Heritage Buddhists


I have learned a lot as a new board member of Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF). Today I would like to quote my colleagues as they expand our wisdom about Buddhism in the US/west, and seek to heal centuries of violent erasure.
Heritage Buddhist comrades at the first of Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s spiritual activism retreat ❤

Heritage Buddhists are Buddhists whose Asian ancestral and cultural heritages have historically preserved BuddhismHeritage Buddhists of diasporic communities in white-dominant societies like the US embody complex intersectionalities. On the one hand, they must honor the ancestral obligations and cultural identity of their Buddhist-inflected heritage, while negotiating feelings of tension and distrust towards the oppressive habits that can sometimes entangle Buddhist teachings with nationalist or patriarchal agendas. At the same time, they face the harms of racism, erasure, and cultural appropriation from living under white supremacy.

Inspired by the work of the late Aaron Lee, as well as others like Funie Hsu and Chenxing Han,  兄弟 brothers Ed Ng and Zack Walsh are planning a gathering with the purpose of amplifying the voices and visibility of diasporic Asian heritage Buddhists, and their allies. Quoting Funie, “To be clear, Buddhism belongs to all sentient beings. Even so, Asians and Asian American Buddhists have a rightful, distinct historical claim to Buddhism.”

‘Why,” you may ask, “is this important to you, Sarah, if I’m not Buddhist?” To me it is important because, “white supremacy affects all of us and how we relate to our faiths. Christianity, for example, hardly honors heritage Christians, Palestinians who currently suffer under a cruel US-Israeli military occupation…and often Christian practice in the US fails to recognize that it is not a western religion at its origin. White supremacy is the system of power behind this. We must attempt to free ourselves from it for the health of our worship and devotion. Funie says, “behind the suspicion and exclusion of Asian and Asian American Buddhists is the same system that justified the founding and building of the U.S. through the genocide of indigenous peoples and the labor of enslaved Africans” and I am adding Arabs and heritage Christians to that list. “Undeniably, America has been created by excluding people whose differences were deemed inferior—a process known as racial othering—so as to establish a seemingly natural superiority of white people.” In Christianity this led to waves of Crusades that have attacked the indigenous home of Christianity in Jerusalem, pillaging the land and killing/re-converting heritage Christians (as well as their neighbors Muslims, and Jews). These attempts have taken different forms throughout the generations and continue today. Sabeel and Dar al-Kalima represent the efforts of some autochthonous heritage Christians.

The same process of white supremacy has created an American culture in which other practitioners, namely white practitioners, have been granted the freedom to be Buddhist in safer and more public ways. Moreover, instead of facing systemic injustice for embracing a spirituality that departs from the Judeo-Christian norm, white Buddhists are often lauded for this difference. They may attain a certain cultural capital for their practice, for donning Buddhist symbols and using dharma names in Asian languages, all of which mark them with distinction as “interesting,” perhaps even “worldly”—anything but “suspect” or “foreign.”

This is white supremacy and privilege in Buddhism.

This particular angle of racial justice and intergenerational healing within Buddhism is often overlooked in the West, and here we have an opportunity to heal some of that harm.

This gutsy and visionary group will work with Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s national offices, building power and focus to intervene in the erasure of Asians from Western Buddhism, and forward a Buddhism that honors Asian practices, ancestry, and people.

So, your financial contribution to BPF to support an initiative of Buddhists raising this issue at the Parliament of World Religions or nearby site is one small wave in the oceanic shift away from transactional thinking, toward transnational thinking and gift and solidarity economies, so treasured by Buddhists everywhere. Donate here!

Ending with quotes from Chenxing Han’s article, that I resonate with as a person alive at this moment on planet Earth:

“The fact that there is no one face, no single voice, of Buddhist Asian America frees us to be “real Asian American Buddhists” in a multitude of ways. We can see our religious identities not as fixed labels but as ever-shifting processes. As Holly, a Buddhist chaplain of mixed Japanese and Jewish heritage, eloquently stated:

I think young Asian American Buddhists I know, including myself, face challenges in integrating and expressing multiple cultural identities—as young, American, Buddhist, and Asian. Yet I think we are all moving toward a more pluralistic world in which multiplicity of identity will be the norm. As a Buddhist, I know that the self is always inconstant and interdependent, so in a way my Buddhist practices help me be at peace in the midst of the tensions in multiplicity and diversity.”

I resonate with this as having strong multiplicity in identity requires a lot of bridging. At the spiritual activist retreat, we talked about the bridges of solidarity we wished to build between people of Asian descent/diaspora and people of African descent/diaspora. It was a healing time of discovering and recovering deep layers of our transcendent humanity. My work (as one with Christian roots) in learning and listening has continued since then…

(Back to Chenxing) Bridging—“constantly straddling cultural and spiritual worlds,” as one interviewee put it—is possible for Buddhists of all races and ethnicities. As culturally engaged Buddhists, we must contemplate the histories and intersections of the cultural and religious traditions we have inherited/adopted. If we are to weave different narratives about American Buddhism, we must also critically examine the racism and Orientalism that shape our perceptions of Asian American Buddhists.

We must “recognize the harm in erasing Asian American Buddhists from representations of Buddhism in America. Whether Buddhism is the religion of their family of origin, a religion they have sought out for themselves, or both, they recognize that Asian American Buddhists are not solely responsible for their invisibility. Remedying misrepresentations of American Buddhism must be a collective effort, one that includes Asian Americans and others who have been largely absent from mainstream portrayals of American Buddhism, as well as white allies who are willing to cede control of the Buddhist mediascape in which their voices currently prevail.”

From whatever path you walk, you can “actively work to give dana (generosity) by expressing gratitude for the Asian and Asian American Buddhists who have shared their indigenous ways of being as integral expressions of their practice.” Offer dana here.

The great-grandniece of Chief Seattle


Before heading to Whidbey, myself and a comrade stopped by the Duwamish Longhouse, in Seattle. We met Cecile Hansen, descendant of Chief Seattle and current tribal council chair. We met the young cultural director who helps organize the annual canoe delegations and is passionate about keeping Duwamish life alive…despite facing so much subjugation.

One of the initiatives by Duwamish and settler allies focuses on the layers of gentrification. This current wave that is creating such a panic is but another of the many that have crashed upon that land since the arrival of the Europeans in 1850.

Since the city of Seattle is Duwamish land (after the treaty of Port Elliott they were banned from living there, and sent to reservations) there is an invitation for Seattle residents to pay real rent, to the original “landlords.” They can include in their monthly budgets a token of reparation for their wealth generated on the suffering of others and Seattle’s biosphere.

Learn about this initiative here. If you don’t live in Seattle, find out to which tribal entity you can pay real rent to where you live.

Layers of camaraderie


I’m excited for 2018 and to be leading multiple nonviolent direct action trainings with Jonathan Brenneman, all over the country. We’re about to lead one in my hometown, working together with a coalition of people directly impacted by the pending plan to build an immigrant detention facility. Together–with the help of a coalition of civil society of Gary, Indiana and people from El Refugio in Georgia who are reducing the violence done by Core Civic there–and many others–our community will refuse to allow Core Civic (which is renown for terrible practices) to harm immigrant families.

We’ve been asked by MCUSA to help create curriculum to support our church’s work in the area of nonviolent direct action.  Building on five years of supporting one another as colleagues in Christian Peacemaker Teams, and then becoming close and opening our hearts to one another, now being asked to work together…the layers of camaraderie have continued to grow!  Here we are on our way to Training for Change‘s workshop, to learn new skills: for relationship with one another and the broader movement for positive social change.

Stay tuned!!



Recommitting to Solidarity in the Face of White Supremacy: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5778


From my rabbi! This was SO inspirational!

Shalom Rav

2017_0921rosen Members of Holy Blossom Temple, a Toronto synagogue, form a protective circle around the Imdadul mosque on February 3, 2017, following an Islamophobic shooting at a mosque in Quebec City.  (Photo: Bernard Weil / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Crossposted with Truthout.

When Temple Beth Israel — a large Reform synagogue in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia — opened for Shabbat morning services on August 12, 2017, its congregants had ample reason to be terrified. Prior to the “Unite the Right” rally held in town by white supremacists and neo-Nazis that weekend, some neo-Nazi websites had posted calls to burn down their synagogue.The members of Beth Israel decided to go ahead with services, but they removed their Torah scrolls just to be safe.

When services began, they noticed three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles standing across the street from their synagogue. Throughout the morning, growing numbers of neo-Nazis…

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The Work That Reconnects


I have greatly appreciated being a part of a community of people who are developing active hope through the tools of engaged Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology.  The Work That Reconnects is facilitated group process that allows individuals to dynamically name their gratitude, honor their pain, see with new eyes, dwell in deep time, and go forth with re-invigorated energy to face the challenges presented to us by this social and ecological moment.  As part of my contribution to our global network I wrote an article Deep Times journal, and introduce the language of “Intersectionalization” to describe the nature of current work on integrating in power-privilege and oppressio

n awareness and practice more deeply into Work That Reconnects facilitation. The journal article is here, and the full announcement about cool stuff happening in the network follows.


A new issue of Deep Times journal is now available online. This special issue with guest editors Patricia St. Onge, Ann Marie Davis and Aravinda Ananda focuses


on the impact of race and culture on the Work That Reconnects. Rather than strictly following the spiral, the special issue has four sections: in support of POC; what do we mean by we?; toward greater white responsibility; and seeing with ancient eyes & going forth. It contains a rich collection of insights about how race and culture contribute to different experiences for participants in Work That Reconnects and the final section offers some recommendations for facilitators to improve in their skillfulness in this respect. Please check out the many beautiful contributions to this special issue. The guest editors encourage you to compensate contributors generously for the emotional, spiritual, and physical effort that went into articles or poems in this special issue.

Please submit articles or poems by email to deeptimes@workthatreconnects.org by the end of September to be considered for publication in the next issue of Deep Times. The categories of submissions for the next issue include the four stages of the spiral (gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with new/ancient eyes, and going forth), evolving edge, networking, and resources.

Regional Hubs and Ongoing Groups

On August 15, the Network hosted a call for existing or potential regional hub and or ongoing group leaders. If you missed it, a recording of that call is available online in the multimedia sectionof the website. A lot of the conversation focused on interest in current evolving edges of the Work with greater attention to and integration of power privilege and oppression awareness and application. A next call to continue this conversation is scheduled for October 3 (see below for details).

There has been interest from folks in Australia to schedule a Zoom call focused on regional hubs and ongoing group at a time more conducive to timezones outside of North America. Please contact the network if you would like to help organize this and check the events calendar to learn of upcoming opportunities.

A Southeast U.S. regional network is forming. Please contact Rebecca Blanco if you would like to be a part  of this emerging hub.

Undoing Oppression/Intersectionalization of the Work – updates and shared learning opportunities

In Sarah Thompson’s article in the special issue of Deep Times journal, she introduces the language of “Intersectionalization” to describe the nature of current work on integrating in power-privilege and oppression awareness and practice more deeply into Work That Reconnects facilitation. Please read her journal article for more information on this.

The group of facilitators who have been meeting on Thursday mornings since the beginning of May to reflect on some recommended changes to framing, practices and facilitation with respect to power, privilege, oppression and intersectionalization are working hard to get more content on the Evolving Edge section of the website including a glossary of terms and list of resources for ongoing learning. Check there throughout the coming month for additions. One new thing you will find is a tab on the Evolving Edge menu for Community Conversations and you can check that page for online opportunities to discuss ongoing evolutions in the Work.

On September 20 at 8:30am PDT the Network will be hosting a webinar/community conversation with Aravinda Ananda, Belinda Griswold, Kurt Kuhwald and Joseph Rotella who will be sharing some of their applications of undoing oppression work to their WTR facilitation and emerging better practices. You can sign up here for this webinar/community conversation.

Many folks are doing good work in this area. If you are a registered facilitator, you have the capacity to log-in to workthatreconnects.org and post to the Undoing Oppression and Intersectionalization section of the website. We invite you to share about work that you have been doing in this area. It is possible for the general public to comment on posts in this section as an avenue for discussion while we explore other options for online conversation and shared learning on these important topics.

To continue the conversation begun on the August 15 regional hub and ongoing group webinar, and to hear from more voices, Stacie Noble-Weist will be hosting a follow-up online webinar/community conversation on October 3 at 8:30am PDT as an opportunity for folks to share more about their own applications of undoing oppression work to WTR facilitation. You can sign up here for that webinar/community conversation.

Encircle Them With Energetic Encouragement



At the solidarity prayer rally in Chicago on August 14.  With Cantor Friedman singing about the world being a narrow bridge…and the most important thing to recall is to remember the command to “not be afraid.” Awesome chant leaders from Chicago Moral Mondays work are in front of us, rocking the American Friends Service Committee’s posters reminding us that we, the community will defend each other by the strength of our relationships.

An email I wrote to friends and fam titled Encircle Them With Energetic Encouragement inspired re-posting. Glad it could help folks know what to do from afar. Wherever you are, your work matters. Take a deep breath now to celebrate yourself. Thanks.

As people committed to living out our faith and values daily and on the frontlines of war and violent conflict, we learned a lot from what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-12, 2017. We continue to learn. We have new questions, new realizations about how to organize and prepare well, and a recognition of the ferocity of the right wing. Most importantly, we have a deeper determination to build bridges in our community that can withstand the damage hate inflicts.

The Mennonite magazine covered perspectives of various ones of us who participated.

One love. Cya back out on the streets, protestifying!


Do Your Own Work: Leadership on the Frontlines


A shortened version of this article appeared in The Mennonite, in conversation with the awesome article entitled Vincent Harding, Rebels, and MJ Sharp.” Video of MJ’s work, and scholarship created in his honor, by John and Michele Sharp, here.

Sarah MJ and Jonathan Brenneman

One of my favorite things about my dear friend MJ Sharp (pictured in the middle) was how he did his work, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He gave his life for peace work there, but he was not simply a martyr.  He was someone giving his all to investigative work.  MJ was a complex character who pushed hard for justice, utilizing creative and courageous tactics that led to positive change in some key situations.  Speaking at his memorial service, the representative from the United Nations remarked, “the international community has lost one of its best investigators.”


MJ and I would often commiserate about how hard it was to do our inner work in the context of dealing with our external work: oppression-induced societal emergencies and organizational conundrums.  He was about to finish up his term in the DRC and move to Albuquerque to live in a semi-intentional community. One reason he was going to do this was because it would hopefully give him the opportunity to do that hard, slow, heavy, and contemplative inner work. He never got that chance. But I still do.


I followed the footsteps of Dr. Vincent Harding to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia to learn of my vocational calling while exploring the fullness of my identites. My work took me to Mennonite World Conference, where the words of prophets like Harding and Sider still echo. And it took me to Christian Peacemaker Teams. Now it is taking me elsewhere, but not before I take time to rest and honor MJ by doing my own work: Looking internally at those neglected areas of myself, compassionately contemplating my missteps, and reflecting on words from mentors living and ancestral.


We strive for work that fulfills our souls and meets our own needs, not because we aim to be martyrs who simply give up our lives for “the cause.” Leaders must understand the connection between their personal inventory and their personal contribution. We are acting out in the world what we personally need.  Seeking to understand the forces driving our souls does not make us selfish.  It helps us become more self-aware leaders, and that’s what congregations and organizations need.


Doing your own work also means understanding your identity, social location and how power pools and flows in your organization. It means thinking about how you show up, ask for allies, and be an ally to others who are newer or who are having difficulties navigating a system that you easily understand. We desperately need leaders like MJ who commit to doing personal and collective work to make organizations more welcoming to everyone.


Finally, to “do your own work” is a reminder to follow your dreams, and employ your gifts to do work that only you can do in the world. This may mean taking a risk to innovate in your field, or a keen focus on how you do your work. Make sure there is something uniquely you that you do in your job. You are not a machine. You are a beloved child of God.  No one can do it like you can!


Sarah Thompson is finishing up her term as Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. She is a licensed minister in Indiana/Michigan Mennonite Conference.

MJ Bowling in Wichita 14Jun16.jpg

Bowling with MJ on the last day I saw him, in Wichita, Kansas.