Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Firefighting Monks Defend Tassajara Monastery from California Wildfire
This past week, a group of firefighting monks worked to protect the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center—the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the US—from an encroaching wildfire in the rugged central coast mountains near Big Sur, California. The seven monks have been clearing brush and keeping buildings moist with a sprinkler system named “Dharma rain” to defend the monastery from the Willow fire, which has burned over 2,800 acres since it began on June 17. According to Thursday’s incident report, the fire is 19 percent contained and no large fire growth is expected.
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After most monastery residents evacuated on Tuesday, the crew of firefighting monks remained on-site and were joined by others from the San Francisco Zen Center and the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, reports KTLA 5 News. According to Sozan Miglioli, president of the San Francisco Zen Center, the monks rely on their Zen practice in addition to their annual training with professional firefighters. “These kinds of situations require equanimity and patience, a lot of the things we try to cultivate in our practice,” Miglioli told the New York Times. The name “fire monks,” comes from the book Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara, written by Colleen Morton Busch about the monks’ decision to defy evacuation orders.
Myanmar Junta Clashes with Resistance Fighters in Mandalay
On Tuesday, days after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the military violence in Myanmar and demanding an end to the coup that began on February 1 this year, a shootout erupted in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city. The New York Times reports that while violence between the junta and civilians has occurred since the coup began, this is the first time that the military has confronted the new militia known as the People’s Defense Force in a major city. “We’ve declared war. The day we’ve been waiting for is finally here,” People’s Defense Force spokesperson Bo Tun Tauk Naing told Myanmar Now, a local news outlet. According to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the junta has killed at least 877 people and arrested more than 6,000 since the coup began.
Buddhists in the UK Demand a Ban on Conversion Therapy
The Dhamma Center of Colchester, England issued a statement last week calling on the UK government to ban so-called “conversion therapy,” Buddhistdoor Global reports. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “conversion” or “reparative” therapy is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Despite promises made by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020, the practice has yet to be completely banned. Adding to the delay, the Government Equalities Office announced in May that legislation would occur only after public consultation to “ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.” In response, the Dhamma Center called on the government to ban the practice immediately:
We believe that all people, independent of sexuality and gender identity, are treasured and valued beings and are a precious part of the Universe. We affirm that any practice that seeks to change, cure, cancel or suppress a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression (commonly known as “conversion therapy”) has no place in the modern world, is unethical and harmful, and is not supported by evidence.
We, therefore, call on the government to ban this degrading and harmful practice without delay.
100 Days After the Atlanta-Area Shootings, the Founders of “May We Gather: A National Buddhist Memorial for Asian American Ancestors” Release a New Video
Yesterday marked 100 days since the shootings outside of Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of whom were of Asian descent. To commemorate this day, author Chenxing Han, Soto Zen Priest Duncan Williams, and scholar Funie Hsu, who held a memorial ceremony called May We Gather 49 days after the shooting, have released a new video with highlights from their event. “We do not suffer alone. Nor do we heal alone. Only when we join together as a sangha can we truly support each other’s freedom.” Watch the full video here.
Lama Rod Owens Announces New Series on Popular Meditation App Calm
One Wednesday, Lama Rod Owens announced on Twitter the launch of a new series called “Radical Self Care” on the meditation app Calm. Lama Owens is a senior teacher at Bhumisparsha and his latest book, Love and Rage, came out in June 2020. The 10-day series includes teachings titled, “The Basics of Practice,” “Listening to Your Body,” and “Make Your Garden Grow.” According to The Atlantic, more than 100 million people have the Calm app on their phone, and subscriptions grew by a third at the start of the pandemic last spring.
A New Guiding Teacher Steps Up at New York City’s Community Meditation Center
After 15 years of leading one of New York City’s largest sanghas, Allan Lokos will pass the torch to Bart van Melik as he officially steps up as the Community Meditation Center’s new guiding teacher on July 1. Lokos and his wife, Susanna Weiss, founded the community-driven sangha on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2007, and van Melik started leading virtual sessions there during the pandemic. Lokos and van Melik will teach a joint session on Sunday, June 27. Read more about the Community Meditation Center here.
Buddhist Monk Adopts 8,000 Stray Dogs
Zhi Xiang, the head monk at Shanghai’s Bao’en Temple, started sheltering stray dogs in 1994. Now, he’s caring for 8,000 of them. “I can’t sit and pray knowing that somewhere, another living being is suffering. I just can’t do that,” Xiang told the South China Morning Post. Xian’s operation has expanded to meet the recent rise of stray animals in China. In 2019, state media reported that the number of strays had reached roughly 50 million, and the number is said to be nearly doubling each year due to rampant breeding among strays. To cover his estimated $2 million annual expenditures, Xiang borrows from his parents and other monks, and receives donations and volunteer efforts from the lay community. In the past few years, he has even found homes for strays overseas, where he’s arranged for nearly 300 adoptions across the US, Canada, and Europe. “I feel they’re very happy now so I feel it’s worthwhile, but of course I miss them even more,” the monk told the AFP during a recent trip to the airport to send off one of his beloved puppies. “I have this dream that one day when I have free time, I want to go abroad and visit every one of them that I rescued.”