Buddha Buzz Weekly: Buddhists Resist Turning Bodhgaya into Quarantine Site

Monasteries in Bodhgaya, India, request that they not be used as quarantine centers, the coronavirus reaches Rohingya camps, and Tibetan women create a hotline to help people affected by violence during lockdown. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen Jensen May 23, 2020

Buddha Buzz Weekly: Buddhists Resist Turning Bodhgaya into Quarantine SiteThe Royal Bhutan Monastery in Bodhgaya, India, shortly before social distancing measures were put in place. Photo by Shiva Shenoy | https://tricy.cl/3cWzKB0

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.

Bodh Gaya Monasteries Request Their Grounds Not Be Used for Quarantining Others

The Indian government plans to use hotels, guest houses, and monasteries in Bodhgaya, India, as quarantine centers for Indians returning from other countries, reported the Times of India. The announcement alarmed many of the monastics. The International Buddhist Council, which represents more than 50 monasteries in the region, released a statement objecting to the decision and citing public health concerns. The group argued that the temple and monastery managers were unequipped to handle COVID-19 cases and raised concerns about monastery residents, many of whom are of advanced age. The general secretary of the International Buddhist Council, Bhikkhu Pragyadeep, warned that if their request is not taken seriously, “all international monks will come out for a peace protest in front of Mahabodhi Temple.”

Panchen Lama Now a College Graduate, China Says

On May 19, China announced that the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who went missing at age six, is now a college graduate with a stable job, the Associated Press reported. After the Dalai Lama and other trained Tibetan lamas identified Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama in 1995, China abducted him and named another boy to the position.

On May 17, the 25th anniversary of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima’s disappearance, the Central Tibetan Administration called upon the Chinese government to reveal his whereabouts. Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who is now 31 years old, received free compulsory education as a child, passed his college entrance exam, and has a job. He added that neither Gedhun Choekyi Nyima nor his family wishes to be disturbed from their normal lives. Whether Gedhun Choekyi Nyima knows he was identified as the Panchen Lama remains unknown, according to CNN.

Coronavirus in Rohingya Camps

The first case of COVID-19 appeared in the camps for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, the Associated Press confirmed last week. Since 2017, many Rohingya Muslims have fled military violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and sought shelter in Bangladesh, where over 1 million refugees live in 34 camps. About 103,600 people per square mile are living in densely populated plastic shacks, with virtually no room for social distancing. The AP reports that each shack is barely 107 square feet, and that many are packed with up to 12 residents. “Here in the camps it’s difficult to protect our health from the virus because there are so many people in a small place,” camp resident and executive director of the Rohingya Students Union Ro Sawyeddollah said. The Rohingya also lack access to clean water and protective equipment, which many fear will exacerbate the outbreak. Bangladesh has identified 18,863 cases and 283 deaths from COVID-19 nationwide. Experts fear the toll is higher, since the South Asian nation does not currently have adequate testing facilities. 

Tibetan Women’s Association Creates Hotline

A Tibetan women’s nonprofit has created a helpline service for people experiencing physical abuse and sexual- and gender-based violence. The Dharmasala-based Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) announced the launch of the hotline in a Facebook post on Thursday. The TWA’s Women Empowerment Desk led the effort to establish the service, which provides both emergency and non-emergency responses. India’s National Commission of Women (NCW) reported a huge increase in reports of domestic violence in mid-April, according to the Deccan Herald. Between March 23 and April 16, the NCW received double of complaints received during the previous 25 days. The TWA stated that Tibetan women in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where many members of the Tibetan exile community live, can make use of the new hotline. 

Dalai Lama to Continue Live Webcasts 

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave his first live online teaching last weekend. According to the Tribune India, the Tibetan spiritual leader taught on the Precious Garland sutra by 2nd century Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, and offered his advice on addressing fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic. His Holiness also drew attention to the Buddhist idea of interdependence—a teaching that felt particularly relevant in a global health crisis. “An individual is reliant on the community to survive which teaches us to strive for kindness and compassion toward one another, qualities intrinsic to human nature,” he said. Next weekend, His Holiness will confer an online two-day Avalokiteshvara Empowerment (Chenrezig wang), named for the bodhisattva of compassion, from approximately 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Indian Standard Time. 

Fashioning Enlightenment 

Now, there’s a faster vehicle than Vajrayana. Etsy user DEVARSHYetsy recently released a positively embodied face mask for the Buddha within. Deity yoga has never been so easy (or affordable).

Golden Buddha Printed Neck Gaiter by DEVARSHYetsy

Also, temples in Thailand have been calling on citizens to wear masks—and some have taken to dressing up Buddha statues to enforce their message, according to Viewpoint News Japan

Buddha seems to be spreading the dharma of proper protective gear regardless of international borders, according to a tweet from the AFP News Agency. In Mumbai, India, a mural of Buddha sitting cross-legged and wearing a face mask has also appeared in recent weeks, alongside other signage promoting hand-washing and precautionary measures. 

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Original author: Emily DeMaioNewton
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