Angry Asian Buddhist

As many long-time readers probably know, a little over two years ago we lost an important voice for critical reflection on race and representation in American Buddhism — Aaron Lee, the man behind the blog the Angry Asian Buddhist. Aaron blogged anonymously as “arunlikhati” for nearly a decade on his own blog as well as the now-defunct group blog “Dharma Folk.” At the time, before the rise of Facebook, blogs were one of the primary ways folks engaged one another online, allowing folks from disparate parts of the world to cross geographic and sectarian boundaries and make new connections and friendships.

The use of the term “angry” was intentional on Aaron’s part to call our attention to stereotypes pervasive in mainstream Buddhist discourse — namely, the stereotype of both the (rarely by choice) passive and often voiceless Asian and the stereotype (of spiritual bypassing) that “Buddhists shouldn’t be angry.” In my view, Aaron’s anger was compassionate anger, if there is such a thing, and aimed squarely at institutional racism and injustice. He was particularly concerned with the representation (and often exclusion) of Asian Americans within mainstream American Buddhist discourse in places such at Tricycle magazine or other Buddhist publications. He was often accused of “ranting” — but his critiques were always backed up by careful analysis and fact. For example, his “Asian meter” measured the number of Asian American authors or contributors to various publications adding factual data to his analysis rather than being anecdotal or merely reactive. As I wrote after his death, these types of analyses were often right on the money, exposing biases and methodological blind spots in projects as overly-cited as the Pew Forum’s religious landscape survey.

His loss to cancer at too-young an age was heartbreaking. Not long after his death, I was approached by Chenxing Han and Funie Hsu who wanted to do something to commemorate and amplify his voice, to preserve it even after Aaron’s death. We’ve had several ideas about how best to do this, but one obvious thing to do was to preserve his work and the Angry Asian Buddhist blog.

To that end, and with the help and support of Aaron’s family, we have preserved Aaron’s work by removing it from its old Blogger confines and moving it to a new server. The website has been re-built from scratch and is archived for posterity. All the old URLs should work so that scholars and writers can continue to link to the site as they did before, without interruption.

This project was challenging for me technically and personally. On the technical side, despite the fact that his death was not sudden, Aaron did not pass along his digital information, and so wrestling control from Google and other corporate locations was neither easy nor straightforward. I am deeply indebted to his father who worked endlessly to, as absurd as it sounds, prove that his son was his son. I mention this merely as a reminder that we take seriously the reality of our own mortality and ensure that anything we want to leave as a legacy is well documented. In other words, give someone you love and trust the keys to your digital self.

More personally, the process of transferring Aaron’s writings to a new website meant that I needed to go through and read (or at least skim) most of what he had written between 2009 and 2016. The early years of his writing coincided with some of my own time as an active Buddhist blogger, and I was reminded of debates and conversations and arguments we had with other Buddhist bloggers back in the day. Reading the comments — which in this case I strongly encourage you to do — was both heartening and heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because the level of vitriol and anger and racism on the part of folks threatened by Aaron’s very existence is so reminiscent of what’s happening today (the more things change…). But also heartening in that Aaron was never one to avoid a conversation, to back down from a fight, and was always willing to engage people — even the most insulting — in an attempt to make connection and educate.

It is my hope that in preserving his work we can continue to learn from and replicate his example as someone passionately committed to justice and fairness and fair representation — as well as compassionate dialogue and community engagement and community building. Over the coming year, I hope that we can build out a memorial blog in honor of his life and work and that the “mainstream Buddhist press” — who seemed to begin to listen to him and take him seriously toward the end of his life — will allow us space and time to properly honor his work and contribution to American Buddhism.

In the meantime, please spend some time with Aaron’s work, and please spread the word about his unique and invaluable voice within the landscape of American Buddhism.


Pierce Salguero organized a meet-up at the AAR last month, bringing together folks interested in specific strategies and resources for how to make academic life more humane, compassionate, and just. One specific outcome of that meeting was the desire to formalize in some way this “movement” (if it is a movement), and so Pierce and I quickly put together a website and he threw the doors open on a Facebook group which, over the last twenty-four hours, has gone from 50 to 500 members. A couple of things.

First, if you’re not already part of this thing, please join us. We made the website, in part, specifically because not everyone is on Facebook (or they’re actively boycotting the platform for obvious reasons) and thus it can serve as a more permanent home for resources and long-form essays. Discussion may happen more readily on Facebook or Twitter (assuming this #humanehumanities hashtag takes off). But we’re trying not to be limited by platform. Apart from joining in discussions, you can contribute by directly adding content to the website, either in the form of blog posts or specific resources you may have regarding strategies, policies, systems, ideas, etc., about how to create more humane spaces within academic settings. If you’re interested in contributing to the website, send Pierce or me a message and we’ll get you set up (the site is powered by WordPress, so we’d kindly ask that you have some basic familiarity with that platform).

Second, I want to be explicit about my reasons for supporting this project. On the one hand, I’m in a position of privilege, both in terms of my identity (white, cis-, hetero-, male) as well as in my academic position (dean). I have resources both explicit (access to a server) and implicit (aforementioned privilege) that can be leverage for projects that are explicitly geared toward lifting up those with relatively less privilege. On the other hand, and somewhat more selfishly, as I mentioned at the AAR meet-up, in my position as dean, I am directly responsible for creating policies and leading an academic institution. I am directly responsible for making my institution humane — or not. What policies can I put into place that support and encourage #humanehumanities within my school? What can I learn from colleagues at other institutions? How can I actively promote a culture of mutual support and empathy, where faculty, staff, and students are treated like human beings, not neoliberal metrics or data-points for assessment? I don’t want to take for granted that just because the word “Buddhist” is in my school’s name that we’re necessarily and naturally compassionate or just. (Just because you’re Buddhist doesn’t mean you’re a Buddha.) So how do I buttress compassionate action through the dull work of policy-making? (The dull work of policy-making is, after all, a big part of the administrator’s job. But that’s a post for a different day.)

So, if this project is at all interesting to you, please join us. And I’m looking forward to learning about and building a better academia.


So. I promised “more soon,” and it’s been a month. Does a month count as soon? I suppose, in the grand scheme of things.

It is the eve of the AAR — “nerd Christmas” if you will. My AAR schedule has been dutifully added to the official AAR app. I have a dozen meetings scheduled with editors, colleagues, friends, potential students, donors, alumni, beloved hangers-on. I’m in it for the long haul, arriving Thursday and staying till the bitter end on Tuesday. I am, as always, inspired by the great James Benn to offer my time to rising scholars and grad students who are interested in discussing the state of the field over a cup of coffee (or something stronger, if that’s your thing; but, really, it doesn’t have to be).

In the interest of self-promotion, I am presenting my own scholarship Saturday morning. The session is doing pre-circulated papers, so, technically, you can read my paper on the AAR website…. I think… (Does this actually work?). But please do me the favor of treating this paper as very much as a work in progress and save any feedback for Saturday at around 11:30. I’m nervous as hell (but, also, feeling good as hell).

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because scholarly work is, I believe, essentially creative work, meaning that I’ve conjured something up in my brain and am offering it to the world, explicitly for the purpose of getting feedback and criticism. This is insane. I am inviting people to critique something that is intensely personal — my thoughts — and therefore directly related to my own sense of self-worth. This is (one reason among many) why so many academics suffer from imposter syndrome. We are constantly putting some part of ourselves out into the world and inviting others (sometimes others who are assholes) to pass judgement.

Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because I am interested in speaking more openly about academia. This means speaking about not only the content of what we produce (the actual papers, the books, the think-pieces, the op-eds), but also the actual work we do (the writing of the papers, attending the conferences and the meetings, the drudgery, the labor), as well as the costs of this work and labor both in terms actual, literal, costs (going to AAR is fucking expensive) as well as human costs — what it does to us as people, how we respond to this work.

On that note, I am hoping to join a cadre of other scholars at AAR who seek to bring humanity to the humanities. An initial thought of mine is the need to be (unapologetically) open and honest about the human costs of academic work. These costs impact people in specific ways that often intersect with race or gender or class or employment status or identity; but they also impact those of us who are in relative positions of privilege (or are just plain privileged); and, when unchecked, allow for the perpetuation of competitiveness and general assholery. Perhaps, if we can collectively acknowledge that academe doesn’t always bring out our better selves, we can actively promote our better selves and treat others (and ourselves) with more than a little compassion.

And so here we are, on the eve of Nerd Christmas. I won’t live-blog my experiences, but I am likely to post pithy comments on Twitter and #awakwardacademicselfies on Instagram.

See ya in San Diego.

dusting off the shelves

It’s been well over a year since the last time I posted on this site. The past five years have been rather full. Part of that time was consumed with the completion of my book (and then another book); and the rest of the time was filled with institutional obligations. In short, the Institute has been engaged in a process of seeking regional accreditation, a process nearing some form of initial completeness. We are now awaiting the commission’s determination, to come in February; and following this, I imagine the next five years of my professional life will be focused on another book project and some impending transitions at the Institute.

The accreditation process and impending transitions (folks retiring, searches for new faculty and staff) have had me thinking a great deal about organizations, institutions, communities, and the larger systems in which they are invariably embedded — the broader landscape of higher education, the subset of that landscape that covers graduate programs, the micro-ecosystem of Buddhist higher ed, and, of course, capitalism. For the past several years, in ways overt and implicit, in ways fully of our own choice and ways compelled by those larger systems, we’ve re-made the Institute in some fairly significant ways. The next several years will see further developments owing to the natural changes that come with the addition of new persons to any organization, to any community.

Meanwhile, I continue on with a research project focused on the activities of Japanese American Buddhists in the mid-twentieth century. Should you happen to be in San Diego next month, you can get a taste of what I’m up to. This is work that I’ve been giving whatever free attention I can to, often piecemeal, over the last couple of years, often compelled by invited talks or conferences to put something coherent onto the page. Moving forward, I believe I’m ready to move on from the merely thinking about the project phase and into the actual writing of the book phase — another couple years to be sure. And whereas this project is, in some sense, “merely academic” (another historical account of Buddhism’s development in modern world), it impresses itself upon the present. It is, in its own way, focused on a community building project at another transitional period in time; like all histories, it needs to be approached on its own terms while offering lessons for us in the present.

These confluences of half-formed thoughts and stray ideas compel me to dust off the shelves of this blog and start putting things out there again. It seems to me that there are institutional things worth amplifying, things I’ve thought of as merely “for the community” that may, nevertheless, be of interest to others (such as my monthly, rambling “Dean’s newsletter“), as well as my own reflections on the nature of higher (and Buddhist) education (in this, I am inspired by the recent writing of Pierce Salguero). At the same time, as I progress in my research and writing, there may be things worth sharing, points along the road where feedback will be most welcome, where there will be the necessity of me doing something I’m not particular skilled at — self-promotion.

And so here we are. Expect more, soon.

this is not the end: this is america

This is not a call to arms.

Hat tip to Richard Payne for alerting me to a post (now nearly two months old) by Glenn Wallis regarding the Mindfulness Living Week and the “tipping point” of American Buddhism. You should read Wallis’ piece while listening to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” As Payne reminds us, the Mindfulness Industry has been subsumed under the dominant capitalist struct of America because — why wouldn’t it be? Capitalism is so pervasive, is so deeply ingrained in the very fiber and being of American history and culture (America would not exist if it wasn’t for capitalism), that scarcely anything can escape its black-hole-like pull.

But I don’t want to talk abut mindfulness or capitalism. I want to shine the light elsewhere. And to do so, I’m going to be slightly critical of Wallis’ post on two points. First, audience and agents; and, second, nomenclature.
Continue reading “this is not the end: this is america”

on the passing of friends

For several years, back in the waning days of Bush II and the rise of Obama, I blogged incessantly. It began as a way of letting folks who lived far and wide know what I was up to, since these were pre-social media days. It developed into a way to collect my thoughts about all things academic, Buddhist, and political as I finished my doctorate. In hindsight, there were a million better ways to spend my time, to be sure. I could have read more, I could have spent more time on scholarship, I could have channeled these energies into a journal article or course prep. God, anything, really. This is not to say that blogging is a waste of time; any writing we do improves our skills more generally. Trying — and especially failing — to get one’s point across (even in a blog post) makes one a better writer. But I’m also aware of the mistakes I made not only in logic and reasoning (and typos) but the mistakes in time management and creating positive relationships. I don’t regret these things, per se. I’m just aware of my own limitations as a human being and owning up to those limitations.

At the same time — because life is complicated, because there’s always awesome things mixed in with the less-than-awesome — there are some things about my blogging life that I cherish, that I wouldn’t trade in for all the money in world. And one of those things was the chance to meet and get to know the Angry Asian Buddhist. Continue reading “on the passing of friends”

Where the Heart Belongs

Oh, take me to the city,
And leave me there for a day —
Let me gaze at the tall buildings,
And watch me go astray.
The directions become all jumbled,
Could this be east or west?
The sun never sets behind the hills,
And wearily, I wish for rest.

Oh, take me back to the country,
Back where the heart belongs —
There, undisturbed, let me hear again
The familiar woodland songs.
Let me show you the Dipper;
The thrill of the Milky Way —
I need no map, no compass here,
‘This home, and here I’ll stay.

Ayako Noguchi (1941)

doubt and the manifesto

*Note: spitting this out during a bout of writer’s block was rather cathartic. Hopefully it will be entertaining for others as well. 

Sometimes, you agree to write something because you’ve been invited, or cajoled, or downright ordered to, by someone (quite possibly a mentor or someone you owe very nearly everything to). You are invited, and maybe it’s a sunny day and you’re in high spirits and the deadline is far off and you say, yeah, that sounds fun. So you say yes. And then. And then. Time marches on. And the deadline looms. And what once seemed fun and gleaming and magical is now dreary and dreadful and dull.

Continue reading “doubt and the manifesto”


You are you who are. You are not a bombthrower. You value friendship over allyship, collaboration over partisanship, civility over cruelty, cocktails over asceticism, and you’ve used this space to argue repeatedly for those things. Not everyone will agree that you’ve made the right decisions, or that these approaches are the rights ones in our dystopian Trumpland, so you’ll need to acknowledge that the problems of the present are big enough to require all sorts of solutions. Not everyone who cares about these issues will agree with your approach, and – you know what? – that is just fine. You’ll also need to make sure that the affective approaches you care about aren’t understood as a more “reasonable alternative.”

Continue reading “all/nothing”

post-AAR; the way ahead

I wrote a post on a plane from San Antonio, post AAR, to San Francisco. I had every intention to publish it, once I landed, but never did. And then the usual distractions of familia obligations over the holidays ensued. I’m back at the office. Digging myself out of a post-AAR-Thanksgiving email hole. But I don’t want to loose sight of the importance of writing.

Continue reading “post-AAR; the way ahead”