Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Thai Monks Who Recycle Plastic into Robes Now Producing Face Masks
Thai monks at the Wat Chak Daeng temple south of Bangkok, who have been recycling plastic into saffron-colored robes for over two years, have begun producing face masks, reported Channel News Asia. On March 23, the confirmed number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Thailand rose to 721, making it one of the most highly affected countries in Southeast Asia. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), face masks can help protect surrounding air and surfaces when a person coughs or sneezes, which could, in turn, prevent the spread of infection.
Wat Chak Daeng temple receives over 15 tons of used plastic bottles from nearby villages every month. To turn them into fabric, machines crush the bottles into bales, which are then transformed into polyester fibers. On some masks, which include an extra filter layer sewn into the inner lining, monks have been writing a Buddhist prayer that translates to “to know the problem is to find a way to end the suffering.”
Buddhist Nuns in Australia Took Early Action Against Coronavirus
The Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Perth, Australia—which usually has hundreds of visitors each week—took measures against the spread of the coronavirus weeks before the Australian government mandated precautions, reported Australia’s SBS News. These early interventions may have been particularly influential, as religious activities have been hotspots of contagion. Temple leaders said they knew what preventive measures to take and to take them early because of experiences they had with the 2003 SARS epidemic.
In February, over a month before a government-mandated ban on large gatherings, the temple shut down its regular services, removed prayer cushions from their halls, began disinfecting surfaces daily, put hand sanitizer by the doors, asked elderly people not to attend in-person teachings, and asked people returning from overseas not to visit the temple for 14 days. Now, the temple has canceled all in-person events and services, but their doors remain open. (About 20 people visit the temple each day; everyone has their temperature checked at the door.)
The temple’s nuns hold services over Facebook Live and have been sharing Buddhist lectures and sutras on WhatsApp chat groups. About the importance of continuing to provide services, Reverend Bo, leader of the temple, said, “During this outbreak there is a lot of panic. The dharma service can provide them calmness.”
Dalai Lama Reportedly Enters Quarantine, India Goes on Lockdown
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was reportedly placed under quarantine this week as a precautionary measure, according to a spokesperson in Russia, Pakistani news site Urdu Point reported. A video report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) showed quiet, empty streets in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan spiritual leader has lived for most of his time in exile. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday issued a nationwide lockdown—a “total ban” on leaving home—to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to Reuters. As of Friday, India had 863 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 20 deaths. Meanwhile, Khoryug, an environmental initiative headed by interfaith climate change educator Dekila Chungyalpa and Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the claimants to the title of 17th Karmapa, published a list of COVID-19 guidelines for its monasteries in northern India.
“Can Any Good Come of This Crisis?”
In their latest newsletter, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), an international network of Buddhists uniting Buddhism and social justice, drew attention to the strides that have been made for activist movements since the coronavirus outbreak set off nationwide social, economic, and cultural disruptions. “It’s been heartening to see grassroots organizers making militant demands for how we handle this crisis and for how we construct cultures of care well beyond it…[n]ow that the undeniable fact of our interconnectedness has been revealed by the public health emergency of coronavirus,” the newsletter read. BPF reported that state and local governments in California have begun using hotel rooms, trailers, and other forms of housing to provide shelter for homeless populations, and that at least 90 cities and states in the US have halted evictions and foreclosures. Quoting Buddhist teacher Sean Feit-Oakes, BPF suggested that the current crisis can become a way to bring about more enlightened forms of community: “It’s possible to see the current crisis as an opportunity to wake up to what really matters, to realize that we’re not separate, and that we need each other. This is a moment where we get to make demands, institute changes, and reimagine society.”
Alms in the Age of Social Distancing
Finally, some monks and their lay supporters in Thailand have figured out an ingenious way to practice social distancing and perfect their generosity at the same time—by tossing donations from across the street. A Twitter user posted a video (below) of one such exchange.
— kaewmala (@Thai_Talk) March 27, 2020
Also, Tricycle launched an online calendar detailing upcoming livestream meditation sessions, dharma talks, and more.