Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Thai Artist Forced to Take Down “Ultraman” Buddha
An artist in Thailand was forced to take down four paintings reimagining the Buddha as the Japanese superhero Ultraman over complaints from hardline Buddhists, Reuters reports, and now the dogmatic detractors are calling for her arrest. After the outcry from members of Buddhist Power of the Land, the artist last week removed the paintings from an exhibition at a mall in Nakhon Ratchasima province and publicly apologized to the chief monk of the region, according to Reuters. But that did not appease the aggrieved, who filed a police complaint against the artist and four people who helped with the exhibition, arguing that they violated a law against insulting religion. If prosecuted and found guilty, they could serve up to seven years in prison. However, that result seems unlikely as Thailand’s Buddhist authority, the Office of National Buddhism, has said that the apology was enough, and the law was meant to prosecute crimes like physically desecrating depictions of the Buddha, religion scholar Sinchai Chaojaroenrat told Australia’s ABC News. “This lady was just sharing her personal interpretation of Buddha; she interprets Buddha as a superhero who protects the virtue or goodness of the world and for her that’s Ultraman,” Chaojaroenrat said.
While the complaints have vexed the artist, the extra attention has been great for the paintings’ buyers. Pakorn Porncheewangkun bought one of the Ultraman Buddhas for 4,500 baht ($147) and on Thursday resold it for 600,000 baht ($28,750). On Friday, Pakorn sold a second painting 2 million baht ($65,660), he told the Bangkok Post. Pakorn said 10 percent of the proceeds from the second sale will go back to the artist and the rest will be donated to charity.
Dalai Lama Calls for Peaceful Talks in Hong Kong
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama this week urged people protesting the Chinese government in Hong Kong to demonstrate peacefully and to pursue a resolution through dialogue. Since June, protests and violent clashes with the police have continued steadily in Hong Kong, which has its own economic and administrative system while remaining part of China. “I think it’s best for every place to maintain peace. Peace is very important. We can resolve any problem through dialogue, rather than negative actions in response to anger, which are useless. These disturbances caused by the disputes are very serious. What I can do is limited. I can only pray for them,” His Holiness told Taiwan’s Hakka TV, according to the Taipei Times. “When Deng Xiaoping [the leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1992] created ‘one country, two systems,’ it was very practical, very good, but in recent weeks, a lot of disputes happened. I feel a little worried,” he said.
Last week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew the proposed extradition bill that sparked the demonstrations, but the announcement has failed to placate some members of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement who are calling for free elections. Taiwan, which rejects claims that it is part of China and subject to a similar “one country, two systems” policy, also exists in a state of political uncertainty. In his interview with Hakka TV, the Dalai Lama apparently praised the democracy and “religious knowledge” in Taiwan, suggesting that these qualities can overcome totalitarianism. “Taiwanese should not become demoralized, but should keep up their enthusiasm, and most importantly, maintain their non-violent, peaceful ways,” he said. In the past, His Holiness has compared his proposals for a semi-autonomous Tibet to “one country, two systems.”
Elephant Injures 18 in Sri Lanka Buddhist Pageant
Last weekend an elephant that was part of a Buddhist pageant in the city of Kotte, Sri Lanka, broke with the procession and ran berserk, injuring at least 18 people. The Associated Press reported that a video of the event showed an elephant suddenly moving forward and running through the street as onlookers scattered frantically. On September 9, officials from two hospitals said that 16 of the 18 people who were treated for related injuries had been discharged. It is unclear what sparked the elephant to run in the first place. The incident comes a few weeks after the plight of elephants received renewed media attention when photos of a malnourished elephant from another Buddhist festival in Sri Lanka drew outcry from animal rights activists. Elephants have historically played a key role in the annual celebrations that honor the sacred tooth relic of Shakyamuni Buddha.
A Buddhist Bell for Your Cycle
In Japan, round, hollow bells called orin are commonly found resting atop a small cushion on Buddhist altars, but don’t be surprised if you hear its pleasant chime speeding down a bike lane. A shop in Kyoto has started selling bicycle bells inspired by orin’s resonant sound and singing-bowl-like design, according to Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun. The Shirai Bell was created by engineer and cycling enthusiast Junichiro Kadono and percussion instrument specialist Katsuaki Shirai, whose work includes making Buddhist bells. The initial prototype didn’t ring well, but Shirai experimented with the design until he came up with a new concept that used the bicycle’s frame to amplify the sound, which made it ring as clear as an orin. His company, Rinyo Kobo, a workshop with a bell-making history that dates back to 1843, produces the Shirai Bell on a made-to-order basis. This bell tolls for whomever can afford to pay 30,000 or 50,000 yen ($277 or $462), depending on the model.
Marianne Williamson Leads Meditation on the Campaign Trail
Democratic presidential candidate and spiritual author Marianne Williamson led a meditation session during a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday. “It’s unique for a campaign event, but it’s not unique for America and I think that’s part of what my campaign is all about,” she told Fox News. “We’re bringing a lot of people into the system who are very much a part of mainstream America but who have felt disconnected from politics, particularly I think progressive politics. The whole world of spirituality, meditation, yoga, this is very much mainstream American culture today.” Williamson, who has never held political office, announced her 2020 candidacy last year on a platform of empathetic leadership and returning the US to its “ethical center.” She’s been criticized by people across the political spectrum for her lack of elective experience and spiritual idealism, but Williamson told Fox News, “Politics should be where we express our collective wisdom and that is all that finding your heart is about.”
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