Zen

Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

It’s no where near as widespread as the vicious attacks against Buddhist Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, but a similar inter-religious clash is currently roiling Sri Lanka.

If you're not current with the breaking situation, this Reuters news piece will help. So will this analysis from Britain’s The Independent.

There are two takeaways here that journalists need to understand.

First, some majority Buddhist nations -- all of them in Asia -- are reacting to the growth of Islam in their midst in similar fashion to the reaction of some European countries, not to mention a large number of American Christians (religious and cultural) and others.

That is to say, with much alarm; fear of Islamic terrorism being a prime motivator. A second motivator is cultural in nature; the fear of losing one’s historical national dominance as global demographics shift. Call this the tribal component.

This New York Times analysis explains what I mean in far greater detail. Its’s headlined: “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” Here’s a taste of it.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace. History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.
While few sophisticated observers are shocked, then, by the occurrence of religious violence, there is one notable exception in this regard; there remains a persistent and widespread belief that Buddhist societies really are peaceful and harmonious. This presumption is evident in the reactions of astonishment many people have to events like those taking place in Myanmar. How, many wonder, could a Buddhist society — especially Buddhist monks! — have anything to do with something so monstrously violent as the ethnic cleansing now being perpetrated on Myanmar’s long-beleaguered Rohingya minority? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate and pacifist?

I know this is on the longish side, but allow me to also quote this part of the Times essay. It's illuminating, as is the entire article.

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Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

The notion of caring for those at the end of life's journey is a relatively new one, dating back about 70 years to the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician who began working with the terminally ill in 1948. In 1974, Florence Wald, a dean of Yale University's nursing school, teamed up with a chaplain and two physicians to start the Connecticut Hospice in Bradford, Conn.

Since then, at least 5,800 hospice programs have been organized in the United States, according to the most recent figures available (2013) from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. There's no doubt these programs span a spectrum from highly secular to highly spiritual. It's the latter that has caught the attention of The New York Times, where the notion that organizations serving the needs of those in their final days seems to be a rather new concept.

Some background: Until a few months ago, a triple-amputee named B.J. Miller ran the 30-year-old Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California, where patients went to confront the end of life, receive palliative care and even, in one case, help plan a wedding for the family member of a hospice patient.

Thanks to the Times, we know these things take place in the city by the bay, and what interesting, innovative things they are! Read on:

... Miller also seemed to be on the cusp of modest celebrity. He’d started speaking about death and dying at medical schools and conferences around the country and will soon surface in Oprah’s living room, chatting about palliative care on her “Super Soul Sunday” TV show.
... Vicki Jackson, the chief of palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital ... pointed to the talk Miller gave to close the TED conference in 2015. Miller described languishing in a windowless, antiseptic burn unit after his amputations. He heard there was a blizzard outside but couldn’t see it himself. Then a nurse smuggled him a snowball and allowed him to hold it. This was against hospital regulations, and this was Miller’s point: There are parts of ourselves that the conventional health care system isn’t equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering. He described holding that snowball as “a stolen moment,” and said, “But I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin, the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet, in this universe, mattered more to me than whether I lived or died.” Miller’s talk has been watched more than five million times. And yet, Jackson told me: “If I said all that — ‘Oh, I could feel the coldness of the snowball ...’ — you’d be like: ‘Shut. Up. Shut up!’ But no one is going to question B.J.”

 

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Buddhists, brownies and being engaged in the nitty gritty of life (and maybe news)

Buddhists, brownies and being engaged in the nitty gritty of life (and maybe news)

In 1997 I went to Yonkers, N.Y., to interview one of the most senior Zen Buddhist teachers in the United States about Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Browne ice cream. Pretty sweet assignment, right? (Is that a collective groan I hear?)

The teacher was Brooklyn-born Bernard Glassman, also known by his Zen name Tetsugen, who  started a community there designed to provide job training, employment, child care, housing, medical care, and other assistance to ex-drug addicts, ex-felons, single parents, the homeless, HIV and AIDS sufferers, and others facing hard times. He named his endeavor Greyston and one of its creations was a bakery that produced brownies for Ben & Jerry's ice cream products.

I was reminded of Greyston and Glassman -- both still going strong, by the way -- by a story that ran recently in The Washington Post about a White House-sponsored conference on Buddhism and public life. It contained the following paragraph:

"The daylong conference represents, some experts say, the start of a civic awakening not only among U.S. Buddhists, but even Buddhists overseas, where spiritual and religious life can sometimes be separated from things like politics and policy. U.S. Buddhists have high rates of political attentiveness and voting, but until recent years haven’t considered or focused specifically on how their Buddhism translates into public action."

Start of a civic awakening?

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