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Thread: Buddhists behaving badly

  1. #76
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    More on Shi Yongxu

    15 hours
    Self-Proclaimed Shaolin Master Arrested as Gang Leader
    Authorities in central China’s Henan province have arrested a criminal gang led by a man who claims to have trained Shaolin monks, according to an official statement released Tuesday.

    Luoyang City police say they arrested 16 suspects in Yanshi, another city, earlier that day for their alleged involvement in a range of illegal activities, including blackmail and extortion. Among those taken into custody is the gang’s leader, who police identified as Shi Yongxu.

    Shi claimed to have once trained Shaolin monks and even declared himself to be the heir apparent to the abbacy of the renowned Songshan Shaolin Temple, according to domestic outlet The Beijing News. However, a temple staff member has denied Shi’s claims, insisting that he only worked as a clerk at the temple’s souvenir shop.

    The same staff member also told The Beijing News that Shi had left his job at the store 20 years earlier, and that the other suspects had never been associated with the temple. (Image: Weibo)

    The official statement:
    公 告

    近期,洛阳市公安局牵头侦办偃师市以释永旭为首的涉黑恶犯罪团伙,抓获团伙成员16名。现定于2019年8 月1日上午9时30分,在偃师市召开释永旭涉黑恶犯罪团伙主要成员公开指认现场揭发检举动员大会,届时将在 大口镇大街(镇政府南100米)设主会场,并押解犯罪嫌疑人进行公开指认犯罪现场活动,请广大群众前往参加 。

    举报电话:13592059700 高警官

    15838836110 李警官

    偃师市公安局

    2019年7月30日
    googtrans
    Public notice

    Recently, the Luoyang Municipal Public Security Bureau took the lead in investigating the black criminal gangs headed by Shi Yongxu, and arrested 16 members of the gang. It is scheduled to be held at 9:30 am on August 1, 2019, and the main members of Shi Yongxu’s black criminal gang will be openly identified in Yanshi City to publicly identify the on-site prosecution mobilization meeting, which will be held in Dakou Town Street (100 meters south of the town government). The main venue is set up, and the suspects are escorted to publicly identify the crime scene activities, and the masses are invited to participate.

    Reporting number: 13592059700 High police officer

    15838836110 Officer Li

    Yanshi City Public Security Bureau

    July 30, 2019

    THREADS
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  2. #77
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    Li Yuhui

    We don't have a Busted Feng Shui masters thread, so I'm copying this from the Feng Shui thread to the Buddhists behaving badly thread.

    Hong Kong murders: when five women were killed by feng shui master with cyanide ‘holy water’
    Three close friends and the two teenaged daughters of one of the women were poisoned by Chinese feng shui practitioner Li Yuhui during a ‘longevity rite’
    Mercedes Hutton
    Published: 10:45am, 26 Jul, 2019


    Feng shui master Li Yuhui was executed in 1998 convicted of manslaughter after for killing five women in Telford Gardens. Photo: TVB screenshot
    “A mother, her two teenage daughters, and two women friends were found dead in a suspected suicide pact in a flat in Kowloon Bay last night,” ran a story in the South China Morning Post on July 24, 1998.
    The five were later identified as Becky Lam Chun-lai, the 49-year-old executive director of a publicly traded company, who lived with her husband and three children in Repulse Bay; Choi Sau-chun, 44, a mother of one and resident of Telford Gardens; Tsui Shun-kam, 40, who lived in the fifth-floor flat, also in Telford Gardens, in which the bodies were found; and Tsui’s daughters, Lee Ying-fai, 17, and Lee Ying-hei, 13.
    In the days before they died, the women, who were close friends, had each withdrawn large sums of money, totalling HK$1.3 million. An examination showed all five had died from cyanide poisoning, reported the Post on July 27.
    Mainland Chinese feng shui expert Li Yuhui was named in a July 28 article as a person of interest. On August 5, the Post reported that Hong Kong police had lost contact with Li, who was in China. Li’s arrest was announced on October 9. A day later it was reported that he would stand trial in the mainland, where he would face the death penalty if convicted, following an alleged confession.


    A police drawing showing where the five bodies were found inside the fifth-floor flat in Telford Gardens. Photo: SCMP

    According to an October 10Post article: “The women, who had only known Li a month, were given ‘holy water’ – later confirmed to have been cyanide – to drink and told that every $10,000 could buy another year of life” as part of a longevity rite. Tsui was told to give each daughter a cup of “holy water” to drink. Once all five were dead, Li took the HK$1.3 million and returned to the mainland.
    Li’s trial began on March 4, 1999, in Shantou, Guangdong province. The accused denied the charges levelled against him, claiming a Zen Buddhist was the master*mind behind the crime. “I’m not the real murderer,” he reportedly told the court. However, he was unable to provide the judge with any details about the alleged Zen practitioner.
    On March 24, the Post announced Li had been sentenced to death for the murders. Li appealed the decision, but on April 20, his plea was rejected and he was executed by firing squad.


    Andrew Hui King-chun officiates at his wife Becky Lam Chun-lai's funeral service at Hong Kong Funeral Home. Photo: SCMP
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  3. #78
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    Former Shaolin monk

    Shi Yongxu deserves his own thread now.

    Former Shaolin monk, 15 associates arrested on suspicion of gang activity
    1 2019-08-07 10:44:39 China Daily Editor : Li Yan

    A group of 16 people, including their leader, a former monk from Shaolin Temple, were arrested recently on suspicion of gang-related crimes in Central China's Henan province amid an ongoing crackdown against organized offenses nationwide.

    Police in Yanshi, Henan, issued a statement recently that they had busted the gang, led by Shi Yongxu, on allegations of fighting, illegal detention, blackmail and disturbing public order.

    Details about the case, including specifics of the gang's crimes, have not been revealed by police.

    The statement quickly aroused public attention, and information about Shi-that he was among the 33rd generation of monks studying the Shaolin discipline and in charge of the kung fu monks at the Shaolin Temple-hit Chinese media headlines.

    Some media also said Shi attended events as vice-president of the Buddhist Association of Yanshi and member of the Yanshi committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

    Late on July 30, the Shaolin Temple-located at the foot of the province's Songshan Mountain and regarded as the cradle of Chinese kung fu-issued a declaration on its website, clarifying Shi as a monk in the 1980s who had left the temple on his own in 2003.

    "Shi's activities have nothing to do with the temple, and we have never had a title called kung fu monk," the declaration added.

    On July 31, the Buddhist Association of Yanshi also issued a statement via the city's website, saying they have removed Shi from positions at the association and dismissed him as abbot of Hongjiang Temple in the province, considering his suspected offenses.

    A staff member of the Shaolin Temple also told Beijing News that Shi used to run a shop in the temple after becoming a monk, but he was not a master.

    Huaxi Metropolis Daily, a newspaper based in Sichuan province, reported Shi was involved in several major cases. For example, it said Shi blackmailed a house owner and urged him to pay fees for what he claimed were house repairs.

    A senior monk in the Shaolin Temple also told the newspaper that Shi still occupied four main halls, even though he left the temple.

    "He asked the temple to give him 3 million yuan ($427,000) as compensation for moving out of the halls, but the temple refused to do that," the paper quoted the monk as saying.

    The halls were cleaned up when newspaper staff went to the temple on Saturday.

    All the information reported by the paper has not been verified by the police.

    China launched a three-year campaign in early 2018 against organized crime, which also targeted officials who shelter criminal organizations.

    Beijing courts released a statement saying they convicted 271 people for their involvement in 65 organized crime cases from January last year to the end of June, 46 of whom were sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment.
    THREADS
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  4. #79
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    Sometimes the rescuers are worse...

    More on Thailand's Tiger Temple scandal here.


    86 Big Cats Rescued From Thailand’s Tiger Temple Have Died in Government Custody

    Although the government says inbreeding, stress contributed to the felines’ demise, critics have also cited cramped conditions, inadequate facilities


    The Tiger Temple charged tourists to feed, take photos with captive felines (Dmitri1999 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0)
    By Meilan Solly

    SMITHSONIAN.COM
    SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

    In 2016, Thai authorities removed 147 big cats from the so-called “Tiger Temple,” a notorious tourist attraction long plagued by allegations of abuse and exploitation. Three years later, 86 of these tigers are dead, leaving just 61 survivors still in government care.

    Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation announced the tigers’ passing Monday. Per a statement, the animals’ primary cause of death was laryngeal paralysis, a respiratory disease that impairs sufferers’ breathing. Other contributing factors included stress triggered by relocation; immune deficiencies associated with inbreeding; and canine distemper, a virus most commonly seen in domestic dogs.

    Speaking with the New York Times’ Ryn Jirenuwat and Richard C. Paddock, Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, says the deaths could have been avoided if the government had taken preventive measures such as increasing the distance between cages.

    In an interview with BBC News, the conservationist notes that cramped conditions enabled the spread of disease among the big cats. He further cites the government’s limited budget, which prevented officials from treating those affected by canine distemper. (The virus is easily managed with proper food and supplements, clean water, and space to roam.)

    “To be very honest, who would be ready to take in so many tigers at once?” Wiek says. “The authorities should have asked for help from outside, but instead insisted on doing all [the] work themselves.”

    The tigers’ one-time temple caretaker, Athithat Srimanee, also refutes the government’s account. “They did not die because of inbreeding,” he tells Reuters’ Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um, but because they were housed in inadequately sized cages.

    Australian conservation nonprofit Cee4Life exposed conditions at the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist monastery located northwest of Bangkok, in an investigation published in January 2016. As National Geographic’s Sharon Guynup reported in an accompanying exposé, the temple—controversial due to its reputedly poor treatment of captive animals—generated around $3 million in annual income by charging tourists to feed and take pictures with the tigers housed on its grounds.

    Government raids conducted in the aftermath of the media firestorm confirmed critics’ long-held suspicions. Authorities searching a truck attempting to leave the compound discovered more than 1,600 tiger parts destined for the illegal wildlife market, as well as 40 deceased tiger cubs stuffed into a freezer.

    In a statement, Sybelle Foxcroft, cofounder of Cee4Life and leader of the investigation that exposed conditions at the Tiger Temple, attributes the 86 felines’ death largely to their treatment at the compound.

    “I wrote publicly about Mek Jnr,” a male tiger exhibiting particularly severe symptoms during a 2015 visit to the site, “and I was just about begging the Tiger Temple to help him, but they ignored it all and said he was fine,” Foxcroft explains. “He was far from fine and he would end up dying in agony from this.”

    If operations at the tourist attraction had continued, the activist adds, the 86 felines “would have still died of the same illnesses, but the difference would be that the Tiger Temple would have skinned the dead bodies, and used the body parts for sales.”

    According to the Times, the government avoided releasing information on the tigers’ welfare for months. In November, for example, Kanjana Nitaya, director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office, said several tigers had died but declined to cite a specific number. She maintained that officials were “taking the best care of the tigers we can provide.”

    Moving forward, Dina Fine Maron writes for National Geographic, the government will continue caring for the Tiger Temple survivors, ensuring that conditions are safe and designed to reduce stress. It remains unclear whether authorities will move the 61 remaining tigers to a different facility or otherwise change the way in which the animals are managed.


    About Meilan Solly
    Meilan Solly is a Washington, D.C.-based arts and science journalist. She has previously served as Smithsonian's American Society of Magazine Editors intern and a Kiplinger.com editorial intern. Website: meilansolly.com
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  5. #80
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    Slightly OT

    Is Buddhism Violent?
    BY RANDY ROSENTHAL| NOVEMBER 1, 2019

    Buddhism is a religion of peace. So why do some monks carry guns and preach hatred? In this conversation with Lion’s Roar, religious studies professor Michael Jerryson argues that, if you look closely, “violence abounds” in Buddhist doctrine.


    Photo by Steve Evans.

    In recent years, the phenomenon of “Buddhist violence” has received increasing attention. The seeming oxymoron entered the Western consciousness during the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009), but I first heard about it during the Buddhist-Muslim conflict in southern Thailand that erupted in 2004. Today, it is notorious due to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

    Buddhists are people, and people are violent. But the fact that Buddhist monks incite violence against Muslims is disturbing to many Westerners — especially to Buddhist practitioners who consider the Buddha’s teaching to be completely non-violent. Many of us struggle with how to understand the violence encouraged by nationalistic Buddhist narratives found in Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

    Last year, I wrote an essay on the Myanmar situation that was published in Buddhadharma. In it, I concluded that the crisis was a cultural — not religious — conflict and that extremist Buddhists were unofficially directed by the military government. Therefore, I surmised, the violence could not accurately be called “Buddhist” — a conclusion in accord with the views of many Buddhist practitioners, teachers, and academics.

    But Religious Studies scholar Michael Jerryson thinks otherwise. He has written extensively on Buddhist violence, including in his books Buddhist Fury and, most recently, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, in which he argues that violence is inherent in Buddhism, both in practice and in doctrine. I spoke with Jerryson to better understand what he wants us to know.

    In your introduction, you write that “violence abounds in Buddhist thoughts, doctrine, and actions.” What do you mean when you say that “violence abounds”?

    In the West, for about the last hundred and fifty years, white Western males have pretty much controlled what they see as the canon of Buddhist scripture, or doctrine. We’ve been normed in the West to orthodoxy — looking at texts and scriptures as being the authority for doctrine. There’s orthopraxy, which is people who think that rituals are more important. But there’s also a third component that I’ve argued, which is the cultural authority. Burmese monks and Thai monks are seen as the equivalent of scripture.

    I’ve heard Western Buddhists say, “Is that truly Buddhist? Is that Buddhist doctrine?” To which I say, “Who are you to dictate what is doctrine for these people?

    For example, [Buddhist studies professor Rupert] Gethin and I had a dispute about whether or not the Mahavamsa [an epic Sri Lankan poem written in the 5th or 6th century] is considered part of the canon. Gethin said, “No it’s not. It’s not at all,” and explained how it’s not part of the Vinaya [the rules for Buddhist monks] or the core teachings.

    I said to him: “If you go to Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Buddhists will see the Mahavamsa as core to what they believe and what they do.” He said, “Well, it’s not core.”

    People say that extremist monk U Wirathu is not drawing upon doctrine. In Myanmar, as one of the high-ranking Buddhist monks, what he says is doctrine.
    That’s a great reflection of how what we consider doctrine is already artificial. And the Mahavamsa has a very powerful argument for violence in it. [King] Dutthagamini ends up slaughtering millions of Tamils. And, at the end, he’s visited by these fully awakened beings who tell him he’s only killed 1.5 people: only one person took on the three refuges, which means that they are a Buddhist; and only one person committed to the five moral precepts, and so they are half a person. The rest are no more than beasts. That’s an example of how violence is in doctrine.

    People also say that [Burmese extremist monk] U Wirathu is not drawing upon doctrine. I argue that Wirathu is speaking doctrine, because, in Myanmar, as one of the high-ranking Buddhist monks, what he says is doctrine.

    Doctrine is not locked in. Every Buddhist tradition has different amounts of doctrine. The Vinaya differs everywhere you go. The suttas or sutras differ everywhere you go. The Abhidhamma differs everywhere you go.

    In my study, I’ve never found encouragement of violence in the Pali Canon. Is there something I’m missing? Is there anything in the orthodoxy that encourages violence, or is it used to justify violence?

    I would say it’s the latter. It’s how it’s being used and interpreted. We see this in all the world’s traditions. The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not commit murder.” We have Christian ministers who kill abortion clinic doctors because of how they interpret the meaning. In that same line of thinking, shunyata — emptiness — is a very powerful notion because it strips a person of any sense of permanency and it removes a sense of killing a person.

    In the Russo-Japanese war, during Japanese Imperialism, WWII, Rinzai, Soto Zen, and Pure Land Buddhist monks would advocate that it’s okay to kill. They would explain, “These people are not really people. They are the five psycho-physical aggregates. They’ll get reborn in a true Buddhist land so they can get awakened.”

    In Theravada, you have a very strong promotion of a king, the equivalent of what would be a bodhisattva in Mahayana. You could say that, in Theravada, the king is vaulted to the level that the bodhisattva is in other traditions. In Theravada, the Buddhist king is given a lot of leniency on what he needs to do.

    Across doctrinal divisions, there are times when people proclaim that they are awakened, and they think Mara [the embodiment of evil] has arisen and that we have to combat Mara, and this is end-times. This is embedded in Buddhist scriptures. By invoking that “Mara’s here” or “I’m Maitreya,” it strengthens the sense that we must really push back at all costs — including violence.

    You write in one chapter that Buddhists have a “just war ideology.” Is this where that sense comes from?

    In Christianity, your first rule is non-violent. But, if another virtue presents itself, it can trump the first interdiction. In Buddhism, you need to avoid harm. However, there are certain times when a need overrides that. That’s considered “just violence,” or a “just war.” So defense of dharma — defense of Buddhism — would be one clear example that is used again and again. What we see now in Myanmar and Sri Lanka is these Buddhist monks saying, “These are signs that Buddhism is under attack, and Islam is going to overtake us, and we must protect this.”

    When I lived in southern Thailand, a military monk explained to me, “The Buddhists are like small ants against this great elephant. But, when we come together, we can push back against it. That’s why I keep this Smith and Wesson behind my robes here.”
    continued next post
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  6. #81
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    Continued from previous post

    Can you explain what a military monk is?

    Certainly. Initially, I didn’t set out to study Buddhism and violence. I was interested in social activism and Buddhism, so I went to Thailand to do interviews. When I was in southern Thailand in 2004, I started hearing rumors about military monks. One day, in my fieldwork, I was at this monastery and I met a military monk. He explained to me that military monks are soldiers who get earmarked to go to a monastery and become ordained. They retain the soldier status and retain a monthly salary and they carry a gun. And the argument is: who is better trained to protect these monasteries than soldiers, clandestinely, as monks?

    This example of a military monk, of someone who’s simultaneously a soldier and a monk, violates the Vinaya — the monastic guidelines. However, it’s an example of how the ways in which people actually practice are different than how they read about it.

    If you’re not a Christian and you read about Christianity in the Bible, and then you look at how Christians behave, you’ll see that as well. So, when I teach religion, I always tell people: You have to look at both the emic — the internal perspective — and the etic — the external perspective. Both of these matter.

    In Buddhism, you need to avoid harm. However, there are certain times when a need overrides that. That’s considered “just violence.”
    From the outside looking in at Thai Buddhists, you could say, “They’re not being true Buddhists.” But we have to honor their perspective as well, which is that they are Buddhists.

    At first, I thought this monk was an aberration. But there have been soldier monks in Thailand, the Japanese have this, the Chinese have this. The Martial Arts have come from this, too, with Chinese monks who were soldiers. And I found the undercurrent of a pattern that had been left out of the way in which we think about Buddhism. I thought these military monks were a perfect example of the Buddhist relationship to violence.

    Brian Victoria, who wrote Zen at War, and I are at odds. Brian Victoria thinks that all the travesties and terrible things that Japanese Buddhists did were actually aberrations; they’re not Buddhist. That it’s just politics to have done this. I’ll tell Brian: First off, there is no universal Buddhist council, like the Pope in Roman Catholicism, who says what is right and wrong. There is none. The sanghas decide what is right and wrong in each tradition, and they can defrock who they want to. And you don’t have the ability to say, “This group is wrong.” The sangha has the authority.

    And he says, “Well, Michael, it’s not Buddhist. It’s political.” And I tell him: Politics have always existed in Buddhism. The earliest legend of the Buddha is that he was a prince. The idea of the sangha comes from the gana-sanghas, pseudo-democracies created by the Sakya clan that the Buddha was a part of, in modern-day Nepal. The Buddha liked this idea and drew from it.

    The idea of cleaving apart politics and religion is a modern invention. Before the 1800s, we had theocracies across the world in all different religions. It’s only recently that we’ve tried to cleave these apart, and I think it’s artificial. The line between politics and religion is not clear at all. Both are about authority, and sometimes they’re able to cleave out different pools of authority so they don’t collide with each other, but in the end they’re both dealing with very similar things. They are both dealing with right and wrong. So, when Brian Victoria says, “This is politics, it’s not Buddhism,” I say “You’re missing the forest for the trees. You’re not seeing the nature of how religion operates in the world.”

    You noted that, in Thailand, you could lose your access to the state. Is that because your book criticizes the monarchy?

    Yes. I knew when I wrote the book that I might be banned from Thailand for the rest of my life. People like Andrew Marshall and other Western scholars have been tried in absentia, and if they enter the country they get fifteen years in prison, or more. And I have a whole chapter critiquing the monarchy and the king, which can get me in jail.

    When I saw the cover of your book, I had a shock. It’s an image of a monk trying to push a boulder onto the Buddha. And the title is a reference to the famous koan, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” What are you trying to say with the cover and the title?

    There’s a legend about the Buddha and his cousin Devadatta. Devadatta is like a nemesis of the Buddha. According to the legend, Devadatta tries to kill Buddha several times — one time pushing a boulder off of a cliff as the Buddha is walking down the road.

    And, there’s the koan, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The idea is that the Buddha is within you. The tathagatagarbha, buddhanature, is within you, not outside of you. Don’t see it outside. Seek it within. It’s not meant to be actual violence. But I paired the koan with the idea of Devadatta meeting the Buddha on the road and actually trying to kill him, showing how we have metaphors and we also have real legendary instances of the same thing. I’m not trying to advocate the koan being about violence, but show that there are both symbolic violence and actual advocations of violence.



    There is a bit of cognitive dissonance in what I’m doing with these covers. My Buddhist Warfare cover was taken by a photojournalist in 1988, on the eve of the violence in Myanmar. She asked this young novice holding a gun, “Could I take a picture?”

    Scholars were furious about the cover before they read the book. People said, “How dare you put a picture of a child with a gun on a book?” I’d go, “Do you think we created this image? We didn’t. This exists. It sounds like you’re more concerned with the issue of violence being present in the world than you actually are with the cover.”

    That’s what I’m trying to do with these covers. On the Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, I have the image of Abraham trying to kill Isaac. That’s a very horrible image, but it’s embedded right in the foundation of Abrahamic religions. If God tells you to kill your son, do it. I put the image of that to remind people. Wake up! This is what we have here. Don’t dismiss it.

    I want to shift gears from physical violence. You also talk about structural violence. In that case, the evidence is more apparent and you don’t have to get so nitpicky into doctrine. You talk about how gender discrimination is a structural act of violence. So, even though the Buddha might have allowed women to take robes and said that a woman can reach enlightenment, nonetheless the Buddhist patriarchal system is equivalent to support of violence against women.

    We have no evidence of what the Buddha actually said. The earliest examples of anything we have is from the second or third council, around the time of Ashoka — 150 years later. Often, people who are upset about what I’m saying say to me, “Oh, Dr. Jerryson, you’re wrong because the Buddha said this.” I say, “The Buddha didn’t say anything that you know about. It’s what the tradition thinks the Buddha said.” There’s no proof beyond the inside perspective of what happened there.

    In the narrative of the Buddha, his aunt, who raised him, beseeched him after a while, asking to become ordained, and he said no. Turned her away. So then she turned to his cousin, Ananda, his favorite disciple, and she beseeched Ananda to advocate on females’ behalf. Ananda was turned away two times by the Buddha according to this legend. The third time, the Buddha said, “Okay, I’ll let women in. But because I’m letting women in, the life of the dharma has been shortened by 500 years.” And he created some rules for this which are still present to this day.
    continued next post
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    Continued from previous post

    Fear is a primary emotion. Behind anger is fear. And if you don’t listen to the people in a way that they feel heard, they’re going to go into anger. Violence is an extension of that.
    The first is that women must be ordained twice, where men are only to be ordained once. So men get ordained within the male sangha, women have to be ordained within the female sangha and then the male sangha. When women do transgressions they have to visit the male sangha and speak about them to the male sangha.

    Another example is the fact that seniority among Buddhists in the Vinaya is dictated by how long you are a monk. So, Randy, if you were a monk for 10 years and I was a monk for one year, I might be older than you, but I defer to you, because you’ve been a monk longer. And I pay respects in that way. Now let’s say that we met a female monastic who had been a monastic for 20 years. She would have to bow to me, because the way it’s written in the scriptures, in the doctrine. A male monk is always higher than a female monk.

    In some traditions, women cannot be awakened on their own. They have to be reborn as a man. In Pure Land Buddhism, they go to Pure Land as a male and then become awakened.

    Beyond these examples, we can look to the current debates about whether or not women can be allowed to be ordained. Some Buddhists say, “Look, women cannot be ordained because the lineage has died out. There is no female sangha. And there’s no Buddha to initiate it again so therefore we can’t do it.”

    In Thailand, women cannot get ordained. Over 78% of men are temporarily ordained—it is normal in Thailand to be temporarily ordained—and may even do this to give their mother enough merit to go to heaven because the mother can’t do this on her own, because she’s prevented from doing so.

    Monks are given free rides in Thailand. Transportation money. They’re allowed to get income money from the state. Women don’t get this. And, in fact, women who do ordain, who are not part of the Thai sangha, are attacked in Thailand. There’s been arson attacks against them, death threats.

    When I wrote this book and sent it off to the University Press, one of the reviewers said, “Gender discrimination is not violence. This should be taken out.” And I said, “No. Too long have we used Western definitions for violence, which by itself is too ambiguous because no one can really define what violence is. We need to start looking at what each religion sees as violence before we look at religion and violence.” So in Buddhism, “himsa” is often translated as “violence” and “ahimsa” as “nonviolence,” when in fact it’s “non-harm” and “non-injury.”

    So, in this way, the self-immolations of over 150 Tibetans are not considered violent, because, according to scripture, there’s no harm being evinced by these people burning themselves up, and they’re harming no one else. So it’s not violent. So a Westerner would say, “suicide is violent.” But it’s not within the emic (insider) perspective there. At the same time, women are being harmed in the instances I’ve talked about. They’re being harmed in a social way and in a physical way and in a spiritual way. So that, according to Buddhist precepts, is violence against them.

    You include French-American scholar Bernard Faure’s statement that “a consistent feminist critique could shatter Buddhism to its foundations.” How exactly could a modern critique shatter Buddhism to its foundations? There would be no Buddhism anymore?

    Religion is always changing. And if it doesn’t change, it dies out. It has to remain relevant to modernity. That’s taking place in Buddhism. There’s a famous example in which Sariputra is met by a female goddess, and Sariputra says, “Well, you’re a female, you can’t be awakened.” And she says, “It doesn’t mean anything that I’m female.” And he goes, “Yeah it does.” And so she goes, “Good, you’re a female,” and turns him into a female. And he goes, “Ah!” And she turns him back — boom — and she goes, “It doesn’t really matter.” And Sariputra has to admit the fact that it doesn’t matter, that gender is really, in the end, insubstantial to what the dhamma is. That we are empty of any true existence in this way. But, unfortunately, these examples are few and far between in Buddhism.

    If you examine the idea of himsa and ahimsa and how gender distinctions and discrimination is embedded within a lot of Buddhist traditions and practices, it’s shattering that you have to renegotiate what you’re going to prioritize and how you’re going to prioritize it. A lot of women have done this. We see a lot of reimagining and reconfiguring that I would consider shattering of the foundations. But, it’s gonna take a lot of change. I think that’s what Bernard Faure is getting at.

    We have no evidence of what the Buddha actually said. The earliest examples of anything we have is from 150 years later.
    Right now, there are so many rapes taking place in Buddhist monasteries. Female monastics get raped and sexually assaulted by male monks and they can’t report it to the authorities, who are male.

    In Vietnam, a couple of years ago the UN invited Australian monk Ajahn Brahm to speak about female monastics and ordination at a conference. When he got there, he was disallowed from speaking about it. Fast-forward to two years later, I’m invited to give a paper at a conference in Thailand, and when I’m invited they tell me, “Please don’t talk about southern Thailand.” And I go, “Okay. Is it okay if I talk about gender?” And he goes, “Sure.” So, I talk about all the politics behind gender ordination in my paper. I get past the entry-level reviews. I’m one of the twelve papers selected by the committee. But when it gets to the higher-ups, who are male, they go, “Nope, no discussions about women and ordination. Forget about it.” So, we see here a patriarchal system that has been around for centuries, that has protected men at the expense of women, and has used Buddhist doctrine to legitimize it — at the expense of women who are harmed, from being raped and sexually assaulted to simple discrimination. So, to make this shift will be shattering for many communities.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
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    Continued from previous post

    In your book, you stay away from sexual violence. Is there a reason? Are you saving that for your next book?

    When I was writing this book, I tried to do three cases where, according to Buddhist views of violence, Buddhists are doing violence. And three cases in which violence is being done to them, and they’re victims of it. So, I tried to make sure there’s balance.

    I’m fearful that if I had one chapter on sexual abuses, people would dismiss it, and go, “Oh, that’s just people acting wrong.” But, in my view there is an institutional structure behind this, supporting all of this. Let’s examine the institutional structure, and we’ll see how it percolates into sexual abuses.

    I’ve heard lots of reports. Like, in Laos, where a community of young girls will report a Buddhist monk is molesting them, and the parents say, “No, I don’t believe them.” I’ve listened to Rohingya refugees. You hear about the gang rapes by the Buddhist Rakhine soldiers and the Burmese Buddhist military. It’s awful.

    Now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do another book, because I’m dying of ALS. Last year, I was given less than a year to live — or maybe up to five years to live. So, I’m trying to use the last years of my life to fight for and advocate reducing suffering. If I have time to do another book, great. But if not, that’s why.

    Wow. I didn’t know that. I really appreciate you spending the time with me to talk about your work. I know you get a lot of blowback. So, I’d like to give you the opportunity to respond to people who say you’re actually doing violence to Buddhism with your work.

    I think there is a problem in Western academics. Most of the scholars who teach Buddhism are former or current monastics. If you’re an academic, you should wear the academic hat, and then take it off when you want to discuss Buddhist issues. But, too often, Buddhist teachers can get away with things that people teaching Christianity and Judaism can’t do. They can preach religion in their classes, do meditation classes. If you did Christian prayers in the classroom, you’d get kicked out.

    In the end, I feel that my duty is to disseminate knowledge as best as I see it, to elucidate issues around the world that are not being seen clearly. This is why I went to southern Thailand. I actually had a hit put on me when I was doing my fieldwork for my dissertation. And I had a newborn daughter. My wife didn’t want me to go back, and I said, “Look, journalists are willing to risk their lives to cover the news. If I want to call myself an academic — which is supposed to be the highest level of knowledge production — why shouldn’t I be risking things?” So, I took out a half-million-dollar life insurance policy temporarily and went and did my fieldwork. And, to this day I have PTSD from it. So, I take my duty as a scholar very seriously.

    Please don’t dislocate these people from being Buddhist because of the atrocities they’re committing. Help them feel heard, respect their views, and then disagree and explain how you see it as violent.
    I don’t think it’s my job to promote things like we see with [Buddhist scholar] Robert Thurman. He once got in a fight with [Buddhist scholar] Donald Lopez, saying you shouldn’t critique the depiction of Tibetans because it will hurt the Free Tibet movement. I would say to Robert Thurman, “That’s not our job.” If you want to do that, do that as a monk. Our job as scholars is simply to explain as best we can. So I try very carefully not to say what is wrong or right. I try to describe as clearly as possible what I see happening.

    Too often we dismiss people committing violence and just ignore them. We get angry at them or say they’re not true Buddhists. That’s a big mistake, in my view. Anger is a secondary emotion. Fear is a primary emotion. Behind anger is fear. And if you don’t listen to the people in a way that they feel heard, they’re going to go into anger. And violence is an extension of that — not feeling heard. Instead of attacking people for doing violence or advocating violence, we need to — first and foremost — make them feel heard. Listen to their concerns. When we talk about our fears, fear goes away. When we talk about anger, it increases and gets more and more and more. So, I say to people, please don’t dislocate Wirathu from being a Buddhist, or these Burmese Buddhists from being Buddhist because of the atrocities they’re committing. Help them feel heard, respect their emic views, and then disagree and explain how you see it as violent. But you need to do the first thing before doing the second. Otherwise, you won’t get anywhere. That’s the issue at hand. We have to listen to people’s fears.

    Catchy headline and lead shot. Good read.
    Gene Ching
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  9. #84
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    Tuesday Lobsang Rampa

    The Tibetan lama who was really a plumber from Devon
    A 1956 bestseller about life in a Himalayan monastery turned out to be made up by a man who’d never been there. But that didn’t stop the Dalai Lama endorsing it
    David Bramwell
    Sun 17 May 2020 06.00 EDT


    Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, AKA Cyril Hoskin, in 1958, and his bestseller. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

    Travel writing has always been plagued with spurious facts, exaggerated claims and barefaced lies, from fantastical beasts geographer Pausanias’s Guide to Greece in the second century AD to Louis de Rougement’s serialised Australasian adventures for the Victorian Wide World Magazine, most of which he gleaned from the reading room of the British Museum.
    When it comes to accounts of exotic climes, however, none is quite so extraordinary – or enduring – as The Third Eye, written in 1956 by a person who called himself Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. This spiritual travelogue covers Rampa’s early life in Lhasa, his years in a Tibetan monastery, encounters with yetis, yogic flying and other Buddhist mysteries. The book sold half a million copies in its first two years, making Rampa something of a celebrity.
    He did, however, have his detractors. Rampa’s wild claims – not to mention his West Country burr – led Tibetologist Heinrich Harrer to hire a private detective. What this gumshoe uncovered surprised even his employer. Not only had Rampa never been to Tibet, he didn’t even own a passport. He was a former plumber from Devon called Cyril Hoskin who damaged his back by falling out of a tree while owl-spotting. During convalescence he had, it seems, settled on a drastic career change.
    The media was scandalised; Hoskin was unrepentant. Cheerfully admitting that he’d never been to Tibet, he now claimed that as he lay semi-conscious at the bottom of a tree that fateful afternoon, half-strangled by his binoculars, an elderly lama (monk) had floated by on the astral plane and the pair had agreed to swap bodies. (Whether, in 1950s Tibet, an elderly lama ever claimed to be a West Country plumber remains unverified.)
    Rampa nevertheless garnered a global following. His 20 books range from an interstellar travel memoir entitled My Visit to Venus to Living with the Lama, transmitted to him telepathically by his cat, Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers.
    History should not judge Rampa, who died in 1981, too harshly. Many leading Tibetologists admit that he set them on their paths, and the Dalai Lama has acknowledged Rampa’s role in drawing attention to the plight of his country. “The ****her one travels, the less one knows,” sang George Harrison in 1968’s The Inner Light. With lockdown making travel writing almost impossible, fellow freelancers take note. A ripe imagination, decent broadband and a trickster’s cunning are perhaps all you need.

    • The Third Eye (Ballantine Books, £7.99) remains the UK’s bestselling book on Tibet
    Hmmmm, I need a new job. Maybe something like this?
    Gene Ching
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  10. #85
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    Slightly OT

    He's not really behaving badly but I didn't know where else to post this. There are a lot more pix. I only c&ped a few.

    Hot ‘Monk’ Going Viral is Revealed to Be a Famous Burmese Chinese Actor
    BY CARL SAMSON
    JANUARY 14, 2021
    19 SHARES
    1 MINUTE READ


    Photos of a Burmese Chinese actor who dressed up as a monk have gone viral on Asian social media.

    Paing Takhon, 24, who stands at about 5 feet 10 inches, has acted for various movies and a documentary drama series in Myanmar.

    He was listed as one of the Top 10 Actors of 2019 by the Myanmar Times.


    Image via @paing_takhon
    Earlier this week, Takhon, who started his career as a runway model, shared photos of himself dressed as a monk on Instagram.

    It did not take long before the photos spread like wildfire, with many users expressing awe at the sight of a “hot” monk.


    Image via @paing_takhon
    In addition to dressing like a monk, Takhon actually lived like a monk for 10 days.

    “Spent my New Year 2021 by being a monk for 10 days and I felt so peaceful and knew myself more,” the 24-year-old captioned his post.

    Check out more of his photos below:


    Image via @paing_takhon

    Image via @paing_takhon

    Image via @paing_takhon

    Image via @paing_takhon

    Image via @paing_takhon
    Needless to say, fans have been swooning over his appearance.

    “I can’t even take you seriously. If the monks at my temple were that handsome, I’m afraid I would never go to the temple again in fear that I would sin,” one wrote.

    Another commented, “Divine handsomeness.”


    Image via @paing_takhon
    Aside from acting and modeling, Paing also happens to be a singer.

    In 2017, he released a full solo album called “Chit Thu” (Lover) and donated all of his earnings to children from Ananda Metta orphan school.

    Feature Images via Paing Takhon
    Gene Ching
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    I am sure where it seems to be the same in Thailand, where people leave their workplace or profession for x period of time (4 wks, 8 wks, 2 months, etc) and do the monk thing as a way to "get away" and or reorient, to a spiritual place instead of training the senses (Pattaya, etc). It isn't as bad the the full time monk engaging in non monk activities that disrupts his sensual appreaciation of material benefit.

    I met a few (decades ago) and that seems to be the practice in those places staing they are secular. Notwithstang the Burmese refugee crisis of getting rid of "minorities' stans a part of the secular/spiritual reality on all bases!

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    tragic wherever this happens.

  13. #88
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    Wang Xingfu

    CHINA / SOCIETY
    Fake ‘Living Buddhas’ end up behind bars for using Tibetan Buddhism to amass wealth, rape disciple
    By Gao Lei
    Published: Feb 02, 2021 09:40 AM


    Wang Xingfu disguises himself as a living buddha. Photo: file picture

    Over the years, with the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism, many people including some television celebrities have been worshiping "Living Buddhas." Seeing profits in this, some lawbreakers made use of people's devotion to the religion to amass large amounts of money and even rape their disciples.

    The Global Times dug out how two fake Living Buddhas used religion to harm their disciples.

    Prison guard-turned 'living buddha'

    Wang Xingfu, who claimed himself a "Living Buddha" and used the name of Lhosang Tenzin, swindled hundreds of millions of dollars and even raped several women over the past decades.

    Wang had 21 "Ashrams" and more than 3,000 "disciples" across China. Before proclaiming himself as a "Living Buddha," Wang dubbed himself a "qigong master" in late 1980s when the country was caught up in a "qigong frenzy."

    Like many other fake qigong masters, Wang profited from the wave. He embezzled the Tibetan Buddhism and fabricated a so-called "secret school of mind recharge."

    Then he set up classes in cities including Ji'nan, Chengdu and Shenyang, earning more than 5,000 yuan ($773) or even as much as 7,000 yuan a month, a high income in the late 1980s and early 1990s in China.

    Seeing the profits, Wang who was a prison guard at that time, had no interest in his work and kept asking for leave until he was fired. In the middle and late 1990s, as the government cracked down on the fraudulent "qigong masters," Wang changed his "secret school of mind recharge" to "ancient yoga theory application research institute," and developed a so-called "supreme secret yoga" to cheat money from disciples.

    In 2006, Wang got to know the a Living Buddha named Gongzhi in Eruo Monastery, Ganzi Prefecture, Southwest China's Sichuan Province. Gongzhi was well known there and at that time he was seriously ill.

    Wang, who was desperate to "legitimize" his schemes by using Tibetan Buddhism, tried hard to curry favor with Gongzhi. He took his "disciples" to donate money and goods worth over 1 million yuan to Gongzhi's temple. He then also claimed to have studied Buddhism in temples for many years and is the reincarnation of a "Living Buddha."

    As a result, Gongzhi took Wang as his only disciple outside the Tibetan regions and told his disciple, Lurong, who would take over as the abbot of Eruo Monastery, to be good to Wang.

    Lurong at the beginning did not welcome Wang but his attitude changed when he saw Wang was able to support the temple.

    In 2008, Lurong illegally held an "enthronement ceremony" for Wang and claimed Wang as a Living Buddha named Lhosang Tenzin and even gave him a fake ID card showing Wang as Tibetan. Wang even fabricated a "reincarnation system" for himself.

    In 2016, Wang divorced with his wife. When the case was exposed, Lurong was asked by the police why he illegally hosted "enthronement" for Wang and forged him as a "Living Buddha." Lurong said that Wang had many disciples and could donate money and goods to the temple.

    After being arrested, Wang also attacked Lurong whom he used to call "vajra brother," saying Lurong treated him as a money machine and he felt deep "regret."


    Wang Xingfu's villa in Xiamen, East China's Fujian Province. Photo: file picture

    'Religious teaching' for money

    After becoming the "Living Buddha Lhosang Tenzin" following his "enthronement" in 2008, Wang became even more unscrupulous and committed many heinous crimes on his followers, such as fraud, molestation and even rape.

    Before his crimes were uncovered, many of his followers, who had been seriously harassed by him, did not consider themselves victims of Wang's crimes, and some even chose to defend him.

    One of his followers surnamed Wei said Wang controlled his disciples' mind in a horrific manner - he made the disciples swear not to betray him, otherwise, they would suffer terrible retribution and even lose their lives.

    Laxianjia, vice director of the religious institute of the China Tibetology Research Center, said Tibetan Buddhism has "Exotoric Buddhism" and "Esoteric Buddhism." A disciple usually needs to spend more than 20 years in the period of "Exotoric Buddhism" with his or her master. During this period, the disciple can question and even change masters. But once the disciple passes "Exotoric Buddhism" stage to "Esoteric Buddhism," the disciple must fully follow the teachings of the master whom he or she had identified during the "Exotoric Buddhism" stage.

    Laxianjia believed Wang used the close relations between disciple and master in the "Esoteric Buddhism" stage to make his disciples willing to be controlled. Laxianjia said Wang actually knew nothing about Buddhism, after questing Wang when he was in detention.

    One of his disciples said that most of Wang's disciples were in urgent need of consolation of the faith due to their own or family troubles and Wang is good at using some concepts in Buddhism to appease these people.

    Some had doubts about Wang, but their doubts were relieved when they saw how Lurong received Wang in the monastery.

    According to the police investigation, the main way Wang cheated money was to charge people for his teachings. The money varied from 300 yuan to 8,000 yuan. He also sold "religious instruments" and carried out "religious activities" to make money. He made nearly 200 million yuan in more than 10 years.

    Wang spent the money buying houses and properties across the country and gave his wife and son money. Wang said he gave Lurong more than 40 million yuan.

    Besides fraud, Wang even used the concept of "Yuganaddha" to molest and rape female disciples.

    Laxianjia said that the "Yuganaddha" in Tibetan Buddhism is about the combination of "wisdom" and "methods" rather than the nonsense that Wang talked about.

    When he was arrested, police found condoms and "oil" that can boost sexual drive. He claimed the disciples he raped had consented.

    Some of his disciples who had sex with him said Wang called them to the room for sex.

    One of the women who was raped by him in 2013 said Wang came to the hotel in casual clothes after she checked in at his request. After she kowtowed to Wang and told him her family's problems and asked for his blessings, Wang became impatient and said the disciple needs to offer the master the body and mind. Wang later peeled off her clothes.

    "I knew what he wanted to do then. I was quite scared. But as I thought he was a Living Buddha, and I was afraid that if I rebelled against him, there would be retribution. I didn't dare to resist. I just knelt down and cried and kowtowed to him," she said.

    So far, investigators have evidence that Wang has sexually assaulted at least 10 female "disciples" over the years, including eight who were raped and two who were indecently assaulted.

    A police officer told the Global Times that due to the reluctance of most victims of sexual assault cases to come forward, and the long time span of Wang's crimes, the number of women raped by Wang may be far higher.


    Cash and foreign banknotes are found by the police from Wang's residence. Photo: file picture
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
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    continued from previous post


    Cash and foreign banknotes are found by the police from Wang's residence. Photo: file picture

    A key accomplice

    Wang would not have had the opportunity to commit such heinous crimes if it weren't for Lurong, the abbot at Eruo Monastery.

    Lurong, through stealing and violating the traditional convention of Tibetan Buddhism, turned Wang, a liar from qigong, into a "living buddha" and helped Wang deceive a huge number of believers in the country.

    Lurong has known of Wang's crime as early as 2016, when a woman follower of Wang reported his sexually assaulting women and looting money. But Wang reminded Lurong about how the Eruo Monastery had been depending on Wang's followers' sponsorship.

    To not lose Wang as a "money machine," Lurong became Wang's accomplice. He not only published an "investigation report" to prove Wang did not have any problem, but also hired people to remove online posts reporting Wang.

    All the punishment Lurong gave Wang was letting him confess in front of the sacred tower and warning him to be a "qualified monk."

    "I felt he wanted to use my money to renovate the monastery in order to lift his prestige among locals," Wang said.

    From the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism, Lurong's behavior is also a serious violation of Buddhism, said Zhou Wei, an expert on Tibetology. "It completely violated the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism and the concept of "integrity" in religion. It is all crooked ways."

    This is also the reason why the two were prosecuted for "organizing and using a cult to undermine the implementation of the law." Their behavior deviated from Tibetan Buddhism and has long become a "cult."


    Wang Xingfu during an illegal "enthronement" in 2008 which seriously violated Tibetan Buddhism rituals. Photo: file picture

    Another monster

    Apart from Wang's case, police also cracked down a fake living buddha case as appalling as Wang's in Shenzhen of South China's Guangdong Province.

    Yang Hongchen, the main suspect in the Shenzhen case, was born in Northeast China and became a monk in a small Hongye Temple in North China's Hebei Province in the late 1990s.

    Afterwards, he went to Labrong Monastery in Northwest China's Gansu Province and fabricated a "living buddha" certificate and an ID as a Tibetan. With the new identity, he returned to Hongye Temple and began to deceive people there.

    To bamboozle more people, he claimed himself to be the former head of the Chinese Buddhism Association and the reincarnation of respected patriotic monk Sherab Gyatso.

    Many victims in Yang's case said that believed Yang's story. But monks in Labrang said Yang was never a monk in the monastery, let alone a living buddha. People from Yang's hometown said Yang wasn't even a monk.

    Before 2017, Yang already had dozens of believers. He also raped many of his female followers and caused one to get pregnant.

    Under the mind control of Yang, the violated women were either afraid of being cursed by the "living buddha" or believed it was for religious progress. None of the women chose to report Yang's assaults.

    Finally, Yang's hedonistic life style drew suspicion from a follower, who reported to the religious administration department in Shenzhen.

    The fair trial

    In the past three years, the relevant persons involved in the Wang, Lurong and Yang cases have been convicted of serious crimes by the court in the first trial, and completed the second trial this year.

    Wang was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined 20 million yuan for crimes of organizing and utilizing a cult to undermine laws, illegal operation, rape and compulsory indecency. Lurong was sentenced to six years imprisonment and fined 5 million yuan.

    Yang was put in jail for 18 years and fined 150,000 yuan for using superstition to undermine law enforcement, fraud, rape and embezzlement. He pleaded not guilty in both court trials and blamed his followers.

    Police believe that such scams are still hidden in society, and because some victims are mentally controlled, it greatly increases the difficulty of investigations.

    To identify such criminals, Li Hanying, former senior official on religious affairs at the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, reminded that the public can check the identity of a "living buddha" at an online query system of the State Administration of Religious Affairs or check with local religious departments.

    Li noted that Buddhism is a religion of rationality and wisdom and believers should not blindly obey someone because of admiration. Therefore, everyone must establish this concept of "right faith" and improve the quality of faith and the ability to differentiate between good and evil.

    Once a suspicious "living buddha" is discovered, it is even more important to quickly report him to the religious affairs department and public security organs, Li said.

    These cases also have triggered thinking of related departments on how to strengthen supervision, stop such frauds in the name of religions, and upgrade publicity on such crimes.

    Laxianjia suggested that schools could open some courses on common sense about religions. "It is not to spread religions on campus, but to tell people the essence and knowledge of religions and lead people to have the correct values to avoid being deceived."

    Lurong and some Tibetan monks served as accomplices and violated the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism, which experts believe shows Buddhist monks should strictly maintain their reputation and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism and discipline themselves, and therefore safeguard and respect for the freedom of religions in China.
    threads
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    Slightly OT



    How a Poetry Collection Masquerading as Buddhist Scripture Nearly Duped the Literary World
    ”The lioness’s roars of the ancient nuns have been muffled into sweet new-agey purring.”
    By An Tran
    February 3, 2021
    When The Best American Poetry 2015 hit the shelves, mainstream media bloomed with stories of a hot new literary scandal: one of the poems in the collection, published under the name Yi-Fen Chou, was actually the work of a middle-aged white American man named Michael Derrick Hudson. The poem was widely seen as a racial appropriation of the voice and identity of a young Chinese woman, one that the author undertook after failing to publish widely under his own name and identity.

    Half a decade later, a new literary scandal has poked up its head, this time in what is known as the Buddhist Anglosphere, and it is far a more extensive transgression. Please make yourself acquainted with one Matty Weingast, a white American man, whose release of The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns—originally marketed by Shambhala Publications as a translation of the Therigatha (Verses of the Elder Nuns), an important work of Buddhist scripture composed by the first awakened women—initially met generous fanfare that soon boiled over into a frothing controversy as more Buddhists familiar with the original text read Weingast’s book more carefully.

    Counted among those Buddhists is this article’s author—a writer of short stories, a Vietnamese American raised in Mahayana Buddhism, and an armchair historian of early Buddhist texts—who was, at first, incredibly excited to hear of this new translation. In Buddhist tradition, an awakened being typically composes a gatha, or verse, commemorating their enlightenment. The Therigatha is an especially sacred collection of these awakening verses, because the poems are said to be authored by the very first community of Buddhist nuns, led by the Buddha’s stepmother, Mahapajapati Gotami. All extant lineages of Buddhist nuns are believed to trace back directly to her and the first community of nuns that she established. Emerging from a time and setting where many of the surrounding cultures did not think it was acceptable for women to practice religious asceticism, and some held that it was impossible for women to attain liberation, the Therigatha stands out as one of the earliest anthologies of women’s literature in human history and, for Buddhists, a testament to the spiritual ferocity and capacity of women.

    Tradition holds that, after the Buddha was at first reticent to ordain a community of nuns, fearing for their safety living in secluded forests, Mahapajapati and the women that would become the Elder Nuns walked barefoot from Kapilavastu to Vaisali—a distance that today covers over 220 miles—demanding he reconsider. Realizing that his concern was mistaken in the face of the aspirant nuns’ determination, the Buddha agreed and ordained his stepmother as the first nun. The Therigatha, maintained in the liturgical language of Pali, is a 2,500-year-old tome of power, a rare transmission of women from the ancient world speaking in their own voices to triumphantly declare that they have conquered death. Any new translation of this immensely powerful text is highly significant in Buddhist communities.

    To market the book, Shambhala Publications, which is the leading mainstream publisher of Buddhist literature in America and distributed by Penguin Random House, collected blurbs from some of the biggest names in American Buddhism, including Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Thubten Chodron, among others, many of which lauded it as a fresh new translation of the Therigatha. But it is not. The First Free Women, Weingast’s book, is not a translation of the Therigatha at all—it is entirely a work of original poetry, composed by Weingast himself.

    Weingast’s poems bear little to no resemblance to the poems of the Elder Nuns. They often strip away concepts like rebirth, karma, and spiritual attainments, replacing these key Buddhist doctrines with distortions derived from Buddhist modernism, the post-colonial revisionist movement originating in the 19th century, which sought to re-imagine Buddhism in the guise of rationalist philosophy and romantic humanism (a more appealing approach in the West).

    The great gulf between Weingast’s poems and the sacred verses they claim to represent was first publicly noted by the Venerable Ayya Sudhamma Theri, an American nun and the founder of the Charlotte Buddhist Vihara, on the popular blog Fake Buddha Quotes in November. She wrote, “Weingast’s poems may mislead readers into a soft feel-good version of early Buddhism, without rebirth, without psychic powers, and, it seems to me from what I’ve read of it, without celebrating the promise of complete liberation. In Weingast’s version, the lioness’s roars of the ancient nuns have been muffled into sweet new-agey purring.”

    Plucking poetry or religion or anything else from one culture and transposing it to another does not give one the liberty to re-imagine it entirely, then masquerade this new product in the original’s identity.
    While there is no shortage of commercial reviews of the book that have praised it for providing access to “rarely heard female voices” (in the words of one reviewer), it is important to note that Weingast, by colonizing the voices of these revered Asian women, ultimately binds them further within a power dynamic that privileges the male gaze.

    This is no more apparent than when Weingast’s version of the poem composed by the Buddha’s stepmother, Mahapajapati, is compared to any valid translation, such as the version by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, a prominent Pali translator in San Diego who teaches and practices in the Thai Forest tradition. The original poem makes no reference at all to Mahapajapati acting as a mother figure to the Buddha, which more than one past translator has noted; yet, Weingast’s poem foregrounds her maternal role to the Buddha, writing (in Mahapajapati’s voice), “What mother doesn’t see a Buddha in her child?” Bhante Sujato, an Australian monk and translator of Buddhist texts, comments on this, saying: “Weingast puts in Mahapajapati’s mouth the idea that universal motherhood is the Buddhist path. She is no longer a free woman, but one bound by the limitations of a man’s understanding.”

    In the past, Weingast has admitted he isn’t qualified to translate the text. Last May, Pamela Weiss, a prominent meditation teacher associated with the San Francisco Zen Center and the Insight Meditation Society, published an interview with Weingast that was held at the San Francisco Insight Meditation Community in front of an audience. In regard to his writing process, Weingast said, “I had no idea what I was doing, so it just kind of allowed me to just make it up as I went along […] So it was kind of always just this seeing what it was, seeing what it was for me, that was the important part.”

    In response to a question about how Weingast chose specific English words to interpret their Pali originals, Weingast responded, “Not so much [in reference] to Pali, because she [the chief editor] doesn’t have Pali,” admitting that neither he nor the editor have any expertise in the text’s source language. He then described a process of reading and re-reading the verses aloud in different ways, trying different words based on what “rings true.”

    In November of 2020, Weingast said in the Creative Dharma Newsletter, “My approach was to read a poem many, many times… then reconstruct the poem around that primary image or the instruction.” He added, “I had no training in this, and I wasn’t telling people what I was doing because the whole thing was so weird. But something allowed me to say: let’s see where this goes. I was in over my head, not properly trained to do this, but that allowed it to turn into whatever it wanted.”

    Between these two interviews is a full admission that Weingast was not trained in Pali translation, did not work with anyone who was, and composed the book based on intuition without any concern for resembling what was supposed to be the source material. He explained on the podcast, “Besides their importance as a historical and religious text, the Therigatha is a beautiful work of art. […] When you have that depth of meaning, you can see it from a thousand different angles and it’ll be true from any point.” This position is rooted firmly in the imperialist perspective of Buddhist modernism, wherein the Buddhadharma is seen as so malleable a set of teachings that it can be anything. In this modernist perspective, the ultimate goal of extinguishing birth and death is shed away, regarded as an extraneous primitive and superstitious cultural baggage that accumulated like dust onto a pristine, “purer” version of Buddhism, one accessible only through the superior western rationalist gaze. The dharma, then, is re-packaged to the masses as a suite of secularized self-help exercises, composed of curated cherry-pickings from revised, re-imagined, or wholly apocryphal texts.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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