IN MEMORIAM: PHILIP YAMPOLSKY
The International Meditation Center (IMC)—a Buddhist center in the Burmese tradition located in Westminster, Maryland, and founded by Sayagyi U ba Kyin—allegedly turned away a student last May because he is HIV-positive. Madison Jones, a Vipassana practitioner, tried registering by telephone for a retreat at IMC, which is near his home. He requested to be permitted to sit in a chair and to sleep eight hours a night. Michael Kosman, the resident teacher, indicated that this should not be a problem. Jones then explained that he was making the requests because he was HIV-positive. Shortly afterward, Kosman telephoned Jones back to say that he had been instructed that Jones could not attend if he was HIV-positive. When questioned later by Jones’s legal counsel, Kosman stated that he had not told Madison that HIV was a factor and that a “personality conflict” was the reason Jones was not welcome. However, according to Jones, his answering machine had accidentally recorded the earlier conversation, during which Kosman had stated that HIV was the reason for turning him away. When informed about the tape, the IMC board agreed to allow Jones to attend future retreats, but subsequently rescinded the offer.
Since most retreat centers do accommodate participants with HIV and other disabilities, Jones, along with his legal counsel, requested that IMC adopt a nondiscrimination policy and provide accommodations if necessary to enable a person with a disability to participate in a retreat, but the center refused. IMC replied in a letter that admitting and accommodating persons with physical illnesses and other disabilities “conflicts with the requirements of the Buddhist meditation process. . . . The Five Elements of Effort, or ‘Padhaniyanga’. . . are Faith,“Health,”Sincerity, Energy and Wisdom.” When Tricycle contacted IMC, we were told that Buddhist meditation can be physically stressful and can call up many difficult emotions, thus good health is a requirement.
At the Lao Revolutionary Museum in Vientiane, Laos, thieves stole about half of a group of eighty-nine rare Buddha statuettes that were on display there last September. The statuettes had been discovered in July in a large jar during the construction of a university dorm that was being built on the site of a former temple. It is believed that the statuettes were put there for safekeeping when the Thai army sacked Vientiane in 1828.
Of all the statuettes—fifteen covered in gold, seventy-three in silver, and one in bronze—the two most valuable were among those stolen. About ten inches tall, they were made of clay and resin, and covered with gold leaf and garnets.
Australian Bob Dent, a former Church of England missionary who turned to Buddhism when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, was the first person in the world to legally commit assisted suicide. On September 22, Dent was injected with a computer-delivered lethal injection at his home in Darwin. A Buddhist funeral service was held the following Friday.
The euthanasia law was passed amid much controversy in the Northern Territory, and took effect in July. It allows terminally ill people to kill themselves with a lethal injection or pills, provided three doctors support their choice.
Dent wrote an open letter on the eve of his death in which he stated, “What right has anyone—because of their own religious faith, to which I don’t subscribe—to demand that I behave according to their rules and endure necessary intractable pain?”
On October 3, the Clinton Administration imposed an immediate and indefinite ban on entry into the United States by Burmese government leaders. The move was in response to renewed repression by the Burmese military against democracy advocates, including the detention of hundreds of supporters of Buddhist democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in September. The new law prohibits U.S. assistance to Burma, except for relief aid and antidrug activity. It also authorizes President Clinton to block new private American investment there in the event of “large-scale repression of or violence against” the country’s democratic opposition.
The Vinaya (Buddhist monastic code) forbids monastics to use or handle money. Federal campaign law makes it illegal to funnel political contributions through a conduit to hide their source. And federal laws governing tax-exempt organizations insist that religious groups not donate money to political groups.
But according to records of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, members of a group of Buddhist temples who scraped together more than $50,000 for the Democratic Party may have violated all three of those decrees.
The story begins last spring, when the Democrats held a fundraiser in an unusual setting: the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, near Los Angeles. The temple is a branch of the Taiwanese Fo Kuang Shan (Buddha’s Light Mountain) order, and boasts 1,200 monastics in the Western Hemisphere alone. Vice President Al Gore, the guest of honor, spoke to about 100 Asian-American supporters at the temple’s fifteen-acre compound, home to monastics and lay practitioners who live on the kind of modest stipends that don’t add up to big campaign donations.
Following the fundraiser, DNC campaign-disclosure reports showed that several residents of Hsi Lai and other Buddhist temples donated up to $5,000 each for the honor of eating lunch with the vice president. (GOP activists, who criticized the Clinton-Gore campaign ‘s aggressive fundraising efforts within the Asian-American community, were quick to publicize the findings.)
One Hsi Lai donor was Man Ya Shih, who runs a branch of the temple in Richardson, Texas, and who has taken a vow of poverty. Shih was visiting Hsi Lai temple on April 29, the day of the fundraiser, and was approached by a woman she knew to be a Buddhist and an active Democrat. The woman gave Shih $5,000 in small bills and asked her to write a check for that amount to the DNC and attend the event. Shi told The Wall Street Journal that she was unaware that writing a check for someone else’s donation was a violation of federal campaign law.
Another donor listed in the DNC reports was Master Shing Yun, a name that bears striking similarity to Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Hsi Lai temple. Shing Yun, says the DNC, donated $5,000 the day after the fundraiser. A brochure for visitors to the temple says Master Yun “has met with Vice President Al Gore . . . and served as informal liaison with the White House on Asian affairs.” Master Yun was unavailable to us for comment, but Man Jen, an American monastic living at the temple, told The Wall Street Journal she thought the connection “was really bizarre; he doesn’t usually get involved in anything political.” Jen added that the only money Yun has access to belongs to the temple, and comes from lay devotees. A secretary for temple officials told The Wall Street journal she doubted Master Yun would have made a campaign contribution as it would be in violation of the laws governing tax-exempt groups.
At our press time, temple lawyers were investigating allegations of misconduct, according to Venerable Yi Fa, a dean of Hsi Lai University in Rosmead, California, which is affiliated with the temple. “We would like to be able to speak about this,” she said. “We feel a lot of the things being said are unfair to the temple.”
Tibet Tibet: Fourteen Buddhist nuns held prisoner in Tibet recorded songs calling for the return of Tibet to the Tibetans with a tape recorder that had been smuggled into the prison. The songs are now on CD and can be purchased on-line at Rob@vprint.demon.co.uk Also be on the lookout for “Tibet Tibet,” an album by Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo, available on Real World Records. The Bodhisattva Institute of Tucson, Arizona, has purchased land in the Tucson Mountains for a new monastic complex called Changchub Ling. Cease and desist! The producers of the film Independence Day were so overwhelmed with e-mail thanking them for placing a photo of the Dalai Lama on the desk of the U.S. president in one scene that they had to issue a formal req uest that the messages cease. Ban tam paid $500,000 for Bones of the Master, the story of a Buddhist monk who escaped from Mongolia on foot during the revolution in 1949, then emigrated to the U.S. where he is a Buddhist teacher, healer, and martial arts expert. Home to Tibet—a film about the return of a Tibetan stonemason, Sonam Lama, to his homeland for the first time since his escape thirteen years ago—has been showing at theaters and universities around the U.S. For info write firstname.lastname@example.org On tour in the U.S., Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, the grandson and spiritual heir of HH Dilgo Khyemse Rinpoche, had a good laugh when a man at a talk in Kansas described his own view of Buddhism as “high-tech compassion.”
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