Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Dalits Convert to Buddhism After Rape of Dalit Woman
As many as 236 people in the Indian Dalit community, the lowest group in the caste system, converted to Buddhism in the city of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, on October 14, Yahoo India News reported. For many Dalits, the decision to convert came after four upper-caste men allegedly abducted and raped a 19-year-old Dalit woman in the city of Hathras last month. The attack damaged the young woman’s spine, and she died two weeks later. “The Hathras incident was the tipping point for most of us,” a Buddhist convert who used the name Kamlesh said. “Converting to another religion is not an easy decision. It means leaving behind old rituals, but we are now tired.” Another Dalit community member, identified as Pawan, agreed. “We thought of converting in the past. . .but this incident shook us up—the way state machinery is grilling the victim’s family, the way she was cremated at 2:30 am without her family’s permission.”
In order to escape persecution, Dalits, sometimes referred to as “untouchables,” have been converting to Buddhism en masse ever since activist and scholar B.R. Ambedkar spearheaded the movement in the early 20th century. The Dalits who converted last week did so in the presence of Rajratan Ambedkar, the great-grandnephew of Ambedkar. The conversion also took place on Dhammachakra Pravartan Day, which marks the 64th anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion of approximately 600,000 followers. Four days later, fifty more Dalits converted in the region of Udupi, Karnataka, Yahoo India News said. Despite their new faith, Dalits still face obstacles in Indian society.
Spirit Rock Hosting Free Virtual Retreat for BIPOC
Spirit Rock, an Insight Meditation center in West Marin County, California, will host a free virtual “Love and Kindness” retreat for BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) from October 27 to 31. The retreat will center on metta (lovingkindess) practice and developing a sense of interconnectedness. It will include silent sitting periods, walking and movement practices, dharma talks, and group discussions. Participating teachers are listed on Spirit Rock’s website. Registration will be open until midnight Pacific Time on October 26. A waiting list will be created if it fills early.
Rubin Museum Plans New Space to Promote Social and Emotional Learning
In mid-November, the Rubin Museum of Art, an art museum dedicated to Himalayan art in New York City, will begin construction to transform their third floor galleries into an interactive space called the Mandala Lab, which will promote social and emotional learning in adults and children. The space will combine art, cognitive science, and contemplative practices to help visitors feel “connected, resilient, and empowered,” according to a press release. The Rubin’s School and Family Programs will take on social and emotional learning as their foundational mission, which the Mandala Lab will support by offering tools and perspectives for coping with day-to-day challenges, anxieties, and emotional burdens brought on by personal and social complexities. “Our hope is for the Rubin to be a museum where art, ideas, research, and our emotions connect,” said executive director Jorrit Britschgi.
Monks Oppose Law Giving President Extra Power
Three politically influential Buddhist monks have voiced their disapproval of the Sri Lankan government’s proposed 20th Amendment (known as 20A) to the constitution, which aims to restore full legal immunity to the president, the New Indian Express reported last weekend. In a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the three monks, who are allies of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), said that 20A would weaken the position of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as the powers of other ministers. The monks demanded that the amendment be changed in order to preserve checks and balances on the presidency. The letter came just days after two Buddhist sects, Amarapura and Ramanna, published a joint statement arguing that 20A would wreak havoc on the independence of various sections of government including the judiciary, the system of elections, and the parliament. The New Indian Express reports that 20A is meant to annul 2015’s 19th Amendment (19A), which curtailed the powers of the president and strengthened the role of the parliament. The bill was debated in parliament on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
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