Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

This post comes a bit late, but perhaps better later than never. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

You can read the official presidential proclamation here, the kick-off statement from Secretary Locke here and the official Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month website here. The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, co-chaired by Secretaries Locke and Duncan, even has its own website. You can also read the presidential executive order that established this initiative (Executive Order 13515, “Increasing Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Federal Programs”).

Of course, every month is APAHM at the Angry Asian Buddhist blog. I wish I had time to write more, but it will have to wait for another day. Still, this is an occasion that the entire Buddhist community can celebrate!

Suksan Wan Songkran!

Today is the second day of Songkran, the Thai New Year—also a New Year (albeit under slightly different pronunciations and traditions) celebrated by Laos, Khmers, Mons and Burmese. Beyond Southeast Asia, this “Other New Year” is also celebrated in Nepal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Bengal (including Bangladesh). For this holiday, I interviewed a marvelously enthusiastic Buddhist practitioner, whom I met years ago through mutual friends in America’s Midwest.

Who are you?

I’m Dome, an American-born Thai, repatriated in Thailand ☺

What’s the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

Songkran’s history with Buddhism runs deep, though only two things come to my mind that show its ties: as it is considered a New Year, new resolutions or renewing old commitments towards doing good is always a Buddhist practice. As they say, practice makes perfect. So aside from the squirt guns, powered water and the games people play to get each other wet during Songkran, some devote their time off from work to go to temples, uphold precepts, and practice their minds to achieve their New Year goals. Nonetheless, for those less bound to a temple, a Buddha image is always presented in front of offices, in neighborhood communities, or as part of a ceremony for anyone to pour water over as an act of cleansing and cooling both the receiver and giver.

What does this holiday mean to you, and how do you plan to celebrate it?

To me, Songkran is a time for reflection of things gone by and things to come. But more importantly, I reflect on my happiness and my practice. I have to admit though, my reflections in these past few years during Songkran have been short. Even now, I’ll be spending it abroad outside of Thailand! I’ll be missing all of the water fights, and the time to spend at the temples, but I continue to make this holiday a merry one!

It brings me immeasurable joy to be able to share the voices of other Asian American Buddhists with the wider Buddhist blogging community. Especially when it comes to holidays that celebrate our cultural heritage, it’s great to hear our voices speak for themselves. Suksan Wan Songkran!

Thingyan Mingalar

By word of a friend, I was put in touch with Aung Htin Kyaw, a talented and enthusiastic community organizer in Southern California. I interviewed Aung Kyaw to learn his thoughts on Thingyan, the Burmese New Year, which begins today.

Who are you?

I am a 2nd generation Burmese American of Chinese heritage. I am currently a college student studying in Los Angeles.

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

While there is no overt Buddhist meaning to this holiday (unlike Thadingyut, for example, which marks the end of the Buddhist lent), Thingyan is considered a very good time to practice the Buddhist precepts, perform merit acts and show respect for one’s elders (by practicing gadaw, the custom of kneeling, prostrating to show veneration to parents and grandparents).

What does this holiday mean to you?

To be honest, this holiday does not have much spiritual meaning for me. Considering that I also celebrate New Year and the Chinese New Year, the importance of crossing over to the Burmese New Year loses its significance for me. It’s just a nice time to celebrate my cultural heritage with friends and family.

What do you plan to do on/for Thingyan?

I’m hoping to organize a trip to South El Monte for other Burmese students to celebrate “Maha Thingyan,” an annual Thingyan festivalheld in the San Gabriel Valley by the Southern California Burmese Association.

Aung Kyaw’s blog Fifty Viss has kept me informed on many issues relating to Burmese Americans, be it finding Burmese food in America or the status of “Burmese” in the 2010 United States Census. Although he hasn’t continued updating the blog in recent years, you can still learn lots (not to mention look at beautiful photos) by combing through the archived posts. I’m not going to have time to attend the Southern California Thingyan festival this weekend, but if you live down here, I strongly encourage you to drop by—and afterward, drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

(Disclaimer—I’ve never actually heard anyone say thingyan mingalar, but it works better for the post title than hnit thit mingalar…)

Hanamatsuri 2011

I fail again at doing an interview for Hanamatsuri, as I did for Magha Puja and Ohigan. I’d like to use the excuse that I’m traveling, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived—but in all seriousness, I need to work harder at these interviews. If you’re curious what in the world this Hanamatsuri holiday is, I happily point you to a very nice post at Japan: Life and Religion.

April Fools’ Day and Wrong Speech

This year’s April Fools’ Day hoax was set up to be as believable as possible. I posted at the end of April 1 (11:59pm PDT), I provided an emotional context and I resisted extending the post’s arguments to reveal their flaws. It turned out to be a much more convincing prank than last year’s. In at least one case, it was even more hurtful.

One loyal reader’s feedback was both flattering and intensely humbling. She expressed her appreciation for this blog’s discussion of issues relating to Western Buddhists of Asian heritage. Unlike most Buddhist blogs, this blog does not hesitate to write about instances where these Buddhists are ignored and marginalized in Western Buddhism, particularly in North America. But my April Fools’ Day post celebrated arguments that denounce the discussion of race issues in the Buddhist community—the very sort of argument that this blog normally challenges. As a result, the hoax felt like a betrayal, a sentiment which lingered even after the ruse was unveiled. Repeating this prank another year didn’t help.

There are two main reasons why I regret my April Fools’ Day posts. First, I unintentionally hurt a reader from the very community that this blog aims to speak out for. There are few blogs that discuss the issues that Asian American Buddhists face in Western Buddhism, and I made it seem as though I had withdrawn my support. It’s a cruel game to toy with loyalty and support.

Second, I regret the fact that these posts were stitched together from completely intentional falsehoods. As I’ve discussed before, sarcasm and verbal irony are by definition both deliberate deviations from the truth for the sake of humor. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes: “Especially here in America, we’re used to getting laughs with exaggeration, sarcasm, group stereotypes, and pure silliness — all classic examples of wrong speech. If people get used to these sorts of careless humor, they stop listening carefully to what we say. In this way, we cheapen our own discourse.”

To be entirely clear, I have in no way changed my opinion as I otherwise suggested. The prank was to sincerely explore three basic arguments that are repeatedly used to shut down the discussion of race in Western Buddhism. I’ll hopefully find the time over the next few days to write exactly why each of the issues I brought up is a not a good enough reason to avoid this discussion. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to keep my snark on a leash.

Happy Ohigan!

Today marks the start of Ohigan (or Higan-e), a Japanese Buddhist holiday. To learn more about this holiday, I had the honor of interviewing Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge, resident minister at the Buddhist Church of Oakland. On the blogosphere, you may be more familiar with Rev. Harry’s podcast, the DharmaRealm, a Shin Buddhist podcast, which he produces with Dr. Scott Mitchell. Rev. Harry can also occasionally be found teaching at the Institute for Buddhist Studies.

Who are you?

A half-Asian Jodo Shinshu Buddhist minister. Also a musician and cat lover.

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

I think several explanations are possible. “Higan” means “Other Shore” – in other words, the Other Shore of enlightenment. At the spring and autumn equinoxes, when night and day are the same length, the Japanese considered the Other Shore to be at its closest point, and thus an important time to practice, especially the paramitas. In fact, the term “paramita” can be interpreted as “reaching the Other Shore.”

Having lived in Kyoto, which is bone-chillingly cold in winter and unbearably hot and humid in summer, I wonder if monks found the mild weather of spring and fall to be more conducive to extended practice and lectures?

What does this holiday mean to you?

I usually view Ohigan in terms of balance. With night and day of equal length and mild weather neither too hot nor cold, I see the Middle Way in action.

What do you plan to do on/for Ohigan? 

My temple held its Ohigan celebration a week early. Not for any particular reason, things just worked out that way. One interesting result was that our service was on the first day of daylight savings time, so that things were kind of thrown out of balance. This was reflected in the world, since our service was a couple of days after the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan. But although part of my Dharma Message was about the sadness we feel for those suffering, I also went ahead with my initial plan for a call-and-response funk version of the Golden Chain, calling on everyone to aspire to be the best Buddhists we can be, to try and be kind and gentle to every living thing, with the wish that all beings attain perfect peace. 

You can follow Rev. Harry on his blog, The Nenju, and also on Twitter (@gyokyo). Last year, Rev. Harry participated in an all-Asian American interview about Buddhism in America, which I blogged about. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of Rev. Harry and his work in the Buddhist community.

All my best wishes for your practice this Ohigan.

Losar Musings

Today marks the Tibetan New Year, Losar. In line with my most recent holiday post, I planned to invite a local Tibetan American to write some personal thoughts on celebrating Losar. You will probably see a number of blogs today post about Losar, but for the most part, you’ll be reading about white Buddhists describing a Tibetan holiday.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with white folk celebrating Tibetan culture. In fact, I feel it’s absolutely important that we hear the voices of white Buddhists who practice Tibetan Buddhism, and who feel an abiding bond with Tibetan culture, including Losar. But what you’ll be missing out on is what they can’t tell you. For example, they can’t tell you what Losar means to them from growing up in a Tibetan family.

Amid all my criticism of white Buddhist publishers, writers and bloggers for their rampant neglect of Asian America, I operated under a silly assumption that these same individuals would realize that they were effectively excluding Asian American Buddhists from the conversation of Buddhism in the West—and then do something to change things. It’s become increasingly evident that the closest thing to inclusion we can expect from these writers is the appropriation of Asian American narratives and relating them through their own white-privileged perspectives. We hear white Buddhists speaking out about Wat Lao Buddhasampham—but where are the voices of the Lao Buddhists?

It’s not necessary to have an ethnic Tibetan talk about Losar to understand what Losar means—nor is it necessary to hear from a Lao Buddhist in Kansas to understand the injustice currently facing Wat Lao Buddhasampham. But the continued displacement of Asian American voices from the discussion of Buddhist America sends the implicit message that these voices are not worth including. By simply not changing the way we go about our research, interviews and writing, we accept the inequity of the status quo and thus support the continued subjugation of our diversity under the weight of the white privilege so tightly woven into Western Buddhism.

Then again, whose words are you reading here today, other than my own? I have no interview with other Asian Americans to present today for Losar. A death in the family pulled me away from my preparations, but that’s really no good excuse. If I’m going to castigate Buddhist publishers and bloggers for keeping Asian American Buddhists out of the spotlight, then I’d like should show them exactly who they’re missing. If you know of people you think should be interviewed on Angry Asian Buddhist, please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below, and I’ll be more than happy to look into setting up guest posts and interviews.

Until then, tashi delek!

Magha Puja

This year I’ve decided to celebrate Buddhist holidays by opening my blog to the voices of Asian American Buddhists. Buddhists across America will be celebrating Magha Puja this weekend, a lunar holiday that took place two nights ago. I decided to ask a good friend about this holiday and what it means to him.

[Archivist note: regrettably, the rest of this post was lost in transition to the new server.]

Happy Lunar New Year!

This year was the first year that I didn’t do any of the family or community events that I’d planned to do. I didn’t travel north to visit family. I didn’t attend temple on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t eat the auspicious midnight meal or go temple hopping the next day.

Instead, I tried to do today what I’d like to accomplish on a normal workday. I began with meditation and exercise, continued with mindful and diligent work, shared meals with dear friends and now am writing about it all.

It would be easy for me to claim that Lunar New Year is not a “Buddhist holiday,” but it’s been very deeply incorporated into Buddhist practice. In fact, several Buddhist traditions have been so thoroughly incorporated into my family’s New Year practice that even non-Buddhist relatives follow them. I’m not even sure if they know it!

Elsewhere on the Buddhist blogosphere, Babara O’Brien writes about Chinese New Year, the IDP blog serves up a poem, while Wake Up and Laugh! provides a very touching story. From our nation’s government, you can see the New Year greetings from Secretary Locke, and also read thosefrom President Obama.

While often referred to as Chinese New Year, this New Year is also shared by Koreans and Vietnamese. There’s no arguing this holiday’s Sinitic roots, but for Vietnam—a nation that endured a thousand years of Chinese colonization—this holiday has a very unique spirit and set of traditions, separate from how it’s practiced in China. Not to mention that according to the Vietnamese calendar, this is the year of the cat!

May you have a most blessed, healthy, successful and happy year!

Buddhist Holidays 2011

Tet is just around the corner. Then comes Magha Puja, then Losar… In the past, I’ve covered Buddhist holidays as they come up, more often neglecting to write about them at all. (I do tend to go a bit overboard during Obon season.) This year I’d like to plan out these posts, put in some extra research and bring my community closer to all the readers who feel so far from it. Here are some holidays I plan to post on this year:

This list is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of Buddhist holidays. It’s more of a map (and reminder) for future holiday posts. Not much unlike my “Backlogged” post. 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.