On March 3 a Vietnamese Buddhist monk was stabbed to death by a homeless man whom he had taken into his temple in Philadelphia. Thich Hanh Man, 43, had served only three months as resident monk at Philadelphia’s first Vietnamese Buddhist temple when the attack occurred. Though other members of the temple had warned him about Lan-Ngoc Nguyen, a Vietnamese homeless man whose past, they said, included arrests and a history of mental illness, Man felt that it was his duty as a monk to offer help.

Police said they saw evidence of a struggle in the temple kitchen. Members of the temple who knew Man, however, said that the turned-over tables and chairs were evidence not of a fight, but of a chase. Man, they said, who outweighed his attacker by twenty pounds, would have been trying to escape when he was stabbed nine times.

Thich Hanh Man (1954-1995), Courtesy Bob Taylor
Thich Hanh Man (1954-1995), Courtesy Bob Taylor

 

A memorial service was led by Thich Dong Chan, a Buddhist monk who had been Man’s friend and mentor for thirty years in Vietnam. “He was so sweet and easy,” Chan said, adding, “In Buddhism, [even] if somebody harms you, you cannot harm them.” Man’s longtime friend Thich Hanh Tuan, a Buddhist monk studying at Harvard Divinity School, said, “I don’t feel sad. I’m proud of him because he carried on the legacy of compassion and wisdom and love for his fellow man.”

In his eulogy, Tuan remembered the man who had been imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam for his activities promoting religious freedom, before escaping by boat in 1988. Addressing his departed friend, Tuan said, “The lesson I have learned from you is not in any sutra or text. I am sure you remember that we once learned that a bodhisattva vows not to become a buddha until after all sentient beings have attained buddhahood. This notion confused me for years. However, now I do not need to spend years reading the Tripitaka to find the meaning of this notion. I see it now in your lovely face . . . in your simple room and even on the faces of all people gathered here today. You are a living sutra.”

ZenMOO

Shhhhhhh . . .

“Amid the smell of incense and the sound of gongs and chanting, you have come upon the glorious ZenMOO. Please be quiet, and enjoy your meditation.”

For the intrepid Internet traveler, ZenMOO could be seen as a sort of cyber-Shangri-la, a place where you can rest your terminal-weary eyes and sink into peaceful, meditative bliss. But don’t get too relaxed. The Cyber-Master will occasionally throw out computer-generated “koans” such as, “I say fun, you say beats, I say sorrily, you say hydrogenate, let’s agree upon”—which you must answer.

Courtesy FPG International Corp.
Courtesy FPG International Corp.

 

If you fail to answer you will be told, “Sad, so sad when you fall asleep like that. Tsk. Tsk.” Then the program will disconnect you. The other meditators will see the message “<Your screen name> has fallen asleep,” thereby disgracing you in the eyes of your peers.

While gross inactivity is quickly punished, so is overactivity. Your first attempt at gathering information about ZenMOO will be met with a message such as “Stop fidgeting, you’re bothering the others.” Further typing will only lead to messages such as “Enlightenment does not come through your keyboard.” If you persist in making keystrokes, the Zen Master will lose patience with you. “Meditate or die!” flashes on the screen and you’d better pay heed, because if you try his patience you will be unceremoniously dismissed from the cyber-dojo: ***Disconnected***

Essentially, this strange little net-nook is a MUD (multi user dimension), which, for the uninitiated, is a term used to describe role-playing, text-based games on the net. ZenMOO was originally created to mock other MUDs and its creator, Regis Wilson, 23, never thought it would last once people realized that nothing was really happening.

Actually, there is something happening after all. Meditators are accruing idle time, which is highly esteemed among practitioners of ZenMOO. The mark of a successful ZenMOO student is a high idle-time percentage, which indicates that the student is meditating, not chatting or fidgeting.

“Some twenty to thirty net surfers check out ZenMOO every week,” says Wilson, who graduated from Occidental College in Pasadena, California, from which ZenMOO still operates. “My opinion is that one doesn’t necessarily have to study with a teacher to become enlightened—like the millionaire who never finished high school.”

Apparently there are many who agree. The ZenMOO database tops two thousand users every three months, at which time Wilson has to weed out the less serious students to keep it from growing out of control.

Telnet ZenMOO at:

cheshire.oxy.edu 7777

If you have a Web browser point it at:

http://www.oxy.edu/~t_pascal

Apocalypse Now

“We are just ordinary Buddhists” was the cry of members of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese-based cult that has been linked to the nerve gas attack that killed eleven Tokyo subway riders on March 20 and injured over 5,000 more. But subsequent reports indicate that Aum Shinrikyo is anything but ordinary.

Founded in 1987 by forty-year-old Japanese yoga teacher Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo (“Aum Supreme Truth”) boasts more than 40,000 members worldwide. In Japan, where its estimated 10,000 members are composed largely of university graduates and yoga practitioners, the cult has been suspected in a previous nerve-gas attack, as well as kidnappings, unlawful confinement, extortion, and murder.

Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo
Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo

 

Two days after the attack, when Japanese police raided the main Aum Shinrikyo compound in the rural village of Kamikuishiki near the foot of Mount Fuji, they found large quantities of the chemicals necessary for the manufacture of sarin, the nerve gas that was used in the attack. Subsequent searches of the main compound and other Aum facilities have uncovered a sophisticated chemical manufacturing facility, a Russian military helicopter, precision equipment allegedly used for the manufacture of AK-47 machine rifles, biological-warfare supplies, a manual entitled “The War With Police,” and—most recently— the bones of two children, aged five and ten, whose deaths had not been reported to Japanese authorities.

Following the searches, Mr. Asahara, who is still being sought by police and spoke by videotape from an undisclosed location—immediately denied ever manufacturing sarin; instead, he said, the chemicals were used for such legitimate purposes as the manufacture of ceramics and plastics. Recently, however, following complaints by local residents that noxious emissions from the Aum compound in Kamikuishiki had discolored leaves on the trees and induced nausea, Japanese health officials found chemical by-products of sarin. Even before that, a cloud of sarin was released last June in the city of Matsumoto. That poisoning, which killed seven people and injured 200 others, is thought to have been targeted at three judges, all of whom lived in the affected area, three weeks before they were to render a decision in a land dispute involving Aum.

Moreover, for some time the nerve gas sarin has played a central role in the apocalyptic vision of the cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara. Asahara, who preaches that the world will end sometime prior to the year 2000 in “a series of events of inexpressible ferocity and terror,” has accused the U.S. military of releasing sarin above his compound, and further claims that Japan will be attacked by America and its allies between 1996 and January 1998. In a talk to Aum members in March 1994, Asahara said, “The law in an emergency is to kill one’s opponent in a single blow, for instance the way research was conducted on sonam [a nerve gas developed by Nazis] and sarin during World War II.” A year ago, at a time when familiarity with sarin was limited in Japan to experts on chemical warfare, Asahara told followers, “It has become clear now that my first death will be caused by something like a poison gas such as sarin.”

So what is the “Supreme Truth” of Aum? Asahara’s lawyer Yoshinobu Aoyama claims, “We practice our religion on the basis of Buddhist doctrines such as no killing.” Yet Asahara, who has referred to himself by such apocalyptic, non-Buddhist epithets as “Today’s Christ” and “the Savior of This Century,” has said the leader he admires the most is Adolf Hitler.

Buddha Does Bolinas

A selection of household Buddhist deities was on display March 3 through April 16 at the Bolinas Museum in California. As part of a recent exhibition, “East Meets West: Selected Works From Buddhist Thought and Practice,” local residents were invited to bring their household buddhas to the museum to fill display cases, line windowsills, and adorn the baseboards of the galleries; more than two hundred buddhas in all were loaned. At a ceremony to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday on April 8, members of Green Gulch Farm Zen Center formally blessed the Bolinas buddhas.

Photograph by Dietmar Krueger, Courtesy Bolinas Museum
Photograph by Dietmar Krueger, Courtesy Bolinas Museum

 

Tibetan Gulag

“My name is Palden Gyasto. I have spent three decades of my 64-year-old life in Chinese prisons and labor camps in Tibet.” Thus began the story of the longest-serving political prisoner of Chinese-occupied Tibet. In his address to the House Subcommittee on Human Rights on April 3, Buddhist monk Palden Gyasto told the gruesome story of his imprisonment and torture by Chinese authorities from 1959 until his release and subsequent escape from Tibet in 1992.

Originally arrested as a “reactionary element” and sentenced to a seven-year term in Panam District Prison in southern Tibet, Palden Gyasto was forced to eat mice, worms, and the bones of dead animals in order to survive. “In winter,” he recalled, “we were suspended in the air, and then cold water was thrown on us; during hot summer days, cold water was replaced by the building of a fire underneath the suspended prisoner.” In addition to these abuses, the prisoners were beaten with iron bars and repeatedly electrocuted with cattle prods.

Tibetan Buddhist monk Palden Gyasto displaying the instruments of torture used on him by prison authorities in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Photograph by Kalpesh Lathigra, Courtesy the Independent, London.
Tibetan Buddhist monk Palden Gyasto displaying the instruments of torture used on him by prison authorities in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Photograph by Kalpesh Lathigra, Courtesy the Independent, London.

 

Gyasto escaped from prison in 1962 but was captured shortly thereafter and sentenced to eight more years in prison, during which time his leg shackles were not removed for two years. In 1975, when he was released from prison, he was not allowed to return to his home but was sent instead to Nyethang labor camp, some fifteen miles west of Lhasa. There, in 1979, he took advantage of the more relaxed security to sneak out at night and put up large posters calling for Tibetan independence, a gesture that only resulted in his further imprisonment and torture.

When he was transferred to the notorious Drapchi Prison in October 1990, the chief administrator of the Fifth Unit, Mr. Paljor, asked him the reason for his most recent imprisonment. When Palden Gyasto replied that he had put up posters in favor of Tibetan independence, Paljor replied, “I will give you Tibetan independence.” After this taunt, recalls Gyasto, “he proceeded to give me a number of vicious kicks and intermittently jabbed the electric cattle prod on various parts of my body. Finally, after about half an hour, he rammed the electric cattle prod into my mouth and pushed it in with great force. I passed out. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in a pool of blood and excrement and in excruciating pain. But there was absolutely nothing I could do. No medical treatment was given. And I had lost most of my teeth.”

The other teeth fell out a few days later. Nevertheless, in 1991, when U.S. Ambassador to Beijing James Lilley visited Drapchi Prison, Gyasto tried again. Along with a few other prisoners, he attempted to present Lilley with a petition detailing human-rights abuses in Tibet. But the petition was snatched away by a guard and they were transferred to another facility where they were tortured by the army with bayonets.

Palden Gyasto’s deepest fear was always that, even if he did escape, people in the outside world would never believe what was happening inside Tibet. In the last few months of his imprisonment, he spent the money he had saved to buy from prison guards the very instruments of torture that had been used on him and other Tibetan political prisoners, including thumb cuffs that fasten diagonally across the back of the body, special knives used by the Chinese police, and electric cattle prods specially designed to fit inside a woman’s body.

Gyasto concluded his presentation with a plea to the Chairman and the other members of the House Committee: “I sincerely believe that unless there is strong international condemnation of the Chinese government’s treatment of the Tibetan people, they will continue to commit such horrors as [I have] described. . . . I am only one of the few lucky ones who survived and managed to escape to the outside world. Many of my friends and other political prisoners died in prisons and labor camps in Tibet. With them also went the story of their untold sufferings.”

The Good Soldier

Captain Larry Rockwood faces court martial by the U.S. Army this month—not for being a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism (which he is), but for taking President Bill Clinton at his word. On September 15, 1994, President Clinton announced to the nation that U.S. forces on their way to Haiti were preparing to “stop the brutal atrocities that threaten tens of thousands of Haitians.” When U.S. forces arrived in Haiti, however, it was a different story.

Rockwood, who was deployed to Haiti as a counterintelligence officer for the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, had begun making requests for information on confinement facilities in Haiti as early as August. But when he arrived in Haiti, he was told by superiors that human rights issues were not a priority of the Haiti mission. Rockwood, whose father had helped to liberate a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II, said later in a letter to General David C. Meade, the Commander of the Multinational Forces in Haiti, “I found it difficult to conclude that the U.S. government could not to some degree be held ethically, morally `or legally responsible for human rights violations being carried out with the knowledge of the [U.S. military] command. . . .”

Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Captain Larry Rockwood
Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Captain Larry Rockwood

 

With these considerations in mind, Rockwood began a weeklong effort to solve the problem by going through all the official channels. When it became apparent that no action was intended, he filed an official complaint with the Command Inspector General, a risky step for a career soldier of fifteen years. Then, finally, on the night of September 30 he decided to go it alone.

Climbing over the compound fence because he could not bear to lie to guards, Rockwood found his way to Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, where he proceeded to conduct his own human rights inspection. He was shown a few crowded cells but was told by prison officials that the main segment of the prison could not be opened until ten the next morning. He decided to wait. Two hours later a U.S. Military Liaison officer was dispatched to bring Rockwood home, and he agreed to leave the compound. As he later told a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, “You understand, after fifteen years of military training I simply couldn’t bring myself to disobey a direct order.”

Following his return to the compound, Rockwood was read his rights and subjected to two separate psychiatric evaluations, both of which pronounced him sane. Afterward, he reported to his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frank B. Bragg, Jr., who asked him, “Do you realize you are a soldier?” to which Rockwood replied, “Yes, I know. And I am an American soldier, not a Nazi soldier.”

What would Rockwood have found had he been allowed into the main prison block at Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince? On February 24, Congressman Dan Burton testified at a hearing of the House Committee on U.S. Policy and Activities in Haiti: “I went to that prison and found that there had been one cell where 500 prisoners had been housed for six months, standing in six inches of excrement. . . . Some of their feet became gangrenous—I guess that’s the proper term—and they had to be amputated, and many of them suffered from hepatitis and other diseases.”

Of course, the U.S. Army would like to have been finished with this potential public-relations disaster, but, by declining the offer of a discharge, Rockwood has refused to let the military off the hook. Instead, he is prepared to stand trial on May 8 for, among other charges, “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.”

Is Captain Lawrence P. Rockwood a good soldier? Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the attorney provided to Rockwood by Amnesty International, said that his client had correctly placed his obligation to defend human life ahead of Army protocol. “The idea that this could be considered conduct unbecoming of an officer is the worst idea that the military could project,” he concluded.

And what does Rockwood say? In a letter that he sends to people who inquire about the trial, Rockwood encloses a list of relevant quotes on human rights and the limits of military obedience. The list contains quotations from sources as diverse as George Bernard Shaw (“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity”) and the Dalai Lama (“It is not enough to be compassionate, you must act”) but also includes the voices of great soldiers such as General Douglas MacArthur:

“The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is his very essence and reason for being. . . . The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human faiths—SACRIFICE.”

Pali-ROM

No more paper cuts for Buddhist scholars. The entire Pali canon—which, in hard copy, totals 50,000 pages—has now been placed on one palm-sized CD-ROM disk. The Pali canon, which contains all of the original teachings of the Buddha in the language in which he spoke them, has been meticulously input by eighty typists and proofread by Thai Buddhist monks. The new disk, which was published by the American Academy of Religion (Scholar’s Press, Atlanta, Georgia) not only allows scholars to find all the references to a certain word or phrase at the touch of a fingertip, but at $299 it also costs a lot less than the original version, which sells for around $12,000. But if you haven’t kept up your Pali, no reason to despair: according to University of California Professor Lewis Lancaster, who supervised the input project, over the next ten years there are plans to publish the Thai, Burmese, and English versions of the canon as well.

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