Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Japan to Host Buddhist Ceremony to Mourn Unused Holidays
Japan is known for its deadly work culture—in fact, there’s a word in Japanese for death by overwork, karoshi. But a Japanese startup is trying to raise awareness about the importance of taking a break, using ideas from kuyo, Japanese Buddhist ceremonies for mourning inanimate objects or aborted fetuses. According to Japan Today, Ningen Co Ltd will hold a mourning ceremony for unused paid holidays in Tokyo on November 23, which is Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan. Organizers hope that the Yukyu Joka (“paid holiday purification”) ceremony will encourage people to curb their excessive work habits and take advantage of their vacation time. In 2017, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reported that Japanese workers used an average of only 51.1 percent of their vacation days, the lowest rate in the world. In April 2019, new labor rules were implemented to force employees with more than ten unused vacation days to take at least five days off.
A Jodo Buddhist priest will perform the holiday purification ceremony, which will involve a display of 300 lanterns, each individually printed with a brief message of regret contributed by working people. These lanterns represent the “spirit” of the unused vacation days, which will be mourned and subsequently “purified” through the priest’s prayers. The submissions so far speak to Japan’s epidemic of workaholism. A woman in her 30s wrote: “I had to postpone my daughter’s nursery school birthday party from May until December, and she cried”; and a man in his 30s said remorsefully, “My first child was born as I was polishing off a hamburger on a golf course in Houston [during a business trip].” Event organizers also created fortune-telling strips called oyasumikuji—a portmanteau of the words for holiday (yasumi) and the strips (omikuji) found at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The oyasumikuji provide daily suggestions for ways to spend a five-day holiday. One example instructs the burned-out worker to do nothing for the sake of “the health of one’s mind and body,” go to an “empty theme park,” and visit grandparents.
A Community for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists to Launch in Australia
A diverse group of Buddhist practitioners have banded together to create Rainbodhi, a new community group for LGBTQIA+ Buddhists living in Sydney, Australia. According to Australian LGBTQIA+ newspaper the Star Observer, Rainbodhi aims to bring queer and trans Buddhists together to share their experiences. Founder Bhante Akaliko Bhikkhu, who identifies as a “queer Buddhist monk in the Theravada forest tradition” on Rainbodhi’s website, told the Star Observer about the ideas behind the new organization. “Rainbodhi’s message is that it’s OK to be queer or gender diverse and also be a Buddhist. You don’t have to choose between these two parts of yourself,” he said. “We want our Rainbodhi community to know that they are welcomed, accepted, and loved for who they are. Everyone deserves love and compassion. These are fundamental Buddhist values.” Bhante Akaliko also hopes to unite Buddhists from different traditions as well as people who are new to Buddhism and meditation or just have an interest in spirituality. “Our aim is to create a safe and supportive environment for like-minded people to practice meditation, understand Buddhist teachings, and develop spiritual friendships.” The group is planning an official launch in Sydney on November 29.
Execution of Buddhist Death Row Inmate Delayed for the Second Time
A death row inmate’s execution date has been delayed for the second time this year, based on concerns that he is not able to have access to his Buddhist spiritual advisor in the moments before his execution. According to the Dallas Morning News, Patrick Murphy, 58, was scheduled to be put to death next Wednesday for his role in the death of police officer Aubrey Hawkins, who was murdered when he and six other inmates escaped from prison in 2000. The US Supreme Court first delayed Murphy’s execution in March after affirming that the Constitution prohibits such religious discrimination. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) subsequently amended its policy to prohibit the presence of any chaplain or spiritual adviser in the execution chamber. Murphy has practiced Pure Land Buddhism for the past ten years, according to a statement by his attorneys to Texas’s highest criminal court earlier this year. “Murphy’s belief is that he needs to focus on the Buddha at the time of his death in order to be reborn in the Pure Land . . . a place where he could work toward enlightenment . . . [T]he presence of his spiritual advisor, who has visited him in this capacity for the past six years, would permit him to maintain the required focus by reciting an appropriate chant (akin to a prayer).” At the time of this first request for a stay in his execution, the TDCJ allowed only chaplains employed by the prison to be with an inmate in the execution chamber, and none of the TDCJ chaplains was Buddhist.
In April, Murphy amended his complaint and argued the policy change still favors some religions over others. According to records cited by the Dallas Morning News, inmates can only meet with non-TDCJ chaplains during a limited window on the day of their execution while prison-employed chaplains can speak with inmates more freely. In his decision to delay the execution, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge George C. Hanks Jr. said any “discrimination could be diffused by … ending all contact with all clergy at the same hour for all inmates or. . . allowing all inmates equal access to their chosen spiritual advisors before they enter the death chamber.” It is unclear when Murphy’s next execution date will be set.
Cambodian Buddhist Monks Cleanse Site of Fatal Halloween Shooting
Monks from the Cambodian Buddhist community in Long Beach, California, performed a ceremony this week at a home where a mass shooting at a Halloween party left three dead and nine others injured, the Los Angeles Times reports. As part of a seven-day death rite in the Cambodian Theravada tradition, the monks chanted prayers and splashed lotus-infused water around the home of Chanchenda Hou, whose son was celebrating his birthday at the costume party two days before Halloween when a gunman climbed over the fence and opened fire. A dozen shooting victims were rushed to the hospital, and three died: Maurice Poe, Jr., 25, of Long Beach; Ricardo Torres, 28, of Inglewood; and Melvin Williams, 35, of Gardena. The three people killed were neither Cambodian nor Buddhist, but Poe’s father, Maurice Poe, Sr., attended the ceremony and lit incense at an altar, photos by the Press Telegram show. Chanchenda Hou’s sister, Sarah Chounm told the Press-Telegram that the ceremony is meant to help the dead continue their journey. When someone has a violent death, their spirit is said to stay in the area, unaware that they have died. “We’re here to help guide them into the afterlife,” Choun told the paper. “It’s what we believe in our culture and we pass these traditions on through generations.”
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