00:00:00 Introduction

00:01:15 Being a zen priest at Daihonzan Chozen-ji and taking away fear. 

00:03:38 Being a good leader from the perspective of Rinzai Zen

00:07:54 Rinzai Zen’s perspective of leaders and followers

00:09:31 Zen arts as a path of awakenment, on Omori Sogen and blending martial arts and zazen meditation.

00:14:42 Breaking through self-imposed limits through martial arts

00:17:00 On kendo, “the way of the sword,” historically and prior to WWII. 

00:20:27 Unified action and intention 

00:25:41 Martial arts fundamentals and flavors

00:29:42 Supporting someone through silence

00:35:36 Asian Buddhism in America in the 19th century.

00:43:55 Engaging in Asian culture today



Cristina Moon





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RAW TRANSCRIPT Please excuse all errors

[00:00:00] Olivia Clementine: I’m Olivia Clementine, and this is Love and Liberation. Today our guest is Reverend Cristina Moon. After a career in human rights and social change, organizing and graduating from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, she embarked on three years of monastic training while still in residence as a priest.

She continues to train in zazen, kendo, chado, and ceramics, and now works with individuals and organizations to develop the sensitivity and spiritual strength needed to lead in today’s challenging world.

I wanted to start with what is a Zen priest? And specifically you said something like, your main purpose is to remove fear. And I’m wondering both of those things. What is a zen priest and, and what does that really mean that your purpose is to remove fear? 

[00:01:15] Cristina Moon: I still ask myself that question, is this what a zen priest does? It’s a little less cut and dry like it might be in other traditions where you go to seminary, it’s very academic and you have, you know, very clear liturgy.

And then there’s a sort of attending to your parishioner’s sort of role? It’s, it’s a little more vague. And then on top of that being in a relatively unconventional context as Chozen-ji (where Cristina is a resident priest) is kind of like the local temples that have historically existed in Hawaii for more than a hundred years, which was for laborers who came over to work on the plantations.

But in, we’re like a local temple in the sense that we are very invested in the local community and having a community of people who are training in Zen, who are from Hawaii and from here and committed to Hawaii, but we’re also like a monastery. So we’re doing this kind of training that really comes from a monastic tradition unlike say, Shin Buddhism, which is the most popular kind of Buddhism in Japan and in Hawaii, which is a lot more like church.

And you go for sermons and for community and for potlucks and for dharma school on Sundays and scouts meetings as opposed to like meditation and anything that would feel like really vigorous spiritual training. And, and so we’re kind of in this strange liminal innovative space. And so being a Zen priest then takes on this additional sort of layered meaning and ambiguity sometimes. 

The directive to take away peace take away fear and to bring peace in Japanese the phrase is “Say mu e.” Say to give E is fear and then Mu is like it’s a negating term, but it also means the void. So it’s sort of like void fear, no fear, but it can mean something, you know, a little bit bigger and more universal than that too. So this sense of, as a Zen and Priest, my highest purpose, all of our highest purposes as Chozen-ji priests is to give courage, give fearlessness, and to take away fear. And that can look so many different ways. 

[00:03:34] Olivia Clementine: Yeah, we could still probably get into some of those ways today. 

[00:03:37] Cristina Moon: Yeah. 

[00:03:37] Olivia Clementine: And you’ve written about this idea of good leaders or good followers, and I wanted to hear more about that like what does that actually mean? Good leaders are good followers, what does that look like? And also how does that lend itself to leadership and Zen?

[00:03:55] Cristina Moon: I think most of what I was going off of was this series of articles that those two psychologists who are from Australia, that they had written, I think they were in like the Harvard Business Review and some magazines like that. And for me, what really, what really struck me maybe it was a bit of a reaction to having gone to business school in the Bay Area in Silicon Valley and then living in the San Francisco Bay area for a while where you heard stories and you continue to hear stories with Elon Musk takeover of Twitter, of these tech giants who have a very unapologetic attitude towards leadership.

And sometimes who are really well versed in the technical aspects of what they’re doing, but not in how to be leaders. And then there’s, there’s certain personas that are set up, particularly in that industry about what it means to be a leader. And we often hold up people like Steve Jobs, someone who’s very visionary, maybe isn’t great with people, but is a genius in some way.

And, and people sort of just line up to follow this single charismatic leader. And there’s something about the way in particular Chozen-ji that we train in Zen where it’s very focused on taking away and sort of shedding that sense of self importance and really focusing outwardly on the community and in this really vigorous and robust kind of way.

And challenging kind of way where it, it just really made sense to me that to be a leader doesn’t mean I’m out in front. Everyone’s behind me. Gotta follow my vision on what I say and a little bit more of. Am I recognizing that I’m part of a whole group? And then am I in a accord? And am I changing the environment and the people around me as much through my actions and my inspiring words as the quality of my character and who I am? You know, are we communicating sort of really fully in that sort of way? And then am I able to lead sort of no matter what role I’m in? 

I think fundamentally when, when you are in more of that black and white role as a leader, you have to be able to understand what’s gonna be meaningful and, you know, meaningful to and motivate the people who are with you and where that trust comes from in a leader.

And if you haven’t been on the other side of that and sort of gone through that process of self recognition, then I, I think it’s harder to be on the other end as a leader and realize, oh, that’s, that’s what I need to bring. Like I need to build that trust amongst the people who are with me. I need to cultivate the skills and ability for everyone to be able to snap in the line when it’s an emergency and when it’s needed, and to also feel taken care of and like their best interests are really in my heart. And the person who’s really focused on my ideas and my leadership inherently is gonna struggle to be able to do that. 

I think where that overlaps with Zen is really just in this, where the rubber sort of meets the road for us. You know, when we sit in zazen and seated meditation, we’re sitting sort of in a square on the edges of this room of our dojo, and everyone’s cushion is facing inwards. So you’re also sitting with your eyes sort of half open so you can see everybody and everything. And part of the instructions actually is to see the whole room 180 degrees in all directions. And so there’s a sense of really relaxed concentration, but ticking in everything and understanding the history of Rinzai Zen, the sect that we’re in, in particular, being associated with the samurai in the military class in Japan and medieval Japan. It sort of makes sense, like why people would have to train that way, cuz you wanna have this intuitive understanding of the people around you and also the sense of alertness, of seeing, feeling, hearing, perceiving everything.

And you’re able to jump up and take action and then trust the people around you that they’re gonna be able to do the same. And that’s a really different experience from when you’re sitting in meditation and your eyes are closed and your, your focus is inwards. It’s not that one is better than the other. There’s sort of like two paths to the same destination, but very different paths to get there. 

So that for me was It just really resonated when I revisited that article and after having arrived at Chozen-ji and gotten into Zen training of, I don’t know, wrestling with some of my own issues around what it means to be a leader versus a student, a Zen student in this environment.

And then what it was about Chozen-ji in particular and our approach to Zen that lent itself to sort of our purpose. We were established by Omori Sogen to be a place to cultivate leaders and it’s, it’s, you know, I could talk about it conceptually, but the, the feeling was very much there of sitting in zazen and doing martial arts together and really feeling like, oh, like this is what that’s about.

[00:09:31] Olivia Clementine: Mm-hmm and it seems like in general Zen places a lot more thoughtful attention on embodiment and form and, and ritual. And speaking of what you were just saying, the two paths that lead to the same place, how is it that these, this attention to martial arts and and ritual are a pathway for awakenment?

[00:09:58] Cristina Moon: That [00:10:00] broadly is something that is unique to Rinzai Zen, where there’s the understanding that you could take many activities and in particular the arts and make them modes of training to develop oneself or to realize your true self, to realize enlightenment. And so the, you see it in all these just exquisite Japanese arts, whether it’s you know, karate and kendo or flower arrangement, the way of the flower, the way of tea where the philosophy, the culture embodying all of those things, like it’s just woven in, in this way where you get to actually experience it. And then maybe even you experience it first and then confirm later validate later with thoughts and concepts. 

Oftentimes there isn’t a whole lot of explanation on the front end you’re just doing, and then you figure out much later on, oh, that’s what I was doing. That’s what I experienced. At Chozen-ji in particular. We had two founders. One was from Japan, Omori Sogen, and then his student was born and raised in Hawaii, in Honolulu named we call him Tanouye Roshi, Tanouye Tenshin, and Tanouye Roshi was a genius in the martial arts and it’s just kind of hard to parse words with that , he achieved sixth and seventh degree black belt in seven different martial arts in Japan, which would be the equivalent of say, like earning seven PhDs in 10 years or something.

And so just just astonishing his ability to learn and master these arts very, very quickly. And for him, he really saw the application of the martial. As thoroughly as we do it and as sort of interdisciplinarily as we do it with everything from kendo to karate to kudo, the way of the bow to Aikido.

Like all of those here, they’re applied as sort of like an accelerant to the transformation that can already happen when you’re training in Zen. Sitting in zazen is very, very powerful and transformative. Now, if you combine that or you can apply the vigor from training in martial arts to sitting in zazen, oh wow.

Like your zazen can go so much further. And, and I speak from experience, like I spent a lot of time, I spent many years sitting in meditation, sort of like always easing off , easing off the gas at those critical moments when it would’ve been great if I had sat all night. . It would’ve been great if I just kept going, but it was just too hard and I didn’t have the habit, the muscle or the spiritual sort of memory of like, no, this is the time.

Just go for it. Just do it. Break through this wall. There were a lot of times instead when I got to the wall and I was like, Hmm, like, I’m not ready to go through that yet. 

[00:13:06] Olivia Clementine: Will you speak on what is it about martial arts, the, the vigor of it or the redundancy even maybe that has helped you be able to break through and choose to stay in it?

[00:13:22] Cristina Moon: There have been just a, you know, a couple of, couple of key moments for me where it felt like they came together. One, I was sitting in zazen and I was not counting my breaths, I was not paying attention to everything in the room. I was like totally caught up in rumination. And it was about you know, workplace interaction I was having.

And I was pissed off and frustrated with some people I was working with and just totally caught up in it. And then this was a few months after training in Kendall and Zen and, and then all of a sudden just sitting there, it, I didn’t premeditate it, I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it just felt like boom.

In that moment, oh, everything fell away. Just like in kendo when you just leap forward and you cut straight, and I can’t describe exactly what it is that happened, but it was a visceral psychophysical sort of feeling of like, oh, this is kendo. This is exactly what happens in kendo. It was the same feeling, but it had happened while I was sitting still. And instead of, you know, hitting an opponent on the head and running through, it was this delusion that I had cut through and run straight through. 

Another time was I don’t know, it, it, it sounds a little more mundane, but I was in kendo class and I was sparring with the sensei who’s, you know, it’s ridiculous that I get to spar with him.

He’s his seventh, seventh degree, makes it look so effortless. And there was a moment where I launched to hit him on the head and he just stepped out of the way and I went flying and like all of my weight just landed on my one big toe and I, and I went down, I felt a curl under me and just go “Crrr” little bit and it hurt.

And, but it was that early phase of hurting where it’s just kind of shock and, and numb and you don’t actually feel it yet. And I just had this wave of feeling very familiar, like series of thoughts of, oh, I hurt something. I should sit down. I might have to go ice it. I should make sure that I’m not badly injured.

And then just as quickly the, it was like this competing set of thoughts came in. No, just get up and keep going. And I did and it was awesome. And I got up and I kept going and I put most of my weight on the other foot, and pretty soon it was over. It didn’t, it actually ended up not being that badly hurt.

I think I iced it and then I wore sneakers for like a week and it was fine. But it was just this moment of realizing how habituated I had become to quitting in all of these small ways, sort of easing off and backing off when I actually had so much left in the tank, I could have kept going. And by keeping on going, it was an exhilarating feeling of transcending a limitation that I had thought was real, but was actually self-imposed.

And then, you know, a lot of when you can pile on, like experience after experience, after experience of that transcending your self-imposed limitations, it suddenly makes sort of this this endeavor of like transcending your rational mind or being enlightened there’s a part of you that actually feels like, oh, maybe, maybe that is actually possible.

[00:16:57] Olivia Clementine: That’s really beautiful, both of those examples. And for anyone that’s listening that doesn’t know what Kendo is, do you mind sharing what is it and, and what are you actually doing in, in the practice itself, the training itself? 

[00:17:09] Cristina Moon: Sure. So kendo literally means Do is the same as Dao or the way and ken is sword. So the way of the sword, and it’s essentially Japanese fencing or swordsmanship from medieval Japan. So imagine Samurai and the TV series Shogun or Tom Cruise’s last Samurai. And you’re wearing eventually you are wearing full armor where you’ve got a chest piece and a helmet and a piece across your hips and you have gloves that are all padded and you’re fighting with a bamboo sword.

And the, there are a couple of key places you’re trying to trying to hit, but Kendo is really unique in that because of the armor and the equipment, it actually is probably the closest you can feel to being in a real fight without risking injury. And so you’re just going for it.

You’re, there’s a certain stance, there are principles of course, but you’re leaping in to hit someone on the head and you’re, you’re yelling at the same time you’re yelling out the part of the body that you’re hitting. So if you’re going for the head, which is called the “men”, you would strike your foot hits the same time on the floor as your sword hits the helmet and your yelling altogether in sync “men” and then you’re running through and it can be quite fast and just feel really aggressive.

 So kendos been really, really wonderful in that when I first started, I would freeze quite a lot. And to be able to get to a point where I can be in the midst of all of that and st still see the whole room, really, it’s this feeling of like, now I know kind of how to sit on chaos, which is, and still feel calm, still see everything, still be able to take care of myself and take care of others. That’s been really, that’s been the great thing about Kendo. 

But the history of Kendo Kendo was actually banned in Japan after World War ii and it was banned in the United States as well, particularly in Hawaii because it was associated with the Japanese military class and the history of, of sort of Warriorship Bushido in Japan.

And there was a perception that sort of those who were royal to the emperor and who might, I don’t know, cause an instruction of some sort or fight the occupation that they were organizing out of the kendo dojos. And so there is most people would say that Kendo today is not what it was prior to the war, where it was really, it was really life or death is what you were training.

You were, that’s what you were [00:20:00] training to face and to, you know, some people critically would say it’s more like a kenjitsu, which is the technique of the sword today. But sensei, our kendo teacher insists we’re he’s trying to have the last real kendo class in Hawaii, if not in the world. 

[00:20:19] Olivia Clementine: There’s something that sounds significant about the, the union of speech, movement and contact. 

[00:20:27] Cristina Moon: It really is being unified in your action and intention. And so of, of course you have to know the words and what part you’re going for, but it all has to happen in a split seconds. And so the best moments are when it happens effortlessly and without any sort of premeditation.

So you’re not standing there facing off thinking, okay, I’m gonna hit “do”, I’m gonna hit his chest piece. And then you look for the opening and take it. It’s, you’re just completely there in the present moment. And then the opening appears and you, you take it without sort of any sort of conscience contrivance.

But, but we do have to do that, I think all the time. Not most of the time we’re using our intellect and not our bodies, but in the modern world, we really should cultivate the ability to be able to have our intention and our actions unified in the same moment? I think it would, it would cultivate more maturity in how we sort of understand ourselves, first of all.

And then I, I think it’s a really worthwhile endeavor to try to have things come out right on the first try. Like it’s wonderful when interactions can be really clean and direct and you just say what needs to be said or you read in between the lines and, and do the action that needs to be taken and that we don’t have to sort of belabor and talk it through and entertain all of the, you know, possible perspectives on it when we have an intuitive understanding beyond sort of language, which is so inexact.

[00:22:25] Olivia Clementine: I love that. I, it just thinking of the modern world sometimes we like to to chew on something for so long and it drives people nuts, literally, this kind of dwelling. It feels fresh, hearing what you’re sharing and the possibility of that, of of, of saying what you mean, not adding everything extra, allowing it to be clean, reading between the lines.

You have this one line where you share this Japanese saying, the saying is, “when the battle is over, the warrior tightens their helmet” and I wanna keep going a little bit on the wisdom of fighting in Zen and to know if there are tenets in Zen on how to perceive and engage in fighting.

[00:23:09] Cristina Moon: Zen is funny, in that Zen teachers tend to be the most disparaging about the value of words and Zen books. There’s a common saying, “adding dung to the dung pile” is commonly used in regard to Zen books. But yet Zen publishes more books, is more prolific than any other sect. I bring that up because there’s no sort of doctrinal. There’s no sutra or anything that addresses Warriorship or martial arts and Zen, but there, there are Zen masters who commented on it quite a bit. And this goes as far back as Zen Master Takuan Sōhō in, I, oh gosh, I should not even try to name what Century, but it was several hundred years ago.

 And the, the work of his, that’s maybe best known in this area is just a series of letters actually that he wrote to a samurai. And he’s trying to explain Zen through Swordsmanship because he knows that the person that he’s in dialogue with is a master of this. This is a discipline that he’s mastered and so speak.

He can speak at a very high level to someone who will understand at that level, translating the concepts that he knows well into Zen. And then Omori Sogen has written on this a fair amount as well, but I think there, there is quite a bit that’s just like wrapped up in Japanese culture. But somewhat unlike say, Theravada Buddhism there isn’t, there’s no, you know, Sutra or sort of official text on this.

So, so much of Zen was sort of about that practical application of how do you put the principles of Zen to use in your life. So part of the prolific nature of Zen publishing is that we have books on zen and cooking and zen and arches and then zen and horseback riding and zen and swordsmanship. So I don’t know if that answers your question about sort of where it comes from, but I think it was just people trying to be practical and applying these things to areas that were relevant in their lives. 

[00:25:21] Olivia Clementine: When you’re doing, for instance, Kendo, there are no particular rules of, of how to perceive that engagement and fighting? Are there certain perceptions where it’s like, this is not acceptable, this is what we’re trying to head towards in our activities, our, our fighting activities, essentially.

[00:25:40] Cristina Moon: Oh yeah. But they’re very fundamental. So for us, because of our, you know, with the martial arts and the fine arts, but just in general, our approach is so physical and then through the body, for us, we’re, we’re just always gonna come back to your breath, your posture, and your concentration. So yeah, be in the middle of keiko sparring or practicing and still have your breath low and slow in your diaphragm.

Still be able to see the room 180 degrees. Still have your awareness like right here, not stuck on what just happened or what’s gonna happen later. So it all comes down to that. And, and those are such fundamental things, especially if you’re just, you know, breath and posture, breath and posture in every moment of your life, no matter what you’re doing.

Part in particular, it’s having your breath be low. So in Japanese, there’s this term for the region of the body. It’s like around the trunk, below the belly button. And it resonates with the word for mind, heart, or spirit in Japanese, which is shin or kokoro. And the, what I’ve been taught is that the idio gram for the character shin is a, was actually like a drawing of below the belly button.

And so this idea that the mind and the heart and the spirit can be below the belly button. So if you are breathing into the hara, into that area, if you’re pushing, if your mind is originating from here, then whether you’re doing kendo, whether you’re making ceramics, whether you’re cooking, whether you’re taking care of children, your, your chances of doing it in a way that’s in accord with the environment and the forces and the people around you, and the chances of it coming out right are just better than if you’re stuck somewhere else in your head. 

[00:27:43] Olivia Clementine: How does gentleness and rest play a role in Zen training? 

[00:27:48] Cristina Moon: It’s the flip side of the coin of bringing out all of your energy, giving it all you’ve got when it’s time to rest, rest with all you’ve got when it’s time to be gentle.

No, like, or, or warm and welcoming. So I also train in tea ceremony or the way of tea chado and it is the same in a universal sense. It’s the same as kendo of course, in a formal sense it’s totally different, but that sense of being one with, in one instance your guest in one instance, your opponent in both instances with all the utensils and accoutrement around you with the environment around you, and to just sort of like fully be tuned in to, to have this unified experience.

That’s what we’re going for. The mechanism, the pathway is just different. So we, I think in the west can resonate or identify more with this experience of like connection being like a really warm thing. When we feel really in tune and connected with someone, oftentimes it’s a soft and slow and enveloping sort of feeling, and it’s one that just is, feels restful and safe.

But that’s also possible on the other end of the spectrum. So they’re historically in Japan where Swordsmen who were said to, you know, with their presence and their energy, just be able to like fully envelop their opponent to the point that the, the opponent couldn’t even raise their sword, didn’t even know what to do.

And you can do this, you know, essentially the, that capacity is there it’s just what flavor is it. 

[00:29:40] Olivia Clementine: It reminds me of this story you shared where there’s a meditator in zazen, so full stillness, full quiet, and next to them is somebody who’s in full breakdown, bawling their eyes out, falling apart. And it was really touching to think [00:30:00] about because you were reflecting on the idea that this being in full stillness and full presence could potentially be as supportive for this person breaking down without actually touching them, without actually responding in that way and I wanted to hear more about that. 

[00:30:19] Cristina Moon: I think mostly that comes from the experience of being the person who’s in full breakdown. And it, for me, you know, my conditioning and my habits are pretty strong. Like I can be going through a lot and still keep it together. And yet I’m a very sensitive person who experiences emotions very intensely.

it’s a real gift. When I can sit there and have the quiet, have the stillness and the lack of inputs and responsibilities and actions so that whatever is held up inside can actually come out. And then so often in everyday life, it’s like that starts to come out and then people are worried and then I’m worried about how it’s impacting other people, and then I’ve gotta keep it together.

And so, you know, it just doesn’t have the chance to get fully let go. And sometimes it’s very deep stuff from childhood or you know, trauma. And so I’m so grateful in those moments where I feel the support of everyone around me. Everyone knows that I’m crying right now. Everyone knows that I’m dealing with something really hard.

They don’t know what it is. But in that moment, nobody is sort of rushing to try to make a go away or maybe more fundamentally it feels like, you know, to make me go away in all the messiness that I am in this moment. So that’s a truly accepting feeling. And then on the other end of it, you know, there have been moments when it’s somebody else who’s just in pain, physical, emotional, or psychological.

And it, that provides me the opportunity to really explore what does it mean to be totally sincere in wanting to take away their suffering, like sincere to the point that I would try to defy, you know, what feels like regular Newtonian physics and have something that I do over here on the other side of the room without moving, without talking, without communicating like, could I take their pain away? And there’s something about the, it just really drives this urgency, sincerity, just total, total commitment. I’m just gonna sit here as hard as I can, or I’m gonna fill this entire dojo with love, whatever it is. And, and then maybe even, you know, more precious than that is in the moments when it arises really spontaneously. And, and there’ve been one or two of those moments when I really, really feel like it came up spontaneously rather than me thinking about it, that that’s what I wanted to do. And then it did seem like that person was comforted or they talked about it later.

Oh, all of a sudden I felt great . So, you know, it’s all maybe conjecture and a little hocus pocus, but at least that experience of a lot of us really wanna be compassionate and when we look at the, actually what that word means, like the Latin origins, compassion, you know, passion in that context actually means suffering.

Like the passion of the Christ calm is with, to suffer with somebody. Like just the conviction and the strength, the solidness on your own two feet that that takes to truly suffer with somebody, not try to make it better, not try to make it go away, not try to make them go away in their pain like that, that is a tremendous effort and something that’s worth training ourselves to be able to do. 

[00:34:50] Olivia Clementine: Hmm. Going into the importance of culture being the means to bring Dharma into life, into everyday life specifically, and also the significance of this tied to the restoration of Asian history and Western Buddhism. I know this is something you’ve really brought to light for a lot of communities.

It was really helpful for me to read about and I wanted to see if you would elaborate about both the erasure of Asian history in Western Buddhism, and also the, the importance of culture when it’s something that often, especially in the Western world, we don’t have a strong connection with it being at all something that should be upheld in some way. 

[00:35:33] Cristina Moon: Mm-hmm. Particularly in America, in the United States, we have this sort of strangely, like culturally agnostic, we perceive it to be culturally agnostic or neutral, like sense of what it means to be culturally American. And that is, has been a stripping down of almost every people that’s come into this country.

Like, you don’t see a vibrancy of German cultural values or practices or Finnish or Italian in the same way in that nuanced, deep down to your soul kind of way. But more to your, let me take a step back, I guess.

When I started out in Buddhism, I knew who like, you know, Suzuki was, I read Zen Mind, beginner’s mind, but I didn’t really, you know, I certainly didn’t see he was Japanese. I knew that he had had students who were here, but I, it didn’t register what registered to me as sort of like the history of Buddhism in America.

What was represented to me was really about mostly white, affluent, middle class people, hippies in the seventies who had gotten into Buddhism through some Asian teacher who had come over here, or whom they’d experienced in Asia. And nobody ever told me that there had been Buddhists in America since the end of the 18 hundreds.

Or the early 19 hundreds that there was a zen temple in San Francisco in 1905, that there were Zen temples in, in other places, in, in Buddhist temples in California, and then Hawaii, which later became a part of the United States, you know, in the 1870s and nineties. And, and it’s been really sobering to realize how sort of deeply entrenched that apocryphal historical narrative is.

 It took me a while to fully open my eyes to it, because sometimes I would encounter. Western Buddhist teachers who would say, well, how we do Buddhism here is very different from in Asia cuz we meditate. And in Asia it’s more of a folk religion. So people light incense, they believe in merit, they’re very superstitious and oh yeah, they’re Buddhist teachers wish that they would meditate like we do.

And the the, you know, suggestion there is that somehow they’re lesser Buddhist than we are. So that was sort of one narrative that was in my head. It took a while to dispel that. Another part of it I think is just there’s some innate resistance. So I’ve been like at Buddhist conferences where very clearly someone is up on stage and says, “that is not the history of Buddhism in America. And there were Chinese and Japanese and Korean laborers who brought Buddhism here, and the majority of Buddhists in America are Asian.” And you’ll still have someone stand up at some point having heard that and say Buddhism, Buddhism in America is mostly white, mostly Jewish and middle class, and came, came here in the 1970s.

It can only can only be karmic, right? It doesn’t make any rational sense why it’s going in one ear and out the other. And why there is this blockage to being able to accept that. The actual history and then by extension, what’s been erased and who’s been erased in order to make it invisible to us.

Something about that, like there, you know, it’s folk Buddhism, it’s just cultural, it’s lesser than has, that’s been what I’ve been sort of really digging into because of my training in the arts and in this really holistic, just deep dive and immersion into zen training where it’s been my life for the past almost five years and.[00:40:00] 

You know, I’ve just had to learn a very different culture and, and then it was through that cultural learning actually, as well as in a day-to-day sense, as well as through formal means, like the arts that just so many of my most profound sort of zen lessons came, became clear. It just made me really passionate about pointing it out to folks both within the Asian American Buddhist community and outside of it, to say like, don’t overlook this.

This is a really important part of the dharma. This is the dharma and rationally it makes sense. It’s a culture and a set of cultural practices and values and philosophies that literally evolved alongside Buddhism for in some cases thousands of years. Like why wouldn’t the culture find ways of giving practical experience to Buddhist ideals.

Of course, of course it would. It can be so easy to dismiss and it’s wrapped up in our sort of heavy karmic burden of racism and white supremacy in the United States and our fear of what’s foreign and different. And just a really entrenched history of foreignness, particularly of people of Asian descent, a foreignness being threatening to what it means to be American.

And, I don’t know exactly where that comes from. It might be tied to a fundamental insecurity that we have where we’re trying to create what it means to be American. And so we’ve created this, what we feel like is this culturally or, you know, culturally neutral culture. And so maybe we, we can viscerally feel that something’s missing.

And so that in and of itself is threatening. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I’m really committed to not just advocating and saying White America pay attention, but particularly for Asian American Buddhists, I really wanna help provide the opportunity to shine a light on our own cultures and to realize what we have is a value. 

We are under so much pressure have been historically and still are today to assimilate and to let go. That’s why actually Asian American Buddhists are disaffiliating from their religious roots, so they’re leaving Buddhism at higher rates than any other demographic in the United States. I, I think there are multiple forces of play, but definitely part of it is the pressure to assimilate.

Like when I was nine and 10 and 11 years old, growing up outside of New York City, like I wanted to get baptized because everyone I knew was either doing bat mitzvah or baptism, and I just felt like I was missing out on something or I was weird, or I was strange and I wanted to fit in. And so I can totally understand why young Asian Americans growing up in Buddhism are feeling like it’s not where they wanna lie and identify themselves.

Feels beyond feeling like an outsider. I mean, sometimes we’re social animals feeling like an outsider’s dangerous. I get it. 

[00:43:26] Olivia Clementine: What is it that is Asian culture that, that we should be encouraging whether you’re Asian or not Asian. 

[00:43:33] Cristina Moon: Yeah, there, there are definitely avenues to sort of humble oneself and really learn about different cultures and the arts and cultural practices are a great way to do that. So there are TaeKwonDo and Karate dojos in strip malls across America, and you can go find them. And cultural, you know, heritage centers and places where you can go celebrate Chinese New Year. Or go see a Japanese tea ceremony. These places exist and I think it’s great when people who don’t share that heritage sort of really want to understand it and not as a sort of cultural artifact or a commodity, but in the sense of what’s it like to really live this and have it be a part of who you are.

And then even as someone who didn’t grow up in that culture, what are ways in which it could positively influence and enrich my life as well? It’s really hard to figure out. I think many of us are afraid of appropriating a culture that’s not ours. It has everything to do with just what your intentions are and how you approach it.

And are you again, not making it all about you, showing up fundamentally, if you show up to a community and the first thing that you do is you bring something and you bring a gift, like that goes a really long way. That is the right foot to get started on in that sense of, I value your existence and I wanna support you, I wanna learn from you.

 That’s a framing that we’re not often taught, and that’s not a way we’re taught to approach things that are new to us often.

Because of the high rates of religious disaffiliation among Asian-American Buddhist, there are real issues in the Asian-American Buddhist community around holding onto like retaining membership and youth and keeping Sanga and communities intact.

There are real challenges that people are experiencing and I guess I would just, you know, provoke listeners to, to see those communities as assets that, that we wanna hold onto that we don’t wanna lose. Cuz they’re precious in the lived experience of the dharma in these practices, in an approach to life that is very unique in that it evolved as a way to live the dharma and.

We simply don’t wanna lose that. And I think there are ways that we can be supportive within and outside of those communities, whether it’s in reevaluating, are there ways in which sort of, I’m taking on this mantle of being Buddhist in a way that’s like claiming ownership to it and doesn’t support or is deleterious to the folks you know, who grew up with it and who are losing it.

And then I think just material support is really important. You know, relational support of, yeah, I’m gonna support my local Chinese, Buddhist temple, I’m gonna bring them a donation, I’m gonna drop off cookies. When they have the kids for Sunday school or whatever. I think that that can go a long way.

And I think just being aware of them as part of the fabric of the community and in all the ways we can in inviting them to feel a part of and not other. I think it’s really important. It’s something that we all can do, whether we’re in there going to services and going to Temple with them, or sitting and meditating with them, or if we’re just acknowledging that they’re a valued part of our community that we wanna support and see continue to thrive.