Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Myanmar’s Ancient Buddhist Temple City Bagan Now a World Heritage Site
An ancient city with the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, and monasteries in the world has just become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to Reuters. Myanmar’s ancient capital of Bagan was first nominated nearly a quarter of a century ago, and the United Nation’s cultural body approved the proposal at a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 6. The 1995 nomination was originally rejected after the military government in power at the time was accused of ignoring the advice of restoration experts. The International Council on Monuments and Sites has since noted that Myanmar had adopted new laws that protect the site by reducing the impact of development and tourism in the area. According to BuddhistDoor, more than 2,200 temples and pagodas survive in Bagan today, although many still remain in disrepair. Many of the ancient structures date to the 10th through 14th centuries, when Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan (849–1297), the first to unify the regions that would later form modern-day Myanmar.
China Warns India Not to Interrupt Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation
The office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama rejected a recent statement by the Chinese government instructing India, the current homebase of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, not to interrupt the reincarnation process. According to the Times of India, China stated that the next Dalai Lama would be chosen within China, in accordance with historical precedent. Tseten Samdup, the secretary at the Office of the Dalai Lama, responded that a person who reincarnates has sole authority over his or her rebirth. “It is a reality that no one can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her,” Samdrup said, quoting His Holiness. In the past, the Dalai Lama has indicated that he may decide not to have a successor.
Thousands More Expelled From Yachen Gar Buddhist Center
Mandatory expulsions have grown more stringent at Yachen Gar, a Tibetan Buddhist study center in China’s Sichuan province. A source told Radio Free Asia, “China is now implementing a policy that spares none of the nonresidents at Yachen Gar. Except for locals from Palyul county, all others will now be removed from Yachen Gar.” In recent months the removals targeted monastics who came to Yachen Gar from other regions, with Chinese authorities evicting at least 3,500 monks and nuns from the Buddhist complex. An unknown number are being held in detention and are being subjected to political re-education and physical violence, other sources indicated. Travel to and from Yachen Gar is severely restricted. Tibetan advocacy groups have indicated that the strict measures are aimed at suppressing the influence and growth of Buddhist centers like Yachen Gar and the larger Larung Gar.
Trump Meets with Survivors of Religious Persecution
President Donald Trump met with a group of survivors of religious persecution from several countries including Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar, in the Oval Office on July 17, Reuters reports. Among the 27 participants four of them were from China: Jewher Ilham, a Uighur Muslim; Yuhua Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner; Nyima Lhamo, a Tibetan Buddhist; and Manping Ouyang, a Christian. According to a news post from the Central Tibetan Administration, Lhamo—who is the niece of the late Tulku Tenzin Rinpoche—asked Trump to continue to support Tibet and the return of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Illam’s father, Ilham Tohti, a Uighur rights advocate, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism in 2014. The Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials over their policies in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs are reported to be held in detention centers. They have yet to act as China has threatened to retaliate. Chinese authorities have denied claims that they are abusing religious rights and human rights.
The meeting also received attention due to Trump’s interaction with Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad. In a video of their exchange, Trump appeared to be entirely unfamiliar with Murad, asking her, “And you had the Nobel Prize? . . . That’s incredible. They gave it to you for what reason?” In 2014, the Islamic State abducted, beat, and raped Murad and around one thousand other Yazidi women and killed thousands more from the ethnic and religious minority in northern Iraq. After three months, Murad managed to escape and has since worked to victims of abuse and human trafficking. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 for her “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”