[Click "Read more" below for an update.] Many Buddhists today are preparing to observe Magha Puja Day, also called Sangha Day or Fourfold Assembly Day. Most schools of Buddhism celebrate Sangha Day on the first full moon day of the Buddhist month Magha, which this year is March 21.
This is a traditional time for showing appreciation to the monastic sangha. In many places the monastic sangha is under terrible stress. In the past year monks and nuns in Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tibet have been in genuine danger from oppressive governments or other hostile forces.
In southern Thailand, monks and temples have been targeted in an ongoing civil war between Muslims and Buddhists. In the photograph above, a Thai soldier guards monks as they make alms rounds. In Sri Lanka, some among the Buddhist clergy are said to have encouraged violence in the struggle between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the minority Tamils, who are mostly Hindu.
Teresa Malcolm has a heartbreaking story in the National Catholic Reporter about life in Myanmar since the Saffron Revolution. Barbed wire surrounds the great Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, said to house relics of the Buddha. Few monks are seen on the streets, and there are rumors of mass killings of monks. At the same time, starving people are giving children no older than 6 or 7 to monasteries to be ordained. That way, the children can beg for alms and be fed.
I have been blogging all week about the crisis in Tibet. There's little fresh news about Tibetan monks today, possibly because many are still sequestered in monasteries surrounded by Chinese military police.
Certainly, not all of the issues tearing at Tibet are religious. Howard French writes in today's New York Times that in Tibet, "... privilege and power are overwhelmingly the preserve of the Han, while Tibetans live largely confined to segregated urban ghettos and poor villages in their own ancestral lands."
Yet, time and time again, Tibetans say that return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet is essential. This is not necessarily to say that Tibetans want their country to revert to the theocracy of 50 years ago. His Holiness has offered to give up claims to temporal leadership of Tibet, if only China would allow Tibet some genuine autonomy. The government of China remains as rigid and unyielding as ever.CNN has a number of informative videos online that you can watch, one after another, here.
Update, 9:10 pm: Buddhist families in southern Thailand are fleeing en masse, in fear for their lives.
Photo Caption: A Thai soldier guards Buddhist monks.
Photo Credit: Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images