Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Refuge Recovery Splits as Board and Noah Levine Form New Groups
The board of directors of Refuge Recovery and the one of their founding members, the embattled Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, are both establishing new nonprofit organizations to oversee the network of peer-led addiction support groups, according to a joint statement emailed to Refuge Recovery members. Levine’s team is creating the nonprofit Refuge Recovery World Services while the board is forming their own nonprofit called Recovery Dharma Collective. “Sanghas wishing to remain in Refuge Recovery will be supported by RRWS. Those wishing an alternative may choose to affiliate with RDC,” the statement said. With the establishment of the two new groups, Levine and the board have agreed to drop the lawsuits that they had filed against each other in January. Both groups will help create meetings that are peer-led and democratically run, the statement said, but Refuge Recovery World Services “also includes associated teacher-led meditation retreats and professional treatment options” while the Collective will not.
Levine resigned from the Refuge Recovery board in 2018 following allegations of sexual harm at his other organization, Against the Stream (ATS). An independent investigation commissioned by the ATS teacher’s council later determined that he likely violated their code of conduct’s rules against “creating harm through sexuality,” resulting in the council’s decision to remove him from teaching and shut down ATS. Levine stepped down from the Refuge Recovery board but continued to run his for-profit Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers up until their closure last year, remained the sole member of the LLCs Refuge Recovery House and Refuge Recovery Clinical Services, and maintained the rights to his book Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction. The Refuge Recovery board later asked Levine to relinquish the name, and when he refused, they sued. Levine then countersued.
In February, the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and its founder, Jack Kornfield, who empowered Levine to teach in the Theravada tradition, indefinitely revoked his authorization to teach, saying in a statement that his “misapprehensions and delusion have led him away from the wisdom and compassion necessary to be a teacher of the dharma.” In an interview with LA Magazine published this week, Levine dismissed the Spirit Rock decision as resulting from a distaste for his demeanor, saying, “Basically, they didn’t like the irreverence, the swearing, the smoking, the motorcycles.” He also told the magazine that JoAnna Hardy, a former guiding teaching at ATS who is biracial, pushed for his ouster because she wanted to “get rid of the white guy . . . She got the support of the rest of the teachers to do it, you know, because nobody’s going to say no to the angry black woman in charge.” Hardy told the magazine, “He came to us saying, ‘I slept with a student.’” She denied the charge of racism.
Protest Planned at Migrant Detention Center and Former Japanese Internment Camp
A protest at a migrant detention center in Fort Sill, Oklahoma will be held on Saturday, July 20, organized by Dream Action Oklahoma, a non-profit that advocates for immigrant youth. They are supported by Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American and Japanese Latin American-led project that protested at Fort Sill in June and at two detention centers in Texas in March, hanging thousands of origami cranes on the fences surrounding the Dilley detention site (South Texas Family Residential Center). Fort Sill is the location of a Japanese internment camp that held 700 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, 90 of whom were Buddhist priests. In the 1890s the camp was used to incarcerate Chiricahua Apache tribal members who were taken as prisoners-of-war after being forcibly relocated from their homes in the Southwest, and was used as a boarding school for Native American children separated from their families, according to a report from Democracy Now!
At a June 24 protest at Fort Sill, Soto Zen priest and University of Southern California professor Duncan Ryuken Williams officiated a Buddhist ceremony, chanting the Heart Sutra while six Japanese American internment camp survivors offered incense in front of a Buddha statue that had been carved in the Manzanar internment camp in 1943. He will return to the site for the July 20 protest to lead a Buddhist memorial service. In an online letter, Williams appeals to Buddhist leaders for their support: “The enormity of our current challenge may seem overwhelming, but Buddhist practice does not shy away from challenges. . . While it is unlikely that we can assemble such a large group of Buddhist priests to fly out to Oklahoma on July 20 to honor our ancestors, I would like to appeal to Buddhist leaders of all lineages to support this memorial service.” More information about attending or supporting the protest can be found on Williams’s website.
Japanese Buddhist Temples Celebrate Summer Festival of Obon
This weekend Japanese Buddhist temples across the country will celebrate obon, a holiday that honors the spirits of deceased ancestors with festivals, family reunions, and the visiting and cleaning of household altars and grave sites. Nishi Honwanji Temple in Los Angeles describes obon as “an opportunity for us to reflect upon the innumerable causes and conditions that continue to influence our lives and the benefits we have received from the countless lives of others . . . [and] a time to express our gratitude and appreciation for being given those conditions to live this life.” The celebration has roots in the Ullambana Sutra, which tells the story of Moggallana, a disciple of the Buddha who during meditation caught a glimpse of his dead mother as a hungry ghost in a Buddhist hell realm. The Buddha told him that in order to free his mother from this suffering, he must make offerings to the monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the 15th day of the seventh month. Upon his mother’s release, Moggallana danced for joy.
At the center of obon festivities is bon odori, a community folk dance of simple movements performed in a circle. The New York Buddhist Church, a temple in the Jodo Shinshu school of Shin (Pure Land) Buddhism, will host a free event on July 14 in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, featuring bon odori performances and taiko drumming. The Nishi Honwanji Buddhist Temple, and the Fresno Buddhist Temple in Fresno, California, are also hosting obon festivals that are free and open to the public. The Japanese American Association of Lane County will commemorate obon in Eugene, Oregon, on July 27.
Nine Buddhist Heads Will Return to Afghanistan
Stolen artifacts from Afghanistan, including some ancient Buddhist artifacts, will be returned to Kabul and will go on display in the National Museum of Afghanistan. According to a press release from the British Museum, the UK Border Force and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police confiscated the 843 heritage objects from smugglers and other investigations.The British Museum identified the items as originating in Afghanistan, and stored the artifacts at the museum for safekeeping and documenting. They included nine sculptural heads and a torso that were seized at Heathrow airport in 2002. The Independent reports that the terracotta heads include that of the Buddha; the turbaned heads of meditating bodhisattvas; the bald head of a monk; and three larger heads, including one possibly portraying Vajrapani, a guardian of the Buddha and a symbol of all the Buddhas’ power. Speaking with the Guardian, senior curator St John Simpson said that the clay heads along with their bodies would have adorned the walls of Buddhist monasteries in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, located in present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. “They are stunning. We’ve returned thousands of objects to Kabul over the years, but this is the first time we’ve been able to work on Buddhist pieces,” he said. Simpson added that the displacement of the sculptures was likely the result of Taliban iconoclasm in 2001, during which giant Buddha statues in the Bamiyan valley of Afghanistan were destroyed.
Hardline Sri Lanka Monk Calls for Buddhist Government
Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, monastic leader of Sri Lanka’s most influential Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or the “Buddhist Power Force,” rallied his hardline base in a public address to hundreds of monks and followers in a July 7 gathering outside the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in the capital of Kandy. According to reporting from Reuters, Gnanasara called upon Sri Lanka’s 10,000 Buddhist temples to help take democratic control of parliament by voting for candidates from the Sinhala Buddhist majority. “We the clergies should aim to create a Sinhala government. We will create a parliament that will be accountable for the country, a parliament that will protect Sinhalese,” Gnanasara said. He also asked that politicians leave the struggle against Islamist extremism to the Buddhist monks: “We can talk to them face-to-face in villages and create the Muslim culture as we want without going for extremism. It’s our responsibility because this is a Sinhalese country. We are the historical owners of this country.” Since the Easter bombings by Islamic extremists earlier this year, Muslims in Sri Lanka have been subjected to increasing hostility and violence stoked by Buddhist extremists.
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