On the Buddhism Beat: “Buddhists Behaving Badly?”

inthebuddhismbeat-bbbThough the continuing trouble in Burma and some intriguing stories about the archaeology of Buddhism must be read, the theme this week is definitely “Buddhists behaving badly”: a Singaporean Buddhist monk is convicted of fraud and sentenced to ten months in prison, a Burmese monk causes a scare on an airplane by opening the emergency exit, and letters emerge from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Library Archives detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by a prominent Zen teacher.

In addition, Buddhists in North and South Korea participate in a joint ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama helps India celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Gandhi’s most famous tome, and a Hungarian ethnic minority finds inspiration in the teachings of Dalit Buddhist leader B.R. Ambedkar. It’s all after the jump.


The United Nations and the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations reported this week that international donors have pledged a fresh $88 million for 17,800 new houses, 40 new schools and livelihood programs for one million people affected by Cyclone Nargis eighteen months ago.” The UN says that this will not be enough, however: “The money only covers 14 percent of the most vulnerable families, leaving about 100,000 without a proper home.”

In other news from the UN, Gary Lewis, a representative for the organization’s Office on Drugs and Crime, said this week that rebel ethnic groups in Burma who use drug trafficking for income and to “keep control of their territories,” are “increasingly cashing in their illegal drug hordes on expectations of a junta crackdown.”

Speaking of crackdowns, The Irrawaddy details the continued oppression of Buddhist monks two years after the “Saffron Revolution.”

A hidden camera video that emerged from Burma appears to show Burmese monks incarcerated in a mental health institution within the country. In their report on the video, the Australia Network writes, “Many observers have long suspected that Burma’s junta has confined political monks to mental institutions to treat what the regime claims is a sickness…The video of monks in the mental institution appears to confirm reports that opposition groups have been receiving for years.”

All of that said, Italian politician Piero Fassino, the European Union special envoy on Burma, said this week that “opportunities are emerging for a breakthrough in the political stalemate in military-ruled [Burma], including the possibility of talks with the junta, and they must not be missed.”

The Agence France-Presse reports that about forty fishermen from four Taiwanese boats were detained in Burma “after being intercepted by naval forces, apparently on suspicions of illegal fishing.”

Though more than 150 countries agreed recently to the Mine Ban Treaty’s provisions to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in [landmines],” Burma’s ruling military junta refused to sign the ban. The others were China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.


The New York Times reports on the story behind an exhibit of ancient Chinese Buddhist art from Qingzhou that is currently on display at the Musée Cernuschi in Paris.


The Hindu reports that the Roma minority in Hungary are looking to the life and teachings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in their struggle against discrimination.  Dr. Ambedkar, who was the architect of the Indian Constitution, is also credited as the father of the Dalit Buddhist movement because of his suggestion that untouchables should convert to Buddhism to escape persecution within the caste system.


Five Buddhist monks from the Mahabodhi Society of India’s Bodh Gaya branch visited Saidpur, a Bihari village near the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment that has been affected by Maoist violence “and preached his message of peace and non-violence to villagers.”  Sponsored by Sujata Human Development, a voluntary organization based in Bodh Gaya to spread the Buddha’s message in Maoist-hit areas,” will sponsor future visits to Gaya and other districts regarded as [strongholds] of the Maoist guerrillas.India’s Maoist rebels, who say they fight for the impoverished, operate in over 180 districts in India, and, according to a recent report by the BBC, “in some areas they have virtually replaced the local government and are able to mount spectacular attacks on government installations.”

In an oddball story, a Burmese monk onboard a Kolkata-Gaya-Yangon Air India flight opened the emergency exit just before the plane began to taxi out of the terminal, causing the emergency chute to deploy.  He explained later that he did this because he was feeling “suffocated.”


Thirteen South Korean monks in the Cheontae Order journeyed to a Buddhist temple at the North Korean border city of Kaesong this week to mark the 908th anniversary of the death of the Cheontae Order’s founder, Uicheon. South Korea‘s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said of the event, “This shows that inter-Korean exchange and cooperation proceeds in a normal manner.”

The twelfth seminar for the “Outlook and Meaning of the Globalization of Ganhwa Seon” was held at the Korean Buddhist History and Culture Memorial Hall in Seoul last week.  As the article explains, “‘Ganhwa Seon’ is a method of Buddhism aimed at seeing one’s original nature through the use of ‘hwadu,’ or key phrases given to practitioners to help them achieve that goal. If one sees his or her original nature, then that person is considered enlightened. [It] has been the primary method carried out by the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea.”  This year’s seminar focused on how to increase international awareness of the method.  The gathered agreed on “the need for more English-language books on and translations of Korean Buddhism, and even an English newspaper on the subject.”


The Agence-France Press reports that archaeologists at the Taxila Museum, which house “one of the premier archaeological collections in Pakistan,” are warning that “the Taliban are destroying Pakistan’s ancient Gandhara heritage and rich Buddhist legacy as pilgrimage and foreign research dries up in the country’s northwest.  As the news service explains, “Violence is on the rise in Pakistan as Taliban bombers and gunmen strike with increasing frequency and intensity in the cities of North West Frontier Province and around the capital Islamabad.


Buddhist monk Shi Ming Yi was sentenced to ten months in prison for fraud, after being convicted last month of “conspiring with his personal aide…to cheat the Ren Ci charity out of 50,000 Singapore dollars (36,000 US).” After founding the charity to provide subsidized medical care to elderly patients, Shi “lived the high life, owning several luxury cars and properties in Singapore and Australia, before being caught. He had also owned a horse in Australia.” He made the unauthorized loan of 50,000 Singapore dollars to his aide, “who used the money to pay for a friend’s home renovation in Hong Kong. The pair said the money was loaned to a shop affiliated with the charity, but external auditors found this to be untrue.”


This from Voice of America:  “In its 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Department of State noted that China has taken some positive rhetorical steps to promote religious activity within the framework of state-sanctioned Patriotic Religious Associations,” and that there is increased space for some unregistered religious groups to worship. Nonetheless, China’s repression of religious freedom continued, including in Tibetan areas.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama took part in the closing day ceremonies of the Hind Swaraj Centenary Commemoration International Conference in Surajkund, which celebrates the one-hundredth anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s key text on Indian self-governance. Speaking to a room full of Indian intellectuals, activists, and others, His Holiness said,  “Tibetan Buddhist culture is from India. I am a son of India.”

This from the Tibetan Review: “Although power generation in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has only been rising every year, it has apparently failed to keep up with the furious pace of economic development and Chinese immigration. As a result, cement and mining companies there have been asked to suspend production until Apr 2010 due to power shortages, reported [People’s Daily] online Nov. 27, citing the Tibet Electric Power Company.”


This via H-Buddhism (The Buddhist Scholars Information Network):  Zen teacher Stuart Lachs and colleague “Vladamir K.” have co-authored a summary of a collection of letters held at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Library Archives. In their introduction, the authors write, “The letters cover the period of 1964 through to 1984 and are devoted to the interactions, directly and indirectly, between [Diamond Sangha founder Robert Aitken Roshi] and Eido Shimano Roshi of the New York-based Zen Studies Society. Although there are some letters between Shimano and Aitken, and between Aitken and his Japanese teachers Soen Roshi, Yasutani Roshi, and Yamada Roshi, many are to others in the wider American Zen movement. The letters are concerned primarily with the…alleged sexual misbehaviour of Eido Shimano Roshi that first arose in 1964 in Hawai’i, where Aitken Roshi is based.Until now, the letters have been part of a sealed holding of Aitken Roshi’s personal papers in the archives.

[Photo of Shi Ming, above, via AFP]

Rev. Danny Fisher is Coordinator of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program at University of the West in Rosemead, CA. He also blogs at http://www.dannyfisher.org. Keep coming back to SunSpace for more from Danny each week. And for daily news from the Buddhist world, join us at MahaSangha News.


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