Welcome to “Bodhi Leaves: The Asian American Buddhist Monthly”

Editors Noel Alumit and Mihiri Tillakaratne on why “Bodhi Leaves” centers Asian American experiences and how it’s part of a larger movement creating a more inclusive American Buddhism.

Mihiri Tillakaratne  •  Noel Alumit
30 April 2024
Photo by Pattadis Walarput / iStock.

One hundred and seventy years ago, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chinese immigrants established the first Buddhist temple in the United States. Though Americans of Asian descent are the oldest and largest Buddhist group in the U.S., our voices have been strangely absent in discussions of what “American Buddhism” means.

American Buddhist publications have neglected or even willfully ignored the Asian American point of view. To counter this, our new digital publication, Bodhi Leaves: The Asian American Buddhist Monthly, hopes to create space for Asian American Buddhists to engage with one another, deepen our practice, and reframe Buddhism in America.

This project is shaped through the input of Asian American Buddhist community leaders. We–Mihiri Tillakaratne and Noel Alumit–spoke with twenty scholars, teachers, monastics, and activists, who advised us on Bodhi Leaves’ direction. During our conversations, a common theme emerged: the importance of centering the Asian American experience.

As part of our work at Lion’s Roar, we’ve visited and learned from many Asian American Buddhist communities. Though they aren’t seen in mainstream Buddhism, many of our communities have thrived and continue to thrive. Bodhi Leaves hopes to capture the diversity of this Asian American experience.

Our name and logo are purposeful. The many leaves refer to the plurality of our Buddhist traditions, regions, ethnicities, languages, and more. The branches reaching outward reflect that while our different practices come from the same source—the Buddha’s teachings—Asian American Buddhists are always growing, changing, and generating new saplings as Buddhism changes in America.

Noel is a Filipino American convert to Buddhism, while Mihiri is a Sri Lankan American whose family has likely practiced Theravada Buddhism for millennia. We’re editors but also practitioners, and we consider this project part of our practice. In creating Bodhi Leaves, we’re guided by the four noble truths and the eightfold path. We proceed with right intention and right effort to cultivate right view, right action, and right speech, as we move along the path toward right livelihood, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Noel Alumit and Mihiri Tillakaratne.

While Asians have written about Buddhism since its beginnings, they’ve done so in their languages of origin. Currently, for good or for ill, English is an influential language globally. To have an English-language publication devoted to writing by people of Asian descent is groundbreaking and—we hope—foundation building.

There is power in seeing yourself represented. There is power in providing Asian American Buddhists a platform to speak honestly about their experiences. There is power in communities that haven’t seen themselves in mainstream Buddhism having a space to share their wisdom.

Bodhi Leaves is just one important and reparative step. This new publication is part of a larger movement that requires all of us to commit to making Buddhism in America more inclusive.

We invite you all to participate in Bodhi Leaves, too. Respond to the Share Your Wisdom question in each issue. Explore Bodhi Leaves’ evolving site featuring Lion’s Roar and Buddhadharma content by Asian American Buddhists. Help us get the word out, suggest content and writers, and share each issue with others.

You can email us at [email protected]. We value your thoughts and ideas, especially in Bodhi Leaves’ first year. Our first few issues will have a Google Form link where you can share your feedback.

Let’s build something—together.

This article was published in the May 2024 issue of Bodhi Leaves: The Asian American Buddhist Monthly.

Mihiri Tillakaratne

Mihiri Tillakaratne

Mihiri Tillakaratne (she/her) is an associate editor at Lion’s Roar. She has a PhD in Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women, and Sexuality (UC Berkeley), a M.A. in Ethnic Studies (UC Berkeley), and a M.A. in Asian American Studies (UCLA). She learned Pali and studied Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in post-independence Sri Lanka at Harvard. Mihiri is the director of I Take Refuge, a documentary on Sri Lankan American Buddhist identity, and the founder of Sri Lankan Americans for Social Justice.
Noel Alumit

Noel Alumit

Noel Alumit is an Associate Editor at Lion’s Roar. He has a Master of Divinity in Buddhist Chaplaincy from the University of the West, where he is also an Adjunct Professor. He facilitates meditation workshops for LA Artcore and Meditation Coalition. Noel is also an actor and bestselling author.