Letter 65

DAY 65

Grace Song

Won Buddhist Studies Department Chair
Won Institute of Graduate Studies
March 25, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

The Vietnamese poet, Ocean Vuong, shares a story of his mother attending his poetry reading for the first time and not understanding a word but sobbing at the end. “What did I do?” he asked his mother. She replied: “No, I just never thought I’d live to see all these white people clapping for my son.” He sat with her words for a while, trying to understand the meaning of this kind of validation. The next day he went to his mother’s nail salon and watched her kneel at the pedicure chair before one white woman after another. She was below their eye level for so many years. He finally understood what it meant for her to be in a space where people saw her, face-to-face, as an equal.

Asian immigrants like the Vuongs come to the United States with hopes for a brighter future. But they enter a country with structural racial inequities that make Asians invisible and the racism against them hidden. Enough is enough. As a country, we must pay attention to the violence against Asian Americans and amplify the injustices that have been going on for far too long.

“Oppression of one group entails oppression for all.”

I turn to the Won Buddhist founding motive, which directs us to “lead all sentient beings, who are drowning in the turbulent sea of suffering, to a vast and immeasurable paradise.” The “paradise” Won Buddhists speak of is one founded on treating all people with dignity and respect and building a fair and equitable society. Our interdependent existence requires us to cut through our individual and social ego and wake up to the reality that there is no neutral. Oppression of one group entails oppression for all. If we do not work towards collective liberation, then we are failing as political and religious leaders.

Let us remember that one thought leads to who we become, so may we move forward with compassion and embodied wisdom. In the words of the Buddha from The Dhammapada:

“The thought manifests the word;
The word manifests the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let them spring forth from love
Born out of compassion for all beings.
As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”

Peace and Blessings,

Grace  Song

Rev. Grace Song
Won Buddhist Studies Department Chair
Won Institute of Graduate Studies

the author

Grace Song, Won Buddhist Studies Department Chair at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies and Buddhist Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, is an ordained Kyomu in the Won Buddhist tradition. Her research interest includes women in Buddhism, Buddhism and social justice, and contemplative studies in higher education. She serves on the Advisory Committee for the GenX Buddhist Teachers Sangha and was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Commission on Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs in Philadelphia.