Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Largest Animal Sacrifice in the World Happens Despite Ban
Despite outcry from animal rights groups, a festival widely considered to be the largest mass-slaughter of animals on Earth happened in Nepal this week, according to the Guardian. The two-day Gadhimai festival has been held every five years for the last 260 years in the village of Bariyarpur, about 100 miles (160 km) south of Kathmandu, where it attracts thousands of Hindu worshippers from Nepal and neighboring India. Amid tight security, the festival opened on Tuesday with the ritual slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig, and a pigeon, as a local shaman also offered blood taken from five points on his body. After this initial killing, around 200 butchers brandishing sharpened swords and knives entered the festival arena, a walled area larger than a football field, leading in several thousand buffalo. In the days prior, Indian authorities and volunteers seized dozens of animals at the border from unlicensed traders and pilgrims, but this effort failed to stop the massive flow of animals to the festival. Animal rights activist Manoj Gautam of Nepal’s Jane Goodall Institute told CNN that his organization used drones to count a total of about 1,600 to 1,800 buffalo in the area before the slaughter began. “There is no compassion. There is no spirituality. It is just sport. It is wasteful,” he said. Gautam also suggested that the religious aspect of the festival had been lost in recent years. The sacrifices are part of a legend involving the Hindu goddess Gadhimai, and worshippers believe that the ritual will please the goddess and bring them good fortune.
Many activists were hopeful that the tradition would end after Gadhimai temple authorities announced a ban on the event in 2015, but devotees went ahead with the ritual, disregarding the religious leaders’ prohibition. Humane Society International (HSI) estimates that 500,000 goats, buffalo, pigeons, and other animals were slaughtered in 2009, but that number dropped to about 30,000 in 2014. In September, the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government to pass laws making animal sacrifices illegal.
Better News for Animals and Animal Lovers
There is also positive news for animal lovers this week. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey shut down in 2017 after 146 years in the circus business, signaling the end of an era in which lions, tigers, and elephants were made to perform in front of captivated audiences. Meager ticket sales, in part due to reports of animal mistreatment, played a role in damaging the circus’s reputation and forcing it to close, according to Smithsonian.com. But one circus in Germany is determined to keep the spirit of the big top alive, without the animal cruelty. Since 2018 Circus Roncalli has featured no live animals, instead using stunning holographic projections of elephants, horses, and even fish. According to the BBC, the German circus company uses 11 projectors, and a team of 15 designers and software engineers, to create the 3D holograms that make up the most visually compelling moments of the show.
Yeshi Dhonden, Doctor of Tibetan Medicine, Dies at 92
He was the personal physician for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, attracted hundreds of patients from across the world, and received a Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, for his contributions to the field of sowa rigpa, or traditional Tibetan medicine. On November 26, Dr. Yeshi Dhondren passed away at his home in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala, according to reporting by Tibet Sun. Born in 1927 to a family of Tibetan medicine practitioners, Dhondren followed the Dalai Lama to India when the Tibetan spiritual leader fled Tibet following Chinese occupation in 1959. In exile he was appointed director and chief medical officer of Men-Tsee-Khang, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute, established by His Holiness. From 1963 to 1980, Dhondren served as a personal physician to the Dalai Lama, and in 1969 he established his own private clinic in Mcleod Ganj. Known for curing cancer in patients by administering traditional Tibetan medicine techniques, Dhondren closed his practice in April of this year, citing his advanced age and declining health.
Bushfires Hit One of Australia’s Oldest Monasteries
Bushfires ravaging parts of New South Wales, Australia, destroyed several buildings at the Thai Forest center Wat Buddha Dhamma, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the country. According to the Daily Telegraph, the “Three Mile fire” overtook the monastery property on Wednesday afternoon and continued to spread to the surrounding neighborhoods as of Friday afternoon. An Instagram post by New York-based nonprofit Buddhist Insights shows the fire consuming the peaked-roof structure. “Today our hearts are with Wat Buddha Dhamma, one of the oldest monasteries in Australia, where the bushfires destroyed several buildings,” the caption reads. “Australia has been burning for months. This is a sad reminder of how . . . [the] climate crisis is real and caused by greed hatred and delusion.”
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Climate Activists Protest on Black Friday with “Meditation Rebellion”
People in cities around the world took to the streets on Black Friday, protesting the frenetic consumption that the bargain day encourages and calling attention to climate change ahead of a UN climate conference held on Monday, according to USA Today. Climate action group Extinction Rebellion (XR), known for incorporating sitting meditation into demonstrations, held a “meditation rebellion” in Manhattan’s Union Square. New York XR activists also staged a protest in a retail store, pushing empty shopping carts in a long chain in what the group called an “active meditation on the ravages of excessive consumption.” According to the New York Post, at least 27 people were arrested at Herald Square, after around 300 protestors blocked traffic in the middle of the busy intersection.
Long Beach Temple Divided Over Financial Disputes and Monk Evictions
At least two of four resident monks at the largest Cambodian Buddhist congregation in Long Beach, California, were forcibly evicted from the temple due to accusations of financial mismanagement amid an ongoing dispute between the monks and the organization’s board members. According to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, the fight involves the fate of more than $300,000 in donations to the Khemara Buddhikarama temple, also known as Wat Willow, which the board had set aside for building a second pagoda. Board member Kimthai Kuoch told the LA Times that Wat Willow monastics received more than $60,000 in donations in November 2018, but they did not share this money with the board to cover maintenance costs. After the board treasurer challenged them, the monks gave back $14,995, but kept $34,997, he said. “Everything donated since then, since that month, nothing has been given to the board,” Kuoch said. Lay supporters of the monks believe the board is punishing the monastics for dissenting from the board’s priorities, but Kuoch denies any wrongdoing: “We are doing the right thing for the future of our temple and our community. The monks are the one who need to account for their actions.” Ven. Sim denied the accusations, saying, “It’s not true. Monks don’t get angry and the people want me to fight back against the lies, but I also need to keep peace.”
The antagonism escalated in October, when board members, accompanied by officials from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, closed the temple for ten days for “reorganizing.” With no place to go, monks slept in old cars and some temple parishioners camped in tents on the nearby sidewalk. At the end of the month, the board hosted a “grand reopening” of the temple, with visiting monks and supporters from across Southern California.
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