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.

Happy New Year!

This blog is officially two years old. Our first post in 2008 marked the Other Lunar New Year. (I write “lunar” although several countries time their celebrations in line with the Gregorian calendar.) I’d like to think of this date as a most auspicious anniversary. As I wrote then:

This festival is widely celebrated in nations that are predominantly Theravada Buddhist, so this theme is both fitting and auspicious for our first post! You may often hear/see this celebration called Songkran in ThailandLaos and CambodiaThingyan in Burma and Aluth Avurudhu in Sri Lanka. This new year is also celebrated in Nepal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Bengal (including Bangladesh). Apparently it’s not as much of a fest elsewhere in South Asia.

Similar posts from the past are here and here. I couldn’t find any writing on this holiday hanging around the anglophonic Buddhist blogosphere—save a background mention in a Tricycle post. Can’t say I’m surprised! It’s a sad and disappointing sort of vindication—if it weren’t for the Angry Asian Buddhist, I wonder how many self-styled “Western” Buddhists would recognize this holiday at all.

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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Exegesis of a White-privileged Notion

I’m going to take the amateur linguist in me for a spin. C.N. Le’s blog post on Asian Nation last Thursday was perceived as ridiculously offensive, even racist, by a number of White bloggers. I walked away from this post with different conclusions, perceiving no racist finger pointing, and instead a strong affirmation of the very same sentiments I occasionally experience at multicultural Buddhist retreats. In spite of heated back-and forth-comments, which have made liberal use of the terms racist, racism and white privilege, I believe further discussion is necessary. How did we come to these different conclusions from the very same words?

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A White Buddhist and Privilege

MeditatorI’m writing today’s post as a white male American Buddhist. I shouldn’t introduce myself as a privileged white Buddhist, though. Not because it’s unfair—but simply because it’s redundant.

To be clear, my privilege didn’t come as some sort of elite pedigree. My family lived in the urban projects, neither of my parents held a college degree, and I didn’t spend much of my childhood getting to know them because they both worked more than full-time jobs to cover the bills. My Jewish immigrant progenitors weren’t colonists, settlers, politicians or plantation owners. They were persecuted refugees who didn’t come here until long after the turn of the twentieth century—where, overworked, they continued to endure prejudice and discrimination—and they voted Democrat and Civil Rights all the way. But my white privilege runs even deeper. I am privileged by the very fact that I’m a white American dude.

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Asian Meter with R

I recently bought a new computer, and on this new computer I decided to install OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. The unintended consequence is that my Asian Meter graphs were no longer rendered the same way. Instead of tinkering around with OpenOffice graphics, I decided to go back to my grad school toolbox and write a script to generate Asian Meter graphs using R. But part of this meant that I had to re-enter my data (long story) and I will probably have to continue fine-tuning my R script. That said, here’s the most recent Asian Meter graph comparing just Tricycle and Buddhadharma (I still have to re-enter the Shambhala Sun data).

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What does Western Buddhism mean for people of color?

Okay, I know the title feels like a continuation of everything before (and it is), Lama Choyin Rangdrolbut it’s not because I woke up this morning itching to write another Angry Asian Buddhist post. Yesterday a student asked me about what it means to be Buddhist, so I decided to forward her a link to a post from a year ago, “What does it mean to not be Buddhist?” When I did a Google search for this title (too lazy to search my own blog!) the top article happened to be “American Buddhism: What does it mean for people of color?” written by Lama Choyin Rangdrol back in 1998. So you can imagine I was curious.

Below are some thoughts from another writer, from the last century (so to speak), that spoke to me today.

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I am a Western Buddhist

Buddhist monks“Dude, I just heard we’re not Western Buddhists!”

I’m at it again. I am sure that Kyle Lovett was entirely without ill motive when he wrote that he is not ashamed to be a Western Buddhist. He should not in any way be ashamed to be a Western Buddhist. But he should be ashamed of writing this:

For most of us Westerners, Buddhist study is not something we were born into, pressed into by culture, family or tradition, but approached by our own curiosity and initiative, with a free will and as true beginners. We all place logic, reason and good judgment over believing what is told to us out of a book or a sermon; relying on understanding over dogma and experience over blind faith.

We have, by our very open mindedness and divergent backgrounds made accessible the whole enigma that traditional Buddhism used to be, into something that is shared in an accessible and candid community. It is very difficult to find this anywhere else in this world, as practice for many traditional Buddhists is much more culturally based, and not often shared between denominations.

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Those hopeless Cambodian heathens

Over the past week I haven’t made much time for blogging. But I still read the feeds, and I saw a post on Cambodia: Details are Sketchy this morning, which really touched my (Angry Asian Buddhist) heart.

They sure are lucky the white people are here to save them.

“After 24 hours of travel – starting in Rocklin and ending in Battambang, Cambodia – not counting layovers, our team has settled into life and ministry in Cambodia. Even though our afternoon activities were rained out today we have already visited two local churches in the Battambang area where we shared testimonies, sang, prayed, made some crafts, and just had fun and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Their stories are inspiring to us and we hope we have been an encouragement to them.

After church on Sunday we climbed 358 steps to visit the ruins of a Buddhist temple on top of a local mountain. We were glad to learn more about the beliefs of the Cambodian people but we were also reminded of the hopeless situation of those many people who have yet to put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Poor little suckers, all brown and poor and heathened.