Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhists Respond to Bushfires with Outreach, Messages of Support
Buddhists around the world are responding to the bushfires in Australia, which have caused the deaths of at least 24 people and the devastation of more than 6.3 million hectares of bush, forest, and parks. It is estimated that eight hundred billion animals have perished as well as hundreds of billions of insects, and at least one species is thought to have gone extinct, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Australian branch of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women began raising money this week for bushfire relief organizations with an online fundraiser. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Sakyadhita Australia committee members explained that they created the fundraising campaign, which has so far raised over $1700 toward its $2000 goal, to make it easier for people to donate to the relief efforts.
Some of the funds will go to Buddhist centers affected by the fires, including Santi Forest Monastery in Bundanoon, New South Wales, and Wat Buddha Dhamma, situated inside Dharug National Park around 130 miles north, Sakyadhita member Jack Wicks told Tricycle. “We aim to support a range of organizations with a preference for those that don’t already have a lot of funds coming in,” she said. “The priority right now is to help displaced people and wildlife who need medical care.” The most recent Sakyadhita conference, held in June 2019, took place in the fire-afflicted region of Blue Mountains, the first time that the Buddhist women’s organization had convened in a non-Asian country.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama this week issued a statement to Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, expressing his condolences to families who have suffered losses since the crisis began in November and urging people to act against climate change. “I am very heartened by generous gestures of solidarity of the global community in their support for the well-being of all those affected,” he said. “On an individual level, each and every one of us must now take steps to counter global warming.”
Other Buddhists are taking more creative approaches. In an unusual move, monks from Thailand are offering free massages to firefighters, Melbourne newspaper The Age reports. The abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery outside Bundanoon said that the gesture reflects the gratitude that Thai people feel for Australians, after nine Australians aided the summer 2018 rescue of twelve boys stuck in a flooded Thailand cave.
College Students Report Misconduct During Shambhala Program
A student news program at California’s Chapman University aired a segment about Shambhala International, after fellow students claimed that one of the group’s members acted inappropriately toward them during a school program last year at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. The Chapman News report (below) said a longtime Shambhala member hired to work with Chapman students, identified only as “Barry,” behaved in a way that made female students feel uncomfortable.
One woman said she was singled out by Barry. “It began with him making comments about how beautiful I was, how exotic I looked. In my eyes, [he was] sexualizing me,” she said. Near the end of the program, Barry brought her on stage as part of a talent show; the unidentified student said he introduced her as his niece “in what I assume is like a Puerto Rican accent,” whispered “Go into little girl mode” in her ear, and then made her dance with him on stage for several minutes. “I remember just feeling paralyzing fear,” she said. Other students recalled that she was visibly uncomfortable, “shaking” and “staring at the ground.”
Shambhala Mountain Center executive director Michael Gayner told Chapman News that an internal investigation found misconduct by Barry, and that he will not be allowed to return to the center as an instructor. Barry denied the allegations in an email to Chapman News, calling them “completely false..deceptive.” The students said they were not informed of the history of sexual-abuse allegations within the Shambhala community before enrolling in the January interterm course and that the school has not done enough to inform the campus about the incident with Barry. On Friday Lion’s Roar reported that the program, which was set to take place again later this month, has been suspended by Chapman University.
Tibetan Schoolchildren Prohibited from Religious Activities
When children at one elementary school in Tibet began their winter vacations last week, parents received an order from the Education Department with instructions not to allow students to participate in any religious activities, according to a report by the International Campaign for Tibet. The December 31 note, written in Chinese, addresses parents of children at the Lhasa Chengguan Haicheng Elementary School and explicitly prohibits students from joining in “any form of religious activity” or traveling long distances during the break.
These kinds of bans for students in Tibet are not new. The Chinese nationalist newspaper the Global Times in 2018 reported that students in the Tibetan region of Chamdo were barred from taking part in religious activities during their summer vacation. At this time last year students in Tibet’s Lhoka Tsethang city also received orders from Chinese authorities barring them from “outside programs and religious activities,” according to Radio Free Asia.
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