“Rule-breakers” lead the news stories from the Buddhist world this week: chief among these would be His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is visiting Arunachal Pradesh state in India (a region claimed by China as their own) this week, and Ajahn Brahmavamso in Australia, who performed a bhikkshuni ordination in Perth and was subsequently disavowed by the Wat Pa Phong Sangha. And, of course, the ruling military junta in Burma continues to play fast-and-loose with international law, which in turn continues to inspire finger-wagging as well as conditions on aid and cooperation from other nations.
There are also many truly fascinating odds-and-ends to report on, including (my favorites) the discovery of the missing piece of a Cambodian Buddhist statue that has been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for almost eighty-five years, and the launch of a new Buddhist sign language program in Sri Lanka.
As previously reported by our web editor Rod Meade Sperry, a group of Buddhist nuns were ordained during a ceremony at Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery in Perth at the end of October. Ayya Tathaaloka was the preceptor, and Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato performed the “certifying acariya chanting in the bhikkhu’s part of the ceremony.” On November 1st, Ajahn Brahm was told by the leadership of Wat Pa Phong that Bodhinyana Monastery would be disavowed if he did not publicly state the ordination was invalid. When he refused, Bodhinyana Monastery was disavowed by Wat Pa Phong. Buddhist Bloggers “NellaLou” at Enlightenment Ward and “Arun” at Angry Asian Buddhist have been fantastic about compiling links to all the different responses, statements, etc.—take a look at their sites.
The Associated Press reports that “President Barack Obama will meet leaders of Southeast Asian nations, including [Burma], in a high-level affirmation of Washington’s new policy of engaging the military-ruled country despite its dismal human rights record.” The U.S. has reiterated that it will not lift sanctions against the country “unless its ruling generals make concrete progress toward democratic reform.”
Similarly, the government of Japan has said that it will provide aid to Burma, provided that the junta makes democratic reforms. Specifically, they would like to see the release of Nobel Peace laureate and Prime Minister-elect Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Senior U.S. officials were permitted to meet with Suu Kyi last week, and said that “the new dialogue will be slow and cautious, but the junta’s plans to hold 2010 elections are casting a shadow that could disrupt the delicate process.” Suu Kyi herself felt “optimistic” about the visit.
The junta continues to suggest that they might release Suu Kyi ahead of next year’s election, so that she may “play a roll” in that process.
Dr. Peter Sharrock, a senior teaching fellow in the art and archaeology of Southeast Asia at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, has discovered the giant, long-missing legs of “of an eight-headed, three-metre high sandstone statue of Hevajra, the war-like, tantric Buddhist deity,” at Angkor. The rest of the statue was sold by French archaeologists in 1925 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it remains on display to this day.
Construction has recently been completed on a three-story, 84-million rupee “pilgrims’ rest” at Sanchi, where the Great Stupa commissioned by Indian king Ashoka has become an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists around the world.
The Dharma for the Deaf Society announced the launch of “the first ever Dhamma for the hearing impaired community with the support of the Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields.” The disco contains “a brief introduction of the ABC alphabets, common Buddhist terms, question and answers on Buddhism, the Vihara and a simple Buddhist Chanting—all in sign language supported with a voiceover.”
Reuters reports that the Tzu Chi Foundation expanded an interesting recycling project this week: “For three years [the Tzu Chi Foundation has taken plastic bottles from Taipei’s waste stream] to convert them into about 244,000 polyester blankets intended for disaster zones. It has sent volunteers with relief supplies to some of the world’s biggest disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake in China. This week, [they began] making shirts, scarves and cloth shopping bags [with the plastic as well].”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama began his week-long visit to Arunachal Pradesh—an Indian state claimed by China. Predictably, Beijing is furious about the visit. In an effort to keep tensions to a minimum, the Indian government has barred foreign media from covering the event.
Perhaps responding to criticisms about the Obama Administration’s “snub” of His Holiness during his recent trip to Washington, the U.S. government threw their support behind the India and His Holiness by publicly supporting the visit. (Speaking of the Obama Administration and Tibet, the International Campaign for Tibet’s board of directors has written an open letter to the President of the United States.)
On the second day of his visit to Arunachal Pradesh, His Holiness “inaugurated the Kahndo-Dowa Songma Tawang district hospital and consecrated a Buddhist statue at its entrance.” He also donated twenty lakh for further construction.
Before coming to the disputed region, His Holiness was in Japan, where he visited Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, saying: “We must remember that for each of those who died during the war, their life was as dear to them as our life is to us. These reckless killings must remind us that war is senseless. Only praying and wishing for a world without problems is unrealistic. We must learn from our sad experiences and promote the spirit of dialogue. While offering prayers, I heard the song of a bird which I remember hearing in Lhasa and India as well. This bird, which is common to all of us, tells that human ability and intelligence to develop inner peace and respect each other’s views is also common to the entire humanity. We all have the same potential to create genuine close relationships.”
The Chinese government has confirmed that they have executed a total of nine people for their part in this year’s unrest in Xinjiang. The ethnicities of those executed are not known, but it is presumed that they were Uighurs. This news comes on the heels of Beijing’s confirmation of the executions of at least two Tibetans of for their roles in last year’s unrest in and around Lhasa.
Scholar John Whalen-Bridge writes for The Buddhist Channel about protests in Dharamsala over the executions of the Tibetans.
Reuters reports that “Bangladeshi police in the capital Dhaka closed a photography exhibition on Tibet following complaints from Chinese diplomats.”
The United Nations, European Union, and Human Rights Desk of the Department of Information and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration have together published a new paper on the “Human Rights Situation inside Tibet.”
Speaking in Mysore on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “likened the incident to the fall of Berlin Wall that was followed by the unification of east and west Germany.” He said: “While many termed the Bamiyan episode as a tragedy I have a suggestion that perhaps we can look at this in a positive way. What we saw in destruction of Bamiyan Buddha is some kind of depletion of matter… some soured substance coming down… disintegrating.”
The Tibetan Government-in-Exile launched their first-ever television channel in Dharamsala last week. It will soon begin broadcasting “programs showcasing various aspects of Tibet’s culture, language, religion and history, and the education and health of Tibetans in exile.”
THE UNITED STATES
A man described as “emotionally disturbed” doused himself with gasoline at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent, NY, with the presumed intention of self-immolation. He was stopped and taken to the hospital before he could harm himself, however. Authorities say that he had no affiliation with the temple, and came there looking for help.
The Savannah Zen Center, a Soto Zen community in Georgia, is looking to build a new home, and will hold a fundraiser this week for that purpose.
SEAArch – The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog brings us the news that Bao Thap Pagoda, a 700-year-old Buddhist site outside Hanoi, is on the verge of collapse. “The money is in, but with the authorities,” they write. “Meanwhile, the pagoda is being held up by little more than bamboo poles.”