maha Bua had an enormous influence on Thai Buddhism, culture, politics and even the Thai economy. You can read some recent pieces about Luangta Maha Bua at Wandering Dhamma, where the author had the great fortune of being able to speak with him. For those who’ve never heard of this charismatic old monk, it is hard to relate how huge an impact he had on Thai Buddhism—not to mention what his passing may mean for the future of the Thai forest tradition. Much more to say, but those are my thoughts for now.

My thanks to Bhante Sujato for altering us of this sad news.


It’s been quiet around this blog lately. Last month was the first second in over two years that none of us bothered to post anything. Not for any lack of material—it’s just that other priorities won out.

When we began this blog, we did so figuring that we had unique perspectives to offer the online Buddhist community. All of us are young Buddhists who’ve been highly engaged in the community on the ground—each in our own way, and in ways you’re unlikely to find elsewhere on the Buddhist blogosphere. Our posts may not directly reference this involvement, but it’s hard to overstate how much these experiences guide our writing.

The flow of posts has slowed precipitously over the past year. The initial pull that brought us online has diminished, and so most of us have come to prefer sharing our practice offline. For my part, I’ve funneled my scant spare time and energy into “Angry Asian Buddhist” topics on the eponymous blog.

In the past few months, several Buddhists have approached me offline to encourage us to post more often. They have all been Asian Americans with an interest in deepening their practice and understanding of Buddhism. They have found little inspiration in many of the institutions they’d investigated, and were interested in hearing more from voices of young people like them. My goal for this coming year, then, is to publish at least once a month on my thoughts and experiences surrounding my personal practice in the context of being an Asian American Buddhist.

I hope my cobloggers join me as well. I deeply miss their posts—and their writing is much more eloquent and insightful than my own.

But that’s not all. We could use more writers. I’m especially interested in the voices of young Asian American Buddhist women. The community is seriously lacking our sisters’ voices in the discussion! I’m happy to publish guest posts as well. If you’d like to contact us, just leave a comment, and we’ll get back to you.

I’d like to revamp the site too—but that may be for another year.

May you all have a happy and peaceful new year!