Buddhists call for national response to Anti-Asian attacks and religious bigotry

Buddhist leaders from various organizations, including Los Angeles Higashi Honganji, announced a national event as a response to anti-Asian attacks and religious bigotry:

A National Buddhist Memorial Ceremony for Asian American Ancestors

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 4pm PDT / 7pm EDT

May we gather. 

When someone is hurting, we come together as community. We gather because our lives are inexorably interlinked. We do not suffer alone, nor do we heal alone. Only when we gather as a sangha (community), can we truly support each other’s freedom.

May we gather to remember.

When our Chinese immigrant ancestors came to the United States in the 1850s, we faced exclusion and violence, our Buddhist and Taoist temples desecrated and set ablaze. When our Japanese American forebears were herded into U.S. concentration camps in the 1940s, our priests were classified as a threat to national security, our Buddhist faith deemed as un-American. When our South and Southeast Asian parents and grandparents arrived on these shores in the 1970s, many fleeing wars inflamed by the American military, we were told our cultures and Buddhist traditions didn’t belong.

Asian Americans are now experiencing another wave of religious bigotry and racial animus. We have witnessed a stark increase in violent attacks over the past year. The March 16th Atlanta shootings claimed the lives of eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, including the 63-year-old Buddhist Yong Ae Yue. She is remembered by one of her sons as a deeply caring person and great cook of Korean cuisine.

Yong Ae Yue’s tragic death follows upon months of unrelenting racist taunts and violence against Asian Americans, including the senseless assault of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco. His daughter, who herself had been accosted twice in the past year and told to go back to Asia because “Asians caused the coronavirus,” described her father as a devout Thai Buddhist; his funeral was held at Wat Buddhanusorn in Fremont, California.

Our temples have also come under attack. Six Vietnamese American temples in Orange County, California were vandalized in a single month; an outdoor Buddhist statue was spray-painted with the word “Jesus” at Huong Tich Temple. More recently, the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles was damaged when windows were smashed, lanterns broken, and the building set on fire.

May we gather the pieces

In the face of nearly two centuries of xenophobia and systemic violence, Asian American Buddhists have long joined together to rebuild our communities. Piece by broken piece, we sutured the jagged edges of altars, statues, incense burners, and our very bodies and minds back together. This mending is part of our Buddhist practice in America. Each act of rejoining reveals how compassion can arise out of racial suffering, how fragments are inseparable from wholeness. We mend them as a declaration of our interconnectedness, as an expression of gratitude to our ancestors, and as a way to cultivate the karmic conditions for American Buddhism’s continued flourishing.

This national memorial ceremony offers an opportunity for Asian American and other Buddhist communities to come together in mourning, mending, and renewal. We find support in the Dharma’s enduring wisdom. We take refuge under the compassionate gaze of buddhas and bodhisattvas. We counter violence with equanimity, ignorance with wisdom, hatred with kindness, and suffering with healing.

May we gather to repair.

On May 4th, 2021, exactly seven weeks, or forty-nine days, will have passed since the Atlanta shootings. In many Buddhist traditions, forty-nine days after death marks an important transition for the bereaved. As we pray for the liberation of those who have come before us, these ancestors will likewise alleviate our community’s pain, for we are interlinked with each other, across generations, in our collective liberation.

The hourlong memorial will take place on Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 at 4pm PDT (7pm EDT). Our host for the livestreamed ceremony is the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. The temple, restored after a groundswell of community support, will serve as the sacred space from which we can enact collective transformation. We will chant sutras, recite the names of our ancestors, heal in ceremony, and share Dharma perspectives from leading Asian American Buddhists to repair an important aspect of our nation’s racial karma.

May we gather to liberate together.

The first bodhisattva vow—“Beings are numberless; we vow to save them all”—invites us to manifest freedom together.

We welcome Asian American Buddhist temples and organizations, ally sanghas, and individuals of all backgrounds to participate in this ceremony by watching the livestream of the national Buddhist memorial on May 4th, and by endorsing this gathering.

As the sutras remind us, spiritual friendship is the whole of the Buddhist path. We look forward to joining together with you, in memory of our Asian American ancestors, to cultivate belonging and liberation for all beings.

In spiritual friendship,

Duncan Ryuken Williams, Funie Hsu, Chenxing Han

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