Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhists Join Together in “Great Awakening Walk” for Black Lives
Last weekend Buddhist groups joined together in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood for a protest for Black Lives Matter. Vanessa Gomez Brake and David Woo of Burning Pride Meditation, a secular Buddhist sangha for Asian Americans based in downtown L.A., collaborated with leaders in Black Lives Matter and the activist group Asians4BLM to create Sunday’s Great Awakening Walk.
“Members of [Burning Pride] have been participating in Black Lives Matter protests since this all began a few weeks ago, and some of us have been involved in social justice movements for over a decade,” Brake, who is the Associate Dean of the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California, told Tricycle in an email. “However, this was our first time as a sangha to organize a large scale action.”
The march began with a prayer and chant outside the Japanese American National Museum, then leaders marched in silence, at a slow, meditative pace, down L.A.’s First Street with a few hundred marchers behind, Brake said. The demonstration concluded at City Hall, where the group erected an “altar to Black Lives” with images of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury, and others surrounded by flowers, and where monastics chanted the Heart Sutra, bowing nine times—once for each minute that George Floyd was pinned down and fatally choked by a white police officer. In attendance were representatives from the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order, ordained faculty and students from the Buddhist-affiliated University of the West, monastics from local temple Tahl Mah Sah, members of the International Center of Chinese Buddhist Culture and Education, clergy from Zen Center L.A. and Empty Room Zen, and several other local Buddhist groups.
Spirit Ceremony Held in Thailand, Despite Pandemic
A ceremony for spirits was held last week in Thailand despite the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported. The figurines representing the spirits started out too large to fit into their new “spirit house” in Bangkok, but for about an hour, attendees prayed and burned incense, until eventually Kitsana Phattharasirisap, a spiritual advisor, led the statues through the doorway. “If you don’t believe, then it won’t work,” he said.
Kitsana said the spirits of Thailand have helped keep the coronavirus at bay in the Buddhist-majority country. Although Thailand has a population of 70 million, only 58 coronavirus deaths have been recorded. A third-generation spirit house builder, Puvisit Puwasawadi, stressed the importance of continuing these ceremonies and giving offerings to the spirits even during the pandemic. “Young people have forgotten about the spirits but maybe with the coronavirus they will slow down and worship more often,” he said. “If you take care of the spirits, they will take care of you.”
Urging the Association of Asian Studies to Support Black Scholars of Asia
Professors from Asian Studies departments around the world sent a letter to the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) this week, asking them to acknowledge publicly that anti-black racism is an endemic issue in Asian studies. The letter, which was shared widely on social media, was signed by a total of 1,410 individuals, and includes signatures from many prominent scholars of Buddhist traditions, such as Donald Lopez Jr., Lori Meeks, Jacqueline Stone, D. Max Moerman, and C. Pierce Salguero. Professors Jolyon Baraka Thomas, Levi McLaughlin, Michelle C. Wang, and PhD candidate Kimberlee Sanders, authored the petition, which contains four main demands. “Our goal is to educate and to create a welcoming environment in order to develop a racially inclusive field of Asian studies,” the letter reads. “We acknowledge that Black perspectives on Asian studies are intrinsically valuable. . . [T]he expertise of Black colleagues in the full breadth of Asian studies must be nurtured and promoted by the AAS.”
China and India Dispute Turns Deadly
Longstanding tensions between China and India stemming from disputes over their Himalayan border reached a new peak this week when troops clashed in a deadly unarmed melee. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the brawl at the border of the northern Indian region of Ladakh and the southwestern Chinese region of Aksai Chin, according to the New York Times, which called it “the worst border clash between India and China in more than 40 years.” Indian television channels reported that several Chinese soldiers had also been killed, but Chinese officials did not comment. While troops from both sides had been instructed not to use firearms during faceoffs along the border, a hand-to-hand battle erupted on Monday night. Immediately following the encounter, waves of anti-Chinese sentiment swept across India. It is unclear how the Indian government will respond. The Times reported that although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reluctant to escalate the conflict with China’s powerful military, his political brand of staunch Indian nationalism depends on his not backing down. “India wants peace,” Modi said in a televised address on Wednesday. “But if provoked, India is capable of giving a befitting reply.”
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