A Dharma Message to “May We Come Together”

- through Francois Leclercq

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This month, Rev. Grace Song attended the 2024 “May We Gather” Pilgrimage, a national memorial held in Antioch, California, to honor Asian American ancestors and to give voice to the countless victims of bigotry, of anti-Asian hatred and violence across the United States. history. Below are her remarks to the attendees.

It is an honor to be here today, united on a journey that requires patience, great kindness and compassion, and an unwavering commitment to justice. Our gathering echoes a deep connection, rooted in past lives and destined to continue into future lives.

My roots lie in a lineage of Korean women: caregivers, spiritual truth seekers, and artists. Their lives, woven with both trials and triumphs, have left an indelible mark across generations. These women challenged societal norms, showing me that a woman's place and aspirations should not be repressed by external expectations. Even though I had inspiring people in my life, I struggled with feelings of not belonging, measuring myself against unattainable standards. I have experienced times when deep-rooted fear and prejudice silenced my voice. But today marks a significant change: I stand here, adopting a new mindset. My body, linked to the universal principles of each cell, transforms into a vessel of exploration, transformation, creativity and liberation.

The teachings of Won Buddhism have been instrumental in this transformation, emphasizing the essential role of women in our communities and highlighting the deep spiritual connections that unite everyone. Throughout history, women have been pillars of strength, wisdom and compassion. In Won Buddhism, they have often been unsung heroes, fostering growth and connections between communities.

Today I want to highlight Ven. Yi Chong Chun, a pioneer disciple who lived during the formative years of Won Buddhism. Fri. Yi Chong Chun, from a poor background, initially followed the path of a courtesan. However, a profound moment of realization led her to yearn for something deeper in life, guiding her towards spirituality. Her journey to won Buddhism was met with initial resistance, as her previous life as a courtesan was viewed with disfavour. However, the founding master of Won Buddhism, Sotaesan, stated that "the great intention of the Buddhadharma is always to deliver all sentient beings everywhere in the spirit of 'great benevolence and great compassion.' In the world there may be high and low social classes, as well as high and low professions, but in Buddha nature no such distinctions exist. If you do not understand this fundamental principle, then you are the ones who are difficult to deliver. » (Doctrinal Books of Wŏn Buddhism392)

Sotaesan knew the great contributions women would make to the sangha and wanted to make their voices and contributions heard, recognizing their vital role in collective healing and growth. Fri. Yi Chong Chun had a significant impact as the main funder of Won Buddhism during its early years, advocated for gender equality among ordained clergy, and founded his own temple in Jeonju, a legacy that continues today. Therefore, the robes I wear today mean a lot to me because they carry the memories and sacrifices of the courageous women ordained before me. These women fought fiercely for equality, believed in their limitless potential, and remained steadfast under scrutiny.

This circle on my pompon reminds me that it is time to strengthen the bonds of kinship that unite us, transcending the boundaries of race, religion and gender. Our pilgrimage is as much about looking back and remembering as it is about looking forward and envisioning a future in which diversity is celebrated and equality is a reality for all. As we come together to honor our losses, we also affirm our collective commitment to fighting the forces of hatred and bigotry. Our gathering is an act of solidarity; a declaration that we will not let the voices of those we have lost be silenced. It is a commitment to perpetuate their legacy by working for a society where such acts of violence are unthinkable.

We come together in great benevolence and compassion, and in the words of Master Sotaesan: “The great benevolence and compassion of the Buddha radiates more warmth and brightness than the Sun. Thus, where this loving-kindness and compassion reach, the ignorant mind of sentient beings merges into the mind of wisdom; their spirits of cruelty merge into a spirit of kindness and compassion; the spirit of avarice and greed melts into the spirit of generous charity; and the discriminating spirit of the four signs merges into the all-encompassing spirit. Therefore, the awesome power and radiant brilliance of this loving-kindness and compassion is incomparable. (Doctrinal Books of Wŏn Buddhism318-9)

Our gathering today is a promise to come together again, again and again, in a union of hearts and minds that endures through the ages, creating a legacy of compassion and unity for generations to come. Let us come together not only in grief, but also in hope and belief that through our collective efforts we can chart a path of healing, unity and lasting peace.

We meet today, we will meet again.

Kamsahamnida. (THANKS)

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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