A Different View of American Buddhism

The spiritual journey of activist and author Chenxing Han began on the road, during a gap year between high school and college. Traveling through Asian countries, Han encountered the many variations and schools of Buddhism. She found herself drawn to its precepts and rituals. While studying the faith, and training to be a chaplain, one question persisted when she returned to the United States: Where are all the Asian-American Buddhists in American Buddhism? She set out to answer this question and emerged — not only with a master’s thesis — but also a new framework for thinking about American Buddhists. Released in January, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian Americans wrestles with questions of belonging, identity, and race, at a time when a new wave of anti-Asian violence threatens the Asian American community. Han offers allies and younger generations historical context and a new understanding of the diversity of American Buddhism.

Remembering the Ancestors
49 days after the mass murder in the Atlanta region of 8 people, the spike in anti-Asian violence targeting individuals and Buddhist temples continues. To Chenxing Han, this wave of anti-Asian sentiment is part of a legacy that has shaped the ways American Buddhism has adapted over two centuries and the way it is portrayed. Too often, Han explains, the face of the tradition in America is not representative of the adherents but dominated by the white converts. In part one, she describes how she set out to offer a wider lens with her first book — which is both a collection of interviews and a memoir — Be the Refuge.

Finding Buddhism Everywhere She Went
Having survived Mao’s cultural revolution, Chenxing Han’s parents were skeptical of religion. In this segment, the author and activist reflects on her travels and journey across Asia where she encountered the various permutations of Buddhism in both the sanghas (faith communities) and on the streets. Describing her conversation less as a moment but a gradual process, akin to slowly steeping tea.

Suffering and Self-Care
In this final segment, Han reflects on the teachings of Buddhism that guide her through encounters with suffering, isolation, and grief. From impermanence to suffering, Han talks about the universal condition of grief in this pandemic and the need for self-care. She reflects on the importance of building spiritual friendships and offers suggestions to those seeking to engage Buddhists in multi-faith alliances. Han invites listeners to imagine being the guest instead of the host.

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