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.

There’s a lot that I want to write about, talk about, explore, as an Asian American Buddhist and otherwise. But, over time, as I realize a lot of people are looking at what I say, I’m really not completely at ease with writing. Because it strikes me that whatever I say, a lot of people are going to misinterpret it. So I feel a lot of pressure to write clearly. Which is always an important quality. You should always write clearly. You should never degrade that. But because there’s more pressure, oftentimes we just don’t write.

There’s a story I love, about a bunch of Thai American Buddhists who pulled together to save their temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram in Berkeley, CA. The neighborhood of mostly non-Thai residents tried to get their temple food court shut down, and that would’ve cut off a major stream of revenue for the temple. But a bunch of young Thai American Buddhists banded together. I remember reading about it in the Wall Street Journal – and there was this WSJ video of them. One of the organizers, Pahole Sookkasikon, won Hyphen Magazine’s Mr. Hyphen award in 2009. That was a really cool story – I wish that was in Tricycle Magazine or Shambhala Sun. That’s a really cool thing that young Buddhists did, getting together to save their parents’ temple – saving their temple, their community’s temple. When I tried to interview them they were like, “I don’t know if I can talk about this.” They were totally fine with being up in front of the cameras when the temple was on the chopping block, but when it came to talking to other Buddhists about what they did, they were like, “Well, I don’t know.”

And it’s funny because I feel like I’m the same way. When you insult my grandmother, then I’m going to write that flaming internet post. But when it’s like, “I want you to talk about these ideas,”… I don’t know what to talk about, I’m gonna make a fool out of myself… andmy community… and my family. So, it’s a strange dynamic we have.

I never expected this blog to gain so much notoriety. I mean, Charles Prebish even mentioned me in his memoirs! (Okay, I was barely more than a footnote.) All this publicity because I’ve written a few dozen blog posts about the very obvious ways by which white Buddhists in America treat Buddhist Americans of Asian heritage, but are loathe to admit.

Talking about these issues has felt like a very lonely affair, but recently I’ve been getting some refreshing support. There are several Buddhist Asian Americans (and Canadians) I’ve met over the past few years who have transformed my own view of what it means to be both Buddhist and Asian American. Right now I don’t have enough space to thank them all, but I want to give a particular shout out to Chenxing HanFunie Hsu, Dedunu Sylvia, Susan Yao, Mushim Ikeda Nash and Jo Yuasa. Your writing and your encouragement is what compelled me to write more. You are the reason that I was willing to step back out of a very comfortable silence.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for being my role model.

Charles Prebish Believes I’m Racist

Thanks to Rev. Danny Fisher, I was pointed to a recent Secular Buddhist podcast hosted by Ted Meissner featuring Charles Prebish, Sarah Haynes, Justin Whitaker and Danny himself.

All of the podcast guests, foremost of them Charles Prebish, are individuals who have done tremendous work to promote the interests and visibility of Asian Buddhists in North America. I was delighted to hear that they were brought together to share their valuable thoughts and perspectives on “Two Buddhisms.” Several facets of their discussion relate to issues that I discuss on this blog. In fact, Chuck even mentioned me briefly—though from what I heard, he didn’t have much good to say! I’m very flattered for the mention, but I’d have rather preferred he left out his degrading speculative inexactitude.

I found their full discussion very interesting and well worth listening to. With luck I’ll have the chance to share my thoughts at a later date. You can download or listen to the podcast at the Secular Buddhist.

Tricycle Interview

There’s an interview with me posted 犀利士 uddhist-interview-arunlikhati”>over at the Tricycle blog. It was a delightful honor to take part in this interview with Emma Varvaloucas. Many thanks also to the other Tricycle editors for their input, ensuring my conversational incoherence turned out less incoherent than it actually is (imagine that), and for getting rid of the dead cat.

How Can You Be Angry? You’re a Buddhist!

This entry was written by Dolma, an Angry Asian Buddhist who works for an interfaith organization.

In an interview with Time Magazine, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was asked, “Do you ever feel angry or outraged?” His Holiness laughed as he replied, “Oh, yes, of course. I’m a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain.” While I enjoyed His Holiness’ initially confused expression, I also appreciated his answer. Because really, it’s a silly question, especially when you consider the obstacles and difficulties that His Holiness has faced throughout his life. However, many Buddhists are asked this same question. I’m often asked, “Do you get angry?” or worse, “How can you be angry? You’re a Buddhist.”

From the looks of shock I receive, it seems like I’m confessing to some debilitating habit or addiction. But it’s simply my truth, one aspect of my humble experience. I’m an angry, South Asian, Buddhist woman. And sometimes, it isn’t easy being an angry Buddhist. It isn’t easy when someone trivialises your ability and need to be angry.

Of course any unexpected reaction is bound to be surprising. But it’s the dismissal of anger that’s insulting. The, “you’re overreacting” or “Buddhists aren’t supposed to get angry.” While it’s definitely true that the Dharma encourages us to acknowledge and then release our anger, I don’t understand the high expectations many have of Buddhists. It’s ridiculous to assume that Buddhists have a monopoly on kindness. And at the same time, does any religion promote anger? Or does any religion suggest that one should never be angry? If a Christian expressed his/her anger at the commercialisation of Christmas, I doubt a common reaction would be, “How can you be angry? That isn’t very Christ-like.” Or if a Muslim expressed frustration with Islamophobia, would anyone say, “Well, the Holy Quran states, ‘Those who spend in Allah’s Cause, in prosperity and in adversity, who repress anger, and who pardon men; verily, Allah loves.’” But many individuals, whether they have any knowledge of Buddhism or not, seem to be comfortable with hushing a Buddhist critique. A patronising “calm down,” some poorly recited Sutras, and a “Well, I’ve read Siddhartha.” That’s what we get. Fantastic.

These dismissals truly stem from Orientalist ideologies. Asians are perceived as submissive and obedient, and therefore, adherents to an Asian religion must contain themselves in a similar manner. This is where my anger truly stems from, which is why I feel disheartened when my fellow Buddhists suggest that I’m overreacting. I always welcome discussion on religion, theology and spirituality. However these situations are not respectful engagements, they’re the layering of weary prejudices that are inherently violent. They’re disrespectful to my religion, ethnic community, and to my identity as a whole. In his teachings on anger, the Buddha encouraged us to avoid harmful speech, and to apply lovingkindness where there is anger. He also said, “Speak the truth, control anger.” So, how can I get angry if I’m a Buddhist? It’s very simple. I’m a human being, I get angry sometimes. I just don’t let my anger consume me; instead, I speak my truth.

Master of My Own Domain

I received as a present for a certain special time of the year (which is not coming up this weekend). Then I discovered I can create static pages on Blogger too! I can see my free time spiraling down the drain faster than those Google Buzz comments are rolling in. It’s like being 18 months old in a crib full of new toys all over again.

I was too excited setting up the new domain to follow the common courtesy of publishing a notification that traffic is being redirected—just to clear up RSS confusion. Next time.

Asian Meter 2009

How much things change in a year! A year ago this blog did not even exist. I was still wrapped up in the excitement of unleashing my inner Angry Asian Buddhist onto the blogosphere. Who knew the party would go on so long?

On the other hand, there are many things that barely change at all. For example, look at how few bylines continue to be set aside for Asians in the The Big Three publications. (And by Big, I’m talking about distribution.) Below I present the aggregate results for 2009.

The Asian Meter developed out of a play on the Buddhist community’s fascination with the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew’s Buddhist numbers were questionable largely because of flawed assumptions about the Asian American community—like how many of us are out there. And without any attempt to validate the numbers, Buddhist publications chose to take them at face value.

I decided to run the numbers on the periodicals themselves. There’s no special magic behind the Asian Meter. The metric is a simple quotient of Asians. Originally I looked at the proportion of writers of Asian heritage in a given publication. These days, I focus on the proportion of bylines allocated to writers of Asian heritage. There are different benefits and drawbacks to this shift in methodology, but I don’t care to talk about it—that’s what the comments section is for! My precious few readers probably prefer the graph.

Tricycle remains the laggard, with nearly half as many Asians in its pages as the pack leader, Shambhala Sun. I’ve taken the liberty of combing back through several years of issues, only to find that Tricyclists stick to the habit of, on average, setting aside just one out of every ten bylines to an Asian brother—and sometimes an Asian sister.

To get an idea of what I see when I look at the authors in Tricycle, an area graph tells a better story. Consider that we probably make up at least half of the Buddhist community. We speak English! We are Americans! Let us in!

Here’s to positive changes in 2010! Sabbe satta abyapajjha hontu!

Intermittently Unplugged

Until last week, surfing the web had been the first and last of my daily routines. The installation of my new internet service seemed sure to deepen my addiction, but the new box proved to be an unexpected failure. My personal computer has been unable to connect. Instead of picking up the phone and dialing for service, I decided to cook some Japanese eggplant—which I had never done before. My life has begun to change from there. It’s as though entire hours of my daily schedule have been redevoted to cooking. Contacting people in the community has involved more personal phone calls, fewer mass mailings and more delegation of responsibility than I would previously have felt comfortable with (and sometimes more than others feel comfortable with assuming). Meditation has returned to being the first routine. In the meantime, my blogging has taken the biggest hit. But it’s been a wonderful experience.

The Neutral Man’s Burden

I couldn’t help myself. Somewhat related to the post on Dharma Folk.

[Archivist’s Note: the original post contained an embedded video of a “The Word” segment from The Colbert Report. The video was embedded via Flash which is no longer supported by the Internet.]

My favorite lines:

In America, white is neutral.

Now for years, band-aids only came in only one color…white person. It’s standard “person” color. In fact it is so standard, that when I was a kid, in crayola boxes, it was the color called “flesh.” Now most Americans accept this [points at his own hand] as “neutral” without thinking about it.

And that is why the decisions made by all those white justices were not affected by their experiences; because their life experiences were “neutral.” That led to “neutral” decisions.

For instance, take the Dredd Scott Case. Those justice’s life experience, being white men in pre-Civil War America, some of whom owned slaves, in no way influenced their decision that black people were property. And the personal backgrounds had nothing to do with the all neutral court’s decision that it was legal to send Japanese-Americans to internment camps in 1942. Imagine how the life experience of an Asian judge would have sullied that neutrality!

Not to mention, in our “post-racial” society, a Harvard professor can be arrested for getting upset when police ask him to prove that he entered his own house. What a day.

Bouddhiste Asiatique Énervé

Towards the end of a post on the artist, blogger and social activist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), I came across a single sentence that made me bury my face in my hands.

Aimablement provocateur, cet homme de 51 ans ressemble à un bouddha sympathique qui se serait laissé pousser une sauvage barbe poivre et sel. [Kindly confrontational, this man of 51 years looks like a pleasant Buddha left to grow a wild, salt and pepper beard.]

Dude, and I look like an angry Buddha who lost weight. The post is, otherwise, informative.