Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Colorado Police Investigate Shambhala Leaders
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado has launched an investigation into “possible criminal activity” at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, the Denver Post reports. The move follows several accounts of sexual misconduct and abuse by Shambhala International head Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and other leaders contained in three reports from the survivor-advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine. While the Sakyong has apologized for past “harm,” his lawyer, Michael Scott, later released a statement saying his client “categorically denies assaulting anyone, sexually or otherwise, sexual contact with minors, or any other criminal offense.” Sheriff’s officials would not specify what allegations they were looking into, according to the Denver Post, but investigators have interviewed Carol Merchasin, the attorney who helped prepare the Project Sunshine report.
Twitter CEO Catches Flak for Touting Myanmar Retreat
Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey took to the social media site recently to share his experience at a Vipassana retreat in Myanmar, but quickly caught flak for his glowing review of the country, where a genocide carried out by the military has displaced hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya ethnic minority. Dorsey characterized the 10-day silent retreat in Pyin Oo Lwin as a way to “hack the deepest layer of the mind and reprogram it” and recommended that “if you’re willing to travel a bit, go to Myanmar.” Phil Vernon, one of the many Twitter users who criticized Dorsey, summed up the outcry well, calling the apparent endorsement a “strange combination of tone deafness, virtue signalling, and naïveté.” Three days after the December 8 thread, Dorsey followed up, saying, “I shared my experience with the world with the singular objective of encouraging others to consider a similar practice . . . I’m aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar. I don’t view visiting, practicing, or talking with the people as endorsement. I didn’t intend to diminish by not raising the issue, but could have acknowledged that I don’t know enough and need to learn more.”
Trump Lawyer Challenges Meditation in Public Schools
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative Christian group whose Chief Counsel is President Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow, is pursuing legal action to stop a Colorado public school from teaching mindfulness meditation, according to a press release. The ACLJ, founded by controversial Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson, argues that the unidentified public school violated separation of church and state laws when it hired the children’s mindfulness group Inner Explorer, which distributes short audio recordings for mindfulness-based stress reduction, a secularized practice often encouraged by therapists and psychologists. While mindfulness practice has roots in Buddhism, Inner Explorer describes their program as non-religious, and the group’s co-founders have backgrounds in psychology and education. The ACLJ, however, claims that the audio guides “equate to Buddhism.” They describe the horror of the program as follows:
Imagine your elementary school child coming home one night and explaining the actions that their teacher asked them to do that day—to close their eyes and obey an audio recording that tells them to clear their minds, to watch their memories and emotions float away on clouds, and to feel the love and warmth from their connection to the universe. How would you react if this same audio recording is telling your child to look inside themselves to reach inner-goodness and peace? Imagine that day after day, your child is subjected to 15-minute “Mindfulness” sessions that are similar to anciently established Buddhist and Hindu practices.
How awful! The ACLJ has vowed to prevent Inner Explorer from spreading Buddhist ideas like “discernment, insight, wisdom, [and] enlightenment” in the classroom. Sekulow, the face of Trump’s legal defense in the FBI Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation, has been criticized for raking in millions from the charities he heads, including the ACLJ.
Congress Passes Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act
The US Senate this week unanimously passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which would limit travel to the US for Chinese officials who are responsible for restricting access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The bill had already cleared the House of Representatives and now awaits the approval of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law. China currently prevents Americans from traveling freely in Tibet, hindering the work of aid groups, NGOs, and journalists. The bipartisan bill aims to put pressure on the country to lift those restrictions.
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