Rest in Power Aaron Lee, the Angry Asian Buddhist
Aaron Lee, author of the blog Angry Asian Buddhist, smiles big on a colorful city street. Aaron died Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 34.
How to Die
At the beginning of this year, I brainstormed with friend and board member Funie Hsu about a possible class series that Buddhist Peace Fellowship could offer. “How to Die” would be a sharp-titled but clear-hearted offering of Buddhist teachings on death and dying, reflecting not only on old age and sickness, but police killings, planetary hospice, and the sometimes deadly risks taken by activists committed to liberation.
When the Angry Asian Buddhist (known online under the pseudonym arunlikhati) shared this article on being a refuge while dying with cancer at age 34, I thought, “This here is a teaching on how to die. Which is really a teaching on how to live. And not just live for yourself, but for the benefit of everyone and everything.”
Instead of death, BPF offered a class series on anger this year. This is an area where arunlikhati also taught us so well. As his anonymity is dropped in death, I’ve been delighted to see pictures of Aaron Lee laughing and making funny faces and smiling generously. While he wrote about anger, he didn’t seem to harbor it. As I’ve learned, anger starts to dictate life if you avoid it. Feeling my anger is an important first step toward freedom. Even in death, Aaron continues to teach me about anger and letting go and how to be in the world in the ways that I’m needed.
Rest in power, Aaron Lee / arunlikhati / Angry Asian Buddhist. Thank you for all you’ve taught me about how to die, how to live, how to be angry, how to be a refuge. Sending love to your family and dear ones, and to you as you transition into what is next.
– Dawn Haney, Buddhist Peace Fellowship Co-Director
3 Things We’ve Learned from the Angry Asian Buddhist
At BPF, we have learned so much from Arun’s clear critiques and loving shout outs, with his steady aim to see Asian Americans fairly represented in US Buddhism. Like other Buddhist organizations historically dominated by white convert Buddhists, BPF still has much to learn and even more to practice to represent Asian American Buddhists well not only in our media, but in our programs, staff, and board.
We’ve been fortunate to learn directly from Arun’s contributions to two articles with Buddhist Peace Fellowship, shared below. In his honor, we also share our current project on Asian American Buddhisms, a project that would not exist without the painstaking critique and storytelling by Arun, Chenxing Han, Funie Hsu, Mushim Ikeda, and others who’ve insisted — at times under vicious attack — on visibilizing the voices and experiences of Asian American Buddhists. We share these learnings with gratitude for the fierce efforts of this cadre of Angry (and Loving) Asian Buddhists.
1. How to Hold Buddhist Publications Accountable
When Lion’s Roar debuted in January 2016, its racially and gender diverse cover touted a “new face” to Buddhism. We asked five BPFers to unpack the meaning behind that title, and were honored that Angry Asian Buddhist shared his take.
Arun offered his candid assessment of the editorial efforts:
“I have rarely spared the opportunity criticize the editors of Shambhala Sun (the nominal predecessor to Lion’s Roar) and Buddhadharma for the egregious extent to which they promote white Buddhist writers at the expense of Asian Buddhists. In this new issue, they have included four Buddhist writers of Asian heritage. That number is less than half the number of Asian Buddhists we’d expect to see, if we sampled Buddhist America at random. But it’s also significantly higher than the number we’d expect, if we were to sample the past writers for Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma at random. In the past, Lion’s Roar editors have sometimes left Asian Buddhists out of the discussion entirely. So the portrait truly does represent a new face for this publication. The editors are making a concerted effort to be more diverse …. This cover told me that the editors care. The message I hear is that they’re trying. I’m still trying to figure out if they’re doing enough to make a lasting difference.”
2. How to Resist Stereotypes
BPF board member Funie Hsu interviewed Arun in early 2015 for a feature piece on BPF’s website. They talked Orientalism, racism, representation, and other causes and conditions for all the anger.
During the interview, Arun shared more on the anger in his blog title:
“There is a stereotype, not just of Buddhists, but of Asians, that we are passive and we don’t really act up, and we sit on fluffy meditation cushions and gaze on our navels, and smile, and do something focused and we’re not angry. So just having this ‘Angry Asian Buddhist’ in the title challenges you to think about what it means to be Asian and Buddhist. And I think that’s important, to have some sort of icon which can counter stereotypes.”
3. How to Share Stories from Asian American Buddhists
As Arun so often asked, “Why are Asians faces so rarely the ones we see in depictions of American Buddhists?” In this ongoing series, Asian American Buddhists contribute multimedia stories, raising their voices to tell about their diverse and multifaceted experiences. Read and listen to folks of Nepali, Cambodian, Indian, Tibetan, Taiwanese, and Chinese descent talk family and history, learning Buddhism and resisting deportation, authenticity and rage, loss and aliveness.
May these stories be heard. May they further visibilize Asian American Buddhists, in honor of Arun’s legacy. And may they be a refuge.