Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Donation Money Stolen from Buddhist Temples in Southern California
Several Buddhist temples in Southern California reported thousands of dollars of donation money stolen within the past week, KNBC reports. The station notes that the string of thefts appear to have a similar M.O., but police have not said if the crimes are connected. In La Puente, monks from the Lankarama Buddhist Temple filed a police report after thousands of dollars in donations were stolen. Monk Bhante Sumitta told KNBC that he believes a group who recently asked them to chant for their sick grandmother was actually distracting the monks as others searched for valuables. When the group left, the monks realized their safety deposit box was missing. Sumitta said the alleged burglary seemed “well-coordinated.”
Last Monday, a group visited a San Bernardino Buddhist temple with a similar request. While the monks were chanting, a surveillance camera captured one woman attempting to break open a door in the temple and another woman struggling to take a large box. A monk said the group took their safety deposit box with thousands of dollars in donations. Police in the nearby Riverside also received a report over the weekend about a temple theft.
“Buddhabot” Programmed with Sutras to Give Advice to Troubled Souls
A Kyoto-based research team recently unveiled an artificial intelligent chatbot called “Buddhabot” that answers questions and gives advice to troubled souls, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Seiji Kumagai, an associate professor of Buddhist studies at Kyoto University, came up with the idea for the bot while researching scientific methods to address people’s worries. Kumagai said that in Japan Buddhism has become less popular and people mainly encounter it through tourism and funerals. He hopes Buddhabot can help bring Buddhism’s “essence of teaching the way to happiness” back to the country.
Buddhabot isn’t available to the public yet, but so far it has been programmed with the Sutta Nipata, a collection of early Buddhist discourses, which have been reformatted as a series of more than 100 questions and answers. Buddhabot isn’t the first robot bodhisattva in Japan: In 2019, a Zen Japanese temple created a robot version of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, also with the goal of making Buddhist teachings more accessible.
Alvin Sykes, Who Lived a “Monk’s Life,” Dies at 64
Alvin Sykes, a self-taught legal defender of civil rights in the US, died last month at a hospice facility in Shawnee, Kansas, according to the New York Times. After dropping out of high school, he studied law at a local public library, then used his knowledge to reopen cold cases—including that of Emmett Till’s murder. Despite never taking the bar exam, Sykes was considered a “brilliant legal and legislative operator whose admirers included [New York] City Council members, politicians and US attorneys general from both parties,” according to the Times. He was also a Buddhist—having been persuaded to convert by the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock—and led a “monk’s life in the name of social justice.”
Search Continues for Vandal of L.A. Buddhist Temple
Police continue to search for the person responsible for vandalism and arson at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles, according to KTLA 5 News. Around 6:30 p.m. on February 25, the suspect climbed over the temple’s fence, set fire to the chochin lantern stands, destroyed a pair of metal lanterns, and shattered a glass panel in the temple’s entrance with a rock. The vandalism occurred amid rising attacks against Asians and Asian Americans. “We don’t know [the suspect’s] motives yet, but it seems to be part of this whole terrible situation of anti-Asian crimes,” Rev. Noriaki Ito told Tricycle shortly after a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent, on March 17. Authorities remain undecided about whether to label the Higashi Honganji incident a hate crime.
Following the vandalism, Rev. Ito and other temple leaders have been contemplating additional security measures, including expanding guard hours and sending a car to patrol spaces of worship in Little Tokyo. “It’s a balance of maintaining security, but at the same time being welcoming,” Rev. Ito told Religion News Service.
Senator Mazie Hirono Talks Buddhism in New York Times
In an interview with the New York Times published this week, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the first Buddhist and first Asian American woman elected to Congress’s upper house, answered questions about problems in the Senate, anti-Asian racism and violence, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 testimony against Brett Kavanaugh. She also discussed how she feels about her faith. “Frankly, I’m a Buddhist. I’m not even a daily-practicing Buddhist. . . . It is a way of living and being, which is to be compassionate and kind,” she said. “I think those are two good things to try to follow. I’m not perfect in that. I can be very terse with people.” Sen. Hirono’s memoir, Heart of Fire, will be published on April 20.
Concerned Monks from South Korea Seek Entry into Myanmar
The Social and Labor Affairs Committee of the Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, said on Tuesday that it will ask the Myanmar Embassy in Korea to issue special entry permits for three monks, according to the Korea Herald. The permits are for Ven. Jimong, the chairperson of the committee, along with two other Korean monks, Ven. Hyedo and Ven. Jongsu who wanted to enter Myanmar in the hopes of holding prayers at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. “It is a religious person’s duty to go to the scene where people are suffering and are in sorrow,” read a statement by the Jogye Order committee. The statement also said that the crisis in the Buddhist-majority nation goes against Buddhist beliefs and that the order hoped that the violence would stop: “In Myanmar, the number of deaths, including the death of young children that are shot by guns, is rising uncontrollably. We feel ashamed and miserable as practitioners to see what is happening in . . . a predominantly Buddhist country.”
Meanwhile, members of the Myanmar Peace Sangha Union in Sri Lanka prayed for the safety and release of Myanmar President Win Myint, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other detainees, according to Mizzima, a Myanmar news site.