Firehorse is a particularly inspiring blogger I met through the Buddhist blogosphere. For most holiday posts, I give a short bio of the interviewee in question; in the case of Firehorse, he speaks more eloquently for himself than I ever could. Below, he answers my questions about himself, about Buddhism and about Vesak (also spelled “Waisak”), a major holiday celebrated on the full moon today.
Who are you?
I am someone who loves flowers. I don’t know their Latin names etc but I love the experience of being with flowers; their beauty, fragility and “nowness.” I love biking, dogs, eating street food, exploring new places and playing stuffed animals with my children.
I have always been a seeker.
I didn’t cry for many, many years but now tend to tear up quite easily.
I have struggled tremendously with what it means to be a man and to be an Asian American.
I am a second generation Chinese American born in Flushing, Queens. I grew up not knowing much about Chinese culture or being able to speak Mandarin or Cantonese but from elementary school age experienced racism. My mother told me I was chased home to our apartment by a group of kids and I ran in grabbed a baseball bat and ran out again. This must have been before 4th grade. Up through and including college I often got into fights; getting beat up, beating other kids up and getting bullied, with racism often being in the mix.
Contrary to the stereotype I am not good at math—I failed geometry and trigonometry.
I was asked to leave 2 high schools for disciplinary reasons.
As a college student I continued to have disciplinary issues, was on academic probation and helped lead a diversity movement where we took over the administration building for a week and at the end negotiated our demands with the trustees.
I was a community organizer in the Bronx for 2 years and then in 1992 came to Indonesia to teach English but mostly to deepen my study of martial arts and am still here now.
I am the husband to a wonderful wife and father of 2 wonderful children. They are all wise and patient teachers of mine.
I have been an organic farmer, using it as a vehicle to teach life skills to street youth and other disadvantaged youth. Learning about organic farming is a way to directly connect with oneself and nature. Holding a fistful of seeds, massaging manure into the earth, digging holes, planting, watering, nurturing life, getting rained on—just feeling how we are part of nature’s rhythms. Its been great to see how the youth have continued to develop after graduating from the program—how passionate they are about the environment and how they have started to help others.
Currently I am the Country Representative for the Indonesia program of the American Friends Service Committee. We are a peacebuilding organization based on Quaker values and collaborate with local organizations seeking to create peace where there is social and economic justice, healing, accountability and democracy. It’s been great to learn about Quakerism and to be part of AFSC’s efforts in peacebuilding.
What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?
As a meditation student I have focused on my own practice but after doing a retreat at a monastery in East Java recently, have become more interested in finding out about Buddhism as a whole and in Indonesia in particular. So I look forward to learning the answer to this question.
Indonesia has been experiencing challenges to its religious diversity which is an integral part of the country’s history and identity. For Indonesian Buddhists in particular I think this holiday should be viewed as a call to make Buddhist values and practice more relevant in preserving Indonesia as a diverse and pluralistic society.
For Buddhists in general, I think it’s an opportunity to reflect on how our practice can be of benefit to more people. In other words, how can we be more “engaged”? How can our own struggle with suffering help us engage with and help alleviate the suffering of others? Meditation has been a wonderful gift and tool but I also feel that its only the beginning—that we need to engage the injustice and violence all around us; in ourselves, in others and in society.
What does this holiday mean to you?
For me it’s an opportunity to reflect on and reaffirm my personal commitment to realize my own awakening and the awakening of others through my daily life and my work. Although they are interrelated, it reminds me of the need to constantly try to balance and integrate activism with my own meditation practice. What comes to mind is the Thich Nhat Hanh book title, Peace Is Every Step.
Perhaps Waisak is also an opportunity to reflect that the “raft is not the shore” and to remember we should not cling too tightly to any identity, including that of being Buddhist.
What do you plan to do on/for Vesak?
I will be meeting with representatives from local civil society organizations to plan how we can implement more effective peace activities including active nonviolence training that aims not only to facilitate personal transformation but also address societal issues. After that I hope I will still have time to make it to Borobudur in the evening to observe and participate in activities held by the Indonesian Buddhist community. There is something tremendously powerful about Borobudur and feeling connected to ancient generations of Buddhists.
I also plan to give thanks—to the many people and teachers who have helped me on the path with wisdom, kindness and love. Thank you all!
May we all love and be loved
May we all be touched by wisdom, peace and kindness
May we greet each day with clear eyes and a gentle heart
May we all be happy!