Three and a half weeks ago, after a long day of webinars and meetings, I had just finished a tweet inviting people to "Buddhism, Race, and American Belonging: An Asian American View" when two trending news items caught my eye. One was about a whale in San Francisco Bay. The other was about a mass shooting in Atlanta.
A week after the killings of eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, I reluctantly returned to Twitter—a site I now associated with shock and trauma—to write this multi-thread tweet:
A decade ago, I set up a google alert for "asian american" + "buddhist." For years, virtually nothing. In the past year, so much, too much of it related to violence. The vandalism of Buddhist temples, the deaths of AsAm Buddhists. In the midst of too much, I've also been thinking about the strength and resilience of the Asian American Buddhist community. It may not be a trending topic, but it's there. Take this video for example, 1'08" in: Cambodian monks chanting the Bangsokol, a ceremony that brings solace to the dead and helps heal the living. I think of the spiritual care offered to Thai, Lao, and Cambodian Americans at Wat Nagara Dhamma in San Francisco, and Buddhist prayers for the victims of the Atlanta shootings at a temple in New York's Chinatown, at least one of whom (Yong Ae Yue) was Buddhist. I've been asked where Asian American Buddhists are. We are here. We are mourning. We are persevering.
For those of us who are Asian American or women or Buddhist or all three; for those of us who are crushed by the relentless spate of news about mass shootings, anti-Asian violence, temple vandalism—well, I can't speak for all of us, but I know that I have felt at turns scared and angry and bone-weary. I have had to grieve and rest much more than I believed would be necessary. I have read some of the many trenchant analyses on how race, gender, class, sexualization, and religion—factors with deep historical roots—inflect the many forms of violence and injustice that we witness daily in this country. And I have stepped away from the computer to remember that outdoors, tulips and lilacs are blooming; Japanese maples have regained their verdant leaves in full splendor.
I'm grateful for friendship, community, and ritual during this time. For our March 21st event on Buddhism, Race, and American Belonging, Duncan Ryuken Williams and I discussed how names, ritual, pain, and storytelling feature in our respective books, America Sutra and Be the Refuge. We closed our discussion with a brief ceremony to name and honor the victims of the Atlanta shootings as well as several Asian American Buddhists who have been killed both recently and in decades past. A recording of this online event is available here. (And speaking of past recordings, my conversation with Dr. Jane Iwamura, hosted by the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford, is available here.)
If you're interested in attending an online event around Be the Refuge this month, feel free to register for these upcoming events:
As always, feel free to join any of these virtual events, and to share them with others who might be interested.
- University of the West on Thursday, April 8, 4–5:30pm PDT, in conversation with Drew Baker, author of Converting American Buddhism, hosted by the Institute of the Study of Humanistic Buddhism at University of the West. Prof. Jane Iwamura will moderate this event, which will focus on the topic of NextGen Buddhism.
- Banyen Books & University of British Columbia (UCB) on Wednesday, April 21st, 7–8pm PDT, in conversation with Prof. Jessica Main of the Department of Asian Studies at UBC. This will be my first event in Canada; I'm excited to broaden the scope of the conversations around Be the Refuge to North American Buddhism.
- Ancient Dragon Zen Gate on Sunday, April 25, 10:10–11:30am CDT, in conversation with Howard Ruan of ADZG. Zazen will begin at 9:30am Central Time. Thanks to guiding teacher Taigen Dan Leighton, whom I first met while a student at the Graduate Theological Union, for this invitation.
- University of California Berkeley & Eastwind Books on Wednesday, April 28, 2–3pm PDT with Dr. Carolyn Chen. Prof. Chen is one of the scholars whose research on Asian American Buddhist communities inspired my own work. I'm looking forward to our conversation on Centering Asian Voices in American Buddhism: Anger, Refuge, Solidarity. This event is sponsored by Eastwind Books and the following units at UC Berkeley: Program in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, Asian American Research Center, Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, and the Center for Buddhist Studies.
May you feel supported and at ease,