Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
For the First Time Ever, Vesak Is Celebrated at the White House
On May 26, the White House hosted a ceremony to celebrate Vesak, a holiday commemorating the Buddha’s birthday, death and enlightenment. The celebration—organized by Wangmo Dixey, president of the International Buddhist Association of America—included a candle lighting with Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, and prayers by leaders from three major Buddhist traditions. The Most Venerable Uparatana, a Sri Lankan American, represented the Theravada tradition; Rev. Marvin Harada, a Japanese American and Shin Buddhist bishop, represented the Mahayana tradition; and Venerable Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, who is Dixey’s father, the founder of Dharma College, and a Tibetan American, represented the Vajrayana tradition. “This is the first time in our Buddhist American history to have the lighting of the lamp in the White House,” Dixey told Tricycle of the ceremony that her organization has been trying to realize since 2016. President Joe Biden also released an official statement. Read more about the White House Vesak ceremony here.
Vesak is celebrated on different days throughout the world, and due to the pandemic, many of those celebrations occurred at home this year. Political and spiritual leaders shared messages of unity, including one from Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi, where he said:
If enough of us commit ourselves to a life of non-violence, to love and compassionate action, we might just succeed in setting in motion a counter-current to the tide of destructive violence that engulfs us and brings so much grief. We might transform old enmities into a celebration of our essential unity, join hands across boundaries, and take a few small steps toward the state of global peace for which we yearn.
Penpa Tsering Sworn In as Tibet’s New Sikyong; Addresses China’s White Paper
On Thursday, May 27, Penpa Tsering was sworn in as the Sikyong (political leader) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Since his election on May 14, the new Sikyong has been receiving congratulatory messages from politicians around the world, including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
Now more than ever, your resolute voice and tireless leadership as Sikyong will be necessary to carry on this vital tradition and advance the cause of peace. Today and always America is proud to stand with you and the people of Tibet. Congratulations again, President Tsering, on your election and best wishes for success in your new role.
Hosted in Dharamsala, the official ceremony included a brief address from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who joined virtually. Minutes later, Sikyong Penpa Tsering addressed the claims listed in the so-called white paper that China recently released to counter criticisms of its repressive regime in Tibet. Though the Chinese and Tibetan governments have not openly communicated in more than a decade, Tsering announced that he was open to finding a non-violent solution. “All I can say is we are open to send people to verify the facts that they have claimed in the white paper,” he told reporters from the Los Angeles Times. “At the same time, we have always been very consistent in our position that we are willing to reach out to the Chinese government to resolve the Sino-Tibetan conflict.”
Nonprofit Live to Love and the Kung Fu Nuns Provide COVID-19 Relief in the Himalayas
Working on the frontlines of the pandemic in the Himalayas, nonprofit organization Live to Love International has ramped up its COVID-19 relief efforts in response to the growing second wave in India and the Himalayas. With support from local partners, Live to Love is providing critical aid to marginalized communities that are particularly vulnerable to the virus due to high altitude respiratory issues, limited connectivity, and a lack of robust healthcare infrastructure.
According to a press release, Live to Love and the Young Drukpa Association Garsha are working to equip villages in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, India with COVID-19 support stations and oxygen banks. The nonprofit is also spearheading a large-scale awareness campaign to curb misinformation about COVID-19 in the remote region. In Ladakh, India, relief efforts include the distribution of medical equipment, oxygen masks, face masks, and food supplies. In neighboring Nepal, Live to Love and the Kung Fu Nuns aim to provide oxygen supplies and ensure the distribution of food and medicine. Donations to support the nonprofit’s relief efforts can be made at their website.
99 Monks Test Positive for COVID-19 in the Sikkim State of India
As many as 99 monks tested positive for COVID-19 at two Tibetan monasteries in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim last weekend. According to Buddhistdoor Global, 37 monks at Rumtek Monastery and 62 monks at the nearby Gonjang Monastery tested positive for the virus and were moved to a care and isolation center, while the Gonjang Monastery was declared a containment zone. The Assam Tribune reported that local officials are closely monitoring all Buddhist monasteries in the state and working to provide health facilities for monks infected with the virus. Cases continue to rise in the mountainous state, which has registered over 13,800 positive cases and 239 deaths among its population of over 610,000 people, according to data from the John Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.
Amazon Launches Meditation Booths for Employees (and the Internet Responds)
As part of a new corporate wellness initiative known as WorkingWell, Amazon is launching meditation kiosks where employees can watch videos of guided meditations and other “easy-to-follow wellbeing activities,” a press release said. After the announcement and the release of a video that Amazon has since taken down, the Internet described the so-called AmaZen stations, or ZenBooths, as dystopian, calling the kiosks “tiny capitalism panic rooms,” and “despair closets.” One critic said Amazon would have been better off installing a Porta Potty, referring to claims that Amazon workers don’t even have time to take bathroom breaks during grueling shifts for which the company has received much internal resistance and external criticism. You can watch the original ZenBooth video here on VICE.
84000 Launches Special Edition Sutra Illustrated by Children in Lockdown
On May 26, 84000, a California-based non-profit dedicated to translating the Tibetan Buddhist Canon into modern languages, released a freely downloadable special edition of The Hundred Deeds sutra. While 84000’s English translation of The Hundred Deeds was first published in February 2020, the special edition includes illustrations from children around the world who participated in #The100Deeds project—a collaborative effort to engage with the sutra’s 120-plus short stories and share its timeless lessons on resilience, empathy, and karmic responsibility. In a press release, Huang Jing Rui, executive director of 84000, addressed the significance of the organization’s latest project:
Whether we look at the Gandharan empire or the Tang dynasty, over time and across cultures, artistic expression has always been crucial to the transmission of the Buddhadharma. While the #The100Deeds project began by encouraging readers to allow themselves time for daily contemplation, when we looked at the how the pandemic had increased the pressure on caregivers in particular, we thought we’d reach out with an idea to help give them a positive way to engage restless kids, and to offer a way to introduce the Buddha to them. As a mother of two myself, I knew it was the type of support I would appreciate. And when we talk of preservation, cultural translation is just as important as linguistic translation, so in this sense the sutras really are a goldmine of potential creativity.
Additional information and a free downloadable copy of the illustrated sutra can be found here.
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