Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Military Coup Rocks Myanmar
Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on Monday against the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her party in early morning raids, Reuters reported. The events upended years of efforts to establish democracy in the Southeast Asian country—and raised even more questions over the prospect of allowing a million Rohingya refugees to return from exile. The army said it had responded to “election fraud” and handed power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing, who imposed a state of emergency for a year in the country, also known as Burma. The generals made their move hours before parliament had been due to sit for the first time since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy’s party won in a landslide victory in November, in an election signaling a mandate for Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s democratic rule. On Thursday, the military junta blocked Facebook as a group of democratically-elected lawmakers convened a symbolic parliamentary session in the quarters where they have been staying since the coup. Doctors in Myanmar also vowed to shut hospitals in protest.
India Donates 150,000 Vaccine Doses to Bhutan
Last month, India donated 150,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Bhutan, making it the first country to receive free COVID-19 vaccines from India, reported Buddhistdoor Global. The Serum Institute of India is one of the largest vaccine makers in the world, and in early January, India reported that they had already generated 80 million doses. India will also distribute vaccines to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Maldives, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, the Seychelles, and Sri Lanka through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, which was created to speed up delivery of vaccines to all countries. In a statement on Twitter, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said India is “deeply honored to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community.”
Tokyo Mendicant Monk Dies of COVID
Buddhist monk Shuei Mochizuki, who became a fixture as a solitary, begging mendicant in Tokyo, passed away on January 18 at age 66 after contracting COVID-19. According to Buddhistdoor Global, Mochizuki could regularly be seen practicing walking and standing meditation on the sidewalks in Tokyo’s luxurious Ginza District as shoppers and visitors passed by. Mochizuki left his university studies in Japan and traveled to New York City in 1976, remaining in the US, with brief returns to Japan, for about 20 years. He began his Buddhist practice in 2010, studying with a Shingon Buddhist monk in Koyasan. Mochizuki became known for his willingness to listen to the troubles of those who came to him and for his chanting of the Heart Sutra. He was also known to have paid several visits to areas in northeast Japan that were struck by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Advancements in Accessibility of Buddhist Scriptures
Two important advances were recently made in the translation and restoration of Buddhist scripture. First, the Korea Herald reported that new editions of the world’s oldest metal-printed book, Jikji, an anthology of Zen Buddhist priests’ teachings, have been published in Korean and English. The original text was written in Chinese by the Buddhist monk Baegun Gyeonghan and was printed with movable metal type in 1377 CE. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included Jikji in its Memory of the World register this year.
In other archival news, Korea’s National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage (NRICH) recently finished conserving 17th-century Buddhist scriptures from Mongolia, the Korea Times reported. The scriptures, written on bark and paper, were excavated from an archaeological site in the Zavkhan Province of western Mongolia in 2019. The conservation efforts included removing pollutants, strengthening the paper with restoration paper made from Korean mulberry, and fortifying the surface of the bark with cellulose resin to restore legibility. The Institute of History and Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences will work with NRICH to continue researching the contents.
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