Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Shadow of Japanese Internment as Migrant Children Held at Former Camp
The Trump administration announced plans last week to start housing undocumented immigrant children at Fort Sill, an Army base in Oklahoma that served as a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The Department of Health and Human Services said that Fort Sill will be used as a “temporary emergency influx shelter” in response to a surge of children being taken into custody at the border, Time magazine reported. Japanese American activists and those who lived through internment say the move is a sign that history is repeating itself. “That our country is once again incarcerating children in facilities used previously to incarcerate Japanese Americans is like a gut punch to the Japanese American community,” David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, told the Daily Beast. “The damage being done to these children is immoral.” Actor George Takei, who was held in an internment camp at the age of 5, tweeted on June 18, “I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.” Takei’s remark was in support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who drew criticism after characterizing the detention centers as concentration camps, which she later clarified does not mean Nazi death camps. “The US ran concentration camps before, when we rounded up Japanese people during WWII. It is such a shameful history that we largely ignore it,” she tweeted on June 19.
The Obama administration also used Fort Sill to house unaccompanied immigrant children for a period of four months in 2014 during a similar spike in border-crossing arrests, a move which Republicans opposed at the time on the grounds that it was a misuse of military resources. Some Trump supporters have noted that Fort Sill’s past as an internment camp was not brought up in 2014, but Trump critics have said that the context has changed due to the president’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has been called “cruel” and “racist.” Last year, a group of Buddhist leaders condemned the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their parents, which was reversed on June 20 after wide-spread public outrage—though families remained separated into 2019.
Slovakia Elects First Female President, a Zen Meditator
Slovakia inaugurated Zuzana Caputova on June 15, the nation’s first female president—and a Zen meditator. The New York Times reports that the 45-year-old lawyer and political newcomer encountered books on Zen meditation as a teenager, and has been sitting regularly for the past 13 years. “I try to meditate every day,” she told the Times. “I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that now. But the regular practice is important for me.” Caputova ran on a progressive platform that supported gay and minority rights, issues that remain controversial in socially conservative Slovakia. Yet she was able to communicate her support for liberal policies in a way that did not alienate her right-leaning constituents. “When I talked about these things, for me, this attitude is based on a value that I believe to be very conservative and Christian—empathy and respect for other people,” she said. Caputova has never held state office, and her victory is seen as a rebuke of the nativism sweeping across Europe.
New England Buddhist Group Honors Native Americans with Peace Walk
June 22 is the final day of a peace walk visiting sites of Native American suffering to “learn and acknowledge the largely unspoken history of what colonization has been for Native Peoples of New England,” according to the website for the New England Peace Pagoda, which organized the walk with support from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Massachusetts United Church of Christ. The walk—the fourth in a five-year series of peace walks leading up to the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing in 2020—began on May 31 in Leverett, Massachusett, according to the Peace Pagoda, a stupa and temple complex founded by the Japanese Buddhist order Nipponzan-Myohoji. From there, participants traveled to the sites of early massacres by European settlers in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as well as regions where Native Americans died in mass numbers from an unknown disease. Established by Ven. Nichidatsu Fujii in the early 20th century, Nipponzan-Myohoji practices a highly engaged form of Nichiren Buddhism. In addition to chanting the daimoku, the title of the Lotus Sutra and sacred chant of Nichiren Buddhists, Nipponzan-Myohoji consistently hosts interfaith peace walks in the United States, and has erected at least 80 peace pagodas around the world.
Sri Lankan Finance Minister Condemns Buddhist Monk’s Anti-Muslim Comments
In a recent tweet, Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera spoke out against the anti-Muslim rhetoric of a senior Buddhist monk of the Asgiriya Maha Viharaya monastery, one of the two Buddhist monasteries that has custodianship of the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. As reported by the Hindu, Samaraweera asked “true Buddhists” to unite against the “Talibanization” of Buddhism, which he calls “our great philosophy of peace and love of all beings.” The tweet indirectly references a speech given by an unnamed Asgiriya monk, in which the Buddhist leader accused Muslims of “destroying the country” and suggested that it would be appropriate for certain Muslims to be stoned to death. The finance minister condemned the hate speech, tweeting, “No Buddhist can condone a statement to stone another human being to death.” Samaraweera is the only prominent politician in Sri Lanka who has come forward to criticize the Asgiriya monk’s comments. He also decried another monk’s demand last month that three Muslim politicians resign over alleged links to the Easter Sunday church bombings. Since the deadly attacks, many Buddhist hardliners have intensified their hate speech and organized or participated in acts of anti-Muslim violence.
Britain Honors Geshe Tashi Tsering
The British government has honored Geshe Tashi Tsering Rinpoche, the abbot of Sera Mey Monastery in India, with the British Empire Medal for his “service to Buddhism in the UK.” Tashi Tsering became the resident teacher at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London in 1994, and in 2018, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama appointed him as head of Sera Mey. Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Sera Monastery complex, founded in 1419 near Lhasa, Tibet, was badly damaged and most of the monks living there fled to India. In 1970, Sera Mey was established in Bylakuppe, India, as a place for Tibetans in exile to continue their studies. A statement on Tashi Tsering’s website said, “We are delighted and very proud” to have received the civilian honor.
Heatwaves Kills Dozens Across Northern India
Heatwaves are ravaging parts of northern India, with temperatures climbing above 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45.8 Celsius). On Wednesday, the death toll rose to over 100 people, according to reporting from the India Times. At least 35 people are said to have died in the Gaya district of Bihar, home to the Mahabodhi temple, the historical site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Heatstroke-related deaths have also occurred in the district of Nalanda, the location of historic Nalanda University. Schools in Bihar will remain closed until June 23, and all labor-intensive work, including construction, has been banned from 11:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m.
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