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Does anyone remember when Hungary withdrew official recognition for all religious organizations in the country except 14? Well, good news. They've added 18 more, 5 Buddhist groups among them. Of course, that still leaves over two hundred religious sects that aren't recognized, but at least Hungary is acknowledging that Buddhism (and Islam, and Jehovah's witnesses, apparently) exists within its borders.
I was surprised to see the same amount of media attention given to two different Tibetan causes this week—that is, barely any attention. The first cause was a protest against a Minnesota beer ad that featured the Dalai Lama in a blond wig, next to a beer bottle and the words "Doing Good. Now available in Blonde." Suffice it to say that the Tibetan population in Minnesota was none too happy about this. The Minneapolis Star Tribune covered the reaction:
'It appalled a lot of people,' said Jigme Ugen, a local Tibetan activist who said he was offended by the image of his spiritual leader used to promote alcohol. He compared it to using Gandhi's picture to sell guns or the pope's image to promote condoms.
Equally disturbing, he said, was the fact that the ad used what appeared to be an altered photo of the Dalai Lama, replacing his shaven head, as is customary for monks, with blond hair.
Ugen, who says he used to work in advertising and can appreciate an edgy ad campaign, said this one crossed a line, calling it a 'cheap publicity stunt.'
The beer company, Finnegans, pulled the ad and replaced the Dalai Lama with "St. Ashlee, the Patron Saint of Blondes." Personally, I think Finnegans needs to hire a new advertising team.
The second cause is the indefinite fast that three Tibetans are holding in front of U.N. headquarters in New York. Today is Day 10. I went up there yesterday evening to see if they are still there, because there have been some reports of the NYPD harassing them. They are still there, and the NYPD are harassing them. Tenzin, a young man who is part of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told me that they have been forced to remove the tents that were protecting the hunger-strikers from the below freezing weather we have had this week as well as the mattresses that they were lying on, citing concerns due to Occupy Wall Street. Now, they are lying on air mattresses beneath piles of blankets. Luckily, they have set up beneath a construction overhang, which protects them from the worst of the elements. This short video, taken 6 days ago, constitutes most of the press attention that the hunger-strikers have received so far:
Speaking of Occupy Wall Street, do you remember this man? His picture was featured on the Tricycle blog a few months ago.
His name is Pancho Ramos Stierle, and he was arrested in November while meditating at Occupy Oakland. Although there were concerns that he was going to get deported, as he is a Mexican citizen who is in the U.S. illegally, it seems that he has prevailed and is still here. There was a great interview published with him last week in Yes! magazine. From the interview:
Sarah van Gelder: So what happened during the actual arrest?
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: On Mondays we practice silence, and the police officer who arrested us thought that we were deaf because we were not speaking. So he got a notebook and a pen. It was very considerate of him, and I could feel his energy shift a little, and so when he gave me the notebook I wrote, "On Mondays, I practice silence, but I would like you to hear that I love you."
When he read that, he had this big smile and looked me in the eye and he said, "Thank you. But, well, if you don't move, you're going to be arrested. Are you moving or not?"
So I wrote back, "I am meditating." He said, "OK, arrest them one by one."
That was one of my favorite moments from the whole ordeal.
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: My housemate Adelaja. We are also now on a mission to bring together people with different skin colors. He's a six foot five beautiful brother with black skin, and I have brown skin, and we have another brother here with white skin, so we're trying to be together.
Sarah van Gelder: Tell me about your experience in prison. Were you able to keep your nonviolent witness going while you were behind bars?
Pancho Ramos-Stierle: Before being in jail, it was hard for me to understand what Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi meant when they said that prisons are the temples of freedom. It's clear that they can do many things to your body and try to oppress you and use psychological violence. But there's something so strong inside each of us, the human spirit, that they can not reach. They can put you in shackles and cold cement cells, and feed you horrible food, and put you in solitary confinement, but there's no way that they can reach the human spirit.
That was powerful—to find once again that that part is sacred. I think that was the only thing that kept me sane and healthy in that very dehumanizing environment.
That's what I would like to share with people—that it is time for the spiritual people to get active and the activist people to get spiritual so that we can have total revolution of the human spirit. Because we have the idea that the self-indulgent people are just meditating—they are going to caves and meditation centers while all this madness is happening, or you have people at these meditation center that are asking how can you bring peace and calm and harmony to the world if you do not have that in your heart?
I think that we need both now, and that we need to combine this inner revolution with the outer revolution to have the total revolution of the spirit.
Although this post is getting too long to include another interview, the Los Angeles Times had a very interesting one with author Mark Salzman about, among other things, why he stopped meditating. Check it out!
Photo credit: By D. Scot Miller.