Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Potential Hate Crimes Against Buddhist Temples in Montreal
Recent acts of vandalism at Buddhist temples in Montreal’s Chinatown are being investigated as hate crimes, the Montreal Gazette reported. Volunteers and workers at three different temples have reported damage to buildings and statues in the past few weeks. Security video footage from the Vietnamese Chua Quan Am temple captured a hooded individual smashing statues with a hammer; more than ten statues, inside and outside of the temple’s gates, were damaged, including a Buddha. At the Thuyen Ton temple, four lion statues were destroyed, and at the Huyen Khong Buddhist socio-cultural center, two outdoor lion statues were damaged and their eyes were painted black. Police said they don’t know the motive of the vandalism, but because the acts were committed toward religious symbols, they are being treated as hate crimes. Louis Le, a volunteer at the Quan Am temple, speculated that the motive might originate in fears of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in the city of Wuhan, China. “People associate it with the Asian community,” he said. “It’s just prejudice and injustice.”
Dalai Lama Named Most Spiritually Influential Living Person
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama took the top spot on a list of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People in Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine’s spring 2020 issue. Since 2011, Watkins has published the annual list with the goal of “celebrating the world’s living spiritual teachers.” The Dalai Lama has apparently become more influential, moving up two notches from his third place spot last year. Second and third on this year’s list are Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg, respectively. The full list includes many other Buddhist voices, such as Thich Nhat Hanh (7), Robert Thurman (56), Pema Chödrön (57), Jack Kornfield (83), and Tara Brach (98).
Coronavirus Update: Plum Village Closed Until May
Plum Village, Europe’s largest Buddhist monastery, announced in a statement on its website Monday that it would be closing its retreat center to the public until May 1 due to concerns about the coronavirus. The center indicated that it will issue full refunds to anyone who had registered for classes, retreats, or other events that they can no longer attend, and that it will review and update this decision as the situation evolves. “In Plum Village we create rare conditions for communal togetherness, including shared meals and shared accommodation. . . These are precious experiences that allow us all to feel part of the human family, and to build connections, trust, and closeness,” the statement reads. “Unfortunately . . . this communal aspect . . . makes us unusually vulnerable to the transmission of this virus.” The center, which is the first monastic community founded in the West by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, also said that it hoped to use the next few months to “pause and reflect on the state of our planet and the reality of our interbeing,” urging followers to do the same. Australia’s largest Buddhist temple, the Nan Tien Temple in New South Wales, also announced this week it was canceling all classes and retreats until further notice.
Meanwhile, new details are emerging about how the current coronavirus spreads, as the death toll in the United States rose to 14 this week. According to a report by the New York Times, the virus can be contracted from touching everyday surfaces like touch screens, bus poles, or even sutras. After people who attended services at a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong fell ill with the virus, the city’s Center for Health Protection found the virus on restroom faucets—and on the cloth covers over Buddhist texts. Other religious groups are making changes in how they worship, while still many others are thinking about how to prepare as school and work closures take effect in parts of North America.
Suddhananda Mahathero, Buddhist Leader in Bangladesh, Dies
Suddhananda Mahathero, a prominent Buddhist leader in Bangladesh and chief abbot of the Kamalapur Dharmarajika Buddhist Mahabihar monastery in the capital city of Dhaka, died this week at the age of 87, according to the Bangladesh Post. He had been undergoing treatment at a Dhakha hospital while suffering from respiratory obstruction, diabetes, and other health issues. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed “deep shock and sorrow” at his passing, calling him a pioneer of non-violence. “The contributions of Shuddhananda Mahathero to creating bonds of friendship and harmony among the people irrespective of castes, creeds, religions, and communities as well as strengthening the sense of brotherhood of the Bangalees will be remembered forever,” she said. According to Buddhistdoor Global, Suddhananda Mahathero was the supreme patriarch of the Bangladesh Bauddha Bhikkhu Mahasabha, or the Supreme Sangha Council of Bangladesh, and was heavily involved in initiatives aiming to promote peace between Bangladesh’s Theravada Buddhist and Muslim communities. He opened his Dhaka monastery every year during Ramadan to Muslim families, providing free food boxes containing iftars, or evening meals.
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