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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Tibetan Nuns Receive Scholarships

Tibetan Buddhist nuns receive financial support for research, US and China continue to dispute by blocking officials’ visas, and US churches are sites of new coronavirus outbreaks. Tricycle looks back at the events of this week in the Buddhist world.

By Emily DeMaioNewton and Karen JensenJul 11, 2020

A classroom of Tibetan nuns read Buddhist scriptures at the Dolmaling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. | Seth K. Hughes / Alamy Stock Photo

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

Five Geshemas Receive Research Scholarships in Historic Project

As part of a historic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy research project organized by the Geluk International Foundation, five Geshemas (nuns with a Geshema degree, the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition) have received scholarships to spend three years researching a particular topic, the nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project announced last week. The Geshema degree, equivalent to a Geshe degree for monks, only formally opened to women in 2012. Each Geshema who received a scholarship will work on research with an advisor and submit a final thesis at the end. The program, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, began on June 1. Information about the Geshemas who were selected and their research topics can be found on the Tibetan Nuns Project’s website.

US, China Curb Visas over Tibet 

Diplomatic relations between the United States and China were dealt another blow this week after the Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will implement travel bans on Chinese officials it accuses of restricting foreigners’ access to Tibet. The Trump administration’s travel ban limits or entirely eliminates an unspecified number of Chinese officials’ ability to travel to the US. China retaliated the next day by stating that it will impose visa restrictions on US citizens who have engaged in what it called “egregious” behavior over Tibet, according to Reuters. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, speaking to reporters at a daily news briefing, said that the new measures will target “U.S. individuals with egregious conduct related to Tibet issues,” but offered no specifics. “We urge the U.S. to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with Tibet-related issues. . . so as to avoid further damage to China-U.S. relations,” he said, according to the Associated Press (AP). The visa restrictions are part of wider battles over Beijing’s new hardline policies in Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in western Xinjiang province, global trade disputes, and aggression in the South China Sea. China requires special permits for foreigners to visit Tibet, where human rights activists say Chinese authorities have engaged in a decades-long campaign to suppress Buddhism and Tibetan culture and language. 

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Meditating on Whiteness 

Tricycle is offering free access to select articles during this uncertain time.

Right now, there are ongoing protests in the streets, ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white policeman. The protests are about a world more than the tragedy of that particular killing. They’re about centuries of violence against black and brown bodies, hearts, and minds.

As long as America postpones justice, we will have these recurrences of violence, riots, and protest over and over again. Thus we must ask ourselves: what will end racial violence and oppression?

Anti-black racism is the core wound of American culture. As William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” I saw images of a protest in Tampa, Florida, last week; one young African-American boy was carrying a sign that said, “Stop killing us.” A friend in D.C. related the story of President Trump employing the National Guard in order to shoot tear gas and flash grenades into a crowd of peaceful protestors—so that he could clear the way to pose for a photo in front of a church. This friend told me, “We have to be in the streets to save our lives.” 

The trauma of racial suffering just keeps going. It is time to learn to listen deeply and respond wisely.

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Making Peace with Ourselves

The date is November 25, 2001 at Plum Village, Upper Hamlet. This is the first talk of the 3-month winter retreat. The talk is offered in English.

00:00 Connecting with Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park Monastery
09:10 Chanting
34:12 Going Home to Ourselves
41:08 Drinking our Tea
43:22 Mindfulness of our Body
46:04 Body
52:50 Feelings
56:26 Perceptions
1:01:38 Mental Formations
1:05:14 Consciousness
1:06:01 Reclaiming Our Sovereignty
1:14:01 The Sangha
1:17:58 The Energy of Mindfulness
1:24:55 Healing from Within
1:29:04 Looking Deeply
1:37:53 Building a Sangha

What is the 3-month retreat? How do we practice together? Our practice is to build brotherhood. How do we know if we are succeeding in our practice? To practice to be happy together. It is a kind of daily food. Through our sitting mediation, walking meditation, eating in mindfulness. These help build our sisterhood and brotherhood. This is done by building peace within ourselves so it can manifest around us. 

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When the Dalai Lama Drops an Album

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is many things: Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tibetan spiritual leader, beloved popular culture figure, and now—as of July 6, 2020—record producer. At the age of 85, the Dalai Lama has come out with his debut album, titled Inner World. Fusing music with Buddhist chants, His Holiness uses his resounding voice as an instrument, reciting traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayers and presenting teachings on issues close to his heart. The first track, “One of My Favorite Prayers,” opens with the soothing sounds of a bamboo flute while the Dalai Lama recites a prayer composed by Shantideva, the 8th-century Indian Buddhist philosopher of the historic Nalanda University: “As long as space endures / And as long as living beings remain / Until then may I too remain / To dispel miseries of the world.” But why did one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders decide to embrace the music industry to disseminate his message of peace?

Inner World is the product of collaboration with musicians Junelle Kunin and Abe Kunin, a husband-wife duo from New Zealand. Several years ago, Junelle had suggested an album of mantras and conversations with the Dalai Lama. His office turned down the idea, but in 2015, during an audience with the Dalai Lama in India, she again pitched the idea, in a letter she handed to one of his assistants. This time, His Holiness accepted.

When asked why he agreed to make the album, the Tibetan spiritual leader told Junelle that music has “the potential to help people in a way that I can’t” and that it has the ability “to transcend our differences. It can return us to our true nature of good-heartedness.”

The album, which took five years to produce, contains eleven tracks. In seven of them the Dalai Lama chants sacred mantras of several important buddhas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, including that of Manjushri, bodhisattva of wisdom; Menlha, the Tibetan name for the Medicine Buddha; Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; and Tara, a Buddhist deity and female counterpart to Avalokiteshvara. In a track titled “Compassion,” widely released online last month, His Holiness recites the six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, one of the most well- known Tibetan Buddhist prayers. 

What’s striking about Inner World is that it blends musical genre and Buddhist teachings. In the track “Ama-la” [mother] that features Bengali sitar player Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar, the Dalai Lama states, “the real teacher of compassion in every human being’s life is our mother” and in another track titled “Humanity” he says “…too much emphasis on self-centred attitude and too much emphasis on we and them are the basis of killing, exploitation or injustices.” In the seventh track, “Wisdom,” His Holiness pays homage to Manjushri in Tibetan and chants the mantra of transcendent wisdom in Sanskrit, while a slow guitar weaves a mellow tune alongside saxophone and bass.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Uighurs Face Forced Sterilization

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

Uighur People Face Forced Sterilization 

The Uighur people, ethnic Muslims who live in China’s far west region of Xinjiang, have faced discrimination, forced internment in re-education camps, and other state-sanctioned violence in recent years. Now, more information is coming to light about Chinese government-led efforts to systematically curb its Uighur population. According to the Associated Press (AP), Chinese authorities are using “draconian measures” to curb birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities. These measures include pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices (IUDs), sterilization, and even abortion. While individual people had spoken out about forced birth control, interviews and data taken from an AP investigation of government statistics, state documents, and interviews with 30 ex-internment camp detainees, family members, and a former detention camp instructor, show that forced sterilization practices are much more widespread than previously understood. Some experts are now calling China’s attempt to stifle Uighur birth rates a form of “demographic genocide.” 

New Online Initiative Launches “Pay What You Can” Mindfulness Classes for Kids and Parents 

A new online mindfulness resource hopes to help families cope with the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the distress around recent acts of police brutality in the US. Founded by mindfulness teachers, psychologists, and educators, Inner Kids Collaborative offers daily mindfulness lessons on Zoom for children, tweens, and teens, as well as for their parents, caregivers, and educators, on an entirely “pay what you can” basis. “I think it’s important for people to know that this project is ‘pay what you can afford,’” co-founder and mindfulness teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland told Tricycle in an email. “If you can’t afford anything, you can email us and we’ll send you the link to get in for free. We’re a new nonprofit and providing affordable classes is important to us, especially during the pandemic when so many families are going stir-crazy.” 

Inner Kids offers two classes each week in Spanish, in partnership with Mexico-based mindfulness organization AtentaMente, and also hosts a weekly class for caregivers of children with autism. “I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful to be part of this fantastic collaborative of volunteer teachers, all of whom are working their hearts out to bring this project to life,” Greenland said. To register, check out Inner Kids’ schedule here

Bodhgaya Hotels Ban Chinese Travelers 

Hotels in Bodhgaya, India, the site where the Buddha realized enlightenment, have announced that they will no longer accommodate pilgrims of Chinese nationality, amid rising tensions at the Indo-Chinese border, according to reporting by the New Indian Express. The Bodh Gaya Hotel Association and the Bodh Gaya Restaurant Association decided to also ban Chinese citizens from restaurants, according to the report. Sudama Kumar, General Secretary of Bodh Gaya Hotel Association, told the New Indian Express that the decision was made as an action of desh-hit—the Hindi term for patriotism. “Nation first thereafter anything,” he said. 

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