Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Most Americans Don’t Know Much (Or Anything) About Buddhism, Poll Shows
More than half of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center said they know little to nothing about Buddhism, according to a new report. Of the people asked what they knew about various religions, 38 percent responded “not much” and 20 percent answered “nothing at all.” Only 6 percent said they knew “a lot,” and 36 percent said they knew “some.” The survey also included a brief quiz, on which only 18 percent of respondents correctly answered the question Which of the following is one of Buddhism’s four “noble truths”? [Answers: the truth of suffering (18%, correct), the truth that every living being has an immortal soul (22%), the truth that the Buddha was perfect and free from sin (5%), the truth of monotheism (1%), and not sure (52%).] And 20 percent answered “The Mahayana Sutras” as the text “most closely associated with the Hindu tradition,” beating the correct answer, “Vedas,” at 15 percent.
Related: Buddhism For Beginners
Bhikkhu Bodhi Addresses the United Nations on Climate Change
On the International Day of Vesak held in Vietnam in May of this year, Buddhist teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi gave a speech to the United Nations, suggesting that Buddhist teachings provide indispensable insight into the psychological craving that is at the root of the widespread reluctance to take the climate disaster seriously. “We know what lies behind climate change; the causes have been determined with scientific precision,” he said in his speech, a video of which was posted online in late July. “The Buddha’s diagnosis would take us a step deeper and show what underlies the climate crisis at the most basic level are distortions at the base of the human mind: the interplay of craving and ignorance, greed and delusion.” In September, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the founder of the Buddhist Global Relief charity, will join other climate activists at the New York Insight Meditation Center for “Right Action in the Anthropocene: A Buddhist Response to Global Warming,” a two-day event of meditation and lectures that will explore the causes and conditions of climate change, as well as the ways we can move forwardly collectively.
Buddhist Chants Calm Dogs in Myanmar
As Myanmar struggles to reign in its stray dog population and deadly rabies scourge, one animal shelter near the city of Yangon is tackling the problem of excess canines with a creative (and compassionate) approach. The Thabarwa Animal Shelter plays prerecorded Buddhist chants over speakers in an effort to calm the dogs and curb aggressive behavior, Channel News Asia reports. “We find that the dogs don’t mate . . . when we play dharma preaching,” says shelter manager Maung Maung Oo. Experts estimate that over 1,000 people die from rabies in Myanmar every year, one of the highest rates in the world. Stray dogs are the main cause of the problem, but selective killing has been controversial in a country where Buddhists make up 88 percent of the population. Some people also believe that neutering the dogs will result in negative karma that may render a person infertile in their next life. While the World Health Organization advocates for mass vaccination as the most effective way to tackle rabies, many rescue centers lack the necessary funds and resources. A recent crackdown on strays has transferred some 7,000 dogs from the streets to shelters, causing the canine population at Thabarwa Animal Shelter to swell from 800 to 2,000 dogs.
Oreos Plans “Mindful Snacking” Campaign
The next time you eat an Oreo, don’t just “twist, lick, and dip”—also remember to breathe and stay present with sensations that arise. Mondelez International, the snack food giant and Kraft Foods off-shoot that owns Oreo (as well as Chips Ahoy!, Nabisco, Ritz, Cadbury, and other billion-dollar brands), is looking at mindful snacking as a new marketing avenue, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company plans to put tips for snacking mindfully on their packaging 2025, according to the newspaper. Mindful eating calls for eating small portions slowly and with greater awareness. Mondelez International hopes that the practice will bring back health-conscious customers who had to stop buying their products because they know they will overeat, the report said. Mondelez’s “chief of global impact, sustainability, and well-being,” Chris McGrath, told the Journal that customers “lose track, get distracted, and then all of a sudden the bag is gone . . . So some consumers will say ‘I can’t even bring them into the house because I can’t control myself.’” According to Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen Buddhist teacher and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, mindful eating involves “choosing, preparing, and eating food,” which may include not buying food that is designed to be addictive.
Muslim Doctor Accused (Probably Falsely) of Sterilizing 4,000 Buddhist Women in Sri Lanka
A court in Sri Lanka granted bail to a Muslim doctor accused of sterilizing over 4,000 Sinhalese Buddhist women, according to Reuters. Doctor Shegu Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi, who has denied the allegations, was given bail of 2.75 million rupees ($15,600) after a five-hour hearing in Kurunagala magistrates court in northwestern Sri Lanka. The allegations are extremely contentious in a country where hardliners in the Buddhist majority, including some prominent Buddhist monks, have accused minority Muslims of using a higher birth rate to spread their influence. Shafi was arrested after a nationalist newspaper printed a story alleging that an unidentified doctor had sterilized as many as 4,000 women after performing cesarean deliveries. Shafi’s supporters and lawyers maintain he is innocent, and that the charges were fabricated in order to further stoke tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings by Islamic militants that killed over 250 people.
Satellite Images Show “Minimal Preparations” for Rohingya Return
An Australian think-tank reports that Myanmar has made “minimal” preparations for the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, according to Reuters. While authorities in the majority Buddhist country have made promises to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees, analysis of satellite imagery by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) shows “no sign of reconstruction” of former Rohingya settlements and even continued destruction of residential buildings in some areas. These results raise “serious questions about the willingness of the Myanmar government to facilitate a safe and dignified repatriation process,” says Nathan Ruser, one of the researchers at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Center. In December 2018 an investigation by Reuters found that Myanmar authorities had built houses for Buddhists in areas formerly populated by Rohingya, and a resettlement map drafted by the government showed plans for refugees to be herded into several dozen Rohingya-only settlements. The UN has also stated that the conditions in the northwestern state of Rakhine are not yet conducive for the Rohingya to return, as government troops are currently clashing with insurgents from the Arakan Army, a group of Buddhist nationalist insurgents.
Meanwhile, a sweeping internet shutdown in Rakhine has entered into its fifth week, VOA News reports. The suspension of internet data was meant to curb operations by the Arakan Army, but has instead provoked fear among residents that the blackout is providing a cover up for abuse by government troops.
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