Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Venerable Dr. Kusama Devendra, Sri Lanka’s First Female Monastic in 10 Centuries, Dies at 92
On August 28, Venerable Dr. Kusama Devendra, a pioneering Buddhist monastic, died in Sri Lanka. She was 92. The author of several books and the founder of Ayya Khema International Meditation Centre in Horana, Sri Lanka, Bhikkhuni Kusama is also credited with reviving the Theravada bhikkhuni (female monastic) order in Sri Lanka. Inspired by Sister Ayya Khema, her mentor and an outspoken activist for female Buddhist practice herself, Bhikkhuni Kusama ordained in 1996. She was the first Sri Lankan bhikhunni in ten centuries. Now, there are 3,000 ordained bhikhunnis in Sri Lanka.
Fears Mount Over Ancient Buddhist City Mes Aynak in Afghanistan
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has raised concerns over ancient Buddhist artifacts and sites, including the Bronze Age city of Mes Aynak, The Art Newspaper says. The site holds more than 600 Buddhist statues, stupas, and artifacts including jewelry, coins, manuscripts, and even human remains. It also sits atop a huge copper reserve with an estimated value of $50-$100 billion, which has so far remained largely untapped. But The Art Newspaper reports that the Taliban met with the Chinese this July to discuss various projects, including mining in Mes Aynak. Read more about the ancient city and the documentary Saving Mes Aynak here.
Nonprofit Organization Dharma Relief Launches “Healing Race Relations” Initiative
Dharma Relief, a coalition of Buddhist organizations, teachers, and practitioners, is launching a new initiative that aims to mitigate the impact of racism against Black people in North American dharma communities. “Healing Race Relations” will provide financial stipends to Black and Brown Buddhist leaders to support their dharma activities, as well as educational resources and support for those aimed at healing racialized trauma in their communities. The stipends will address income, wealth, health, and other disparities between non-Black and Brown dharma teachers and their BIPOC counterparts.
“Black and Brown dharma teachers are powerfully capable of addressing racial trauma through a Buddhist lens, but they are disproportionately under-represented and financially under-supported compared to other racial groups in securing funding for their dharma activities,” Dharma Relief told Lion’s Roar. The project will also offer anti-racism workshops and trainings in social resilience, diversity counseling, and somatic experiences for healing trauma. Dharma Relief is currently accepting donations on its website to support the project’s fundraising goal of $5 million.
Dharma Relief was founded in April 2020 by Buddhist teacher Guo Gu to support healthcare workers and distribute medical supplies at the outset of COVID-19. Through its first project, “Responding to COVID-19,” Dharma Relief was able to fundraise $650,000 and distribute over 1.2 million masks to hospitals.
Over 100 Tibetans Arrested This Month in China’s Sichuan Province for Possessing Photos of the Dalai Lama
After almost 60 Tibetans were arrested for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama earlier this month in China’s Sichuan province—specifically, the Dza Wonpo township of Sershul (Chinese: Shiqu) county in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: Ganzi)—53 more Tibetans were arrested this week for the same charge, Radio Free Asia reports. Four people arrested in the first raid were released this week, but details about the other detainees remain unknown. “It is not the Chinese Communist Party’s business what Tibetans have on their phones or in their homes,” John Jones, Campaigns, Policy and Research Manager at London-based Free Tibet, told Radio Free Asia, calling the arrests “shocking” and a “real concern.”
Debate Over Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccine Heats Up
As state governments, businesses, schools, and hospitals weigh COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the debate over religious exemptions is heating up, too. Where do Buddhists stand? In predominantly Buddhist countries, Buddhists monastics have been some of the first people to elect to take the vaccine, and leaders, including the Dalai Lama, have encouraged followers to take it, leaving little room to claim a religious exemption from a Buddhist perspective. The Buddhist focus on compassion and community also leaves little question. As Duncan Ryuken Williams, a Soto Zen Priest and Director of the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture at the University of Southern California, puts it, “Vaccines are a modern-day approach to preserving the lives of many sentient beings.” While he okays exemptions based on medical concerns, he stops short of supporting religious exemptions. To religion professor Candy Gunther Brown, banning religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine is a slippery slope from a legal perspective, but from a Buddhist point of view, the issue is an opportunity to move away from an individual rights view, which favors the self, toward a view that puts the collective good first. Read more here.