Buddhists across the United States and Canada are planning a coordinated, live-streamed memorial ceremony for Asian Americans on 4 May at 7pm EDT (UTC –4). The ceremony is dedicated to all Asian Americans who have been affected by violence and racism, highlighting a recent rise in incidents of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the last year, in particular the shooting deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia, in March. The in-person event will be held at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, which was vandalized in February this year.
The event organizers write:
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 her two sons as a selfless person who stood up against discrimination and always advocated for treating people right. . . . 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. (May We Gather)
The planned date, 4 May, marks exactly seven weeks or 49 days since the shootings in Atlanta. In many Buddhist traditions, this time marks the end of a transitional period for those who have died, an opportunity for loved ones and others to pray for their awakening instead of continuing in the realms of samsara. The prayers also invite communities to join together, forming greater bonds.
At Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, participants will chant sutras, recite the names of ancestors, build community, and present Dharma teachings from leading Asian American Buddhists. The event co-organizers are Duncan Ryuken Williams, Funie Hsu, and Chenxing Han. Currently, more than 80 Asian American Buddhist partner temples and organizations have joined in support, as have over 120 ally partner sanghas and organizations, and numerous individuals. The #MayWeGather hashtag has been created for the event for use on social media.
Over the last year, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced a spike in verbal and physical assaults, and Buddhist temples across North America have been vandalized. The organization Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, counted some 3,795 incidents between 19 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, noting that women reported 2.3 times more incidents than men, and that Chinese were the largest ethnic group experiencing hate, followed by Koreans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos.
The organizers noted that the violence is not new, but rather follows long-standing patterns and systems of racism:
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)
In responding to hatred and violence with calls to compassion, community, and healing, the ceremony follows the example of Rev. Noriaki Ito, head minister of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, who wrote last month: “We will work to repair the damage and to restore the temple. But we need to repair the damage to ourselves as well. Like many others in our AAPI community and beyond, we feel hurt and saddened and even angered by the recent attacks on those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.” Ito continued: “For many of us, the temple is a second home, and this feels like an attack on our culture, our history, our community, our family. Together we will grieve, and we will heal.” *