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

Obon Gatherings Move Online for the Second Year Due to the Pandemic

Every year in July and August, Japanese families gather to honor their ancestors during the annual festival of Obon, also known as the Bon Festival. People often return home, clean their houses, prepare special food, and visit the graves of lost loved ones. A dance called Bon Odori is also traditionally performed. This year, organizations and Buddhist temples from Tokyo to New York to Seattle have moved their celebrations online due to COVID-19. To learn more about Obon, read this blog post by Rev. Blayne Higa, the resident minister of Hawaii’s Kona Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, on memory, ritual and the spirit of the holiday.

Institute of Buddhist Studies to Join the Graduate Theological Union

On August 5, the Institute of Buddhist Studies (IBS) and Graduate Theological Union (GT) announced that IBS would become the GTU consortium’s ninth member school after 36 years as a GTU affiliate. The GTU is the largest consortium of theological schools and institutes in North America, comprising nine member schools, five academic centers, and five affiliates. IBS, a Jodo Shinshu-affiliated seminary and graduate school, will be the first non-Christian institution among GTU’s member schools. “By becoming a full member school, we’ll be an even more vital part of this community, contributing to and shaping the future of interreligious education,” said Dr. Scott Mitchell, Dean of Students and Faculty Affairs at IBS.

US Ambassador to India Meets with Representative of the Dalai Lama

Weeks after Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Tibetan Buddhist monk Geshe Dorji Damdul and Dalai Lama representative Ngodup Dongchung, US Ambassador to India Atul Keshap also met with Dongchung. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in India “strongly opposed” the meeting, claiming that Tibet is an internal affair for China, while Keshap tweeted that the U.S. supports religious freedom, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama’s dedication to equal rights.

Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya Population Not Included in Vaccine Rollout 

Though Myanmar’s February 1 military coup and subsequent protests almost completely uprooted the country’s COVID-19 response, vaccines are now being distributed among high-risk and priority citizens as the country faces its largest spike to date. On Wednesday, 10,000 doses were delivered to the Sittwe township in western Rakhine State—but none of them will reach the township’s estimated 100,000 Rohingya. Following a violent government crackdown in 2017, more than one million Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority not recognized as citizens by Myanmar, were forced to flee the country or resettle in camps, many of which are located in the western state of Rakhine. Currently, there is no plan to distribute vaccines among the Rohingya, a local Sittwe administrator told Reuters. Just up the coast, however, the Bangladeshi government and aid agencies started administering vaccines on Tuesday to Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, which houses the largest concentration of refugees in Bangladesh. 

Ophthalmologist and “Jewish Buddhist” Dr. Marc Lieberman Dies at 72

Dr. Marc Lieberman, an ophthalmologist and self-proclaimed “Jewish Buddhist,” passed away at his home in San Francisco on August 2, the New York Times reports. Calling himself a “JuBu,” Dr. Lieberman incorporated aspects of both faiths into his daily practice and sought to bridge the gap between the religions. In 1989, Dr. Lieberman organized the first formal dialogue between Jewish scholars and the Dalai Lama at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in New Jersey. The following year, Dr. Lieberman traveled with several Jewish leaders to Dharamsala, where Jewish and Buddhist thinkers discussed the two faiths over four days. After his visits to Tibet, Dr. Lieberman founded the Tibet Vision Project with the aim to restore vision to the large percentage of Tibetans with cataracts. Since 1995, Dr. Lieberman traveled to Tibet twice a year and helped approximately 5,000 people regain their full sight. 

Royal Elephant to Carry Tooth of Buddha Across Kandy, Sri Lanka

On August 14, a royal elephant carrying Sri Lanka’s Tooth of the Buddha relic will embark on a 10-day journey in honor of Kandy Esala Perahera, an annual procession that commemorates the arrival of the relic from India and honors the gods and goddesses Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Pattini. The festival typically also includes acrobats, fire dancers, and local musicians.

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