Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
New Rules for Everest Climbers After Deadly Season
You can no longer pay your way to the top of the world’s tallest mountain. After 11 climbers were killed or went missing in May of this year, a high-level commission for the Nepalese government ruled that anyone seeking a permit to climb Mt. Everest must demonstrate high-altitude mountaineering experience and training, replacing the policy of granting a climbing permit to anyone who could pay an $11,000 fee. The Guardian reports that the Nepalese commission found that the Everest deaths were primarily caused by the inexperience of the climbers and crowding near the 29,035 ft (8,850 m) summit. Now, anyone who has the desire to summit the mountain must have previously climbed another Nepalese peak of more than 21,325 ft (6,500 m), must submit a certification of good health, and must be accompanied by a trained Nepalese guide—an effort to discourage overzealous climbers from tackling the treacherous peak on their own. It is unclear what percentage of these compulsory guides will be Sherpas, a small ethnic group based in the villages below Everest. Culturally similar to Tibetans, most Sherpas are adherents of the Nyingma school, the oldest sect of Tibetan Buddhism founded by the legendary figure Padmasambhava. They also believe that the deity Miyolangsangma, or the Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving, lives at the top of Mt. Everest.
Tibetan Nuns Complete Rigorous Geshema Exams
Over 50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns recently completed the prestigious geshema exams at Jangchup Choeling Nunnery in southern India, according to the nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project. From August 1 through August 12, 51 nuns took various levels of the exams, which included both written tests and traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate. The geshema degree (known as geshe for monks) is the highest degree in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, equivalent to a PhD in Buddhist studies. Women were unable to pursue the geshema course until His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama opened the doors to nuns with his official blessing in 1995. Yet it wasn’t until 2016 that 20 women were actually granted the degree, a historic first in Tibetan Buddhism’s 1,200-year history. Nuns must complete 17 years of study to qualify for the four years of geshema exams, which are followed by two years of tantric study.
In China, stressed-out workers are finding refuge in studying Sanskrit
Hangzhou is one of China’s major financial hubs, but in the “city of entrepreneurs,” some people are electing to de-stress by learning an ancient language, the Washington Post reports. At the Buddhist Academy at Lingyin Temple, monks offer classes in Sanskrit, the ancient language of many Buddhist sutras. Similar to learning Latin, Sanskrit study has limited practical application in today’s time outside of academic or religious settings. Yet many people are enrolling in the courses as a way to separate themselves from the relentless pace of society and from a workaholic culture that glorifies a 12 hour workday. Student Jenny Li, who works in international trade, told the Washington Post that the Sanskrit classes allow her to “slow down and find a deeper meaning, reflect on what is important.” She enrolled in the classes partly because she is Buddhist and wants to read religious texts. But many of the Sanskrit students are “not necessarily Buddhists,” says Lingyin Temple’s deputy abbot Jun Heng. “There are a lot of people who come here because they’re looking for inner peace.They might be addicted to technology or stuck in the rat race or depressed by life. They are living with a lot of stress, so when they are up here with the Buddhist monks, they can find quiet.” Despite the fact that Sanskrit has little chance of enhancing one’s earning potential or social status, the courses are exceedingly popular—fewer than half the 380 applicants could be admitted to the first class (although only 50 students made it to the end of the semester, and 20 enrolled for a second class). And while the Chinese government is generally hostile toward organized religion, the Lingyin Temple has retained its right to train Buddhist monks, and also functions as a successful tourist destination. With three genders and a complicated script, Sanskrit is a difficult language to learn, but students say they don’t stress over it. “Sometimes you need to do things for your inner needs,” Li said. “For us in the millennial generation, we don’t need food or money as much as we need more spiritual sustenance.”
Rep. Tim Ryan Says We Need a “Zen President” at Yoga Fundraiser
Presidential hopeful Rep. Tim Ryan this week held a fundraiser featuring meditation and yoga in an attempt to distinguish himself as the “zen president” in a crowded Democratic field, CNN reports. For years, the congressman has been a mindfulness practitioner and advocate. In 2012, he wrote the book A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. But the theme of mindfulness that runs through his campaign has not gotten much attention in a hectic race. At the August 13 fundraiser in New York, two Army veterans led the yoga sessions as part of an effort to bring attention to his campaign’s emphasis on meditation practices as a way to start “taking the temperature down in the country,” he told CNN. “I think America’s going to be looking for a zen president after this,” he said. “You look at the presidents we admire over the years, and they have that quality of equanimity in rocky times.”
Tibetan Monks to Perform in Houston
This weekend Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India will return to the Asia Society in Houston, Texas, for their annual presentation of dancing, chanting, and mandala-making. On Saturday, August 17, the monks will perform Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing, which features the multiphonic throat chanting known as zokkay, as well as traditional Tibetan instruments, such as the gyaling trumpets and the 10-foot-long dung chen horns. Other monks will construct a sand mandala painting, in a hyper-meticulous exercise of rendering millions of colored grains of sand into an elaborate geometric shape that represents the cosmic universe and the essence of Vajrayana Buddhist teachings. If you’re in the Houston area, make sure to visit the exhibition before the closing ceremony on Sunday, when the monks are scheduled to destroy the mandala as per ritual protocol.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.