Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
“Ghosts” Protect Indonesians from Spreading Coronavirus
The Kepuh village in Indonesia came up with a creative tactic to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported: A village youth group coordinated with police to dress up like pocong, ghosts that in Indonesian culture are said to be the souls of deceased people trapped in burial shrouds. The group hoped that the specters would play on superstitions and keep people indoors, after the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, resisted instituting a national lockdown and instead encouraged good hygiene and social distancing. But the pocong appearances initially brought people out of their homes to catch glimpses of the ghosts. The organizers have since adjusted their methods and now launch surprise pocong patrols to enforce lockdowns and restrict residents’ movement as part of their ongoing effort to take matters into their own hands to protect their community.
Indonesia comes behind only China in the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Asian countries. Priyadi, head of the Kepuh village (many Indonesians go by only one name), told Reuters that residents still lack education about how to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Tibetan Buddhist Leaders Share Messages of Strength
Two of the most high-profile Tibetan Buddhist leaders released statements this week encouraging hope and solidarity amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama published an article in TIME magazine reminding people of their interconnection with all beings and stressing the importance of acting with wisdom and compassion—whether that means working on the front lines in hospitals or observing social distancing. He emphasized that he has no magical powers, writing, “We are all the same as human beings, and we experience the same fears, the same hopes, the same uncertainties.” He closed with an encouragement not to “lose hope and confidence in the constructive efforts so many are making.”
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of the claimants to the title of 17th Karmapa and head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, covered similar themes in a statement he made via Facebook Live. He said the pandemic is an extreme example of impermanence and interconnection. “Even if a country has only one coronavirus patient, the danger to the entire world is such that it is crucially important all of us on the Earth must work together to face and overcome this crisis,” he said. The Karmapa plans to host an hour-long internet prayer session every day for a week beginning this Saturday, April 18. More details will be announced on his Facebook page.
Tzu Chi Partners with Taiwanese Embassy to Donate to Vatican
The Taiwan-based Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation partnered with the Taiwanese embassy to the Vatican to donate over 4,000 masks to the Vatican Pharmacy, Vatican Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Pontifical Urban College, and priests and seminarians studying in Rome, according Catholic news site Crux. Taiwanese Ambassador to the Holy See, Matthew Lee, said, “Helping is a moral duty for us,” and an embassy statement noted that shortages of masks and other supplies pose a risk to “the health and security of those carrying out their daily activities at the service of the community.” The Taiwanese embassy has also donated medication, masks, and foods to the Ministers of the Sick of Saint Camillus order of religious women in Rome, where at least 17 of the convent’s 25 nuns are sick and in isolation.
Taiwan, where 21.2 percent of the population identifies as Buddhist, and at least 43.8 percent practice a Buddhist-inflected local religion, has seen a lot of praise this week from US media regarding its response to the coronavirus. Taiwan Digital Minister Audrey Tang recently told VICE about how she developed an app that informed citizens of the latest cases. In order to prevent hoarding, Tang’s office created a tracking and rationing platform that allows citizens to see mask reserves at nearby pharmacies through over 100 interactive maps.
BINGO! You’re Enlightened
Practitioners affiliated with the Tibetan Buddhist learning community Samye Institute recently created a “quarantine bingo” game. Squares include “Contemplate on the Four Immeasurables,” “Recite a Sutra,” “Supplicate Guru Rinpoche,” “Do Some Prostrations,” and “Tidy Up My Shrine Room.” We’re still not exactly sure how to play, but we suspect that if you get double bingo you reach anuttara samyak sambodhi, or unexcelled complete enlightenment.
Until next week!