November 24, 2016

We've Been Here All Along

There’s a lot in Funie Hsu’s article on the Lion’s Roar website that strikes a chord with me. Even the title resonates with a point I find I’m compelled to make, again and again, that not only am I an American Buddhist, at least four generations of my family have been practicing Buddhism in America in uniquely American ways. But is that how white Buddhists talk about us and American Buddhism? Hsu writes…

Indeed, Asian and Asian-American Buddhist practices have often been dismissed as superstitious, inauthentic (yet authentically exotic!) forms of Buddhism. In mainstream white American Buddhist conversations, white Buddhists are often heralded as the erudite saviors and purifiers of Buddhism. This perspective exemplifies the subtle enactments and overwhelming hubris of white supremacy. In positioning a certain type of Buddhism (white) as better than other kinds of Buddhism (Asian, “folk,” “baggage Buddhism”), the white ownership of Buddhism is claimed through delegitimizing the validity and long history of our traditions, then appropriating the practices on the pretext of performing them more correctly.

The issues discussed in this piece are controversial in our current political climate. But Buddhist America is not immune to the very racial stereotypes and divisions that run rampant in America in general. If we cannot address these issues in our own Buddhist communities, how can we think we can address them in broader American society and throughout the world?

The full piece is available online at Lion's Roar.

July 6, 2016

We’re not who you think we are

There is so much to say and share about this piece on the Lion’s Roar website. These thoughts by author Chenxing Han resonated with me particularly.

It saddens me that many Asian Americans—myself included—are reluctant to “come out” as Buddhist. Sometimes this reluctance arises from a fear of being discriminated against or stereotyped. Sometimes it comes from a sense of inadequacy and inauthenticity when comparing ourselves to the white Buddhists who seem to be doing most of the defining in American Buddhism. Yet I am also reassured by a reminder from Alyssa, an interviewee whose Buddhist journey has taken her from a college meditation group on the East Coast to a Buddhist nunnery in China to various sanghas in her native Bay Area: even if they aren’t a trending topic on social media, Asian American Buddhists are everywhere.

You can read the full piece here.

May 25, 2016

Learning to know and control my self

This heartfelt piece is by a friend who is a dancer, health care professional, community organizer, rights activist and writer with whom I coauthored a letter to Buddhadharma. 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.

March 11, 2016

Thank yous

A little over a year ago, Funie Hsu of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship interviewed me in Turning Wheel Media. The BPF team was kind enough to go through the painstaking effort of transcribing the interview with an incredible faithfulness to my awkward style of speaking and incoherent ramblings.

Given the span of time since my last post, I felt it appropriate to share some thoughts from that interview.

February 9, 2015

Making Our Way Without Asians

There is little new to say that I didn’t already say five years ago.

Let me start out, as I normally do, by noting that there are many virtues to the Buddhadharma discussion, “Making Our Way: On Women and Buddhism.” Sandy Boucher, Grace Schireson, Christina Feldman, Lama Palden Drolma and Rita Gross are individuals with considerable experience examining and debating the topic of women and Buddhism. They have wonderful insights to share, many of which I highlighted and jotted down in my notebook. But as you might have guessed, I noticed something missing.

Namely, Asians.

December 15, 2014

Rev. Taitetsu Unno (1929–2014)

This weekend I received the sad news of the passing of Rev. Taitetsu Unno. I am at a loss of words to describe the great impact that he has had on me and people around me. There are many wonderful stories I’ve heard of him, but before sharing any of them, I encourage you to read a short biography by his son, Rev. Mark Unno.

Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno completed his life journey on Saturday, Dec 13, 2014. To the very end, he was fully aware and at peace, saying, “Thank you for everything, Namu Amida Butsu,” and when he could no longer speak, simply putting his palms together in gassho. His family and close friends who came to visit in his last days and hours experienced the deep joy of being with him and chanting together, immersed in the rhythms of boundless compassion. He received the remarkably good fortune, the great gift of the Dharma, of the life of Namu Amida Butsu, which he was able to share with so many.

You can read his full biography here.

Namu Amida Butsu

October 28, 2014

The Buddha is the New Face of Customer Service

Apparently the Buddha works at a San Francisco customer service start up. At least so it appears when you first see Zendesk’s brand mascot, The Mentor, who is elsewhere more affectionately referred to as “Buddhy.” Ugh.

Buddhy is cultural appropriation at its most flagrant. Zendesk has taken Buddhist iconography, particularly that of Budai, and repackaged it as an integral component of their brand asset portfolio. What’s worse is that when you flip through their social media stream, ZenDesk employees repeatedly play on Oriental stereotypes and often put The Mentor in situations that many millions of Asian Buddhists would immediately perceive as blatant disrespect.

Zendesk has been parading their mascot around for years now. I’m amazed I didn’t learn about it until just this past weekend, especially since it seems so many other Buddhists have already been talking about it.

What do you think about Zendesk’s brand asset choice?

HT to Wanwan.

May 18, 2014

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

If I had more time, I would celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month by writing a post about every Buddhist Asian American who has a great story to share. I would write about issues that affect the lives of Buddhist Asian Americans. I would essentially do all the things that I try to do every day on this blog.

So this year I did something different. I made a collage.

April 30, 2014

Stereotypology of Asian American Buddhists

Buddhist Asian Americans are often surprised to encounter so many stereotypes about us. For all the claims we mostly keep to ourselves in “ethnic enclaves,” there seems to be a rather thorough set of stereotypes about people whom most white Buddhists claim to barely know. Worse yet is that these stereotypes are routinely cited as solid facts.

The stereotypes are generally about how different we are from “American Buddhists.” These might sound familiar: We Buddhist Asian Americans are basically immigrants. We cannot speak English and carry a more supernatural bent. We focus our energies into holidays and spiritual beliefs instead of meditative practices. We really “place little emphasis on meditation.” Some of us are Oriental monks who bring our exotic teachings to the West. The temples we attend aren’t about spreading the Dharma—they’re just ethnic social clubs. I could go on.

These stereotypes fall into two or three categories. You are probably most familiar with the Oriental Monk and the Superstitious Immigrant, but there’s another emerging icon that I’ve seen with increasing frequency: the Banana Buddhist. Call it a typology of Asian American Buddhist stereotypes—or a stereotypology, if you will.

April 19, 2014

Is your family Buddhist?

I know there are a bunch of Asian Americans who read this blog, who happen to be from Buddhist families. Now, I also know that the terms “Buddhist” and “practice Buddhism” may be a bit loaded. You may not explicitly call yourself “Buddhist,” but I think you should get in touch with Kat Chow if you feel that Buddhist principles are important to your worldview and maybe you meditate or go to temple with your family or read up on Buddhism. I’m definitely not looking for the Buddhist counterpart to Jeremy Lin.

I was elated to see @Quincetessence and @catzuella respond on Twitter. I love seeing Buddhist Asian Americans embrace their Buddhist identity, even if it isn’t the first, second or even fifth most important thing in their lives. I continue to hear that we Asian Americans don’t speak up enough, and I’m hoping that you can help prove this stereotype wrong. Because the last thing I want to see is an interview without voices that represent the beautiful diversity of experiences and opinions that is Buddhist Asian America.

Many thanks to Katherine Rand (@itsalldhamma) for sharing this link with me, especially so I can share this with you.

March 21, 2014

Who are non-ethnic Asian Westerners?

There are many ways to talk about Asians and non-Asians in Buddhism in the West, but perhaps one of the strangest approaches is by Barbara O’Brien. She has been using a particular terminology for a while, but it didn’t occur to me how strange her wording was until last week when she used the expression, “non-ethnic Asian westerners [sic].”

Who are the Asians who aren’t ethnic? This expression puzzled me because O’Brien routinely uses the term “ethnic Asian” to talk about people of Asian heritage, but I always imagined that “ethnic” was a redundant modifier. Whenever I read those words, I always smirk because “ethnic Asian” suggests that there are Asians who are “ethnic” and Asians who aren’t. I always assumed that O’Brien was using this term somewhat unnecessarily to emphasize “Asian” as an ethnicity, but now it suddenly looked meaningful. You could be an “ethnic” Asian or a “non-ethnic” Asian! Which one am I?

January 5, 2014

Resolution 2014

My New Year’s resolution for this blog is to read Jane Iwamura’s Virtual Orientalism. I’ve listened to a podcast interview with Iwamura on New Books in Religion (thanks, Danny!), and I’ve read an article by her in Hyphen Magazine (thanks, Barbara!). I’m intrigued with how Iwamura writes about the “Oriental monk” icon. I would even argue that one cannot properly understand Buddhism in America without understanding this icon.

Note that my resolution is to read this book, not necessarily to write about it. My writing has trailed off over the past few months. I don’t expect ever to publish as frequently as once a month. But if you are inspired to read, question and discuss this book, then I hope you share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. (Just remember the comments policy.)

August 16, 2013

Not Your Normal Buddhist Conference

Today begins the Buddhist Geeks Conference with the fewest ever number of Asian American speakers in its lineup. I have already pointed out that the conference tends to be overwhelmingly white and that Buddhist Asians don’t appear to play much of a role in what the Geeks deem to be the emerging faces of Buddhism. The speakers’ photo roster naturally tells the story better than I possibly could…

You can catch a livestream of the Buddhist Geeks Conference at Tricycle, which coincidentally has the same number of Asian Americans among its editors as Buddhist Geeks has among its conference speakers. Fancy that!

May 28, 2013

American Gatha

This is about music and the Shin Buddhist community. If you are a current or past member of a Shin Buddhist community who currently lives in North America or Hawai‘i, please consider participating in this survey. A lot of people are taking this survey, but it won’t be the same without your voice. It’s also available in Japanese.

May 25, 2013

Where is the first Khmer American temple?

A good chunk of my questions this month ask to identify the first, the largest, the most whateverest. In the past, I’ve pointed to these superlatives to highlight Asian Americans’ significant role in the development of Buddhism in the United States. But there is a more important reason for asking these questions.