Refuge in Sangha

REFUGE IN SANGHA is a short documentary that follows the journey of a queer man of color, Melvin, who finds spiritual healing through meditation practice. After hitting rock bottom, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, Melvin sought out meditation as a means to overcome addiction and find solace at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC). EBMC, which offers meditation training and spiritual teachings from Buddhist and other wisdom traditions, is deeply committed to social action, multiculturalism, and creating of a diverse community where members are encouraged and supported to explore and question identities and foster liberation through awareness. It is in this spiritual community, known as "sangha" that Melvin and others cultivate self-healing and growth.

Discussion Guide*

The purpose of this discussion guide is to foster dialogue amongst friends, families, and communities about identities, meditation, and well-being.


  • The creation and exploration of identities
  • The role of awareness of identity in fostering personal and interpersonal liberation
  • Sangha: the power of spiritual community
  • Exploring how meditation can foster healing while in recovery from addiction.

Discussion Questions

  • What stood out the most for you in REFUGE IN SANGHA and why?

Larry Yang says, "meditation can actually refer to many different things"

    • What did he mean by that?
    • How does he explain meditation practice?
    • What are some benefits of meditation practice mentioned in the film?
    • What happens at East Bay Meditation Center?
    • What do people do upon entering?
    • What type of activities take place there?
    • What is the goal of the center

    Melvin says, "I thought this is what I gotta do to fit in... To me, being gay was going to bars and drinking". And John adds, "those messages that you grew up with that were so persistent... it's traumatizing".

    • What are some of the dominant messages young queer men of color are exposed to in terms of drugs, sex and rock n roll?
    • Describe social factors that may create and reinforce these thoughts.
    • How can this perpetuate and encourage destructive behaviors among people? 
    • How can meditation help unlearn internalized oppression?

    When Melvin describes his coming out process he mentions, "there's so many layers to it."

    • How is coming out an ongoing process?
    • How does coming out differ depending on cultural backgrounds?

    EBMC aims to be an inclusive space amongst the diverse communities that practice there... Louie says, "I feel comfortable in that space."

    • Why does he feel comfortable?
    • How does EBMC work to create a diverse and safe space?

    When sharing some challenges of meditation, Louie mentions, "I was frustrated... I would try to focus on my breath and I couldn't."

    • What are other challenges you can imagine might happen during mediation?
    • What are some of the barriers to mediation that people may face?

    Larry says, "I didn't know whether this tradition was meant for a person like me... Which is ironic, considering my parents came from Asia and and this is an Asian tradition." and goes on to say, "I didn't feel like I fit in or belonged."

    • How does cultural appropriation play into this?
    • What does the sense of fitting in mean to you?
    • What does the sense of inclusion feel like to you?
    • How can communities, build more safe, and healthy spaces that feel welcoming?

    Larry invites us to explore the questions, "Who am I? Who am I really?" (beneath all the labels).

    • What are all the different faces of your personality - for example what parts of you come out at work vs. with friend, daughter, partner, etc.
    • What are the spaces in which you are most comfortable with all your "identities"? 

    Buddhist practioners come from all religious/spiritual paths

    • How does spirituality fit into your personal landscape?
    • Larry says, "It became clear to me that identity is such a door into spiritual practice". How do you feel that your identities impact your spirituality?

    Partner Organization

    REFUGE IN SANGHA was created in partnership with the:

    • The East Bay Meditation Center is an independent center located in downtown Oakland, at 2147 Broadway, just 2 blocks from the 19th Street BART station. EBMC offers meditation training and spiritual teachings from Buddhist and other wisdom traditions. All of their programs have a special attention to social action, multiculturalism, and the diverse populations of the Oakland and beyond. Their programs include meditation classes, daylong retreats, sitting groups, workshops, and classes.
    • One of the missions of East Bay Meditation Center is to foster inclusive community building; "Sangha" or community is truly the backbone EBMC. Sangha is a Pali word from the time of the Buddha, describing a spiritual community. For many, Sangha is family and EBMC is a home that serves as a safe space. Founded in a celebration of diversity, EBMC welcomes everyone seeking to end suffering and cultivate happiness. EBMC aims to be as accessible as possible, and is centrally located in Downtown Oakland. The center seeks to offer its programs to the widest possible audience by offering all services at a donation "Dana" basis. There are weekly sitting groups for POC and "alphabet" (LGBTQQI &SGL) self-identified folks. This is deliberately mindful of the fact that the individuals who confront the effects of oppression, racism, or homophobia and heterosexism in their lives may choose to initially avoid mixed programs. In addition to the weekly sitting groups, there is a diverse variety of retreats at EBMC that reflect needs voiced from within the Sangha. There is also Deep Refuge programs that have been created to support the many diverse communities of EBMC to deepen their spiritual path. Deep Refuge communities are intended to provide a safe, intimate, and community-led space in which folks can explore. Uniquely, EBMC offers its programs with no "price tag"- all who want, need and seek Sangha and spiritual well being can have access regardless of their social economic/class status. EBMC has been called "the most diverse Sangha in the world", and became this way undoubtedly because of deliberate inclusiveness and accessibility to all.


    "... people do not live in silos, but in communities where everything-the economic, the social, the physical, and the environmental-are all connected."

    PolicyLink has identified the importance of "place" in the lives of our citizens. Where you live, to a large extent, determines whether you are exposed to hazardous pollutants and unhealthy food; whether you attend a good school or land a decent job with a livable wage; or whether you are likely to go to jail or die relatively young. more

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of color are left vulnerable to cumulative negative health outcomes by a combination of persistent racism and the stigma attached to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

    ...factors like low rates of health insurance coverage, high rates of anti-LGBT violence, the stress of coping with systemic discrimination around sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and a lack of cultural competency in the health care system mean that LGBT people suffer from significant health disparities. more

    Negative stereotypes and attitudes towards LGBT people persist throughout the United States: in 2008, more than 2,400 LGBT people were victims of crimes perpetrated against them on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and significant under reporting means that the actual number of hate crimes against LGBT people is probably much higher than the statistics show. more

    Drug abuse is a major public health problem that impacts society on multiple levels. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction, as is every family. Drugs take a tremendous toll on our society at many levels. more

    • The First Noble Truth: Suffering is an integral part of normal life.
    • The Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is craving.
    • The Third Noble Truth: There is an end to the suffering of craving.
    • The Fourth Noble Truth: The way to the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.


    The National Coalition for LGBT Health

    National Institute on Drug Abuse

    Spirit Rock Meditation Center

    Meet the Filmmakers

    KINGSLEY LARA is an inspiring film maker who has earned his B.A. in Cinema at San Francisco State University. Filmmaking has been a part of Kingsley's life ever since he was a child. Equipped with a damaged VHS camcorder, a blank VHS, and a few friends, he made his first full length film at age 15. Since those VHS days he has refined his skills as a film maker, working in music videos, commercials, and other short films. "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed" - Stanley Kubrick


    GABRIELA MORAGA is a Health Education graduate from San Francisco State University with a Community-Based Public Health emphasis. Film has always been an inner passion of hers as she would always be the one filming her family trips and reunions. Her parents, born and raised in Nicaragua, came to the United States hoping to leave the struggles of war that was happening in their country. Gabriela has lived in California ever since and is grateful that her parents have always made it a point that education is primary for herself and her future. She is extremely thankful that she has the support from her parents and sister to continue her passion in film, health and education.


    AMANDA PÁEZ is a queer ponkera of multiracial mexicano/white descent, raised by parents who are both unionized nurses in Long Beach, California. She re-located to the Bay Area in the summer of 2007 to pursue a Public Health education at SF State and is currently living in Oakland. Amanda graduated from San Francisco State University in the Spring of 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Education, with an emphasis on Community-based Public Health. She is inspired daily by music, art, food, dancing, conversations and her community. She is interested in pursuing a career in community-based nursing and believes that nursing can play an integral role in the struggle for peace, justice, and liberation for all. Amanda views political activism, community organizing and youth development as essential tools for eliminating health disparities. She has spent the past few years working with non-profit organizations in the pursuit of violence prevention and health equity. She has also had the pleasure of working on an ongoing basis with Cucci, a sexual health education collective based in Los Angeles. This is her first film, and she is very excited about the potential of documentary filmmaking to educate, organize, and advocate for health equity and social justice. She is honored to be engaged in a partnership with the East Bay Meditation Center and is excited share unheard voices, perspectives and stories through this documentary.

    MICHAEL RAMOS was born while his grandmother was being buried. His father always said that his son always reminds him of his Grandmother, and that her spirit might be in the son now. That would necessarily not be a bad thing, as his grandmother lived a life of mystery even from her son. If that same spirit has possessed Michael, then that would explain his decision to earn a Cinema degree at San Francisco State University.  


    *The information on these pages is provided by the student film makers and does not represent an endorsement or verification of statements from the Health Equity Institute