Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhists Respond to Coronavirus with Aid, Prayer, and Traditional Medicine
As panic over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) increases worldwide, Buddhists have turned to different measures—apotropaic, prophylactic, or otherwise—to keep themselves and others safe. Tibetan teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche last Saturday posted on his website a set of mantra and prayer recitation instructions in response to students asking about what they can do about the coronavirus outbreak. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama also issued a statement on Thursday urging Tibetans to practice certain prayers aimed at “overcoming the effects of the epidemic.” Men-Tsee-Kang, the school of traditional Tibetan medicine in Dharamsala, India, has reissued a preventive pill by the name of Rinchen Gujor Rinnag Chenmo, which has the ability to combat the viral outbreak, according to Tibetan news site Phayul, while Taiwan-based Buddhist nonprofit Tzu Chi is raising funds to donate masks, protective suits, and other supplies to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.
The disease has now spread to traditionally Tibetan regions in western and northwestern China, causing Buddhist monasteries and other major cultural sites, including the Potala Palace in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to close, according to reporting by Radio Free Asia (RFA). In Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces, officials have confirmed at least 140 cases of the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of over 213 people in China and infected at least 9,776 others worldwide, according to an interactive map documenting the virus by Johns Hopkins University. Tibet confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Thursday, according to the New York Times, and the Chinese state-run China Tibet Broadcasting network reported this week that at least four of the coronavirus patients in Gansu were in critical condition. Earlier in the week, a Lhasa resident described to RFA deserted streets and minimal foot traffic at Buddhist temples in the Tibetan capital. “Most tea shops and restaurants are all closed down, and there are many people on duty to prevent any gathering of crowds. . .in an effort to prevent the spread of the infection,” he told RFA. Meanwhile, Peng Aihua, a 71-year old Buddhist nun in Changsha, China, is relying solely on her karma to carry her through the epidemic, telling Reuters, “Why would death scare me? I haven’t reached my time to die yet.”
Elizabeth Warren Includes Zen Buddhist in Interfaith Council
Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren this week announced her campaign’s Interfaith Advisory Council, which includes Zen Buddhist teacher Bonnie Myotai Treace. “I’m proud to announce a group of . . . principled faith leaders who dare to fight for their convictions,” Warren said in an official campaign video last Friday. But Warren’s announcement was met with immediate and widespread social-media backlash for the council’s lack of denominational diversity. The council is mostly Christian, consisting of 14 Christian leaders (none of them Catholic), one rabbi, and Treace, who was described as a “Buddhist sensei.” Some Warren supporters expressed their disappointment. “We love @ewarren but this group does not reflect the full faith diversity of #TeamWarren, nor does it seem to include senior denominational leaders,” Jews for Warren tweeted in response. “We can help! Hit us up after Shabbat.”
Bonnie Myotai Treace served as the vice-abbess of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, for almost two decades before founding Hermitage Heart Zen Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina in 2004, where she still serves as guiding teacher. She was the first successor to John Daido Loori Roshi, from whom she received dharma transmission in 1996. Treace also helped to establish the Zen Center of New York City and served as its first abbess, according to Hermitage Heart’s Facebook page.
Indian Americans Protest Citizenship Amendment Act
Thousands of Indian Americans protested against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on Sunday, in what the Coalition to Stop Genocide called the “largest ever rally of Indian Americans to mark India’s Republic Day as a ‘Day of Action’” in an email press release. Recently passed into law by the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the CAA can be used to render Muslim citizens and immigrants stateless. Protests occurred outside Indian embassies in New York, Washington, DC, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities—“a sizable presence of the Indian diaspora,” according to Coalition to Stop Genocide.
In India, people marked Republic Day, the date when the Constitution of India went into effect, with widespread demonstrations, some predominantly women-led, according to Reuters. Organizers described a human chain of more than a hundred thousand people in the southern state of Kerala. “It was not a mere human chain,” remarked Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a public event, “but a human wall against the violation of the principles of the Constitution.”
Art Collective Allows Tibetan Youth to Express Themselves in Exile
An art collective in Toronto, Canada, has been engaging Tibetan youth and providing emerging artists multiple platforms to explore own creative voices, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) recently reported. The Snowlion Club’s first art exhibition, “Thrive and Prosper,” featured work from nine emerging Tibetan creatives. The show, held in September 2019, featured visual art and a live performance that expressed the Tibetan artists’ experiences of exile. The Snowlion Club also sells streetwear designed by young Tibetans living in Toronto. “We’re trying to create [a platform] for a younger generation [of] Tibetans who don’t have [an] outlet or are looking for an outlet to express themselves through art,” member Tashi Lama told the CBC.
Little Tibet, the neighborhood in Toronto’s Parkdale area where “Thrive and Prosper” took place, houses the largest exile Tibetan community outside of Asia. Member Tenzin Chosank said, “Tibet has been an occupied country for more than 60 years now and there is always this talk about whether we’re going to get full independence, whether we’re going to find a system where we’re going to live under China. And I personally believe, and I think we personally believe, that non-violent ways such as art is an excellent medium to talk about this issue.”
Scholar Robert Thurman Receives High Honor from India
Professor Robert Thurman recently added another award to his list, which already includes being one of Time’s 25 most influential Americans in 1997. On January 24, the day before India’s 71st Republic Day, Thurman received a 2020 Padma Shri Award from the president of India, Ram Nath Kovind. The award is considered one of the highest civilian honors that India bestows. Thurman, who was one of 118 recipients, is best known for his translations and analysis of Tibetan Buddhist religious and philosophical texts. He has been interviewed by Tricycle numerous times, most recently in June 2019.
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