First off, some follow-up on past Buddha Buzz items: Remember the three Tibetan hunger strikers in New York? They were paid a visit by “Tibet’s best friend” (the words of Tsewang Rigzin, president of the NYC Tibetan Youth Congress, not mine), actor Richard Gere last week. And this Tuesday, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, invited Rigzin to his offices, where the two discussed the hunger strikers’ requests, the Huffington Post reports. Looks like they are making some progress!

And second, many happy returns to the San Francisco Zen Center, which turned 50 this week. You can read more about the center and see some cool old pictures on the Huffington Post here. (I’ve got to say, the Huffington Post has really been on top of Buddhist news lately…)

Short memos: over! Now to a Buddhist news item that was brought to my attention last weekend by a very staunch Saturday Night Live supporter and avid fan…my mother.

Ahem. Anyway, have you seen Rude Buddha? It was a skit on SNL a couple weeks ago that featured Andy Sandberg as the rude Buddha. Watch it below. 

The general consensus on the skit, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has been that it’s just not that funny. I don’t think it’s that funny, either. But does it mean something that SNL has taken up Buddhism as the butt of their jokes? It seemed to me that this skit wasn’t a satire of pop culture Buddhism or New Age-y Buddhist sympathizers; the effort was on satirizing the Buddha himself, something that I don’t think I’ve seen emerge in the mainstream until now. What do you guys think? And did you think it was offensive? Wall Street Journal blogger Barbara Chai certainly did.

Offensive or no, there’s nothing more unpleasant than watching bad comedy. For that, my sincere apologies. Perhaps the following story will help propel me back into your good graces. From the New York Times, a short piece about a Japanese Buddhist undertaker and his heartwarming actions after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Atsushi Chiba, the undertaker, cared for almost 1,000 dead bodies in a Japanese community hard-hit by the disaster, helping survivors cope with the trauma of losing their loved ones. From the article:

As the black water receded, rescuers entered the city’s devastated streets and started pulling the dead from the rubble, carrying them on trucks to a vacant middle school that had escaped damage. The rundown gymnasium quickly became a large morgue.

Mr. Chiba, in his early 70s, whose home was also spared, raced to the gym on the day after the tsunami to look for friends and family, but was struck by the state of the mounting number of bodies there. Most were still clad in muddy clothes and wrapped in plastic, their rigid limbs jutting out and faces bruised by debris and contorted in agony.

‘I thought that if the bodies were left this way, the families who came to claim them wouldn’t be able to bear it,’ Mr. Chiba said Thursday in an interview. ‘Yes, they are dead. But in Japan, we treat the dead with respect, as if they are still alive. It’s a way to comfort the living.’

Mr. Chiba set to work. He became a fixture at the morgue, speaking to the bodies as he prepared them for viewing and then cremation. ‘You must be so cold and lonely, but your family is going to come for you soon so you’d better think of what you’re going to say to them when they arrive,’ he recalled saying.

He also taught city workers at the morgue how to soothe limbs tense with rigor mortis, getting down on his knees and gently massaging them so the bodies looked less contorted. When the relatives of a middle-aged victim sobbed that her corpse looked gaunt, Mr. Chiba asked for some makeup and applied rouge and blush.

A book about Chiba has been written in Japanese, which is already a best-seller. I hope they translate it into English! As the book’s author, Kota Ishii, says in the article, “this story is ultimately about how small acts of kindness can bring a little humanity, even in a tragedy that defies all imagination.”

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