Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Caves Attract Bats—and Now Scientists
A Buddhist cave complex in Thailand has become a research site for scientists seeking answers about the novel coronavirus. According to the New York Times, scientists believe that the virus that causes COVID-19 originated in bats, although the virus has not been conclusively traced to the flying mammals. The possible connection between horseshoe bats and the coronavirus prompted an investigation into whether bats in Thailand may share a similar viral load to bats in China’s Yunnan Province and Cambodia, where testing of bats and bat dung has shown traces of similar viruses. In Photharam District, Thailand, bats are at the heart of the local economy: guano is sold for use in fertilizer, and bats are consumed as food. In one cave owned by the Khao Chong Phran Temple, researchers found three million bats from 10 different species. But the team of scientists have found no trace of the coronavirus in these Buddhist bats, although other coronaviruses have been discovered there. Testing of humans in and around the temple, including of guano collectors who have spent decades in proximity with bats, have yielded no evidence of antibodies.
Buddhist Priest Takes Photos of Insects
A Japanese Buddhist priest has recently gained attention for his close-up photographs of insects, reports the Asahi Shimbun. Yusei Hara’s project began by happenstance while he was training to be a priest at a Shingon school on the historic Mount Koya. Hara was taking a photo of a flower when he noticed a fly perched on a nearby leaf and decided to take a snapshot of the fly, too. After Hara developed the film, he enlarged the image and was struck by the fly’s detailed appearance. Fascinated by the insect, he sought more bugs to photograph and started learning everything he could about entomology. In September, his photos were published in a new book, Utsukushiki Chiisana Mushi-tachi no Zukan (Illustrated Encyclopedia of Beautiful, Small Insects), which includes more than 100 species of familiar insects shot in gardens and parks. Hara aims to show that flies and moths are not insignificant and can, in fact, appear beautiful. Before he became a priest, Hara saw bugs as pests. But now, he says, when he focuses his full attention on insects, he can find a whole universe in them. Hara hopes that his photographs will help humans see that we are not “the main characters on this planet.”
Bodhgaya Prayer Event Held with Limited Attendance
Prayers for world peace marked the beginning of the nine-day Nyingma Monlam Chenmo Puja, the annual event for monastics in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is held at the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India. The event was unusually small this year due to health precautions. According to the Times of India, only about 100 Nyingma monks participated in this year’s 32nd Nyingma Monlam, a sharp contrast from the 10,000 monks and devotees who typically attend the event. Many other events traditionally held at the Mahabodhi temple, including the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo and Tripitaka chanting ceremony, have been postponed this year due to the pandemic.
Rubin Museum To Host Virtual Losar
The Rubin Museum of Art, a Himalayan art museum in New York City, has a full afternoon of free virtual activities planned on February 7 to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan new year, with the whole family. The arts and crafts projects, which all use simple materials that are likely available at home, are inspired by the year’s zodiac animal, the Metal Ox. Children and their families can make their own ox horns, construct prayer flags, and virtually join in on a traditional end-of-year gathering dance called gorshey (circle dance). The Rubin is currently open to visitors, but events and other programming remain online.
Ancestral Village of Kamala Harris Celebrates Inauguration
Residents of the Indian village where Kamala Harris’s maternal grandfather was born more than a century ago celebrated the vice president’s inauguration this week by setting off firecrackers and distributing food, NBC News reports. The colorful scenes in the village of Thulasendrapuram, about 200 miles south of the city of Chennai, were a stark contrast to the strict security measures and subdued celebrations in Washington, DC, where the Biden-Harris administration was sworn in on Wednesday.
— Fawzia Mirza (@thefawz) January 20, 2021
Meanwhile, Buddhist groups in the US, such as the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California, participated in the viral meme of Bernie Sanders by placing an image of the Vermont senator outside their sanghas or in their shrine rooms…
In search of some peace and quiet after Inauguration Day… #berniesmittens
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