A National Buddhist Memorial for Asian American Ancestors

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By REV. DUNCAN RYUKEN WILLIAMS

We the Sangha of the United States, in order to form a nation of equal freedom, proclaim that our country is perfected by constituting itself with peoples of many heritages and many faiths. We also recognize that our nation is reckoning with the karmic inheritance of our ancestors; we recognize aspirations for this nation to be a refuge for life’s fulfillment, despite its long train of abuses and usurpations that we must repair in each moment.

Now it is time for us to gather as a community, and to rebuild.

In the past year, nearly 3,800 first-hand accounts of verbal and physical harassment against Asians have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a group that formed in 2020 to track abusive incidents and protect against the recent uptick in racial animus. The March 16 Atlanta shootings took the lives of eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, including the 63-year-old Buddhist Yong Ae Yue. She is remembered by her sons as someone who treated people kindly and stood up to discrimination wherever she encountered it.

(Illustration by Rob Sato)

The attack in Atlanta came on the heels of months of racist taunts and violence against Asian Americans, including the senseless, fatal assault that was caught on security camera of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco, who was out on his daily walk. His daughter, who had been accosted twice in the past year and told to go back to Asia because “Asians had caused the coronavirus,” described her father as a devout Thai Buddhist; his funeral was held at Wat Buddhanusom in Fremont, Calif.

Our temples have also come under attack. Six Vietnamese American temples in Orange County, Calif. were vandalized in a single month; an outdoor Buddhist statue was spray-painted with the word “Jesus” at Huong Tich Temple. More recently, Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles was damaged when its windows were smashed, lanterns broken, and a fire set on the premises. These attacks open the wounds of a long history of anti-Asian and anti-Buddhist discrimination in the United States.

A growing cry from Asian American communities that these incidents are motivated by hate has less to do with whether an incident is prosecuted as a hate crime and everything to do with a sense that anti-Asian exclusion and violence continues to be bolstered by white Christian supremacy, and that we need to do something about it.

In many Buddhist traditions, we believe that the deceased transition to a new realm forty-nine days after their death. I have been working with several Asian American Buddhist leaders to organize a ceremony to mark the forty-ninth day since the shootings in Atlanta.

The memorial will be held on Tuesday, May 4, at 4 p.m. Pacific / 7 p.m. Eastern.

We invite you to join us for this hour-long memorial service and program to contemplate what we can do in the face of racial fracture in America, and how we can begin to repair our communities. The online program will stream live from Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles – a site of recent vandalism and arson. We’ve chosen this as the ground from which we can enact a transformation through ceremony.

We will chant sutras, make offerings to those who are in pain, heal in ceremony, and share Dharma perspectives from leading Asian American Buddhists on repairing our nation’s racial karma. For more information about the May 4 event and to register to endorse the ceremony, please go to: https://www.maywegather.org/

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