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.

I was surprised. I’d never seen Buddhist Asian Americans presented like this before. Placed together are the portraits of the first 16 Buddhist Asian Americans whose photos I could find with Google image search. Here you have writers, activists, politicians, consultants, professors and Dharma teachers. I could have gone on, but I need to rest before running the Bay to Breakers in a few hours.

In the past, I’ve caused a stir by making the exact same type of collage with photos of Buddhist Geeks conference speakers, the editors of Shambhala Sun and the contributors to a magazine feature on women in Buddhism. Those collages demonstrate how American Buddhism’s Asian majority are repeatedly marginalized from prominent discussions about Buddhism.

This image reminds me that there’s still so much more to write about Buddhist Asian Americans. The portraits remind me that we cannot be described by the coarse stereotypes of Oriental monkssuperstitious immigrants or banana Buddhists. We have incredible stories to share with you—if only one takes the care to look for them.

Happy Vesak!

I was reminded about this holiday by a Khmerican post last night with the photo below.

Then today on Twitter, @MichaelMurphyNY reminded me that I hadn’t posted about holidays in a little while. I didn’t have anything prepared for today. (In the past, I used to do interviews.)

A couple years ago I did an interview about Vesak with Firehorse, an Asian American who’s doing some incredibly awesome work in Southeast Asia. If you want to learn about Vesak from a unique perspective, then go check out that post.

There are a number of different holidays at this time of year to celebrate the Buddha’s birth. In general, the celebration takes place on the full moon day of May, hence this year it’s today. Many Chinese Mahayana Buddhists hold the celebration on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, which was May 17. (Last weekend, I was at the Southern California Celebration of the Buddha’s Birthday.) Japan, which long ago discarded the lunar calendar in favor of the Gregorian calendar, thus celebrates the holiday on April 8, which is extremely convenient for people who only use the Western calendar.

I’d love to hear how you celebrate Vesak. I’m going to temple this Sunday. #BuddhaDay

And thanks for the reminder, @MichaelMurphyNY.

Magha Puja

Today is Magha Puja. I had forgotten this date was coming up and was only reminded when I went to temple yesterday. If you haven’t heard of this holiday before, or if you’re not sure how Asian Americans celebrate this holiday, I encourage you to read my Magha Puja interview with a young Asian American Buddhist monk.

May you have every good blessing.

Photo credit: windsordi.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Today is Losar, shared by Tibetans, Sherpas and Mongolians, among others. If you don’t know much about Losar, I encourage you to read last year’s Losar post by Dolma, a young Sherpa American Buddhist.

Yesterday was the beginning of the Lunar New Year shared by Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese. This holiday is also recognized as a Buddhist anniversary, a fact I learned from Ven. Heng Sure’s blog. You can read my past thoughts about Lunar New Year here.

May you have a joyous year full of blessings and good fortune!

Buddhist Holidays 2013

The Buddhist holidays listed here with dates for 2013 are just a few that I’ve come to learn about through my brief experience of Buddhist America. I’ve linked the holiday names to past posts associated with each, so that you can learn more about each festivity.

For the past couple of years I’ve tried to interview other Asian American Buddhists to be able to share their holiday experiences. I ask the same four questions. Who are you? What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday? What does this holiday mean to you? What do you plan to do for this holiday? Then I share the answers with you.

If you’re Asian American and you’d like to share your thoughts or experiences associated with one of these holidays (or even holidays not listed here), I would love to hear from you. Just drop me a line in the comments below or message me on Twitter. I would be honored to share your thoughts in a blog post.

The Lunar New Year is coming up next week!

Magha Puja

I decided to cheat this year and post last year’s interview.

I have little time recently to tend to this blog, but fortunately you can learn something from interviews past. This interview was my first holiday interview. The interviewee was a good friend of mine, a young monk who also happens to be an enthusiastic leader, charismatic teacher, and a humble meditator. I’m delighted to be able to share this interview again.

Who are you?

A young (for now) Asian American monk who ordained in the Thai Forest Tradition.

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

Observing the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks, to hear the Buddha teach on a full moon night.

What does this holiday mean to you?

That so many liberated beings in saffron robes were gathered together in the same place to listen to the words of their liberated teacher, a fully awakened one, is itself beautiful and powerful. Imagine being in the presence of all those noble beings. Beyond that, the Ovada Patimokkha Gatha, what the Buddha taught that night 2,600 years ago, stands the test of time as the best and most concise (not to mention the most quoted) summary of the whole of the Theravada Teachings: “Avoid evil, do good, purify the mind, this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.”

What do you plan to do on/for Magha Puja?

Share the Buddhist Teachings with young people and then attempt to stay up late into the night to meditate and listen to the Dhamma.

You can check out other holiday posts on the holiday calendar page.

Losar Tashi Delek!

Today is the lunar new year known as Losar in Tibetan or Tsagaan Sar in Mongolian. Though often called “Tibetan New Year,” this holiday is celebrated by a number of different peoples with strong common historical ties. It is my privilege to interview Dolma, a Sherpa Buddhist, about what this holiday means to her.

Who are you?

A community-organising Sherpa Buddhist who loves tea and plants.

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

Losar is the Sherpa and Tibetan Buddhist New Year, and it’s one of the most important holidays of the year. We follow a Lunar calendar, and so like many other communities, this is the year of the Dragon. During Losar we aim to begin the New Year with a fresh start, which is represented through purification pujas and other traditions like cleaning your entire house and wearing new clothes.

What does this holiday mean to you?

For me personally, Losar is about family and community, and I enjoy the tradition and joy we share with each other during this time. I guess I have a migrant’s nostalgia about Losar too now that I don’t live in Nepal anymore. It makes me think about my mother’s stories about celebrating Losar in Solukhumbu, and how my cousins and I would pick out the candy and dried apricots out of bowls of khapsay(a sweet fried dough that we make for Losar) at relatives’ houses. I think about how we would throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) around at the Gompa, and in particular, the elderly Sherpa and Tibetan women who would run around and laugh as they threw tsampa at each other! I do look forward to the traditions that I still take part in here in the U.S. too, such as time with family and cooking particular dishes. And so Losar is a time for me to reflect on the past year, the one to come, and to share in this festivity with my loved ones. 

What do you plan to do for Losar?

My family is very spread out now, which makes visiting each other during Losar difficult, and there’s no Sherpa Gompa where I live. But my immediate family is much closer to me now (which is wonderful!) and so I spend Losar with them. We usually do the traditional practices, such as making khapsay and visiting friends in the area. There is usually a Sherpa Losar party as well, but we don’t celebrate Losar when a member of our family passes away, and with the passing of Trulsik Rinpoche, many communal Losar celebrations have been cancelled. 

I wish everyone a wonderful New Year – Losar Tashi Delek!

You can read other writing by Dolma on this blog (“How can you be angry? You’re a Buddhist!”). You can also check out other holiday posts (including the other lunar new year) here.

My First Kathina

This post is several months overdue, but I hope you will no less enjoy this interview about one practitioner’s first experience of the Kathina festival.

I celebrated Kathina last year with a group of friends at Metta Forest Monastery. Larene is one of these friends. She is a practitioner, artist, teacher, and caring spirit (in no particular order), and I was honored to spend the day in such good company and to be able to interview her about this Buddhist holiday experience.

Who are you?

I am a twenty-something Asian American Buddhist living in Los Angeles county.

What did you do on this holiday?

On this holiday, I went to Wat Metta Monastery with a couple of friends and a couple of other younger students in my Buddhist community. We went the night before the festival to offer help with whatever they needed to get done. On the morning of the festival, we woke up around 5:30am and went to the chanting service and meditation. Later, we helped with whatever needed to be helped with and took a short hike with a couple of other college students, who also came to volunteer and partake in the festival. We participated in the ceremony in which the monks received their robes and later enjoyed all the delicious Thai food that people made. Afterwards, 10 to 15 volunteers helped to break down all the tents and put away all the chairs. I had a great time!

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

I actually was not aware of this holiday previously, because the tradition that I am more familiar with is the Mahayana tradition. I am not sure, but I believe that Kathina is more of a Theravada tradition, or at least, it is the tradition of Thai forest monks. It is during this holiday that Buddhist monks receive a new set of robes, which happens once every year. It is also significant as a symbolic representation of the lay peoples’ support of the monks at this monastery. The other significant aspect of this holiday is the festivities in the form of food. Usually, laypeople will prepare food at the monastery under tents that are set up for the holiday. During the actual day of the festival, the lay people will line up with bowls of rice and a spoon; as the monks of the monastery walk down the line of people, each person will put some rice into their bowl, another symbolic gesture of the lay peoples’ support. After the ceremony, in which the monks are formally offered the robes, there is a big festival, where the food people bring is shared with everyone.

What does this holiday mean to you?

I attended this holiday because I didn’t know much about it, and also because I had heard about it from a friend. I saw this as an opportunity to better know and understand other Buddhist traditions and also as another way to volunteer. Because many tents had to be set up and broken down (in addition to other preparations) for the festival, I basically went to serve with other people.

If you’re interested in reading more holiday interviews, you can find them here and here.

Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s that time of year again.

With no response to my feeble request for a holiday interview, I decided to answer the usual interview questions myself.

Who are you?

I’m an Asian American Buddhist blogger. I blog on Dharma Folk and the Angry Asian Buddhist blogs. As of the past few months, you’re likely to find more frequent updates on Twitter.

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

For most of my life I haven’t thought of this holiday as having any intrinsic connection to Buddhism. I’ve always seen it as a holiday derived from Chinese culture that’s been infused with some Buddhist practices. But the same could be said of a lot of other “Buddhist” holidays like Rohatsu, which at root is a Chinese harvest festivalthat’s evolved into something that most Western Buddhist bloggers would only recognize as a winter Zen retreat.

If there’s anything very “Buddhist” about this day, I’d say it’s an opportunity to start the year with some good “Buddhist” deeds, so that these deeds will hopefully trickle forward into positive habits throughout the year. I usually begin with a midnight vegetarian meal and later visit temple with family or friends.

That said, I just read on Rev. Heng Sure’s blog that this day has another Buddhist connection of which I’d never known: “For practicing Buddhists the first day of the lunar new year is the celebration of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s anniversary. Maitreya is famous for having subdued his temper through learning ‘patience under insult.’ You simply can’t upset him. Insults, curses, even blows will not get his goat or shake his equanimity. He has a big belly, not from greed for food but from holding all the chi (qi) that people have thrown at him. Swear at him, cut him off in traffic, insult his mother, he endures it all because he has subdued himself—his false pride and vanity are long gone. He sees through the surface of relationships and understands that you wouldn’t be giving him grief if you had peace of mind. Why increase your afflictions by getting caught up in your unresolved drama? It has nothing to do with him, and he won’t waste a second of precious lifetime struggling with hurt feelings or animosity.”

What does this holiday mean to you?

For me, the New Year is all about home, family, and community. Friends have been sending me Chinese New Year videos that remind me to appreciate my parents, to never underestimate the power of love, and to never leave home behind. I haven’t eaten a New Year dinner with my family in well over ten years, but I hope to change that starting next year.

What do you plan to do for the Lunar New Year?

I’ve already done the temple visits. On the Saturday before New Year, some friends invited me to visit Hsi Lai Temple. I hadn’t visited the temple in five years, so it was refreshing to walk around, partake in delicious vegetarian food, and observe some New Year rituals before the crush of visitors expected yesterday and today.

As I’m writing this post late at night on Lunar New Year’s eve, I’m probably going to have a small vegetarian snack at midnight before preparing for tomorrow. My New Year’s plan is to send good wishes to my family and friends, to practice sitting meditation in the morning and evening, and to reflect and plan on what I’d like to do differently this year compared to last year.

There are a couple other Lunar-ish New Years coming up, so stay tuned.

And Happy New Year!

Buddhist Holidays 2012

I am going to try to continue last year’s experiment and interview people about how they celebrate Buddhist holidays. Many holidays went without interviews last year; I’m hoping this year will be more productive.

  • Lunar New Year · January 23
  • Losar · February 22
  • Magha Puja · March 7
  • Hanamatsuri · April 8
  • Songkran · April 13–15
  • Gotan-e · May 20–21
  • Vesak · June 4
  • Obon · July & August
  • Asalha Puja · August 2
  • Vu Lan · August 31
  • Ohigan · September 22
  • Kathina · November
  • Rohatsu · December 8

This list is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of Buddhist holidays. It’s more of a map (and reminder) for future holiday posts. You can find another partial list at About.com’s Buddhism page. If there are other Buddhist festivals you’d like for me to cover, just drop a note below in the comments (links would be useful too), and I will consider them.

Corrections are also most welcome.