Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Buddhist Monk’s Hunger Strike Pushes Sri Lanka’s Muslim Ministers to Resign
An influential Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka went on a hunger strike on May 31 to call for the removal from office of a Muslim minister and two Muslim provincial governors, accusing them of being associated with extremist groups. In response, all nine of the country’s Muslim ministers and the governors resigned on June 3, apparently as an act of solidarity, the New York Times reports. The monk, Athuraliye Rathana, who is also an adviser to the country’s president, ended his fast upon their resignations. One of the ministers, Rauff Hakeem, said at a press conference that they hope that the move will relieve tensions that have deepened in the wake of the Easter Sunday church bombings that killed around 250 people and was claimed by the Islamic State. “Our people fear a blood bath,” he said, according to the Times.
Tech Upgrade Shows Mahabodhi Temple in a New Light
The Mahabodhi Temple, the stupa that marks the site of the enlightenment of the Buddha in Bodhgaya, India, is undergoing a major illumination project. Initiated by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a Bhutanese-Tibetan lama, filmmaker, and writer, the “Lighting the Mahabodhi” campaign has received over $1.4 million from Buddhists all over the world, more than 30 percent of the total cost of the project, according to the Butanese newspaper Kuensel. Lightning has been a consistent problem for the Mahabodhi—restrictions on candle offerings and butter lamps have been in place for several years, and the present electric infrastructure does little to create a safe space for evening worship and circumambulation. The planned lightning upgrade would introduce efficient LED light fixtures and management software. Despite its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, there were no architectural drawings of the stupa complex before the project began, India’s Buddhist Times observed.
California Man Claims His Swastika Is a Tibetan Buddhist Symbol (It Isn’t)
A man in the California Bay Area town of El Sobrante claims that the giant swastika on his front lawn is not a Nazi hate symbol but a reference to ancient Tibet, ABC News reports. There is nothing to indicate that the property’s owner, Steve Johnson, is Tibetan, but he told reporters on the scene, “I could be.” NBC News pointed out that Johnson also had swastikas on his motorcycle, at which point he ended the interview. The swastika was originally a Hindu and Buddhist symbol of peace and good luck before the Nazis adopted it as the Hakenkreuz, or hooked-cross, and turned it into the symbol of genocide and ethno-nationalism. While the swastika’s appearance has varied, the Tibetan Buddhist swastika tends to point counterclockwise and lay flat on one side like a square. Johnson’s swastika, on the other hand, resembles the Nazi Hakenkreuz, pointing clockwise and positioned on an angle like a diamond. In recent years, the legitimate confusion that Johnson is apparently trying to exploit has resulted in Buddhists being pressured to remove their religious swastikas from public display, including at a jewelry store in Brooklyn and on tourist maps in Japan.
Lack of Space for Shangri-la on Staten Island
New Yorkers may want to consider leaving the commuter comforts of the other four boroughs and taking the ferry to Staten Island, if only to visit the Jacques Marchais Museum, a small museum founded in 1945 and devoted exclusively to Tibetan and Himalayan art. The New York Times recently reported on the museum’s struggle to preserve itself in the face of budget constraints and a limited staff. While executive director Meg Ventrudo said that the Marchais museum recently received a sum of $1.9 million for major renovations, the museum’s aging facilities and lack of adequate display space have forced a portion of the collection into storage. The museum’s founder, Jacques Marchais, never traveled to Asia but amassed a formidable collection of art and artifacts from Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, and northern China.
South Korean Buddhist Group Pledges 10,000 Tons of Food Aid for North Korea
South Korean Son (Jn., Zen) master Ven. Pomnyun Sunim recently pledged 10,000 tons of food aid for children in North Korea, after visiting the country in early May, according to Buddhistdoor Global, citing a report by the Buddhist leader’s humanitarian group Join Together Society (JTS). Pomnyun Sunim had traveled to Pyongyang, Pyeongnam, and Pyeongbuk, and spoke to farmers, miners, and other laborers who expressed concern about the lack of food supplies. With permission from the Ministry of Unification of South Korea, he started a fundraising campaign on May 12 to provide 10,000 tons of corn to struggling communities in the region. As of May 20, JTS said it had sent 2,360 tons of corn to North Korea.
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