Nothing is permanent, everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting and otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Pema Chödrön Talks to Oprah About Shambhala Sex Scandal
Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s “SuperSoul Sunday” show this week, and toward the end of their wide-ranging conversation, the topic turned to the allegations of sexual abuse by Shambhala International’s leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and other teachers. In the video, she said, “The situation is just horrendous,” calling it a “rug-pulling out experience” and saying that for many students “they’re life is just blown up in the air and that can’t imagine how they’ll go forward with their spiritual practice.” Chödrön seemed to distance herself from Shambhala, saying that while she is still “officially” a senior teacher at Shambhala, she said that she spends her time “more outside Shambhala than inside.” She also spoke to an incident when she dismissed a woman’s claim of sexual abuse and recounted a phone call they had years later when Chödrön called to apologize. “I was very grateful that she accepted my apology,” she told Oprah.
Watch the full video:
Buddhist Stupa Collapses After Heavy Rainfall
Nothing is permanent, not even stupas. After enduring torrential rains, the mahastupa (great stupa) at the Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex in Andhra Pradesh, India, collapsed on Wednesday morning, according to the Times of India. Against the wishes of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and heritage activists, in 2016 the Indian state archaeology department reconstructed the stupa using modern building materials and rocks on the excavated base of the original structure. Photographs show the crumbling red bricks of more than half the stupa’s rounded edifice. Intach convener Mayank Kumari Deo decried the incident, blaming the government for not taking architectural factors into consideration before moving forward with the renovations. “Thotlakonda stupa collapsed within three years of its construction. We had vehemently protested against reconstruction of the stupa, but the department of tourism took no heed of the protest,” he said. The government also built an interpretation center, which Kumari Deo said has not been used and is already falling apart. “A huge amount of government money has been wasted,” he said. The assistant director of the state archaeology department Venkat Rao didn’t deny that the reconstruction may have contributed to the stupa’s collapse, but he suggested that the primary cause was heavy rain plus the weight of the stupa’s harmika—a fence-like enclosure on top of the stupa, which symbolizes heaven. Stupas played a significant role in early Buddhism, thanks to the efforts of the 3rd-century emperor Ashoka, who solidified Buddhism’s power in the Indian subcontinent by building stupas, which became important sites of pilgrimage.
Dalai Lama Meets with Engaged Buddhists and Youth Peace Leaders
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama met with members of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) in Dharamsala, India, on Monday, according to a press release posted to his website. Headed by Thai activist Sulak Sivaraksa and based in Bangkok, INEB connects engaged Buddhists around the world working on issues like human rights and environmental devastation. The meeting’s attendees included 35 people from Thailand, 41 from India, 37 from Burma, as well as INEB members from the USA, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Hungary, and Sweden. The Dalai Lama stressed a message of unity between religious traditions, pointing out the ideological gaps that exist within the Buddhist tradition. “The Pali tradition included 18 schools of thought, while within the Sanskrit tradition there were four. Different points of view appeal to people of different dispositions, but what is most important to remember is that all religious traditions stress the importance of cultivating loving-kindness,” he said. Two days later, the Dalai Lama met with youth leaders from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), students who come from conflict-affected countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Venezuela. He offered advice about cultivating unity amidst difference: “To emphasise nationality, religion, and colour just creates division. We have to look at things on a deeper level and remember that we are all the same as human beings, physically, mentally and emotionally the same.”
Last month, the Dalai Lama applauded the activism of the youth-led climate strike, tweeting, “It’s quite right that students and today’s younger generation should have serious concerns about the climate crisis and its effect on the environment. They are being very realistic about the future. They see we need to listen to scientists. We should encourage them.”
Huang Yong Ping, Artist Influenced by Chan Buddhism, Dies
Huang Yong Ping, the artist who provocatively combined techniques stemming from Chinese art and international avant-garde movements, died on Saturday, October 19, at the age of 65. According to ARTnews, Huang, who was born in China but spent much of his life in France, had an interest in mixing the ideas behind the Chan Buddhism and the surrealist tenets of Dadaism. One of his most famous works in The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes (1987), which involved putting copies of Wang Bomin’s book History of Chinese Painting and Herbert Read’s A Concise History of Modern Painting (the first book about modern art history translated into Chinese) into a laundry cycle, then placing the pulped remains on top of a piece of glass perched upon a tea box. The work demonstrated Huang’s penchant for drawing attention to the collision between Western values and non-Western ones in a rapidly modernizing China.
In a 2014 interview with Post, a website affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art, Huang said: “I applied Chan Buddhism because I believed that the juxtaposition of Chan Buddhism and Dadaism would create new meanings, especially since I placed an Eastern element with a Western one—a term from intellectual history with one from art history. . . This set a foundation for my future artwork, especially in the way I moved from this history to that history; these ideas are all relevant.”
While Buddhism may have played a key role in Huang’s creative approach, he might have missed the memo about Buddhist ahimsa, or non-harming. In one of the more controversial episodes from his life, Huang exhibited a work that involved live insects, snakes, and lizards encased in a see-through, tortoise shell-shaped container. In Theater of the World (1993), the animals were meant to prey upon each other in a samsaric display. The use of living things reflected Huang’s interest in “comparing humans to beings lower on the food chain,” and was meant to “create a microcosm that paralleled the state of modern affairs.” But animal rights activists protested the work, causing the Guggeheim to exhibit Theater without the animals. Void of the suffering critters, the work was just an empty shell—samsara without the suffering beings. Huang was traveling by plane when the piece was altered, and responded by writing an essay on an air sickness bag that was later exhibited at the Guggenheim: ““[T]his work has repeatedly encountered ‘premature death’ without ever having a chance to ‘live.’ An empty cage is not, by itself, reality. Reality is chaos inside calmness, violence under peace, and vice versa.”
Ohio Congressman and Mindfulness Enthusiast Tim Ryan Drops Out of Presidential Race
Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) ended his campaign for the 2020 presidential election on Thursday, according to NBC. Announcing his decision in a video to supporters, the Ohio Democrat affirmed that he would run again for his House seat, but was not ready to endorse any of the other candidates running for president. A longtime fan of contemplative practice, in 2012 Ryan published A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. With a forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the book is probably one of the first mindful panegyrics that is also patriotic.
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