May 10, 2013
Buddha Buzz: Marijuana-filled Buddhas, HHDL speak out on Burma, and some good ol' Buddhist Americana
Earlier this week US Customs and Border Protection officials seized nearly 600 lbs of pot inside a shipment of Buddha statues and other religious figurines. Officials at the El Paso US-Mexico crossing discovered the narcotics—and an alternate explanation for the Buddha's contented grin—with the help of an irreverent, drug-sniffing dog. No arrests have been made.
In last week's Buddha Buzz we reported on the Buddhist temple sex-tape scandal that has engulfed the second-largest Cambodian-American community in the US. Although whereabouts of the monk depicted in the tape remain unknown, a statement has surfaced—received by The Cambodia Daily—in which Ven. Nhem Kimteng confirms his identity in the video but denies that it shows him breaking his vow of celibacy in the local pagoda with Maya Men. Men is a fellow community leader who is currently suing five men for illegally producing and distributing the video. She testified that the videotape shows her and Ven. Nhem Kimteng "rocking back and forth" and nothing more, eliciting laughter in the Superior Court of Lowell, Massachussets.
Six Muslim men have been charged over the death of a Buddhist monk in the outbreak of sectarian violence in Meiktila, Burma, that occurred back in March. The rioting left at least 43 people—nearly all of them Muslims—dead. The murdered monk—the only Buddhist death that was reported—was allegedly knocked down from his motorbike and then beaten and killed. Those charged risk facing the death penalty.
The outbreak of violence in the central town of Meiktila was almost entirely directed at the Muslim minority, resulting in the displacement of about 12,000 people in addition to the nearly 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims of Rakhine State displaced in the fall of last year. The BBC received footage filmed by the police that depicts "young Muslim men being chased from their burning homes and hacked with machetes." A monk even brought a machete to the neck of an Associated Press photographer, who defused the situation by offering to him the memory card containing photos he snapped of the violence. No Buddhists have been charged for their participation in the recent violence.
The Dalai Lama responded to Buddhist-led violence in Burma on Tuesday, condemning the attacks on Muslims and offering his prayers. He has previously expressed his humanitarian concerns to fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and even expressed his confidence in the leader. Not all share his optimism. Some have suggested that the Dalai Lama visit the country in an effort to resolve the ongoing ethno-religious conflict, but Burma, with its close political and economic ties to China, remains off limits to the exiled leader.
(A quick HHDL aside: Portland, Oregon police responded to investigate a suspicious package sent to the religious leader this week in advance of his talk at the University of Portland. The package's contents proved completely benign but nevertheless mysterious: a baseball with a request for the Dalai Lama to autograph it.)
Some good news came from Burma this week with the distribution of The Irrawaddy magazine, which hit Burmese newsstands on Tuesday for the first time. First published in 1993 by Burmese activists living in exile, the publication, based in Bangkok, distinguished itself with trenchant political and social commentary with a primary focus on Burma and its immediate environs. Reforms to press laws have allowed the magazine to be distributed inside Burma for the first time and for its staff to even open up a bureau within the country's borders, as it has in Rangoon—the commercial center and former capital. Check out their website here.