Reflection on Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists

Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists by Chenxing Han
A Reflection by ARISE Core Member Albert Karcher

Since its release in January 2021, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists by Chenxing Han has been making waves in Buddhist communities across the U.S. Last month there were book events with Chenxing Han hosted by the San Francisco Zen Center, Harvard Buddhist Community, Buddhist Church of Oakland and Making Visible, an initiative of members of the Opening Heart Mindfulness Community in Washington, DC.

Be the Refuge shines light on the state of American Buddhism and highlights the erasure of Asian American Buddhists from many mainstream representations of Buddhism in America. Chenxing Han presents multiple examples of Buddhist media like Lion’s Roar (formerly Shambhala Sun), Tricycle, and Buddhadharma highlighting white dharma teachers and practitioners and failing to include Asian American dharma teachers and practitioners. Han points out that Asian representation in American Buddhist media has been largely limited to well-known teachers like Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) and the Dalai Lama. She also notes how this narrative has begun to change in recent years with Buddhist media featuring more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) teachers and practitioners including Asian Americans.

As a multiracial, convert Buddhist with Asian heritage, Be the Refuge offered me a new narrative and context for my experiences in American Buddhist communities, including Plum Village practice centers and sanghas in the U.S. I saw pieces of my own story reflected in the interviews of 89 pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist young adults that Chenxing Han weaves throughout the book. I was born in the U.S. and neither my Filipinx or German family are Buddhist. I also spent formative years of my childhood in Nepal where I connected regularly with Buddhist culture. It was towards the end of college that I encountered Buddhism again in the teachings of Thay. In Be The Refuge, I see how my story is one of many among the diversity and nuance of Asian American Buddhists and their experiences. Importantly, Chenxing Han illuminates how the roots of American Buddhism go back more than a century, with multigenerational Asian Buddhist families and complex histories that intersect with race and class.

This book is a powerful invitation for our lay, monastic, multifold sangha, to look deeply into our Buddhist roots in the U.S. In the spirit of Wake Up, young people, in this case young Asian American Buddhists, are sharing their insight and offering the sangha an opportunity to look deeply into the suffering and joy of practicing Buddhism in the U.S.


To learn more about the book and to order a copy visit
Chenxing Han was one of the organizers of May We Gather: A National Buddhist Memorial Ceremony for Asian American Ancestors, which brought together followers from every major school of Buddhism. You can learn more and watch a replay of the ceremony here.

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