This is the second in a series of monthly interviews that I’m sharing with inspiring and interesting socially engaged Buddhists of our time. For the first interview with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, please click here.
Today our guest is Arun, the author of the blog Angry Asian Buddhist. While Arun and I have never met in person, for the past year I’ve admired his writing from afar and appreciate the intelligence and honesty he brings to conversations about Buddhism, race, politics, and more. I’m grateful that he took the time to correspond with me and engage with these questions.
JC: Where do you call home?
Arun: Los Angeles is where I currently live, although as a fourth generation San Franciscan, I must say that my home will always be by the Bay.
JC: What are you reading right now?
Arun: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. I spend very little time reading books about Buddhism, although I am hoping that this book will help me launch a creative expression program at a local temple. This book has done a great job at challenging my notions of both “creative” and “expression.”
JC: Who inspires you – Buddhist teachers, activists, writers, artists…
Arun: There are so many individuals who inspire me, from family to friends to strangers long before my time. These days, one of my greatest inspirations is my friend, co-blogger and fellow temple committee member who blogs under the pseudonym “John” at Dharma Folk.
I have known John for six years. In that time I have had the pleasure of watching him grow into being an enormously influential Buddhist community leader. John inspires me with his kind and effective leadership, commitment to practice and mastery of writing, such that I am always learning from him when I am around him. I could write pages of praises about John, but suffice it to say that he is one of the most inspirational people in my life.
JC: What social issue is close to your heart right now?
Arun: There are several social issues close to my heart, but in the Buddhist blogosphere, I am perhaps most well known for my discussion and exploration of the marginalization of Asian Americans in American Buddhism and, more broadly, Western Buddhism. This sort of marginalization takes many forms. We are repeatedly excluded from the Western Buddhist narrative and often reduced to immigrant caricatures when included. Our communities and practices are denigrated wholesale as retrograde, foreign or inferior. Even our grievances on this very issue are invalidated, such that our arguments and observations are portrayed as achieving nothing more than division and discord.
The heart of the problem is that these actions dissuade Asian Americans from embracing Buddhism. Our exclusion tells us that the we are irrelevant. The denigration of our communities tells us that we will not be accepted for who we are. The silencing of our protests tells us more clearly than anything else that there are yet people in Western Buddhism who believe not that marginalization is the problem, but that we are the problem. The vast majority of Western Buddhists, hundreds of thousands of whom are Asian, abhor racism and firmly support the principles of fairness and equality—and yet this marginalization so regularly recurs.
JC: How does your dharma practice inform your involvement on that issue?
Arun: On this specific issue, my involvement is rooted in the practice of community. I have spent weeks struggling over this question, but it all boils down to the importance of cultivating community. Even when I blog as the Angry Asian Buddhist, I do so as part of the community of Buddhist bloggers and more broadly as a Western Buddhist and a Global Buddhist. Community involvement challenges me to acknowledge a vast array of deeply ingrained habits that are easy to ignore on the cushion. Not only that, this involvement broadens my understanding of the wonderfully diverse Buddhist community in the West and the many different ways that I can help strengthen the practice of the Dharma within these communities.
JC: If you could invite people to join you in taking one action on that issue, what would it be?
Arun: I would encourage readers to engage more with Asian American Buddhists. You can even interact with us online. Just recently I began following the group blogs of the Young Wisdom Project and dharmas, both of which include a number of young Asian American Buddhist bloggers.
JC: What else would you like people to know about you?
Arun: I would love for people to know that the “angry” in Angry Asian Buddhist is an homage to the Angry Asian phenomenon, of which the Angry Asian Man and the Angry Little Asian Girl are the most famous examples. Our names speak to the stereotype of Asian Americans as passive and submissive, and my blog title speaks to the same stereotype held for Asian American Buddhists. Even while I do get angry, the point of my blog is not to glorify anger. Even from a young age, my father taught me that anger is something over which we each have ultimately responsibility, and this sort of teaching is at the heart of my Buddhist practice. “All living beings are owners of their actions, are heirs to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and live dependent on their actions.”
Thanks to Arun for taking time to be part of this interview series!
- Interview with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi (jizochronicles.com)
Arun: can you provide specific examples of the marginalization and denigration of which you speak — and I don’t mean examples from 30 years ago, but current. I am partly wondering if there’s a mis-attribution occurring. Having spent quite a bit of time with Korean American Buddhists, it strikes me that their form of Buddhism really is very, very different than that which Westerners have been in the process of adapting for themselves, but just because each is different and each are drawn to different forms, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s marginalization or denigration.
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@Sumi Kim: My list of examples was a bit too long for this comment space, so I posted my response on my blog. Thank you for your thoughts!
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