Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Shambhala Mountain Center Loses Buildings—But Protects Stupa—in Wildfire
The Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC), a Buddhist retreat center situated on 600 acres near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, lost buildings in the Cameron Peak wildfire this week, the Denver Post reported. Firefighters were able to protect the center’s Great Stupa, fire information officer Lindsey Lewis told the Post, but SMC lost buildings around the edges of the retreat complex. Much of the core of the complex seems to have survived, the center’s executive director, Michael Gayner, said on Sunday. Before evacuating the area, staff moved precious objects, such as sacred artwork, into the Great Stupa because they expected the structure—which is made of “concrete and Rebar”—to be fireproof, Gayner said. Gayner expressed gratitude for the support the center had received in recent weeks. “We’ve just gotten overwhelming numbers of emails. . . and it’s been deeply touching to hear about what SMC means to people, and the power of the Stupa as a place of pilgrimage,” he said.
SMC was founded in 1971 by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and key figure in the dissemination of Buddhism in the West. While his teachings and books remain influential, he has been criticized for his unconventional and allegedly abusive teaching methods, his heavy alcohol use, and for having sex with his students. On Monday, The Walrus released an investigative report into “decades of abuse” within the Shambhala community.
China Enacts New Labor Plans for Tibetans, Destroys Mosques
China’s latest labor plan for Tibetans will relocate them to different parts of the country, the New York Times reported. The plan includes quotas for a certain number of Tibetan workers from each region to be transferred to other states and “encourages” Tibetan farmers to hand over their herds and land to large-scale, state-run cooperatives, disconnecting them from their traditions and homelands. This is the latest in a string of Chinese initiatives to marginalize and erase Tibetan culture, including plans to minimize teaching of the Tibetan language.
Many of the program’s features are similar to China’s plan in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where recently, the Times reported, ancient Muslim shrines where tens of thousands of Muslims came to pray each year have been demolished. Mosques, and architectural features on buildings like domes and minarets that are considered “un-Chinese,” have also been demolished and removed. An analysis of satellite images by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates that thousands of religious sites in Xinjiang have been destroyed or significantly damaged.
Thai Women at the Front of Thailand’s Protests
The recent pro-democracy protests in Thailand have been predominantly led and attended by young women, according to the New York Times. Women, including many students, have been speaking out against a patriarchy that controls Thailand’s three most powerful institutions: the military, the monarchy, and the Buddhist monkhood. The protests started as demonstrations against the Thai military, which carried out a coup in 2014. “The male supremacy society has been growing since the coup,” said Chumaporn Taengkliang, co-founder of Women for Freedom and Democracy, a political alliance that helped start the anti-government rallies in Bangkok. Women are also using the moment to raise awareness about issues specific to women, including abortion, taxes on menstrual products, and school rules that force girls to conform to one version of femininity. Last year, Tricycle republished an interview with Thai feminist and activist Ouyporn Khuankaew, who founded the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice, where she teaches about trauma, gender, and sexuality—topics that are often taboo in Thai society.
Facebook Disabled Tibetan Writer’s Accounts
On September 26, Facebook temporarily disabled the personal and official accounts of a Tibetan writer, Tsering Woeser. Woeser’s account was previously disabled this July during the week of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s birthday, and in December 2014 after she posted about the self-immolation protest of monk Kalsang Yeshi. The 2014 suspension drew media attention for concerns about censorship. About the most recent ban, Woeser wrote, “I am one of the extremely rare, perhaps even the only, voice from inside China that provides real information about Tibet. I have to muster my courage and am putting myself at risk only to be blocked by a company that claims to defend freedom of speech?!”
High Peaks Pure Earth, a media outlet that provides commentary on Tibet-related news and issues, translated her Twitter posts about the incident into English. Facebook said they disabled her account because it had been “reported by a third party.”
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