Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Karmapas announce plans to work together to recognize Shamar Rinpoche’s reincarnation
The two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa, one of the most influential Tibetan Buddhist positions and leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage, are working together to identify the the reincarnation of the 14th Shamarpa, Mipham Chokyi Lodro, Phayul reported. In 1992, the 14th Shamarpa recognized 9-year-old Trinley Thaye Dorjee as the 17th Karmapa, while the Dalai Lama recognized 7-year-old Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Other Buddhist leaders were split, and sectarian sentiments festered. But in recent years, the two Karmapas have been working to repair those divisions, and met for the first time in October 2018 to discuss the future of their lineage.
In agreeing to make a joint decision on the identification of the 15th Shamarpa, they are demonstrating a greater commitment to their assertions that unity is more important than past controversies. At the Kagyu Monlam, a major international prayer festival, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee said, “It is extremely important that Shamar Rinpoche’s reincarnation be recognized without any mistake or confusion, without any ‘our side’ or ‘their side.’ Having a unanimous recognition is absolutely crucial,” according to Phayul. He added, “If the reincarnation of Shamar Rinpoche is disputed, in the future, all the Kamtsang [another name for Karma Kagyu] high lamas will be disputed and the Kamtsang will be completely split. The attachment and hatred will be the same as in a feud that lasts for generations. If we fall under its power, all the majesty and power of over 900 years of history will be destroyed.”
Losar festivities in Lhasa canceled over coronavirus risks
As a precaution against the highly contagious coronavirus, local authorities in Lhasa, Tibet have canceled all “large-scale traditional religious activities” just before the celebration of Losar (Tibetan New Year), reports Buddhistdoor Global. Losar celebrations begin on the first day of the lunisolar Tibetan calendar and traditionally last for 15 days. This year in Lhasa, traditional ceremonies will still be held in monasteries, but some will be shortened and outside attendance will be limited. On January 27, authorities announced that all Buddhist monasteries and other Tibetan tourist sites were closed to the public. No coronavirus cases had been confirmed in Tibet at the time. Three days later, one person was diagnosed with the virus, according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency. That patient was discharged on February 12, and no other cases have been reported in Tibet since.
In a statement released on February 6, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, president of Tibet’s government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said “There must be a lot of panic and fear among Tibetans in Tibet. However, based on scientific studies of the virus, it is dangerous at this stage of outbreak but it will surely be contained very soon. In the meantime, the most important practice is to follow the necessary precautions as instructed by health experts, in addition to observing collective prayers, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has prescribed.”
Yogini Project Dissolved by Former Director
The Yogini Project, a nonprofit initiative with a mission to showcase influential Buddhist women, was shut down last month after its founder was accused of financial wrongdoing and inappropriate personal conduct. According to a January 24 post on Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s website, at least five women working for the Yogini Project accused the project’s founder, Michael Ash, of “financial improprieties” and “inappropriate personal behavior” in November 2019. Ash, who created the project in 2011 with the blessing of his teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, denied the allegations. But in December, the Pundarika Foundation, a Buddhist organization under the auspices of Tsoknyi Rinpoche and the primary source of the Yogini Project’s financial support, suspended its relationship, and Ash ended fundraising solicitations that same month. Ash “voluntarily decided” to dissolve the Yogini Project and shut down its website and social media in January. As of February 14, 2020, the website remained down, and video interviews with prominent women teachers like Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Ani Choying Drolma, and late scholar Rita Gross, as well as other information in the project’s archives, appeared to be no longer available online.
Thailand Mass Shooting Took Place on Buddhist Holiday
Thailand experienced its deadliest mass shooting on Sunday, February 9, when a Thai soldier killed 30 people and injured at least 58 others. According to Reuters, the massacre took place on Makha Bucha, a Theravada Buddhist holiday that honors the Buddha’s ordaining some of his first followers and creating the monastic community known as the sangha. After the soldier, identified as 32-year-old Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, opened fire on multiple people at an army base, he stopped at Buddhist monastery Wat Pa Sattha Ruam, where he shot and killed at least nine people.
“I never dreamed this would happen in a temple, in our country,” said resident monk Luang Phi Kla. “It’s like he didn’t see the value of other people’s lives, just shooting at them like they were vegetables or fish. He didn’t even spare a child.” Thomma then drove to a major shopping mall in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, where he was later killed by police after an hours-long standoff.
Related: A Buddhist Response to a Mass Shooting
Claiming Propaganda, Tibetans Protest New York Library Exhibit
Tibetan New Yorkers are protesting a photography exhibition at a New York City library over what they argue is a propagandist view of Tibet. According to Gothamist, the photo exhibit at Queens’ Elmhurst Library is part of a series called “China Today,” which was organized by the Chinese consulate and shows everyday depictions of Tibetans and important Tibetan sites. But the Tibetan protesters say it is a distorted depiction of their homeland. “The pictures that are displayed inside are not the real story of Tibet,” Ngawang Tharchin, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, told Gothamist. The 38-year-old pointed out a photo that showed school children holding Tibetan scrolls, claiming this description ignores the fact that China does not teach Tibetan language in schools, which has become a source of anguish for older generations of Tibetans.
In a statement, the Chinese consulate said that the exhibit shows the culture and history of “Xizang,” the Chinese name for the area. “Xizang has been part of China since ancient times. Xizang affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference,” the statement continued. Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the Queens Public Library, told Gothamist earlier this week that library officials were planning on meeting with the head of Students for a Free Tibet and other members of the Tibetan community to discuss their concerns.