Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Young. Asian. American. Buddhist: What These Words Cannot Say

Chenxing Han is a young Asian American Buddhist who never intended to write a book on young Asian American Buddhists. Han, who describes herself as a “1.75-generation Chinese American immigrant,” grew up in a nonreligious household and with few Asian American peers. As a young adult, she adopted Buddhist practice and even pursued a master’s in Buddhist studies from the Graduate Theological Union but was hesitant to talk openly about her racial and religious identity, for fears of being stereotyped as either an “inauthentic” practitioner as a convert or a “superstitious immigrant” as an Asian American.

In 2012, while beginning research for her M.A. thesis, Han decided to let go of her ambivalence about the terms “young,” “Asian American,” and “Buddhist,” in order to get to the bottom of the “two Buddhisms” dichotomy that seemed to thwart nuanced conversations about representation and race in American Buddhism. She set out to ask her fellow Asian American Buddhists directly about their experiences. Casting “as wide a net as possible,” she spoke to any “young adult” of full or partial Asian heritage who responded to a call for interviews, regardless of immigration status or English ability. As Han suspected, these interviews disturbed the perceived divide between “heritage” and “convert” Buddhists, but they also gave many young Buddhists an opportunity to reflect on their racial and religious identities on their own terms for the first time.

Drawing from her academic research, Han’s first book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic; January 26 , 2021) continues to complicate “two Buddhisms” through its use of memoir, ethnography, and critique. Presenting the voices of her interviewees, who come from a wide range of backgrounds and Buddhisms, the book paints a complicated picture of Asian American Buddhists, who make up two thirds of Buddhists in the United States. Ann Gleig, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Central Florida and the author of American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity, spoke to Han about the making of the book, and the importance of letting Asian American Buddhists speak for themselves. 

Be the Refuge is partially a memoir, but it’s not just about your journey. Can you say more about how you came to write this book? Back in 2012, I needed a topic for my master’s thesis in Buddhist chaplaincy. Part of my attraction to this topic was born out of a sense of loneliness and confusion. I’d read that among American Buddhists, who are only about 1 percent of the nation’s population, more than two thirds are of Asian heritage. So it confused me why I rarely saw Asian American voices or faces represented in a lot of scholarship that I read or in more mainstream depictions in Western media. 

There was that piece, and I was also lonely as a young Asian American Buddhist, because I didn’t grow up in a Buddhist tradition. A lot of the people I met through this project grew up in predominantly Asian Buddhist temple communities or families. That wasn’t a privilege that I had growing up. That got me started on interviewing people, and I thought, “Maybe a few people will talk to me, and then it’ll be enough for an M.A. thesis.” I wasn’t even thinking about writing a book at that point. By the time I talked to 26 people in person, and 63 more people wanted to do email interviews, I realized my motivation had shifted. I felt inspired by respect for these voices. Although I didn’t agree with everyone I talked to, it felt important to put them together on the page and allow other people to hear their voices too. 

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Accept Whatever the Mind Is Doing

Photo by Jr Korpa | http://tricy.cl/3pXx2Rh

Muddy water is best cleared by leaving
it alone.

—Alan Watts

While we meditate we struggle to bring our mind into the present moment. We hear the instruction “Be here now,” but when we try to do it, our mind wants nothing to do with it. We dislike this very much. We want to follow the instructions and be good little meditators but we keep finding that our mind won’t listen to our demands. When our mind has no interest in our desire to stay present, we try forcing it to stay, and this, of course, backfires. 

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Meditation Month 2021: Breathe & Experience

Week 2 of Guo Gu’s guided meditation videos

With Guo GuMar 08, 2021

Welcome back for week two of Tricycle Meditation Month, our annual challenge to sit all 31 days of March.

If you’re just joining us, our Meditation Month teacher Guo Gu is leading a series of four free guided meditation videos. Guo Gu is the founder of and teacher at the Tallahassee Chan Center and the Sheng Yen Associate Professor of Chinese Buddhism at Florida State University. Each Monday, we’re releasing a new video, which builds on the previous week’s lesson.

This week, we will continue to explore the sensations in the body, using what Guo Gu calls somatic integration. After a week of practicing the progressive relaxation meditation, you may have begun to notice how the breath influences the body and how the sensations of the body influence the breath. In this video, Guo Gu asks us to focus on our awareness of these sensations and simply experience them as they unfold. He also shares some tips for settling a scattered mind and keeping track of the breath to help us as we continue to develop our meditative awareness.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: After Arson, Buddhist Temple Sees Outpouring of Support

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

More than $83,000 raised for vandalized Los Angeles Buddhist temple

This week, Buddha Buzz reports on some news that signals compassion and solidarity with the Asian American Buddhist community in wake the rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. More than $83,240 has been raised for L.A. Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji, a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple that was vandalized late last week. According to Religion News Service, the temple’s GoFundMe page was set up by Nikkei Progressives, a volunteer organization advocating for immigrant rights, Muslims, and Japanese American issues. On Thursday, February 25, a person set fire to the chochin lantern stands, knocked over two metal lanterns at the stairs leading up to the temple, and shattered a glass panel in front of the foyer after throwing a rock toward the temple’s entrance, head minister Rev. Noriaki Ito said in a statement. After news of the vandalism made headlines, the temple received calls and messages from all over the US as well as from Japan. According to Ito, the widespread interest was probably due to growing visibility of the racist incidents Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been experiencing since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “We will work to repair the damage and to restore the temple,” Ito said. “But we need to repair the damage to ourselves as well. Like many others in our AAPI community and beyond, we feel hurt and saddened and even angered by the recent attacks on those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.” 

Myanmar Death Toll Climbs; Women Fight Back 

​​​​​At least 18 people were killed when pro-military security forces fired on protesters in cities across Myanmar last Sunday, the bloodiest day since the start of the mass demonstrations against the military coup, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). The U.N. Human Rights Office said it had received “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and more than 30 were wounded, in the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover and ousting of the democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Women in Myanmar are at the forefront of the protest movement, sending a powerful rebuke to the generals who ousted a female civilian leader and reimposed a patriarchal order that has suppressed women for half a century, according to reporting from the New York Times. Despite the threat of violence, women, representing striking unions of teachers, garment workers, and medical workers—all sectors dominated by women—have come together for daily marches. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces appear to have singled them out. On Wednesday three young women were fatally shot and killed.  

Women and girls have courageously and selflessly put their bodies on the front lines—and also their bras. According to a Facebook page about Burmese Protest Memes, women opposing the coup have begun to create barriers of bras, panties, and longyi (sarong-like cloths) in front of homes and on streets. Most soldiers, according to the meme’s explanation, believe that if a man comes into contact with a woman’s underwear or longyi (particularly if the woman wore them while menstruating), that he will lose his phoun (also transliterated as hpone)—his honor, prestige, or power. These superstitions about women’s underwear are helping protesters skirt Myanmar’s junta, the Japan Times reported. “When the community hang[s] the longyi above the rope, [police and soldiers] can’t go in the streets, they can’t cross it, and they have to take it down,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi said. Some protestors, playfully raising the stakes of the superstition, have pasted images of junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing’s face on the longyi.

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Best of the Haiku Challenge (February 2021)

In his keynote address to the Haiku International Association in 2012, the nuclear physicist Akito Arima, himself an acclaimed haiku master, spoke of haiku as a form of animism: the belief that all things—plants, animals, stones, even weather—are sentient and alive. According to Arima, all forms of spirituality, including Buddhism, are animistic at their core. Animism is where Buddhism meets ecology, and haiku has always occupied that space.

The winning and honorable mention haiku for this month’s challenges explored the space of “animated ecology,” using natural phenomena to express a broad range of experiences, thoughts, and emotions.

Mariya Gusev’s windblown icicle wants to flee from the wind but can only lean southward from its lonely eave.Barrie Levine finds dry leaves on the ground at the end of winter, but no trace of an icicle once its season has passed.Shelli Jankowski-Smith feels her husband melting away from her, along with the icicles, as the late season days grow long.Lorraine A. Padden’s cloud-filled sky is a mother releasing “hailstone embryos” until her labor is done.Pamela Geddis alludes to the harsh exile of a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest who taught the oneness of the human and natural worlds.Kelly Shaw watches as hailstones either regroup or roll away from one another after the trauma of “their long fall.”

Congratulations to all!

You can submit a haiku for the March challenge here.

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