Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Dalits Struggle for Affirmative Action
In order to escape persecution, Dalits, the lowest group in the Indian caste system, have been converting to Buddhism en masse ever since activist and scholar B.R. Ambedkar spearheaded the movement in the early 20th century. But now the members of the group sometimes referred to as “untouchables” are facing a new obstacle in their struggle for equality. In the state of Tamil Nadu, the Buddhist converts are being denied access to affirmative action, the New Indian Express reports. Under India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders Act of 1976, Dalits and other historically disadvantaged people receive an allotment of jobs, spots in schools, and higher education. But the state government in Tamil Nadu claims that Dalits who convert to Buddhism are no longer considered part of a Scheduled Caste and have rejected applications for community certificates granting the benefits to at least 20,000 Buddhist Dalits. Said K. Kalamani, who converted to Buddhism in 2010 with his family, told the New Indian Express that his daughter and granddaughter have not received any benefits under the Scheduled Caste policy. “It is true that we had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, but it is also true that we are no different from other Dalits who, for years, have been subjected to economic and social oppression,” he said. In 1990, the Indian government issued an amendment to include Buddhist Dalits in the Scheduled Caste category at the national level, but the state of Tamil Nadu never implemented the change. Last week, Kalamani approached the National Human Rights Commission during an open hearing in the city of Chennai to ask the government to order the amendment into effect. The government’s director of Adi Dravidar [Dalits in Tamil Nadu] and tribal welfare has indicated that the order will be issued within a week, according to Kalamani.
Stealing Gold from a Buddha
Four people have been charged in federal court with stealing cash and jewels from Buddhist and Hindu temples across the United States, according to a Department of Justice press release. A grand jury in Georgia indicted Valer Iazmin Varga, Robert-Auras Adam, and Ana-Loredana Adam on August 20. The three appeared in federal court in Atlanta on September 11, the same day that co-defendant Stela Patricia Varga was arrested in Louisiana. US Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said the alleged thieves posed as tourists at temples in New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, and while one person distracted the staff with questions, the others stole money and gold jewelry, sometimes removing pieces of gold directly from the statues. “They exploited their victims’ custom of receiving visitors with open arms in their temples and religious centers,” Pak said in the DOJ statement. Prosecutors added that the crimes were caught on video, despite efforts to tamper with security cameras. Upon their arrest, the three defendants indicted in Georgia had a combined $50,000, despite having no record of employment in the US.
Democratic and Republican Lawmakers Unite to Protect the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation
In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Democratic and Republican representatives recently introduced a new bill threatening sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere with the selection of the reincarnation of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, according to Radio Free Asia. Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, introduced The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 to the House on September 13. If passed, commission co-chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will bring the bill to the Senate. The proposed penalties include freezing the assets of Chinese officials who tamper with the reincarnation process and denying them entry into the US. In recent years, Beijing has said that the next Dalai Lama would be chosen within China, while His Holiness has stated otherwise and even indicated that he may make this life his final rebirth.
Buddhist Monk Makes Robes from Plastic Bottles
Now you can earn merit just by recycling. A Buddhist monk in Thailand has created a formula for mixing recycled plastic with cotton and zinc oxide nanoparticles to create a fabric used to produce saffron-colored monks’ robes, according to Thai newspaper Khaosod English. The monk, Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, is the assistant abbot of Wat Chak Daeng temple in Thailand’s Samuta Prakan province outside Bangkok. The robe-making process is quite labor=intensive: Volunteers clean donated bottles and press them into blocks, which are then shipped to a factory to be shredded and turned into polyester threads. The polyester is blended with cotton and antibacterial polyester zinc fibers to create the fabric, which is finally dyed a classic saffron color. One robe, stitched by volunteers, consumes 15 plastic bottles. Only bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be used. Working with a chemical company, the formula for the fabric took three years to perfect—but the texture is said to feel as soft as cotton or silk. Followers can make merit by offering this nanofabric to the monks (more fabric = more merit). Describing the Buddha as a “recycling role model,” Phra Maha Pranom pointed out that “[t]he Buddhist canon said [the Buddha] made robes from discarded fabric obtained from trash piles and corpses, which he then cleaned and sewed into robes. We have to use our wisdom to see the hidden value of things around us. If we can see their value, there will be no excess or dearth.”
Tigers Rescued from Terrible Tiger Temple Die in Government Custody
Three years ago, over 147 tigers were rescued from a Buddhist temple in Thailand, where monks were running a for-profit breeding business, according to a report by the BBC. Conditions were ghastly in the so-called Tiger Temple, where visitors could pet, feed, or take photos with the endangered animals. When the government raided the temple in 2016, 40 dead tiger cubs were found in the kitchen freezer along with other animal body parts. The monks have been accused of animal abuse, wildlife trafficking, and illegal breeding.
Although almost 150 tigers were successfully rescued and brought into government custody, at least 86 of them have died since they were relocated to government-run breeding stations. Thai authorities cited as a cause of death Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), which leads to difficulty with breathing or eating. Officials also blamed genetic problems due to inbreeding. Conservationists, however, accuse the government of not taking proper care of the cats in their custody. Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), said that the tigers were kept in small, cramped cages, without access to clean water, food, and supplements that could help prevent and treat CDV.
“To be very honest, who would be ready to take in so many tigers at once? The authorities should have asked for help from outside, but instead insisted on doing all [the] work themselves,” Wiek told the BBC.
Although the government in Thailand has pledged to more aggressively go after tiger farms—which are popular with foreign tourists—the number of tigers held in captivity by private individuals is now at around 2,000 and continues to rise.
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