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Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Groups Issue Statements Denouncing Racial Injustice
Thousands of people gathered in cities and towns this week across all 50 states to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Police forces across the US have tried to quell the mostly peaceful protests with curfews, tear gas, physical violence, and mass arrests. In response to the ongoing unrest, Buddhist teachers and sanghas have issued statements online condemning the violence and calling on sangha members to reevaluate their relationship to racism. Tibetan teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, head of the Tergar Meditation Community, expressed “solidarity with the message ‘Black lives matter,’” and encouraged followers to “take good care” of themselves in these “challenging times,” remarking that “[w]e cannot be effective agents of change unless we come to this work with our mental and spiritual fuel tanks full,” according to a Facebook post published on Wednesday by Tergar Madison. Insight Meditation teacher Sebene Selassie expressed a similar message on Instagram on Monday, encouraging black people to take steps toward self-care during this time: “Rest. Eat well. Drink water. Meditate. . . . Feel your feelings but don’t let social media and the news dictate how you feel.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said George Floyd’s death was the result of racism during his preliminary remarks before an online Avalokiteshvara Empowerment, which was broadcast live in seven languages last weekend. Two teachers from the Brooklyn Zen Center in New York, where protests have taken place every day despite an 8:00 p.m. curfew, issued a statement urging their community to “summon moral courage.” Kosen Gregory Snyder and Shingetsu Laura O’Loughlin asked practitioners to go beyond simply acknowledging the violence:
As Buddhists, it is not enough to speak of greed, hatred, and delusion as abstractions. They must be named in their historic specificity, as they show up in the lives of this nation. We must name white supremacy as a deluded form of hatred that benefits and fuels the greed of those with power in our racialized society.
Across the internet, individual Buddhist teachers responded with diverse messages, sometimes pointing to educational resources for white Buddhists or holding online meditations to help followers cope. Rev. angel Kyodo williams held online sits earlier this week, including sessions for black people exclusively, for all people of color, and for anyone interested in joining. On Instagram, the Zen Buddhist teacher called upon religious leaders to publicly acknowledge racial violence:
There is no neutral. What’s your Dharma center, teacher, church, synagogue, pastor, Rabbi, reverend, yoga center, ashram, spiritual-not-religious instagram meditation leader saying about Black lives? Make no mistake: if they’re not saying anything, they’re not saying nothing.
Rev. williams also asked followers to “call in” organizations and leaders on social media.
Members of the Seattle branch of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship attended protests this week, and also called upon Facebook followers to take action to defund the Seattle police. Meanwhile, in Lafayette, Louisiana, four people held a meditation protest in front of a statue of a Confederate general on Wednesday, according to the Acadiana Advocate. Organizer Ken Broussard told the Advocate, “It is time that we as white folk speak to each other and own the racism and prejudices—conscious and unconscious—we each carry,” and indicated that he would sit silently in front of the statue every day at noon for the next two weeks. A group of meditators also protested by sitting in front of a courthouse in Duluth, Minnesota, on Monday, according to Fox 21. In Brooklyn, local meditators are organizing a sit-in called “Meditating for Black Lives,” which will take place on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Herbert Von King Park.
Man Returns to Society After Being on Silent Retreat Since Mid-March
On May 23, Buddhist practitioner Daniel Thorston emerged from a 75-day silent retreat that he began mid-March, reported the New York Times. “Did I miss anything?” he tweeted shortly after ending his retreat at the Monastic Academy in Lowell, Vermont, where he is a staff member. During the process of returning to his regular life and catching up on current events, Thorston noted how severely being on the internet agitated his nervous system. Even changing his phone screen from black and white to color hurt his eyes. It also stunned him how thoroughly topics like global warming, electoral politics, and the healthcare system have fallen out of conversation. “There was a collective traumatic emotional experience that I was not part of,” he said.
Myanmar Army Accused of Committing War Crimes Against Rakhine Buddhists
A United Nations official has called for an investigation into Myanmar’s army over reports of war crimes against Buddhists in the country’s Rakhine and Chin states. In the same region where genocidal military violence drove out more than a million members of the Rohingya Muslim minority a few years ago, the government has been rounding up people from the Buddhist majority, according to United Nations Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, who called for the investigation on April 29.
Rakhine Buddhists have reported persecution and repression in the past, and on March 16, soldiers began violently rounding up dozens of men in Tin Ma, a village of Rakhine Buddhists, reported the Guardian. After residents were driven out by violence, their homes were allegedly deliberately torched by soldiers. By analyzing satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch confirmed that about 140 buildings were burned in Tin Ma on or around the dates described. Up to 10 people remain missing from the village.