One by one, the Buddhist priests bowed before the altar of Higashi Honganji Temple in Little Tokyo, wearing yellow, orange and black robes.
Accompanied by the chanting of the Heart Sutra in Korean, they dipped a brush into a bowl of gold lacquer to gently fill in the cracks of a white ceramic lotus handcrafted for the occasion.
The ritual, which took place last May, was full of meaning. The lotus flower represented the purity and potential of the Buddha’s awakening. Repairing the cracked ceramic lotus, a Japanese art known as kintsugi, was symbolic of the collective effort to heal the wounds of religious bigotry.
Here, just 49 days after March 16, 2021, the killing of eight people in a shooting spree in the Atlanta area, including six women of Asian descent, was a symbolic attempt to turn brokenness into beauty.
Timing was also significant: the 49th day after death marks the end of the bardo, an intermediate stage between life and rebirth in some Buddhist traditions.
For the record:
2:00 p.m. March 18, 2022An earlier version of this story suggested that May We Gather was the first event to bring together devotees from all major schools of Buddhism for the first time since the tradition’s inception. It was not.
The ceremony was part of May We Gather, a historic event that brought together devotees from all schools of Buddhism.
“I had never seen anything like it before, and I don’t think anything like it has happened before,” he said Indigo Som, co-director of the Asian American Buddhist Working Group, which was founded a year ago. “It was a specific response to an attack on our community that was multilineage, pan-Asian, and pan-Buddhist.”
May We Gather served another purpose: It helped spark a conversation among a diverse population of Buddhists about how leaders and institutions can respond to the anti-Asian violence that has long been part of American history and that is being exacerbated by the pandemic has been in the last two years.
“So much of what happened after the event is an acknowledgment that there is this shared experience and that we have all faced racism and white supremacy in America in different ways,” he said Nalika Gajaweera, research anthropologist at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC. “We may not respond in a coherent voice, but we do have a conversation.”
Scholars say the history of anti-Asian violence in the United States has long been intertwined with anti-Buddhist sentiment. A non-Christian faith, it was considered pagan, pagan, and anti-American when it was introduced to the United States by Chinese workers in the 1850s.
In the years after the Civil War, Asian Americans were denied the right to vote in part because they were considered too different—including their spiritual traditions—to be assimilated into American culture. In the 1940s, in the run-up to America’s entry into World War II, Japanese Buddhist priests were identified as a threat to national security.
Funie Hsu, a professor of American Studies at San Jose State University, said that the 1960s and subsequent decades saw a different kind of anti-Asian violence as counterculture Westerners rejected a society they saw as corrupted by materialism and militarism turned to Eastern religions to seek enlightenment. As Buddhist books, magazines, and retreat centers began to emphasize the work of white converts, and spiritual rebels like Jack Kerouac popularized the ideal of the wandering, truth-seeking “Dharma Bum,” some Asian Americans felt marginalized in their own hereditary religion .
“In my experience, Asian Americans in the United States have suffered the most from racism, not only from hate and exclusion laws, but also from obliteration and invisibility,” he said Mushim Patricia Ikeda, a teacher at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland who has spent 25 years trying to build bridges between hereditary Buddhist communities and predominantly white convert groups. It was an attempt she said had largely failed.
Asian and Asian-American Buddhists have also been victims of religious hatred in recent years. Buddhist temples were destroyed, including six in Santa Ana and Westminster and one in Little Tokyo after the pandemic began. At a temple in Santa Ana, someone spray-painted the word “Jesus” on a stone statue of the Buddha.
“Property damage is not what keeps us up at night or bothers us the most. It’s the hate crime itself and the negative impact it is having on interfaith relations in our community,” Venerable Vien Hay of Dieu Ngu Temple, one of the vandalized temples in Westminster, told the Times at the time.
“The history of Buddhism in America faces anti-Asian violence,” Hsu said.
As Asian-American Buddhist leaders grapple with the current wave of post-pandemic violence, many are turning to the lessons of their history and religion to inspire resilience in their sanghas, or communities.
“Politics and political solutions are important, but given the suffering people are experiencing, taking care of their spirit and giving them strength is probably the most important thing religion can do,” he said Rev. Cristina Moon of the Daihonzan Chozen-Ji International Zen Dojo in Honolulu.
One way to do this is to help individual Buddhist communities remember the courage and drive it took their predecessors to come to America and create a better future for themselves in the face of discrimination and violence create, she said.
“I just want to remind people that we’ve been through tough times before and we’ve persevered by holding on to who we are and staying true to that belief,” she said.
Som, who supports the Asian American Deep Refuge Sangha at East Bay Meditation Center, agreed.
“Asian Americans, and specifically Asian American Buddhists, have been attacked the entire time we have been in this country, and there is a whole story about people being pressured into converting to Christianity in order to be ‘more American.’ be,” she said. Upholding the Dharma – the Buddhist teachings – upholding the faith and upholding a temple is “already a push against the violence, the eradication and the racism”.
Gajaweera, the anthropologist and co-director of the Asian American Buddhist Working Group along with Som, Louije Kim and Dorothy Imagire, elaborated: “It may not seem like activism, but it’s daily activism to keep your doors open and support yours Community.”
Brother Phap Dung, a Dharma teacher at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, said that every Sunday between 200 and 300 members of the public come to the mountain monastery to seek refuge from the discrimination, loneliness and the underlying fear and anxiety that the penetrate society.
“We’re not just looking for Buddhists,” he said. “We try to care about all people who are being discriminated against – African American, Latino, gay and lesbian, LGBTQ.”
Monks offer support simply by being there, listening, taking visitors on hikes, showing them a sunset, and reminding them of the wonders of life.
“It can also be good medicine to take care of the mental poisons and discrimination we’ve received from others,” he said. “Finding ways of joy and wonder helps us not to be overwhelmed and monopolized by hate in society.”
Hsu said she also found solace in the Buddhist idea of Indra’s web: an infinite connecting web with a single, luminous jewel at each connecting point. Every gem mirrors every other gem on the web, and anything that affects one gem affects all of them.
“That was one of the ideas we wanted to emphasize with May We Gather,” she said. “That we are not apart.”
May We Gather organizers have gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of the Georgia shooting published reflections by Buddhist leaders and Dharma-inspired practitioners. Contributions came from Buddhists in California, Washington, Oregon, Maine, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Canada and elsewhere.
They expressed their grief for those lost – and their gratitude for the opportunity to mourn together.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/the-buddhist-response-to-anti-asian-violence-ritual-perseverance-understanding From brokenness to beauty: Buddhists react to anti-Asian violence