"In this impressive debut, Buddhist chaplain Han offers an illuminating analysis of the intersection of race and privilege within American Buddhist communities."
-Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Be the Refuge is first and foremost a celebration. Han’s interviewees descend from numerous countries, followed various paths to their faith, practice in different ways, and often question the validity of their own identity; but Han argues—compellingly and joyfully—that all contribute to a diverse and thriving American Buddhism."
"An eye-opening read for anyone under the false impression that American Buddhism is primarily the province of Whites."
“Han’s contribution to this overlooked aspect of the Asian American experience is an important one as it gives a voice to many invisible people in American society.”
“In Be The Refuge, Buddhists from all backgrounds will find truth in the words of like-minded people from various Asian streams, dealing squarely with the complexity of ‘betwixt-and-between’ racial identities and life experiences.” –San Francisco Book Review (5/5 stars)
“Be the Refuge opens the door for deep and difficult conversations about race, religion, and representation.” –Tricycle
“Each section of Han’s groundbreaking volume traces the history of important Asian American Buddhists’ contributions in the West—from the initial trailblazers, to the bridge-builders, to the integrators, to the refuge-makers.” –Lion's Roar
"Chenxing Han writes with a singular grace, missing nothing in a work that draws from a well of academic origins, while merging cultural critique and luminous voices into a moving memoir. No doubt many an Asian American Buddhist will find themselves heard and championed here, even as the book’s careful sifting of histories and possibilities makes it valuable reading for future scholarship. Above all, Be the Refuge lives up to its name."
—erin Khuê Ninh, author of Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature
"Be the Refuge brings us stories of complexity and multiplicity from Buddhist Asian America. Reflected in this net of jewels is the heart of the American sangha—a transmission of culturally engaged Buddhism."
—Duncan Ryuken Williams, author of American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War
"A book destined to be a classic, setting the bar high for future studies on Asian American Buddhism."
—Jonathan H. X. Lee, author of Asian American Religious Cultures
"In this vivid and nuanced presentation of Asian American voices, Han offers what many of us have been longing for: young voices grappling in deep and caring ways with one of the central issues of our time: how we might build a more inclusive Buddhist community—one big enough to hold our multiple identities, whether of race, ethnicity, and culture, or of gender and tradition. This book is both impressive and necessary."
—Jan Willis, author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist
"A challenging, poignant, and powerful detailing of the young Asian American Buddhist experience, Be the Refuge beautifully interweaves academic research, personal narrative, and advocacy. A deeply valuable contribution to the discussion of Buddhism’s development in the West."
—Sumi Loundon Kim, author of Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists
"Be the Refuge connects the dots linking Dharma, ethnic studies, and the politics of erasure and inclusion. At last, we hear the voices of Asian Americans which, for far too long, have been missing from the conversation about American Buddhism. Han’s work is refreshing, lyrical, amusing, honest, and immensely personal, all while challenging underrepresentation, misrepresentation, and the standard typologies of who counts as Buddhist and why."
—Karma Lekshe Tsomo, author of Women in Buddhist Traditions
"Be the Refuge not only raises the voices of Asian American Buddhists, but makes space for many other communities who feel unseen, erased, or forgotten in our tradition."
—Lama Rod Owens, author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger
"Han makes two vital contributions to the study of American Buddhism: her rich, textured ethnography centers and celebrates the depth and diversity of Asian American Buddhist lives, and her incisive theoretical work undoes essentialist typologies of Buddhism in the U.S. and the racial hierarchies too often undergirding them. Timely and compelling, Be the Refuge is essential reading for both religious studies and ethnic studies scholars and Buddhist practitioners and teachers."
—Ann Gleig, author of American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity
"Be the Refuge empowers the emergent generation of Asian American experience to reclaim, restore, and reconnect streams of practice, lineage, and history for all generations of Asian descent—without the narratives of Western bias—thus providing us all paths of healing and growth for all of our futures."
—Larry Yang, author of Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community
"This groundbreaking book powerfully reveals the voices of Asian American Buddhists. These personal accounts and Chenxing Han's incisive reflections reveal how important the Asian American Buddhist experience is in understanding American Buddhism. Han’s book inspires all Buddhists to both be their own refuge and to respect the valuable ways others become their own refuge."
—Gil Fronsdal, author of The Buddha before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings
"This important, insightful book focuses on the experience of Asian American Buddhists and calls us toward a Western Buddhism that offers refuge in a truly inclusive way."
—Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion
"Be the Refuge is a call to rescue the soul of Buddhism in the western world… throughout this amazing and comprehensive work, Han disrupts the habitual and hegemonic Buddhist discourse with the question, 'Whose Buddhism are we talking about?'"
—Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, author of The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender
“Readily accessible to all readers... personal, intimate, and urgent.”
–Seth Zuihō Segall, author of Buddhism and Human Flourishing
Han's illuminating debut examines how non-Asian Americans have co-opted Buddhism. This, she notes, is clearly seen by the vast majority of prominent Buddhist American scholars and spiritual leaders who are non-Asian. She conducts interviews with dozens of Asian American Buddhists. From these interviews, Han draws several salient conclusions. One of these is that many share the same feeling that Asian Americans are often seen as being too Asian if they are Buddhists or are not Asian enough if they are not practicing Buddhists. It is an untenable position to be in, she argues. Han's work is divided into chapters that detail how Buddhism arrived in the United States while also covering people who sought to teach its core tenets, and even how Asian American Buddhists have often lacked an identity. It is ironic, Han notes, that many scholars trace American Buddhist beginnings to the Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg when it is well documented that Asian Buddhists brought their beliefs to the United States in the 1800s. VERDICT Han's contribution to this overlooked aspect of the Asian American experience is an important one as it gives a voice to many invisible people in American society.—Brian Renvall, Mesalands Community Coll., Tucumcari, NM
A Bay Area writer seeks to redress the seeming cultural invisibility of Asian American Buddhists.
Han’s debut book, which began as her master’s thesis, might have languished as a sociological study for academics if not for the advice of novelist Ruth Ozeki, who told her, “Make it an account of your curiosity. Put yourself in.” Han does exactly that, intertwining scholarly methodology with the story of why she was compelled to take on the subject. Han belongs to the 2% of Asian Americans who have become Buddhist after being raised outside the tradition—in the author’s case, as an atheist. By contrast, 10% of Asian Americans who were raised Buddhist leave the faith. This math exists in the context of American Buddhism’s public image already skewing heavily White. Han cites the popular distinction between “two Buddhisms.” One is viewed as rational, focused on meditation, nonreligious, and White; the other is cultural, traditional, based on ritual, and Asian. “It’s not hard,” writes the author, “to guess which group is more likely to be dismissed as ‘superstitious’ and which group is more likely to be celebrated as ‘scientific.’ ” Anyone who follows mainstream American Buddhism knows which group is at the cultural fore. Han demonstrates convincingly that this is a misrepresentation of the actual demographics within American Buddhism, which is more diverse in terms of both race and denominations than is usually recognized. However, the author isn’t content to settle for scholarship; she wants to advocate on behalf of better representation. Is this discrepancy due to anti-Asian racism or based on an American interest in those aspects of Buddhism that can be easily extracted from their cultural contexts and incorporated into a Western worldview? This is an ongoing debate, to which this book is an important contribution, but not the final answer.
An eye-opening read for anyone under the false impression that American Buddhism is primarily the province of Whites.