Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Another Pandemic Birthday: How Buddhists Are Celebrating Vesak This Year
This spring marks the second year that Buddhists around the world will celebrate Vesak, a holiday commemorating the Buddha’s birthday, death, and enlightenment, under the confines of pandemic life. Similar to Vesak 2020, many countries and Buddhist temples have opted for scaled-down or online versions of the traditional events, which include prayer, chanting, the lighting of candles and paper lanterns, and the offering of gifts. In Thailand, where the Buddha’s birthday, or “Visakha Bucha Day,” falls on May 26 this year, religious activities will follow strict COVID-19 preventative measures, according to the Bangkok Post. Thailand’s minister of culture, Ittipol Khunplome, has encouraged Buddhists to celebrate Visakha Bucha Day via online ceremonies hosted by the Department of Religious Affairs and a network of Buddhist leaders from May 20–26.
South Korea’s Buddhist community also adhered to COVID-19 precautions when it celebrated the Buddha’s birthday on May 19, Yonhap News Agency reported. President Moon Jae-in expressed his gratitude to the Buddhist community for deciding to cancel the annual lotus lantern festival, Yeon Deung Hoe, a decision made more difficult due to the festival’s recent listing as a UNESCO event of Intangible Cultural Heritage. “It’s natural wanting to celebrate the feat, but the Buddhist community decided to cancel this year’s lantern festival and hold an online event instead,” Moon said in a message shared on social media.
Although South Korean Buddhists could not gather in Seoul for the festival, they will be able to visit a rare Buddha for the first time. A giant scroll painting of Rocana Buddha traveled from its permanent home at the Sinwon Temple in South Chungcheong to be displayed at the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul, just in time for the Buddha’s birthday. According to Korea JoongAng Daily, the gigantic 17th-century painting (32.8 feet high and 21 feet wide)—and Korea’s National Treasure No. 299—will be on display until September 26.
China Releases White Paper Declaring it Must Approve the Dalai Lama’s Successor
In a white paper titled “Tibet Since 1951: Liberation, Development and Prosperity,” released on Friday, the Chinese government said it must approve any successor to the Dalai Lama—and that Tibet has been a part of China for centuries, India’s Economic Times reports. When the current Dalai Lama, the 14th generation of a lineage that dates back to 1642, dies, regents—typically the Dalai Lama’s disciples—will begin searching for his reincarnation, following the guidance of oracles and omens from religious leaders. As the Dalai Lama ages (he is currently 85 years old), the subject of his successor has become particularly pressing. In December 2020, the US Congress passed the The Tibetan Policy and Support Act, which calls interference by China in the identification of the future Dalai Lama “a serious human rights abuse.” Read more about what happens after the Dalai Lama dies here.
International Protests Call for the Release of the 11th Panchen Lama
On May 17, Tibetans and Tibetan supporters around the world banded together to call for the immediate release of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The day marked the 26th anniversary of his forced abduction by the Chinese government. Now 32, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was only six years old when he was abducted, making him the world’s youngest political prisoner. In London, Tibetans protested outside of the Chinese embassy, pressuring for information on the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and demanding his release. Members of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe joined in by contacting Chinese embassies in their respective countries. In New York, a similar protest was organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress outside of the city’s Chinese Consulate. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) also hosted a virtual event commemorating the release of Tibet’s Stolen Child: Remembering the story of the Panchen Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. “The book is yet another reminder to China that no matter how many years may pass, Tibetans and supporters will continue to seek Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s release and keep the flame seeking truth and justice alive,” said the CTA.
Japanese Priest DJs Techno Services
In Fukui, Japan, a priest has revived attendance at his small temple by giving his services a modern twist: techno music and light shows. Though he was passionate about DJing in his youth, Gyosen Asakura eventually followed in his family’s footsteps and became a 17th-generation priest. Now, he’s found a way to combine his love for music with his religious life. “The main teaching of Buddhism is nothing will remain. Everything will change. So, I thought the traditional way of teaching must change as well,” Asakura told the Indianapolis-based TV station WTHR. “Traditionally, the temple would try to recreate the world of light with gold decorations. So, the traditional music can change. Suiting the music to the modern generation.”
WTHR’s full segment on Asakura can be found here.
Neighboring Bhutan and Sri Lanka Send Prayers and Support to India’s COVID-19 Victims
On Wednesday, India reported 4,529 deaths from COVID-19 in 24 hours—a new global high as the country’s second wave continues to rage. However, as the New York Times has reported, this number doesn’t even represent the real toll because so many cases and fatalities don’t get reported. In response to the surge, neighboring Bhutan has pledged Buddhist prayers and liquid oxygen to India. On May 12, the Zhung Dratshang, Bhutan’s central Buddhist monastic body, offered 1,000 butter lamps and prayers to COVID victims, specifically those in India. On May 15, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck visited the oxygen plant that will supply 40 metric tons of liquid oxygen per day to Assam. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), a radio station in the neighboring country, started airing the Ratana Sutta, known as the “Jewel Discourse,” to bless India’s COVID victims last week. Though the sutta has been airing since October 2020, SLBC director Chandrapala Liyanage said last week that they have entered a second phase of the program in partnership with the Indian High Commission in Colombo. “We have extremely strong ties with India, and Buddhism came to Sri Lanka from India. That is specifically the reason why we decided to air the chantings for India,” Liyanage said.