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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
COMMENTARY 17 labor and commitment to creating a more representative picture of the American Buddhist community. Moreover, this moment of remembrance provides an opportunity to deeply consider the work that remains in recognizing the contributions of Asian American Buddhists and dealing in a more forthright way with issues of race in our collective practice. Aaron’s attention to the underrepre- sentation of Asian American Buddhists highlights a larger historical fact of race- making for many Asian Americans in the United States: our affiliation with Asian religions has served as a marker of racial difference and deviance. Thus, Buddhism has been both a catalyst for our exclusion from the American national imagination (the targeted incarceration of Buddhists of Japanese ancestry during WWII, for example) and a source of our refuge through ongoing alienation. For Asian American Buddhists, then, writing about our Buddhist identities becomes a path for understanding our American condition. Over dinner a few months before his passing, Aaron poi- gnantly confided that, in many regards, he saw himself writing more about the question of what it means to be American than about Buddhism. In this light, efforts to center Asian American Buddhist writers speak to a much needed move to broaden our understanding of racial dynamics in the United States. They are part of a larger intention to build a collective American Buddhism that takes seriously the liberation from social suffering. In his last piece of public writing, Aaron reflected on his ill- ness and desire to embody refuge for others. “For years I’ve wondered about how to create an Op-Ed Project for Buddhists of Color in order to encourage a greater diversity of writers,” he shared. “But when I now refocus the question—‘How do I create a refuge for Buddhists of Color?’—I find myself with a broader set of options to explore, not to mention more insight- ful ways to articulate my goals for increasing the diversity of Buddhist writers.” On this one-year anniversary of his death, we can pay tribute to the contributions of Aaron J. Lee by taking up his commit- ment to creating refuge for Buddhists of Color. One simple, profound act practitioners can undertake to honor his legacy would be to make equitable space for the teachings of Buddhists of Color in the public discourse and in print media so that their words, too, can be here because of Aaron. AARONLEEPHOTOVIAFACEBOOK