Thursday April 24, 2014
These week Tibetan Buddhists are observing the 25th birthday of His Holiness Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, 11th Panchen Lama, who hasn't been seen since 1995. Tibetans still call him a political prisoner of China, but I suspect it's highly unlikely he and his family are still alive. We can always hope, of course.
If you aren't familiar with this story -- the Panchen Lama is a lama of the Gelug school and the second highest lama of Tibetan Buddhism. The highest lama is, of course, the Dalai Lama. In 1995 His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama identified six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reborn 11th Panchen Lama, and a few days later he and his family disappeared. China chose another boy, Gyaltsen Norbu, and had him enthroned as Panchen Lama later that year. China maintains the fiction that Gyaltsen Norbu is legitimately serving as Panchen Lama, but if you read between the lines of press releases it appears Gyaltsen Norbu is kept sequestered from other Tibetan monks even when performing official ceremonial duties.
One of the Panchen Lama's traditional duties is to choose the reborn tulku of the Dalai Lama, so this whole farce is about Beijing's plans to name and enthrone the 15th Dalai Lama after His Holiness the 14th has died.
Wednesday April 23, 2014
This week a British tourist in Sri Lanka with a prominent Buddha tattoo was spotted in Colombo, reported to authorities, and taken into custody before she had even left the airport. Apparently she will be deported soon, if she hasn't already. This happened to another British tourist last year, I understand.
Buddhism in Sri Lanka is very conservative. Awhile back some French tourists were fined for taking pictures of themselves kissing a Buddha statue. A recording artist scheduled to perform in Colombo had his visa revoked because he had released a music video showing young women in bikinis dancing around a Buddha. You really don't want to mess with the Buddha in Sri Lanka.
There are worse things going on in Sri Lanka, though. This week a Buddhist extremist group led by a monk named Gnanasara surrounded a government ministry to protest the resettlement of some Muslims. Gnanasara personally disrupted a press conference to protest the policy.
Wednesday April 16, 2014
I understand Sam Harris is writing a new book called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, to be published in September. The spirituality-but-not-religious thing is hardly original, but okay. Harris writes about this book on his blog, and makes some interesting observations.
"Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind," he says. He continues,
"New Age thinkers ... idealize altered states of consciousness and draw specious connections between subjective experience and the spookier theories at the frontiers of physics. Here we are told that the Buddha and other contemplatives anticipated modern cosmology or quantum mechanics and that by transcending the sense of self, a person can realize his identity with the One Mind that gave birth to the cosmos."
Harris says that this amounts to having to choose between pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-science, and his book will be a middle way. To which I say, um, there are lots of other ways already.
Thursday April 10, 2014
Sikkim is a small state of India located in the Himalayas, bordered by Bhutan, Nepal, and China. For several centuries it was a kingdom, and it became a state of India in 1977. Sikkim is about 60 percent Hindu and 28 percent Buddhist.
Elections for seats in the Sikkim state assembly will be held April 12. One seat in the assembly is the "sangha" seat, reserved for a Buddhist monk elected by other Buddhist monks. Six monks are campaigning.
One of the campaign issues involves the 17th Karmapa, head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The official seat of Kagyu is Rumtek Monastery, which is in Sikkim. The last Karmapa to be enthroned there was the 16th, who died in 1981. The Kagyu school is split over the identification of the 17th, and factions supporting each candidate claim the right to possess Rumtek. Indian courts became involved and barred both 17th Karmapas from Rumtek until the matter was resolved.
And there the matter stalled. There actually was a court decision in 2003 that somehow didn't actually settle anything. Both Karmapas -- Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje -- are stilled barred from Rumtek, I understand. The monks currently in resident at Rumtek are Ogyen Trinley supporters, although Trinley Thaye supporters say that's because his supporters were forcibly evicted.
Anyway, the Buddhists of Sikkim believe they have waited long enough. The six monks running for the dharma seat are promising to bring the Karmapa to Rumtek, although they aren't necessarily committing to which Karmapa.