Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

Headspace and Ginger Merge to Form Headspace Health

Starting out as a meditation app with the mission to improve the health and happiness of the world, mindfulness giant Headspace has set its sights even higher: to democratize mental healthcare around the world. Headspace announced on Wednesday that it will merge with the on-demand mental health service Ginger to form Headspace Health. With a reach of nearly 100 million people across 190 countries and a value of $3 billion, the combined company aims to be the world’s most accessible and comprehensive digital mental health platform. As TechCrunch notes, the company will move beyond its direct-to-consumer model to focus on corporate and Medicaid health plans.

By merging, Ginger CEO Russell Glass says that Headspace Health will be able to “uniquely tackle the full spectrum of mental health needs—from prevention to clinical care—all from one integrated platform.” The merger comes at a time of escalating global demand for mental health support during the ongoing pandemic. “We are witnessing a mental health crisis unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, yet the majority of mental healthcare today is neither broadly accessible nor affordable,” Headspace CEO CeCe Morken said in a statement. “Together, as Headspace Health, we will address the systemic challenges of access and affordability in a fundamentally different way by creating the world’s most holistic, scalable, and effective mental health and wellbeing company.” The merger is expected to close in the last quarter of 2021. 

American-Born Indian Sociologist and Human Rights Activist Gail Omvedt Dies 

On August 25, renowned scholar and human rights activist Gail Omvedt passed away at her home in Kasegaon in rural Maharashtra, India, reports Buddhistdoor. She was 80 years old. Omvedt was an American-born Indian sociologist who wrote numerous books on the anti-caste movement, the Ambedkarite movement, and women’s struggles in India. Born in Minneapolis, Omvedt traveled to India in 1971 for doctoral research, where she met and later married Bharat Patankar, a leading left-wing activist based in Maharashtra. After earning her PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley in 1973, Omvedt moved to Maharashtra and became an Indian citizen in 1983. Beyond her work as a prolific writer, Omvedt actively participated in anti-caste movements and fought for the rights of rural women, farmers, and Dalits.

Buddha Statue Believed to Be Biggest in the Western World Inaugurated in Brazil

On August 28, Brazil’s Morro da Vargem Zen Monastery will host an inauguration ceremony for their new Buddha statue, which is thought to be the largest in the West. Constructed from 385 tons of steel, iron, and concrete, the statue stands at roughly 125 feet tall—the same height as the country’s famous Chris the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Supersizing is nothing new to Morro da Vargem, which also boasts the largest Zen garden in the West as well as the largest torii (a traditional Japanese gate that is a staple of temple architecture) in the Americas. Receiving roughly 1,000 visitors per week, Morro da Vargem expects to see a significant traffic surge once the statue is open to the public.

Meanwhile, Rakesh Kumar Patra, a college student in Odisha, India, has been recognized by Exclusive World Records for setting the record of “Smallest Wax Statue Of Lord Buddha.” His Buddha statue measures only 3.5 cm—less than a thousandth of what Morro da Vargem’s statue measures.

Canadian Yoga Teacher Accuses Shambhala Global of Seeking to Evict Him for Speaking Out Against Its Leader

Sean Drohan, yoga instructor and caretaker of the Shambhala Global-owned MacKay House in Nova Scotia, says the Buddhist organization is trying to evict him for speaking out against its spiritual leader Sakyong Mipham, Canada’s The Globe and Mail reports. Sakyong Mipham stepped down from his leadership position at Shambhala Global in 2018 after allegations of sexual assault, but has since resumed teaching. In 2019, Shambhala Global doubled Drohan’s rent from $250 to $500 per month, and Drohan claims the organization is also neglecting needed repairs on the farmhouse—moves he says are aimed at forcing him to leave. “The primary reason for all this is unspoken,” Dothan told The Globe and Mail. “I don’t believe the Sakyong is fit to teach. They only want people in positions they can control who want the Sakyong to return soon. I’m taking them to task for how they’re treating people.” The dispute is now heading to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court.

Non-Profit Live to Love and Rutgers University Launch Research on Social Impact of COVID-19 in the Himalayas 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, non-profit organization Live to Love facilitated internships for students at Rutgers University-Newark’s Office of Global Initiatives and Experiential Learning in Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti in India and Kathmandu in Nepal to learn about the social impact of the pandemic, as well as unemployment and gender violence. Live to Love will use the findings to inform programs that empower local communities to counter these issues.

Sri Lanka Gives Elephants New Workers’ Rights 

The Sri Lankan government issued new laws this week to protect the country’s elephants, which are considered by many Sri Lankan Buddhists to be sacred animals. The country’s roughly 200 domesticated elephants will now receive identification cards with DNA stamps and must be taken in for medical check-ups every six months. Other restrictions include banning drunk riding and abusive training methods, limiting work hours and maximum number of riders, and requiring a two and a half hour daily bath for logging elephants. Additionally, baby elephants can no longer be used for work of any kind and cannot be separated from their mothers. Owners who violate any of the new laws could face up to three years in prison.

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