Aung San Suu Kyi, please speak out and help to relieve the suffering in Burma

ImageThe fires of suffering and strife rage around the world,” and continue to rage in the Rakhine state of Burma. Recent sectarian strife between Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslim community have claimed the lives of at least 78 people, and displaced over 80,000 fleeing from the violence. With the situation degenerating into a vicious cycle of hate begetting hate, it has come to light that some Buddhist monastics are actively engaged in fanning the flames by calling on lay people to disassociate with the Rohingya and actively blocking humanitarian aid to the refugee camps.

Shame on any monastics who would use their moral authority to suade others in enhancing suffering. While their Arakanese identity may compel them to act in ways that hurt others, they also wear the ochre robe and carry with it the freedoms and responsibilities of their monastic precepts. Their renunciation embodied by the first precept has now been made useless. By their own actions, these monastics demonstrate that they do not deserve to wear the ochre robe.

I realize that the situation is not so black and white. However, the Arakanese and Rohingya alike are sharing in pain. The face of suffering is the same among all people and the cycle of violence rings throughout history. In the late 1960’s, my parents, their families, and many of their Toisan community were driven away by the Burmese and fled into Maoist China. Though the conditions were not great, at least they had a state which would accept them as Han Chinese and would provide a home.

The Rohingya have no state advocates and have shuttled back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma for many decades. Burma’s Presidential Office has stated that “It is impossible for Burma to accept people who are not ethnic to the country and who have entered illegally.” Their situation grows more desperate as the violence continues, as more people are displaced, and as more languish in camps without the infrastructure or supplies to support them. Organizations that have stood up for the Rohingya include the UN and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Unfortunately, as the violence continues, the Rohingya’s list of advocates now include the Pakistani Taliban, who have said, “We will avenge your blood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, in your Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, you acknowledged the ongoing strife in your native Burma. We all celebrate your release and your continued work for democracy in your country. This means that you are again a politician for your constituents: speaking on their behalf, and sharing their concerns. Your freedom to speak as you choose is also delicately tied to the whims of a state still emerging and fragile in its transition towards democracy. Nevertheless, the moral authority you possess reaches across national boundaries as we lend you our ears. Please speak out. Your voice as a mediator are needed in this conflict. Lend your compassion with the humanitarian aid organizations  and help to relieve the suffering in Burma.

Nickelodeon Featuring the Dharma

Okay, I admit the title of this post is not quite accurate. Actually, it should read “Nickelodeon Featuring the Avatar”.

Since 2005, Nickelodeon has featured an animated series called Avatar the Last Airbender, airing three seasons and winning an Emmy Award in American animated television series. Originally tageted twoards 6-11 year olds, this show has gained popularity among many outside the age bracket – including me. What I find most intriguing about Avatar is that it features a main character, a child monk named Aang, who adheres to Buddhist principles and even talks about basic Buddhist ideas such as forgiveness, nonviolence, and attachment. Though Nickelodeon never directly refers to Buddhism, the fact that one of the most popular and widely watched networks targeted towards children features a hero that succeeds in his journey based upon Buddhist concepts is amazing. I applaud Nickelodeon for producing this show and encourage anyone interested after reading this post to watch it for themselves. 

WARNING: this post MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS for those of you who have not watched all three seasons of Avatar. Continue reading “Nickelodeon Featuring the Dharma”

Dharma Tourism in SF

Incense at Tien Hau Temple (NYTimes)

First thing in my mailbox this morning was an email from my father about the New York Time’s article In Buddha’s Path on the Streets of San Francisco. The article begins with the oldest Buddhist temple, Tien Hau Temple, and moves its way through the Buddhist Church of San Francisco down to modern institutions which are more famous across the Buddhist community: City Lights Books, the San Francisco Zen Center and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

From my past writing, you might imagine that I finished this article with a page full of criticism already set to spew forth. Well, last night I was watching Tavis Smiley, and he mentioned something along the lines of this: he has such low expectations for the accuracy of the mainstream media, that he’s thankful when they even put out an inch of the truth. I had to agree.

This article is for non-Buddhists. While I disagree with certain aspects of the content and presentation, this article still does more good than harm, especially for someone who knows nothing about Buddhism. If this article becomes someone’s first step towards the Buddha Dharma, they’ll probably be interested in learning more. For that I am indeed thankful.

Georgia on my mind

It’s been 11 days since the South Ossetia war began between Georgia and Russia, and the only thing that Tricycle Blog has to say about this conflict is a snide comment that implies McCain might not know the difference between “Georgia with Tblisi, not Atlanta.” Otherwise, not one word. Indeed, there’s been ethnic cleansing. We have a powerful oppressor weighing down on a small nascent democracy. There are even Buddhists nearby. So what’s stopping the ink?

Oh yes, if only they were Buddhists.

Continue reading “Georgia on my mind”

Choosing favorites

A friend recently sent me an article on the current situation of China’s Uighurs. If you don’t know about the Uighurs, they’re an ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang province. As the Financial Times states, who really cares?

Xinjiang is in a similar situation to Tibet. But it lacks the religious radiation provided by the Dalai Lama … It has no high-profile Hollywood star such as Richard Gere to emote for it; more people probably worry whether giant pandas mate than whether the Uighurs can survive as a culture and a people. If only they were Buddhists.

I took a little offense. Was my friend telling me that the media loves Tibet only because they’re Buddhist? I shot back an email: “Show me the Uighur Nobel Peace Laureates!”

This only got me thinking more about how I approach politics and religion. While I may see the status of Tibet as a chiefly political issue, I am always keeping an eye out to see if Tibetans are taking a “Buddhist approach” (whatever that means). The same goes for Burma. Tibet and Burma aren’t inherently Buddhist issues, so when a Buddhist blog such as the Tricycle Blog talks about them (and boy are they mentioned often), do these issues suddenly become religious? Are we distorting the Tibet and Burma issues by mixing religion and politics?

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CNN: Buddha’s Warriors

Thanks to The Worst Horse, I decided to stay in last night and watch CNN Special Investigations Unit: Buddha’s Warriors. The show looks like a test run for God’s Warriors, a potentially more touchy subject about religious extremists from Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspectives.

Buddha’s Warriors focused on contemporary stories of political oppression and resistance in Tibet and Burma (Myanmar). These are two societies which are predominantly Buddhist, and so Christiane Amanpour asks: “How do people who are committed to love, kindness and nonviolence confront severe political oppression?”

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The Death of Japanese Buddhism

The story of declining adherence to Buddhism in Japan is certainly old news. I was used to hearing about “funeral Buddhism” in Japan, where families only go to temple for funerals. But apparently even that’s on the decline, according to this article in the New York Times.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

Continue reading “The Death of Japanese Buddhism”

Buddhism in a Global Age of Technology

Courtesy of Buddhist Channel and Youtube, we have an insightful lecture by Prof. Lancaster on the historical spread of Buddhism, it’s basic teachings personally reworked and interpreted, and the importance of digital technology in it’s preservation and continued growth. Enjoy!

Therapeutic etymology

*Disclaimer* I am not a linguist by any means. My lack of understanding of Pali, Greek, and possibly English validates any grain of salt thrown at this post. Put your Skeptics hat on, my friends.

Around 250 BCE, the Third Buddhist Council convened under the patronage of Asoka, emperor of the pan-Indian Mauryan empire. The council’s purpose was to expunge the heretical and false, including both the views of dhamma and monastics. The council compiled the teachings and rules that would be considered the “teachings of the Elders”, Theravada.¹

After the council had concluded, Asoka sent out missionaries on the behalf of the Theravadins to all parts of the known world, including the Hellenic world.

These missionairies would have been called the Sons of the Elders, Theraputta. Although there is little record, Asoka claims to have reached Egypt and Greece with the dhamma.

Continue reading “Therapeutic etymology”