Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week and next.
Activist Wynn Bruce’s Self-Immolation Raises Questions Within and Beyond the Buddhist Community
On Friday, April 22, Wynn Bruce, a 50-year-old man from Boulder, Colorado, set fire to himself in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. He died soon after. According to the Washington Post, Bruce’s father and others who knew him say that the activist’s self-immolation was a protest of climate change.
Following Bruce’s death, some Buddhist practitioners took to social media to share their views on his actions. Buddhist climate activist Kritee Kanko, who said she was a friend of Bruce, said on Twitter that his self-immolation was a “fearless act of compassion.” Kanko and fellow teachers at the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, where Wynn frequently participated in retreats, later specified that they had no knowledge of Bruce’s intentions, and they would have tried to stop him if they did. Soto Zen teacher and author Brad Warner disagreed with Kanko on Twitter, calling it a suicide in a reply to her initial statement. Bruce’s father, Douglas, told the Washington Post, “I agree with the belief that this was a fearless act of compassion about his concern for the environment.”
PBS and others point out that Bruce praised Thich Nhat Hanh around the time of the Zen master’s death in January—a meaningful observation given Nhat Hanh’s statement on Thich Quang Duc, the infamous Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire on June 11, 1963, protesting the South Vietnamese government’s treatment of Buddhists. In a letter sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. on June 1, 1965, Nhat Hanh wrote:
To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with the utmost of courage, frankness, determination and sincerity.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 131 men and 28 women have self-immolated since 2009 in protest of Chinese oppression.
Read more about Bruce’s life, including more from his father, here in the Washington Post, and more on the response from the Buddhist community here in an article from PBS News Hour.
Myanmar Military Sentences Aung San Suu Kyi to 5 More Years in Prison
In a closed door trial on Wednesday, Myanmar’s military sentenced deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to five more years in prison on corruption charges claiming that she illegally accepted gold and cash payments totaling $600,000 from former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein. Suu Kyi has denied these charges. The military had previously sentenced Suu Kyi to six years on corruption charges, so her complete sentence now equals eleven years.
The Junta Also Torches Villages, Killing Civilians and Buddhist Monk
Last weekend, Myanmar’s junta also set fire to nine villages in the Wuntho township in the northwestern part of the country, killing three civilians, the news website the Irrawaddy reports. One of those civilians was a Buddhist monk that asked the military not to burn houses, locals say. According to the Irrawaddy, roughly 30,000 people from the Wunthro and nearby Kawlin
townships have been displaced this month.
Zen Buddhist Center Opens in Dublin, Ireland
This past weekend, a center for Zen Buddhism in Ireland opened its doors. Reverend Myōzan Kōdō Kilroy, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in the lineage of Nishijima Roshi, will be the guiding teacher of the Dublin Zen Centre. Kilroy is also the founding president of the Irish Buddhist Union, and serves as a representative of the Buddhist community on the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. According to recent census figures, there are approximately 10,000 Buddhists in Ireland, an 11 percent increase from 2011.
Artist Takashi Murakami’s Upcoming L.A. Exhibit Features Arhats, or Buddhist Saints
In May, the Broad Museum in Los Angeles will open an exhibit by world-famous artist Takashi Murakami titled, Takashi Murakami: Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow. This is the museum’s first solo exhibition from the 60-year-old, Japan-born artist. Among the works is a 32-foot long painting titled “100 Arhats,” named for the Buddhist saints who have achieved nirvana. Other paintings incorporate depictions based on Daoist immortals, as well as “colorful, cartoonishly grotesque figures and motifs” from Japanese and Chinese history, a New York Times reviewer writes.
May 4, 11, 18: Clinical psychologist Sameet Kumar, Ph.D hosts a three-part workshop on integrating Buddhist teachings and practices to help you navigate the inner journey of grief in these challenging times. Register for the Mindful Grieving Workshop here.