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Guess who's Buddhist now? Bill Clinton. Everybody's favorite proponent of the fourth precept ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") is apparently learning how to meditate with the help of a Buddhist monk. I know, the article doesn't look too reliable. But still, it wouldn't surprise me if Bill were the latest public figure to jump on the Buddh"ish" bandwagon.
The other Clinton has also been involved in Buddhist affairs this week. Here she is at the Shwedegon Pagoda in Burma, looking very happy indeed.
Earlier this week Hillary and the State Department released the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, which noted eight nations as "countries of particular concern" for suppressing religious rights and freedoms: China, North Korea, Burma [Myanmar], Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. The report paid particular attention to China, criticizing their interference with Tibetan Buddhists. China responded by calling Washington arrogant and ignorant and the report a continuing of the U.S.'s "notorious practice of blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of other countries." Pot, meet kettle.
Meanwhile, things grow worse in Burma as Buddhist Rakhine lead attacks on the Muslim Rohingyas of the region. The country's police and paramilitary forces joined in on the violence, shooting fleeing Rohingyas and looting their burning homes. According to various reports, Buddhist monastic organizations have also blocked aid shipments to Rohingya refugee camps. For more complete background on the religious and ethnic context of the violence, click here and here.
In some older news, Stanford University students were treated to a Buddhist-themed commencement speech at their ceremony in June. The speaker, Sister Joan Chittister, founder and director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, told the story of Tetsugen, a Japanese Buddhist monk. Tetsugen "spent years begging for money to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Japanese, but gave the money away twice— first to build houses for the homeless after a flood, then to feed the starving after a famine." The monk finally managed to print the scriptures. Now, "when parents take their children to view the books, they tell them that the first two 'editions'—the new houses and the thriving people—were even more beautiful than the printed works." Chittiser also rallied the students to be brave enough to tell the truth and to "rebel against the forces of death that are obstructing us from being fully human together." You can watch her entire speech below, starting at 25:30.
Before I let you all get on with your weekend, two more bits of news to mention. First, Swaziland had its first Buddhist funeral ever to occur in the country on Wednesday. And second, there's a great conversation between Stephen Batchelor and Anglican priest Don Cupitt over at the Secular Buddhist Association website. You can read Tricycle's own dialogue with Stephen Batchelor and Don Cupitt here.
Image 1: From Reuters.
Image 2: From New American Media.