Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Nationalist Gotabaya Rajapaksa Wins Sri Lanka Presidential Election
Last week Sri Lanka elected as their next president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the candidate from the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), according to the Guardian. Rajapaksa is a former wartime defense chief and a member of the country’s most powerful political dynasty. He ran on a platform of aggressive national security in a country rattled by the Easter Sunday attacks by Islamic extremists earlier this year. His main opponent, Sajith Premadasa of the ruling United National Party (UNP), accepted defeat after earning 41.99 percent of the vote with 80 percent of the population turning out to vote, one of the largest participation rates in recent history. The new president was sworn in on Monday at a temple in the city of Anuradhapura, where he received blessings from Buddhist monks, according to reporting by Reuters. Nicknamed “The Terminator” by his family, Rajapaksa served as secretary of defense when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president from 2005 to 2010. The Rajapaksas are credited with ending a bloody 26-year civil war between the Sinhala Buddhist government and minority Tamil separatists, but are accused of using aggressive tactics, including severe human rights abuses and media suppression.
Rajapaksa’s victory raises fears about human rights and religious coexistence in Sri Lanka, where Buddhist nationalism and violence against minority Muslims and Tamils has increased in recent years. “Although I knew I would be voted in by the Sinhala Buddhists, I expected the Tamils and Muslims to also be part of my victory,” he said shortly after his electoral win. “But my expectations were not met,” he continued, calling for future cooperation. Minority groups did not find the remarks comforting, the Independent reports. Muslim communities have faced violence and boycotts since the Easter Sunday attacks, and the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist extremist force responsible for several anti-Christian and anti-Muslim riots, are said to have protection from the Rajapaksa family. Social worker MZA Ahmed, who declined to give his full name, said, “The minority communities in the east––Muslims as well as the Tamils and Christians––voted against the return of the Rajapaksas. Now we wonder, will we be punished for it?” According to the Guardian, Rajapaksa’s campaign confirmed that it intended to put Mahinda Rajapaksa forward as a candidate for prime minister in the general election in 2020. If he wins, the Rajapaksa brothers would have a double hold on power in Sri Lanka.
Pope Meets Thailand’s Buddhist Supreme Patriarch
On Thursday, during his official papal visit, Pope Francis met Thailand’s Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Ariyavongsagatanana IX at Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple in Bangkok, according to Vatican News. Situating the meeting within a legacy of exchanges between previous popes and patriarchs, the pope stressed that the meeting was taking place “as part of the journey of esteem and mutual recognition initiated by our predecessors,” and that occasions like these “remind us how important it is for religions to become more and more beacons of hope, as promoters and guarantors of fraternity.” According to Reuters, Pope Francis also explicitly praised Thai people’s Buddhist faith: “The majority of Thais have drunk deeply from the sources of Buddhism, which have imbued their way of venerating life and their ancestors, and leading a sober lifestyle based on contemplation, detachment, hard work and discipline.” During a mass on the same day, he addressed the problem of Thailand’s sex tourism industry, condemning the exploitation of women and children, which has been exacerbated by the refugee crisis in Myanmar. In recent years, Thailand has become a major site for the human trafficking of Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
Tibetan Exile Government President Comments on Hong Kong, Dalai Lama
In a recent interview with the Hong Kong Free Press, president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, addressed human rights in Hong Kong and issues surrounding His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. Sangay said that “[a]ll people in Hong Kong are asking for their human rights and their democracy which was promised. . .We [Tibetans] are in solidarity with people in Hong Kong because they deserve their democracy, they deserve their human rights.” Protesters in Hong Kong have faced increasing violence from Chinese authorities since the demonstrations began in response to the introduction of a controversial extradition bill (now shelved) in the spring of this year. Sangay also commented on Beijing’s claim to control the personage of the next Dalai Lama, stressing that the decision was in the hands of Tibetans. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that it is for the Tibetan people to decide. . .[J]ust recently we had a special General Body meeting of Tibetan Community leaders from 24 countries, around 315 of them came and passed a unanimous resolution saying that we want that incarnation [from the] Tibetan people.” He also said that Buddhists “will not accept a Chinese Dalai Lama,” citing the destruction of Tibetan monasteries and the forced disrobement of monastics by the Chinese government since the invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. “This is their track record. They criticize His Holiness [the] Dalai Lama throughout his life. Now, they say, [they’ll] decide his incarnation.. . .How will they [monks and nuns] follow the Dalai Lama appointed by the Chinese government? No chance.”
Once Rivals, Two Karmapas Co-Author Prayer
Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, the two tulkus [reincarnate lamas] separately enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, co-authored a long-life prayer for the 15th incarnation of Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, also known as the Shamarpa, who has yet to be identified since the 14th Shamarpa died in 2014. The composition and accompanying explanation were published on Ogyen Trinley Dorje‘s and Trinley Thaye Dorje’s respective websites last month. Sources report that the two Karmapas have been in touch regularly since their first meeting in October 2018, and they collaborated without any outside pressure or influence, according to writer and Tricycle contributing editor Pamela Gayle White, who interviewed Thaye Dorje in 2012.
The 2018 meeting between the two men may herald the end of a long standing sectarian divide within the Karma Kagyu school. After the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje died in 1981, senior lamas and Karma Kagyu lineage holders were split between the two successors. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, several prominent Kagyu teachers, and the People’s Republic of China recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the rightful lineage holder, while other high-level lamas––including the 14th Shamarpa––recognized and enthroned Thaye Dorje.
Further reading: Curious about the Karmapa controversy? Read Pamela Gayle White’s interview with Trinley Thaye Dorje, our 2018 profile of Ogyen Trinley Dorje and his efforts to shake up tradition, or this 2009 conversation with now-deceased Shamarpa on the perils of picking a teacher.