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.

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!

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.

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.

Q&A with Jizo Chronicles

I am very honored that Maia Duerr reached out to interview me for the Jizo Chronicles blog, not to mention that she includes me in the group of “socially engaged Buddhists”! I have advocated for a long time that one of the best ways to reach out to Asian American Buddhists is to raise our profile in the magazines and blogs dominated by White Buddhist discourse. And Maia decided to do just that.

Ever wondered what’s up with my whole Angry shtick? Who inspires me? You can read the full interview here.

Vu Lan

Below is a holiday interview that I had originally intended to post a couple weeks back. My interviewee for the Vu Lan (盂蘭盆節) or Ullambana holiday is my friend Thao, who currently studies at a prestigious Southern California university. I am deeply grateful to her for sharing her thoughts and experiences of the Vu Lan festival, which concluded last week.

Who are you?

I am a youngin’ trying to find balance between college life and the Buddhist path.

What is the Buddhist significance of this holiday?

I grew up knowing this holiday as “Ullambana.” My mom was the first person to tell me the significance of this holiday. She told me a story of a son who made offerings to the temple sangha on a particular day of the moon calendar so his mother could be liberated after she had passed. Ullambana is similar to Japan’s Obon ceremony, honoring one’s ancestors who have passed as well. As I grew up, I came to learn that Ullambana was a holiday honoring filial piety, “one of the virtues to be held above all else: a respect for the parents and ancestors.”

What does this holiday mean to you?

This holiday reminds me of my roots. My name directly translates in both Vietnamese and Chinese (孝) as the less common English words of “filial piety.” Since Ullambana is centered around this concept, it humbles me and especially makes me want to let my parents know how much I appreciate them.

What do you plan to do on this holiday?

My current plan, while I’m back up North, will be going to celebrate this holiday at a temple called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas on Sunday, August 14th. We will be reciting the Ullambana Sutra three times, and there will be a big lunch of vegetarian food. In addition, I will be able to show my parents my metta for them and express my gratitude for all parents alike ☺

Work has kept me busier than usual as of late, but I will make an effort to try to publish a few more posts this coming week.

LGBT Pride Month Interview

This interview comes a bit late for LGBT Pride Month. My interviewee is a good friend and former president of the Queer Student Union at the University of Virginia. I have always been impressed with his community involvement and ability to articulate community issues, regardless of the community. It is an honor to be able to share our interview on the Angry Asian Buddhist blog.

Who are you?

My name is Kevin Wu, and I am a gay Asian American. All of the below views belong to only me. As convenient as it would be to speak for the entire LGBT Asian American community, I don’t.

What do you do?

I am an aspiring filmmaker living in Los Angeles. By day, I make a living as a business consultant in healthcare.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Fairfax, Virginia and grew up around northern Virginia, also known affectionately as “noVA.”

How are you currently involved in the LGBT community?

I am a serial heartbreaker. Just kidding. I am not involved in any official capacity though I occasionally participate in events organized by LGBT-oriented groups such as the SoCal Social Club and Guys Like Us.

How did you first get involved in the LGBT community?

I suppose my involvement has been ongoing ever since I stood in front of the mirror and uttered to myself, “I’m gay.” I first became very actively involved in the community during my undergrad career at the University of Virginia (UVa) after attending a Queer Student Union (QSU) garden party. As cliched as it might sound, being surrounded by others like myself was intensely liberating, and I would eventually meet my best friends through the group. It was with this in mind that I decided to remain involved in the group’s leadership and strove to make the same impact on incoming gay students that I felt when I started my first year.

Why is it important to celebrate LGBT Pride Month?

It’s important to remember. So much of our community never even learned about the history of the LGBT rights movement, much less remember it. As important as it is to celebrate the tidal shift in attitudes toward the LGBT community, we too easily forget the state of affairs just ten or twenty years ago. Even I forget. Having been out for as long as I’ve been and living in liberal Los Angeles, I sometimes forget about the experience of going to school in central Virginia and the sheer terror some students faced (mine included) at showing up to a QSU meeting. So many LGBT people are resigned to living in shame at their identities, and every little bit anyone can do to rectify that, from health education to ostentatious parades, is important.

What’s one misconception or stereotype about LGBT issues that you really dislike?

This is an interesting question. The most egregious stereotypes are harbored by the openly bigoted, so to give them enough credit to “dislike” their views is often a waste of emotional energy. A more appropriate answer would probably involve misconceptions by well-intentioned supporters.

I think many non-LGBT people adopt a mentality that being accepting and not homophobic is enough, that this fight is not theirs to fight. We are a permanent minority. The official percentage is always changing, but the LGBT community will always comprise only a small portion of 犀利士5mg the general population. It’s not as if a wave of immigration will tip the scales (wouldn’t that be interesting?). For that reason, we rely more than any other group on the support of those outside our community. This needs to be everyone’s fight.

What’s one misconception or stereotype about LGBT Asian Americans that you really dislike?

Probably that we’re all waifs. I’m no expert on issues of sexual racism within the LGBT (specifically gay male) community and much has already been written on the subject, so I won’t go into more detail. If, after meeting me, one of your first questions is about my racial preferences in dating, I won’t expect an intelligent conversation. (What I dislike is the assumption that there is an answer at all.)

Did you grow up around Buddhism in your family or community?

Both my parents are Buddhist. I was never required to learn their customs, but they would occasionally take me to temple, where I loved the food served. Despite the lack of guidance, they instilled in my sisters and me a strong sense of spirituality.

What’s one thing you think the American Buddhist community could do to promote LGBT issues?

Show support. Take a stance. Donate, make a public statement, create an outreach program—I don’t have a preference because anything is better than silence. I don’t need angry marches (once upon a time I did) because simply taking a stance without being required to can take tremendous courage. Support affects more than just the oppressed; it affects those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to think about these issues or how their beliefs affect their behaviors.

Last note—I realize that I am still not doing the best job at hosting the voices of Asian American women. Stay tuned, though…

Buddhist Bloggers Celebrate Asian America

It’s so great to see other bloggers celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Yesterday, Maia Duerr posted about ten Engaged Buddhists—nine from Asian America including Anchalee Kurutach, Anushka Fernandopulle, Canyon Sam, Duncan Ryuken Williams, Sister Jun Yasuda, Kaz Tanahashi, Ken Tanaka, Mushim Ikeda-Nash, Ryo Imamura, plus the redoubtable Thich Nhat Hanh. Go visit her post to read more about them! Jack Daw followed with a post about Rev. T. K. Nakagaki, a very unique Shin Buddhist minister in New York City.

Replying to my suggestion to welcome in the voices of Asian American Buddhists, blogger Chris Hoff invited me to publish a guest post on his blog, which you can read here. Maia Duerr also invited me to do an interview with her by email, which I hope we’ll be able to pull together in the near future. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the interviews by @ohiobuddhist “with three Japanese-American Buddhists, two of whom were in Japan when the tsunami hit.”

If you know of other Buddhist bloggers who’ve chosen to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the comments. As I mentioned on Dharma Bum, APAHM provides an opportunity樂威壯 for Asian Americans to write about these issues in a way that might feel awkward at any other time of the year—and these pieces, written about Asian Americans by Asian Americans, provided an opportunity for my father to share with me some of his struggles as an Asian American that he had never felt comfortable talking about before.

I hope that we as Buddhist bloggers can help foster that sort of connection—and not just for Asian Americans! This particular APAHM given me a new appreciation for these cultural celebrations and also shown me a way that I can participate, even when I might not identify with the celebration itself. Hopefully we can all join in together and bring the community just a little bit closer.

Asian American Holiday Musings

Of the five holiday interviews I’ve conducted this year (Magha PujaOhiganThingyanSongkran and Vesak), each one has reached out to a different Asian American voice in a different part of the world.

The goal of the holiday interviews has been to expose my readership to the diversity of Asian American Buddhist voices and to let these voices speak for themselves. For those of us who have limited contact with Asian Americans in the Buddhist community, our understanding of Asian American Buddhists far too often comes from poorly-deduced conclusions penned by non-Asian authors. I’d like to think that these interviews provide plenty of evidence that we might actually have some unique perspectives to offer.

Take for example the recent Southeast Asian New Year celebrations (i.e. the Other Lunar New Year). If you were to refer solely to the descriptions on Barbara’s Buddhism blog (“think egg hunts at Easter”) or in a comment left on this blog (“it’s really not a Buddhist holiday”)—both accurate but superficial and incomplete perspectives from outsiders—you would have missed out on the viewpoint of the Thai American meditator who takes this holiday as an occasion to renew his Buddhist practice or the Burmese American student activist who sees the new year as an opportunity to embrace the precepts, generosity and respect.

But I have a humiliating omission to confess. For all my dedication to highlighting the voices of Asian Americans, I’ve actually failed to bring forward the voices of our community’s largest demographic.

Namely, women.

All of the people I interviewed in the past are men who I met and interacted with online. The vast majority of Buddhist bloggers are men—a proportion that is even more extreme when we look at Asian American Buddhist blogs. It’s not prohibitively difficult to reach out to our Asian American Buddhist sisters—it just takes a little more work. I have to step out from behind my fig leaf of pseudonymity and actually reach out beyond the Buddhist blogosphere.

My only excuse for not having a Gotan-e post was that I had made the commitment to interview Asian American Buddhist women, and then I was too hesitant to take that extra step. This excuse is not a good one, and I’m not going let this opportunity slip by.

My plan is to continue to reach out for this interview—simply because it’s worth taking that extra effort to reach out to the women in my community. It’s worth the token sacrifice of my pseudonymity to bring a fuller diversity of Asian American Buddhists to the readers of this blog. It would be shameful to do otherwise.

If you’ve gotten this far, I’d also encourage those of you with your own blogs to take a similar step. This month is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, a celebration the United States established to spend a little extra time noticing the contributions of its APA citizens, and so it would be great if the Buddhist blogging community took advantage of the eight remaining days in May to spend a little time—maybe just one post—recognizing the voices of Asian American Buddhists.

I encourage you all to celebrate this month by publishing an interview with or a guest blog by an Asian American Buddhist.

Of course, you could reach out at any time that works for you, but just as it’s never to soon for me to publish the voices of Asian American Buddhist women, it’s never too soon for, say, Danny Fisher or Jack Daw to publish that interview with or guest post by Asian American Buddhists. When was the last time you did so? In fact, if you’re someone who agrees with absolutely nothing I write here, then here’s a fantastic opportunity to invite an Asian American Buddhist to post about how they think my blog is full of crap!

Ultimately, if you really believe that we are also American Buddhists, then please welcome us into your blogs as you welcome other American Buddhists. Let’s celebrate this month together.

Happy Vesak 2011!

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?

Tough question.

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!

Don’t forget to check out Firehorse’s blog here. You can also also check out links to other holiday interviews here.