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SPECTATORS WATCHING Tibetan monks create an intricate sand mandala at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park were shocked on August 9 when a woman "protesting Buddhist death cults" jumped a velvet rope and destroyed four weeks of meticulous work. The circular six-foot mandala, depicting the Kalachakra, or Wheel of Time, was part of an exhibition of Tibetan sacred art. It was scheduled to be taken apart in a dissolution ceremony, which symbolizes the Buddhist teaching of impermanence, on August 18. Instead, the monks performed the ceremony, in which they scattered the sand at sea, two days after the incident. The woman, who claimed to have ties with the CIA, was taken to Mount Zion Hospital for observation. Lobsang Samten, the leader of the sand painters, told reporters, "We don't feel any negativity. We don't know how to judge her motivations. We pray for her with love and compassion."
THE BUDDHIST COMMUNITY received a far greater shock later in August, when nine people—six monks, a nun, and two lay disciples—were brutally slain at the Thai Buddhist temple Wat Promkunaram, twenty miles outside of Phoenix, Arizona. With no motives apparent there was some speculation that the murders were motivated by racial hatred. Helen Zia, of the Asian-American journalists Association, told the New York Times that due to increasing Asian immigration "there has been a significant increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, from harassment to assault to deadly violence." There were rumors that the monks had worn gold jewelry, but Phrasunthorn Plamintr, director of the Thai Buddhist Monk Association in the United States, noted that such reports must be mistaken because wearing jewelry of any kind was "against monastic principles, against monastic rules."
On September 16, Phoenix police arrested six men who allegedly had driven two stolen cars from Tucson to Phoenix, where they bought crack and marijuana. The men had apparently heard rumors that the temple contained great riches. "When they found out that the valuables that they thought were there were not," stated Maricopa County Sheriff Tom Agnos, "they systematically killed the nine people and returned to Tucson."
In a Thai temple in Denver, Phramaha Somjit Jotimanto said, "We follow the teaching of the Buddha, which is nonviolence. This happened in America–the example country of the world. I feel scared right now. We are not angry, but we are deeply sorry."
ON THE EVE of the coup, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, teachers with the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, arrived in Leningrad expecting to lead a ten-day retreat, as they had on a previous visit. "The first day there was lots of uncertainty," Goldstein told Tricycle."There was the possibility of real fighting and a civil war. In Leningrad there was a huge demonstration, about a quarter of a million people, in front of the old Winter Palace, and Sharon and I went with friends. The spirit of the people was quite amazing—peaceful even in the midst of so many people."
By the time the coup was over the forty would-be retreaters met with their American teachers for three afternoons of dharma talks, discussions, and some sitting. "I felt very badly about leaving," said Goldstein. People had come from as far away as Vladivostok. Goldstein found" a tremendous amount of interest" in Buddhism in the Soviet Union, though people have very little idea of "retreat culture." The idea of silence, for example, is completely unfamiliar. During the first ten-day retreat, "it was more like sitting and talking than sitting and walking. Still the potential is enormous. There's a certain serious quality about the people there." Both teachers plan to return to the Soviet Union next year.