AMNESTY TAKES ON CHINA
Amnesty International, the human rights advocacy group, is launching a campaign in May to bring greater attention to the atrocities cited by Tibetan prisoners of conscience. Amnesty has evidence of over one hundred prisoners of conscience in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, including Buddhist monks and nuns incarcerated for peacefully advocating Tibet’s independence from The People’s Republic of China. Many prisoners have been held without a trial in labor camps and jails. Reports of brutal beatings, repeated electric shocks, and prolonged solitary confinement carried out by Chinese officials spurred immediate action.
The country-action campaign was prompted after these reports had been verified by Amnesty. This campaign comes in a year when Amnesty is looking more closely at the violation of indigenous peoples’ ethnic rights as an abuse of human rights and personal dignity. A spokesperson said that Amnesty‘s campaign increases pressure on the Chinese embassy, and encourages supporters to write letters demanding an end to the repression, torture, and unjust imprisonment.
TINTIN, TIBET, AND HBO
In 1929 the Belgian cartoonist/author Hergé created The Adventures of Tintin with the hopes of having the wily reporter (Tintin) span the globe while expanding the horizons of young readers. The intrepid journalist was depicted as the paradigm of British imperialism dressed in knickers and maintaining a stiff posture of social decorum; yet he always showed deference to the Tintin and Captain Haddock puzzled by Tibetan customs many cultures he found himself in. Tintin has since sold over 115 million copies and is translated into 40 languages (including Esperanto). Ann Quark, marketing manager and resident Tintin expert at Little, Brown & Company says of the 24 titles available to readers, the one entitled Tintin in Tibet (created in the sixties) is the most popular and was Hergé’s favorite. In the book, Tintin finds himself in the Land of the Snow Lion coming into contact with a Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas while searching for his lost friend Chang. Home Box Office started an animated version of the Adventures of Tintin last fall and they too have found a very receptive audience for the travelling reporter. In April, HBO decided to inaugurate a new “live game” where young viewers can help Tintin find his dog Snowy and learn geography at the same time. Kids who watch the 4-minute segment at the end of each episode can phone in their answers with the hopes of ultimately winning various prizes. Tibet is bound to show up as an answer. Keep your knickers up, count your breaths, and have your phone nearby.
YOGI AND MAGICIAN TO OPEN VEDA LAND
“The idea of combining a theme park with awakening human consciousness has been very well received,” the magician Doug Henning recently told The New York Times. “Most theme parks are superficial.” Thus, Henning and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are planning to build a $1.5 billion resort and theme park outside Niagara Falls, Ontario. They have adopted the name of Veda Land for the sprawling, 1400-acre park featuring 33 original rides and attractions that will reflect the themes of enlightenment, knowledge, and entertainment. Many of the rides will be built by Hollywood special effects designers, including one ambitious tour into the molecular structure of a rose. The developers are hoping to attract year-round vacationers with an indoor water park. Other parks around the world are slated for construction in Japan, Holland, and the United States. Soon we will be able to travel the path to enlightenment on a giant water slide—while all the suffering of the world vanishes in a wave of Doug Henning’s magic wand.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Sergeant Bryan Henry of New York City’s Metro North Transit Police has an astounding record of accomplishment in helping the homeless at Grand Central Station. Henry describes himself as a “quasi-Buddhist practitioner” who joined the force in 1985 and volunteered for the assignment at the station in 1989. A modest man, Henry makes contact with homeless advocacy groups and helps the homeless get off the tracks.
In 1989, anywhere from 350 to 400 people were believed to be living in the 48 acres of underground track area. On March 27th, 1992, police counted 51 people. Henry says he does what comes naturally to him, and he does not try to influence his colleagues with his Buddhist philosophy. “I have found that my actions appeal to other officers and they in turn offer compassion. They see the results of my actions, not anything more. A few years ago, many officers found simply talking to the homeless unthinkable.”
Before Henry began carrying a pistol as a police officer, he was a paramedic and could see the effects of his aid to people immediately. “Working with the homeless can be frustrating,” he says, “Especially when you think you’ve gotten through to someone and suddenly they turn up in the subway station weeks later.”
Bryan Henry became interested in Buddhism while growing up and sifting through his grandmother’s books. “She had all kinds of books on metaphysics which led me into reading more Eastern philosophy,” he recalls. “In the seventies I met a group of Buddhists while biking through Flushing Meadows Park and became involved in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.” Although he does not go to regular temple meetings, Henry maintains a shrine in his house and often chants mantras and The Heart Sutra. “The other week I had to lock up a disturbed individual who kept screaming obscenities and racial slurs. I chanted mantras under my breath and other officers in the station couldn’t believe the placid manner in which I withstood him.”
On April 14 at Wat Promkhunaram in Phoenix, Arizona, a new Buddhist year was ushered in with traditional water fights, but the sopping wet revelers and chanting monks would not blot out the memory of the six monks, a nun, a novice, and a layman who were murdered at the temple last August. The invited guests included FBI agents and police officers who took part in the investigation, but most Thais in America remain suspicious of the FBI’s findings and do not believe that the two teenagers, Jonathan Doody and Alex Garcia, whom the police say committed the murders in the course of a robbery, are the real culprits.
Phra Sunthorn Plamintr of the Buddhadharma Meditation Center in Illinois said, “It’s clearly someone who doesn’t want the temple to be there, a group of people, well-organized and well-planned.” Remarking on the FBI’s involvement in the investigation, Phra Sunthorn remarked that the Thai people “would have expected something better” than what the investigation actually produced. Louis Rhodes, Executive Director of the Phoenix ACLU, agrees that the investigation has been horribly careless: “There are over 110,000 pieces of evidence that have still not been checked; the authorities have gone about this half-cocked, and the investigation needs to finish this process.”
Harassment is familiar to monks in America: jeers shouted from passing automobiles, graffiti left on temples, and objects thrown at Buddhist clergy. Many think the murders were just the most violent example of this pattern of bigotry. Others connect the slayings to the arrest of temple spokesman Smith Thongkam for fleeing a 13-year-old drug conviction in Los Angeles. Smith was living in Phoenix under an assumed name and came to the attention of federal authorities when he spoke to the press about the temple killings. The Arizona media has speculated that the temple members were killed because they knew something about Thai-U.S. heroin smuggling. In the meantime, amidst growing concern that the American Thai community cannot depend on judicial recourse, the two young suspects await a trial date.