Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Fashion Brand Supreme Faces Potential Legal Battle Over Monk Image
A new copyright battle involving the fashion brand Supreme has the potential to create an unlikely alliance between Thai Buddhists and artist Barbara Kruger. The New York-based streetwear brand used an image of Thai monk Luang Phor Koon on apparel without authorization, so Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism says that it is weighing its options in terms of legal action against Supreme, according to The Fashion Law. The National Office released a statement last week indicating that it planned to draft a letter to the brand over “Blessings Ripstop Shirt,” part of its Spring/Summer 2021 collection, and which bears an image of Luang Phor Koon surrounded with yant script, a sacred form of tattoo reserved for Buddhist monks and Brahmin holy men.
A representative for the National Office of Buddhism said that the image of Luang Phor Koon, which depicts him sitting and smoking, is one of the “most popular” photos of the late monk. Initially printed on products to raise funds for Luang Phor Koon’s temple Wat Ban Rai, the National Office said that Supreme did not obtain permission to use the image, thereby giving rise to potential issues of misappropriation and copyright infringement. Tawatchai Sanprasit, manager of Wat Ban Rai, said in a statement, “We will discuss the issue [with Supreme], and find out what the brand’s purpose is,” noting that the temple will then decide what action can be taken against the brand. Thailand’s Department of Intellectual Property has suggested that Wat Ban Rai will need to present proof that it created the image and design, since the department does not currently maintain a copyright registration for the specific image or the yant design.
Buddhist Monks Oppose Hydropower Projects in Arunachal Pradesh
An organization of Buddhist monks in Arunachal Pradesh, India, called the Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), released a statement strongly opposing government-proposed hydropower projects in their region, according to the Indo-Asian News Service. Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, said that the projects, which involve establishing two hydropower plants with generation capacities of 600 MW and 800 MW, are necessary for the betterment of the state. The SMRF argued that the projects would endanger black-necked cranes by disturbing their nesting grounds, threaten holy Buddhist pilgrimage sites located in the western region, and severely disrupt the lives of nearby villagers impacted by the building of dams and reservoirs. “Development cannot happen at the cost of [the] environment. . . . The government is wilfully blind to such risks,” SMRF said in its statement. Local groups have opposed the construction of both hydropower plants since 2011, and in 2016, two people (including a Buddhist monk) were killed and ten people injured by police at an anti-dam gathering.
Controversies Arise Over Source of 2000-year-old Buddhist Scrolls
A pair of two-thousand-year-old Buddhist manuscripts have sparked debates among academics about the ethics of sourcing relics. University of Sydney professor Dr. Mark Allon discovered the bark manuscripts on the black market in 2019, and launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $30,000 in order to buy them, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The University of Sydney shut down the campaign after concerns were raised by other academics about the ethics of studying relics found on the black market. By the time it was suspended, the campaign had raised $26,000. Some people left Buddhist prayers alongside their donations.
Neil Brodie, an Oxford University archaeologist who is an expert on black market antiquity trafficking, said the manuscripts are stolen property and that “it is scandalous to see the Australian public being asked to support such research.” A scholar who asked to remain anonymous wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald and explained that “the study of unprovenanced artefacts is linked to an increase in their market value, [which] perpetuates illegal excavation and the attendant destruction of archaeological context and cultural heritage.” Allon defended his actions, stating, “If I hadn’t acted, they would have been destroyed.”
Shin Buddhists Address LGBTQ+ Issues in Upcoming Talk
How have Shin [Pure Land] Buddhists historically thought about LGBTQ+ issues? Today at 1:00 p.m. EST, the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada presents a talk on “Rainbow Dharma: Shin Buddhism and LGBTQ+ Issues in Canada and America,” led by Shin Buddhist priest and Religious Studies professor Jeff Wilson. Topics will include: What is the history of LGBTQ+ treatment in Buddhism? How can Shinran be understood as a queer Buddhist icon? What resources does Buddhism provide for understanding LGBTQ+ identities? Interested persons can sign up here.