Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Proposed Burqa Ban in Sri Lanka Raises Concerns
On March 13, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera announced that he signed a paper for cabinet approval to close over 1,000 Islamic schools and ban the burqa, an outer garment that covers the body and face and is worn by some Muslim women. At a ceremony held at a Buddhist temple, Weerasekera stated that he signed the proposal on national security grounds: “[The burqa] is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We will definitely ban it.” According to Al Jazeera, Sri Lankans expressed disapproval of the government’s latest actions targeting the country’s minority Muslim population, with many viewing the proposal as an attempt to cause divisions and appease the Buddhist majority. Muslims make up about 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, while Sinhalese Buddhists account for about 75 percent of the population.
The proposed ban was announced a few weeks before the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter bombings, a terrorist attack by the Islamic State against the country’s Christian minority. Following the bombings, the country saw a surge of anti-Muslim sentiments culminating in episodes of violence and a temporary burqa ban. The current attempt to outlaw the burqa requires approval of the Cabinet and Parliament, where the government has a two-thirds majority.
“I don’t think anyone making decisions on the burqa are doing it with the intention of national security or keeping the rights of women in mind. I think the burqa has become a symbol of a power struggle that the state wants to control,” Vraie Cally Balthazaar, a Sri Lankan gender activist, told Al Jazeera.
Buddhist Monks in South Korea March for Democracy in Myanmar
Buddhist monks in Seoul, South Korea, led a protest march on March 12 against the military coup in Myanmar, the Korea Bizwire reports. Joined by Myanmar activists, four monks from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism marched from the Myanmar Embassy to the office of the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Throughout the five-hour-long protest, the monks prayed for the recovery of democracy in Myanmar and conducted ochetuji, an act to venerate the Buddha by lying prostrate with elbows, knees, and forehead touching the ground. Upon arrival at the UNHRC, the monks delivered a statement criticizing the acts of violence committed by the Myanmar military and police forces. “There cannot be any dictatorship over people,” said Ven. Hyemun of the Jogye Order. “We will stand with the Myanmar people until they achieve full democracy.”
The support of the monks, whose foreheads were stained black from bowing on the asphalt, reached protestors fighting on the frontlines in Myanmar. Wai Nwe Hnin Soe, the leader of the Myanmar Youth Organization in South Korea, live-streamed the march on his Facebook page, and the video received comments from protestors thanking the monks for standing with the people of Myanmar.
Myanmar security forces kill protesters and impose martial law in largest cities
Sunday and Monday were Myanmar’s deadliest days since the military junta’s coup on February 1, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Thailand-based human rights group, Reuters reports. Security forces shot and killed at least 94 anti-coup protesters across the country on those two days, bringing the protestors’ death toll up to 183, according to the AAPP. On Monday, an 18-year-old protestor in the city of Myingyan told Reuters, “One girl got shot in the head and a boy got shot in the face. I’m now hiding.”
The military imposed martial law in parts of Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar’s two largest cities, in their ongoing effort to wipe out dissent among supporters of the detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The military has dealt out harsher crackdowns as pro-democracy crowds have continued to take to the streets to protest the coup over the past six weeks, according to NPR.
Japanese monks and worshipers walk on coals to pray for safety
Buddhist monks and one thousand worshipers walked across hot coals while praying for safety for themselves and their families at a festival held near a mountain outside Tokyo on March 14. Shingon monks at Takaosan Yakuouin Temple have hosted the hiwatari matsuri festival for the past fifty years. “Passing your body through the flames cleanses your soul and delivers your prayers to Buddha,” the monk Koshou Kamimura told Reuters. “Historically, Mt. Takaosan is an important place to pray for deliverance from plagues, so I felt we should hold the festival this year with certain precautions,” he added. Festival participants were required to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks. Though Japan has contained the coronavirus pandemic more effectively than many other countries, the nation is battling a third wave and Tokyo is under a state of emergency.
Potential Showdown Between Scottish Temple and US Army
Samye Ling, the largest Buddhist temple in western Europe, was established in 1967 and has welcomed celebrities such as Billy Connolly, Richard Gere, and David Bowie. (Bowie was apparently so moved by his time spent at Samye Ling that he considered becoming a monk.) But the monastery, which is home to about 60 monks, nuns, and volunteers, is now in the middle of a dispute with a firearms dealer, a shooting club, and the US military. The issue, according to the Guardian, concerns two retrospective planning applications by local farms to expand nearby shooting ranges. One, at a farm about five miles from the temple, seeks to replace temporary buildings with a permanent structure while the other, at a separate farm just two miles away, is to expand a shooting range, which was opened last March but closed eight months later in the absence of full planning approval. Both plans are opposed by Samye Ling on the basis of noise concerns and disruption to wildlife, as well as the use of one range for US Special Forces machine-gun and rifle training.
“Samye Ling has been here more than 50 years and we have always tried to be good Buddhists and…good neighbors,” Abbot Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche said. “Now I hear the US forces will be training on a long-range high-velocity firing range within two kilometers of [us].” He added, “We have a lot of very tame birds in Samye Ling; it’s like a peaceful sanctuary for them. . .They are used to our peaceful environment and the sound of gunshots is terrifying for them all.” Samye Ling’s residents have been supported by more than 10,000 members of the public in an online petition, as well as by the local community council.
Editors’ Note: On March 19, Edinburgh’s Deadline News reported that the US Air Force had terminated its plans for the firing range.
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