Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Brooklyn Zen Center To Close Its Brooklyn Sangha
The Brooklyn Zen Center announced last week that it will be closing its location at 505 Carroll Street in Brooklyn, New York. In an email sent out to sangha members, the center’s Board of Directors described the difficult financial circumstances, exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that led to their decision to close the space. “Given that we will likely be unable to reopen our doors for at least another 12 months—depending on the availability of a vaccine that would ensure we are not jeopardizing lives—the cost of maintaining our space at $7,000 to $8,000 a month is simply too much,” they wrote. “At our current spending rate, we would be out of funds by the end of the year.”
The decision to close the center, located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, was made with the support of teachers and in consultation with sangha members. The Brooklyn Zen Center’s residential retreat center, Ancestral Heart Monastery in upstate New York, will serve as the base for the community until there is more clarity surrounding the pandemic, the Board stated. “Please know that we are committed to a Zen practice space in Brooklyn. . . In the meantime, we will be wrapping the virtual sangha around Ancestral Heart and supporting our community from the monastery.”
The Brooklyn Zen Center was founded in the Soto Zen tradition of Shunryu Suzuki by Gregory Snyder and Laura O’Loughlin.
Zen Buddhist Priest Unsuccessfully Sues to Halt Inmate’s Execution
A Zen Buddhist priest who sought to delay the execution of Wesley Purkey, an Indiana man on death row for murder and rape, sued Attorney General General William Barr and other officials, NBC News reported. Despite the suit, Purkey was executed on Thursday, after the Supreme Court lifted injunctions from a federal judge in Washington, D.C., who had halted Purkey’s execution after Purkey’s mental competency came into question, according to CNN.
Zen priest Seigen Hartkemeyer has been ministering to Purkey for the past decade. He believed he had a “religious obligation” to attend Purkey’s execution but argued that he could not attend the execution safely because he is 68 and has a history of lung ailments. Prisons around the country have become coronavirus hotspots. At the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, there have been five known cases of COVID-19, and a 56-year-old inmate at the prison died from the virus in May. Hartkemeyer’s attendance at his Zen student’s execution “would pose a grave risk” to his health, the suit stated. “Rev. Hartkemeyer is now forced to choose between abandoning his religious obligation to Mr. Purkey and facing an unacceptably high risk of COVID-19 exposure.” The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, claimed that Hartkemeyer’s rights are being violated under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
China’s Ministry of Education Directs Schools to Remove “Illegal” Books
China’s Ministry of Education called on elementary and middle schools to remove “illegal” and “inappropriate” books from their libraries, Reuters reported this week. The Ministry defined illegal books as those “that damage the unity of the country, sovereignty or its territory; books that upset society’s order and damage societal stability; books that violate the Party’s guidelines and policies, smear or defame the Party, the country’s leaders and heroes.” They defined inappropriate books as those that are “not in line with the socialist core values; that have deviant world views, life views and values” or are “promoting religious doctrines and canons; promoting narrow nationalism and racism.” Analysts have said that this is China’s first national censorship campaign targeting libraries in decades.
The removed books will be replaced with books from a 422-page list that was included in the Ministry of Education’s directive. Some schools and teachers have broadcast their participation by making posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, praising the “book inspection and cleanup” for raising the quality of their libraries. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one teacher told Reuters that their school removed traditional comic-like picture books, books about Christianity, books about Buddhism, and copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. Reuters’s review of the situation pointed to hundreds of thousands of books being disposed of in accordance with the directive.
Stolen Buddhist Artwork Restituted to South Korea
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) recently restituted four Buddhist paintings to South Korea, reported Artnet News. The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism first contacted LACMA in 2015 to inquire about paintings, which they believed were stolen from Buddhist temples. The Jogye Order later provided evidence that the paintings—which were acquired by LACMA in 1998 after a woman found them in her son’s attic—were stolen by American troops in 1954 at the end of the Korean War. The restituted artworks include a 13-foot tall painting of Shakyamuni Buddha and three Siwangdo, or narrative paintings, depicting the Kings of Hell. They will be reinstalled at the Sinheungsa Temple in Sokcho, Gangwon Province, during a special ceremony in August 2020.
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