Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
60th Anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day
March 10 was the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when the Tibetan people revolted against Chinese occupation, leading to a harsh crackdown and the flight of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and other religious and political leaders in the following days. In the run-up to March 10, Chinese authorities reportedly increased security and surveillance in the region and Time magazine featured the Dalai Lama on their cover. Reuters reports that police armed with automatic weapons were present in the Dalai Lama’s hometown of Taktser throughout the week, and that the officers denied access to a reporter trying to visit the village made up of around 60 houses.
Meanwhile, an editorial by the government-run Xinhua News Agency defended China’s policies in Tibet on March 9, citing “economic growth, increases in lifespan, and better education,” according to the Associated Press. “Sixty years since the epoch-making democratic reform in Tibet, people in the plateau region have enjoyed unprecedented human rights in history,” the editorial said, even though Human Rights Watch describes China as “a one-party authoritarian state that systemically curbs fundamental rights.” A Chinese official also insisted that Tibetans have a great affection for Chinese leaders and don’t care for the Dalai Lama.
Buddhist Nationalist Party Emerging in Thailand
A Buddhist nationalist political party in Thailand has been gaining support ahead of an upcoming election with the message that Buddhism is under threat, Reuters reports. The Pandin Dharma Party argues that the monarchy, military, and secular authorities have been harassing monks and catering to the Muslim minority in the majority Buddhist country. The Reuters report notes that Buddhist nationalism has previously played a small role in Thai politics, unlike in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Part of the belief that the ruling government is anti-Buddhist stems from a crackdown on widespread corruption at Buddhist temples over the past year, which led to the arrest of senior abbots who were once seen as untouchable by law enforcement.
Alabama City Denies Permit to Buddhist Meditation Center for Not Being Religious Enough
A Thai Buddhist group is suing the city of Mobile, Alabama, after city authorities rejected their permit to build a Buddhist meditation center on the grounds that meditation is not a religious practice, according to court documents. The Thai Meditation Association of Alabama (TMAA) applied to open their center in an area zoned for residential buildings under a religious exemption that allows the construction of temples and churches. But the city’s Planning Commission ruled that the center was not religious because it welcomed people to practice secular meditation. In court filings, the city cited one of the TMAA leaders, Sivaporn Nimityongskul, as saying, “[T]his meditation center was established in order to teach people how to find inner peace and happiness . . . have people see that meditation is not to be associated with any one particular, race, culture, and religion.” Nimityongskul agreed in her deposition that “meditation can be practiced by people of different religions or no religion at all,” but said that, while their services are open to all faiths, meditation remains central to their religious practice in the Dhammakaya school of Theravada Buddhism. The TMAA is arguing that the city’s decision violated their First Amendment rights to freely practice their religion. The dispute between the TMAA and Mobile dates back to 2015. The federal trial started on March 12 in the Southern District of Alabama and was ongoing as of March 15.
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