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

Hong Kong Protests Continue at Hungry Ghost Festival

No end is in sight for the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The unrest began as a series of protests against a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed a person arrested in Hong Kong to face trial elsewhere, including mainland China, and has escalated into widespread demonstrations against the Chinese government that have included violent clashes with the Hong Kong police. On August 14, police fired tear gas at demonstrators who had gathered outside a police station in observation of the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, a tradition with Buddhist and Taoist origins that honors ancestors by burning incense, hell money (a special currency used as an offering also known as “ghost money” or “joss paper”), and papier-mâché versions of material objects. Some of protestors’ hell money featured images of Beijing-backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuetngor and former Chinese Premier Li Peng, infamous for his role in the Tiananmen Square massacre. The South China Morning Post reported that police retaliated after protestors refused to stop aiming laser pointers at the station building.  After issuing warnings, the police fired several rounds of tear gas, which caused the crowd to disperse. Later the protestors returned to the station, and the stand-off continued until around midnight with no further reports of tear gas or force. Earlier this month, massive protests crowded the Hong Kong airport, creating delays and causing airlines to suspend service for hundreds of travelers.

Exiled Tibetans Show Their Support for Hong Kong 

Meanwhile in Dharamshala, India, Tibetans showed their support for the Hong Kong protests with a demonstration and candlelight vigil on August 19, according to Phayul.com. Activists, locals, and tourists walked from the main square in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, to the Tsuglagkhang Complex, the temple of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, chanting and carrying signs with messages of solidarity such as “Hong Kong is NOT China” and “Tibet with Hong Kong.” The event’s organizer GuChuSum, a group founded by former political prisoners of Tibet, said in a press release, “We stand with [the] people of Hong Kong in their fight for justice and right to self-determination . . . We urge leaders and nations who are silent on the issue to condemn the atrocities inflicted upon the non-violent protesters in Hong Kong.” 

Photos of Malnourished Elephant in Buddhist Festival Sparks Outcry from Animal Rights Activists

Animal rights groups have called on tourists in Sri Lanka to boycott elephant attractions after photographs of a malnourished female elephant used in a Buddhist festival circulated online. According to CNN, the outcry came after the Thailand-based Save Elephant Foundation shared photos of 70-year-old elephant Tikiiri on Facebook in a post that decried the animal’s role in the Perahera Festival, an annual summer celebration honoring the tooth relic of Sakyamuni Buddha purportedly housed in the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy. The post that accompanied the photos described Tikiiri’s role in the procession: “She walks many kilometers every night so that people will feel blessed during the ceremony. No one sees her bony body or her weakened condition, because of her costume. . . no one sees her . . . shackled while she walks.” Organizers have since withdrawn Tikiiri from leading the parade that closes the festival. Pradeep Nilanga Dela, chief custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, told Agence France-Presse that they also were treating Tikiiri’s ailing condition. In a statement to CNN, Elisa Allen, director of the American animal rights group PETA, urged tourists to avoid any attraction in Sri Lanka that offers elephant rides, keeps the animals chained, or forces them to perform. 

Indian Prime Minister Visits Bhutan After Repealing Kashmir’s Special Status 

On August 18, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded a two-day visit to the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, according to local media reports. Modi’s second official visit to the small Himalayan nation occurred less than two weeks after the Indian government repealed Article 370, part of the constitution that granted Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status. The decision divided the region into the two states, granting Ladakh a fresh identity as India’s first Buddhist-majority state. In a speech to students at the Royal University of Bhutan, Modi cited Buddhism as an important spiritual link between the two nations. “Our history, culture, and spiritual traditions have created unique and deep bonds between our peoples and nations. India is fortunate to be the land where Prince Siddhartha became Gautam Buddha, and from where the light of his spiritual message, the light of Buddhism, spread all over the world,” he said. During his tour, Modi met with His Majesty the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel, at Tashichho Dzong, a Buddhist monastery, fortress, and the traditional seat of the civil government in the capital of Thimphu. The Indian leader also announced that Bhutan could hang on to a statue that has been on loan to Bhutan from India for the past two years for another five years. The statue is a 255-year-old rendering of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel Rinpoche (1594–1651), the Tibetan lama credited with establishing Bhutan as a nation-state. Critics have noted that Modi’s support for Buddhist projects plays into the nationalist rhetoric of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ahead of the latest election, BJP president Amit Shah said that the party would change immigration law to favor refugees who are “Hindus, Buddhist, and Sikhs” over Muslims, whom he called “termites.” 

Novice Monks Triumph in E-Sports But Experience Backlash 

Nowhere in the vinaya [monastic code] does it say that playing video games goes against the spirit of a renunciate life. Yet many were caught off guard when three novice monks from Thailand earned first place in the online racing game Speed Drifters at the 2019 Khon Kaen University Nong Khai Fair, an e-sports tournament in northern Thailand. “The novices wanted to try . . .  so we gave them that opportunity. We didn’t expect to actually win,” said Kokkiad Chaisamchareonlap, a monk and academic coordinator at the novices’ school, Balee Sathit Suksa, the South China Morning Post reports. While the young monks earned some public praise for their win, others on social media said that the boys should not have worn their yellow robes, suggesting that their outfits turned the competition into a religious statement. “I personally don’t think that’s right,” said one critic on Twitter. “It’s not illegal, nor anything serious but they should not wear yellow. They are only novice monks.” Kokkiad defended the decision to wear Buddhist monastic garb: “The novices are just children, like other people their age they need to grow, develop their skills and explore their interests.” He also said that e-sports were not officially part of the boys’ monastic education. The monks were first introduced to the game in their computer classes, but developed their skills in their spare time, he told the South China Morning Post.  

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