Dhondup Wangchen Escapes From China

Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen was jailed in China for six years in late 2009 in the western province of Qinghai after he made a documentary in which ordinary Tibetans praised the Dalai Lama and complained about how their culture had been trampled upon.

The film, “Leaving Fear Behind”, features a series of interviews with Tibetans who talk about how they still love their exiled spiritual leader and thought the 2008 Beijing Olympics would do little to improve their lives. The film was shown in secret to a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing during the Olympics.

In a statement issued in Beijing late on Wednesday evening, the group “Filming for Tibet” said Dhondup Wangchen had arrived in the United States that day.

“After many years, this is the first time I’m enjoying the feeling of safety and freedom,” he said.

“I would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to hold my wife and children in my arms again. However, I also feel the pain of having left behind my country, Tibet.”

Dhondup Wangchen had been released from prison in June 2014 in the Qinghai provincial capital of Xining but remained under tight surveillance with his movements and communications monitored.

Qinghai, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region, is home to a large ethnic Tibetan population and is considered by many Tibetans as part of greater Tibet. It is also the birthplace of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Watch the film here…………


Anniversaries and Milestones

I had a note in my diary for tomorrow that it’s the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Alliance for Bhikkhunis which is a nice coincidence as the West Wight Sangha is also ten years old this year.

While looking at their website I noticed that it was the 7th International Bhikkhuni Day on Wednesday, so a slightly belated congratulations on this auspicious event which marks the end of a significant year — the 2600th year of the Bhikkhuni Sangha.

Between the full moon of September 2016 and the full moon of September 2017 there were worldwide commemorations of the 2600th anniversary of the bhikkhuni sangha.

In the fifth year of his ministry, the Buddha was staying at Vesali when he heard that his father, King Suddhodana, was ill. He decided to visit him again at Kapilavatthu to teach him the Dharma, and made the long journey. After hearing the Dharma, the king immediately attained arahantship and passed away peacefully seven days later. It was in this year that the order of nuns was founded at the request of Maha Pajapati Gotami, the aunt and foster mother of the Buddha.

Three times she approached the Buddha and asked him to ordain her into the Sangha, but each time the Buddha refused, giving no reason at all. After the Buddha had stayed at Kapilavatthu a while, he journeyed back to Vesali.

Pajapati Gotami was a determined lady, and would not be so easily discouraged. She had a plan to get her way. She cut her hair, put on yellow garments and, surrounded by a large number of Sakyan ladies, walked 150 miles from Kapilavatthu to Vesali. When she arrived at Vesali, her feet were swollen and her body was covered with dust. She stood outside the hall where the Buddha was staying with tears on her face, still hoping that the Buddha would ordain her as a nun.

Ananda was surprised to see her in this condition. “Gotami, why are you standing here like this?” he asked.

“Venerable Ananda, it is because the Blessed One does not give permission for women to become nuns,” she replied.

“Wait here, Gotami, I’ll ask the Blessed One about this,” Ananda told her. When Ananda asked the Buddha to admit Maha Pajapati Gotami as a nun, the Buddha refused. Ananda asked three times and three times the Buddha refused.

So Ananda put the request in a different way. Respectfully he questioned the Buddha, “Lord, are women capable of realising the various stages of sainthood as nuns?”

“They are, Ananda,” said the Buddha.

“If that is so, Lord, then it would be good if women could be ordained as nuns,” said Ananda, encouraged by the Buddha’s reply.

“If, Ananda, Maha Pajapati Gotami would accept the Eight Conditions* it would be regarded that she has been ordained already as a nun.”

When Ananda mentioned the conditions to Maha Pajapati Gotami, she gladly agreed to abide by those conditions and automatically became a nun. Before long she attained arahantship. The other Sakyan ladies who were ordained with her also attained Arahantship.

based on Anguttara Nikaya 8.51

The establishment of an order of nuns with rules and regulations was an opportunity for women that the Buddha offered for the first time in the history of the world. No other spiritual leader had given such high religious status to women.

The Isle of Wight, The Buddha, NCIS and The Ham

Everything is interconnected.

Our last post concerned the changes to Japan’s traditional Buddhist inspired vegetarian cuisine brought about by Japan’s contact with the West.

I’ve just come across this story about the “World’s Oldest Edible Ham” which is stored in the Isle of Wight County Museum!

Before you all book a ferry to come over to the island to see it pause a moment for the penny to drop that this museum is in Isle of Wight County, Virginia USA which featured in a previous post about the Isle of Wight appearing in an episode of NCIS.

To further add to the confusion and connections the museum is in the town of Smithfield a name any Brit immediately associates with Smithfield market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.

You can keep track of what the ham is doing here, yes they’ve got a webcam on it…….


“Walk With Me”, Premieres at SXSW

On Sunday the film “Walk with me”, about mindfulness advocate and Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh had its world premiere at SXSW, otherwise known as “South by Southwest” which is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

Filmed over three years, at Plum Village monastery in rural France and on the road in America, the film is a meditation on a community grappling with existential questions and the everyday routine of monastic life.

As the seasons come and go, the monastics’ pursuit for a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them is amplified by insights from Thich Nhat Hanh’s early journals, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

More Watering Down

We’ve run a series of stories recently on the “watering down” of Western Buddhism. Just when I thought it was all over for a while up pops the story of Buddhist Geeks coming to an end!


On Tuesday, founders Vincent and Emily Horn announced that Buddhist Geeks — the podcast about dharma, technology, and culture, was no more and that they have stopped the podcast which had been downloaded more than 10 million times.

In terms of “watering down“, Vincent and Emily are working on an online meditation training platform called Meditate.io, which Vincent explains, “is more centred around meditation than Buddhism.”

“We’ve been teaching for several years. Recently we decided that the direction we wanted to take our teaching was outside of the Buddhist framework, so it just made sense to start a new project that reflected that,” says Horn.


Support for Bhikkhunis

As part of our recent series of posts on secular Buddhism and mindfulness I mentioned the following:-

“A while back I ran a series of stories on the plight of Buddhist nuns in various traditions who are denied full ordination. Many have now achieved this, “illegally” according to their parent traditions. But they have done this by side stepping the established protocols of the purely Asian schools of Buddhism. They have separated and moved away and formed their own monastic settlements here in the West where they can enjoy the liberal, progressive freedoms denied them within the traditional, Asian context of Buddhism.”

Coincidentally yesterday I received an email from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis about how one can help them in supporting the establishment and growth of training monasteries, hermitages and viharas for nuns.

It is striking how this contrasts with the Popes recent assertion on the subject of female ordination.

Pope Francis said that he believes the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women becoming priests is forever and will never be changed.

He was speaking aboard a plane taking him back to Rome from Sweden, in the freewheeling news conference with reporters that has become a tradition of his return flights from trips abroad.

A Swedish female reporter noted that the head of the Lutheran Church who welcomed him in Sweden was a woman, and then asked if he thought the Catholic Church could allow women to be ordained as ministers in coming decades.

“St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” Francis said.

Francis was referring to a 1994 document by Pope John Paul that closed the door on a female priesthood. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible part of Catholic tradition.

Western Buddhism (Watered Down?) Cont.

Further to our recent run of posts relating to the establishment/evolution of a genuinely Western form/school of Buddhism the following article cropped up in Lion’s Roar.

Recently we published an article by Funie Hsu titled “We’ve Been Here All Along,” which explores how Asian American Buddhists have historically been marginalized in American Buddhism. The author — an Asian American Buddhist scholar — bravely discusses what happens when white American Buddhists embrace teachings from Asia in a broader culture built on white privilege and racism. It’s a challenging but important article.

We don’t usually get much feedback from readers, but this one struck a nerve with several who took the time to write to us. The tone of these letters surprised me — some were quite angry at Hsu and lodged personal attacks (“She should be grateful for what she has”; “She ain’t no buddhist”). Others were more tempered but equally defensive (“I felt judged and unwelcomed”; “The article is implicitly racist toward white people”). 

Last week, while we were taping a panel discussion on Buddhist ethics for our next issue, Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati, took a moment to let us know how much he appreciated Funie Hsu’s article. I thought it might be interesting for him to tell you why. —Tynette Deveaux, editor, Buddhadharma 

“I am not an Asian-American Buddhist but I have certainly witnessed and been a part of some of the situations described in the piece, and to which Ms. Hsu calls useful attention.

I am European by birth and have been a monk in a Buddhist lineage hailing from North-East Thailand since 1979, practising under the guidance of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. I have lived mostly in the West as a monk since that date, in both the UK and the USA.

As a monk in a somewhat conservative order, my community has maintained close ties with its Asian cultural and religious roots. Our monasteries in the West, of which there are about thirty (there are about 300 in Thailand as well), tend to straddle two worlds; on the one hand there are the Asian immigrant communities, mostly from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Cambodia, and on the other there are the Western-born folks who have encountered Buddhism through reading, travelling or browsing the net. 

Over the years, particularly during my time in the USA, I have interacted a lot with both of these groups. It is sad to say, but in conversations with Western-born Buddhist teachers and practitioners, at formal meetings and conferences as much as in informal dialogues, I have regularly encountered the kind of white cultural conceit that speaks of practising “real Buddhism” rather than “folk Buddhism” weighed down with so-called “cultural baggage.” As one whose lifestyle is devotedly built around such “baggage” (preferably understood as “skillful means”) such comments and discussions come across bearing the ugliness and conceit of the unconscious racism of: “Some of my best friends are…” 

I found I could empathise with the spirit of Ms. Hsu’s article and felt many of her points were very apposite. We can all be blind to our conceits (I had no idea how English I was until I went to live in an international community) and her highlighting of these issues helps the reader to, in my humble opinion, turn the attention back on to their own heart to consider what they are assuming to be true and real. When we challenge such assumptions, often only spotting them when we feel particularly gratified (Yes!) or offended (How dare she!), we can then become aware of the stress-filled limitations these conceits bring. Once the heart is awake to the bondage it is creating, it can more easily let go and be free of it.” 

All good wishes,
Amaro Bhikkhu, Abbot, Amaravati Buddhist Monastery