Buddhism

Bhutan Bans Religious Activities Ahead of Elections

RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Two Bhatanese students carry the national flag. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”

A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.

The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

The Story Behind the Dalai Lama’s Chair

RNS photo courtesy The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.

The red leather and wood chair was made especially for the Dalai Lama. RNS photo courtesy The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Lots of rock stars expect cushy perks at the venues where they perform. Requests can include special food and drink, music, video games and even a puppy to play fetch.

For the Dalai Lama, it’s all about the oversized chair.

Syracuse University requested the special seating for the spiritual leader of Tibet who spoke on campus Monday, and it’s obvious he enjoyed the spacious accommodations.

As he should. The red leather and wood Stickley chair was made especially for him — three times.

Report: Religion at Heart of Illegal Ivory Trade

 RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

The largest ivory crucifix in the Philippines hangs in a museum in Manila. RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.

“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.

“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.

Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.

Is the Dalai Lama Calling for the End of Religion?

Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

My friend, Doug, is not what I’d call a religious person. He grew up in church but has since taken to a combination of practicing martial arts, yoga, and independent study, primarily of Buddhist philosophy. In a lot of ways, his journey is a familiar one for younger adults today (he and I are both 40 so we don’t really qualify as “young” adults anymore).

Doug is, like I am, an intellectually curious guy. He follows my work pretty closely, and he is certainly open to other points of view, even if they’re not ones he embraces for his own life. Sometime we share ideas back and forth, but this quote from the Dalai Lama that he sent me recently really got my attention:

"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."

Buddhist Abbey a Dream Fulfilled for U.S. Nuns

RNS photo courtesy Sravasti Abbey

Vens. Chonyi and Jigme in their Chinese Bhikshuni robes. RNS photo courtesy Sravasti Abbey

NEWPORT, Wash.—There aren't a lot of Buddhists in America -- around 3 million or so, according to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. There isn't exactly an abundance of monasteries here either, let alone Buddhist clergy.

Yet just outside of this town of about 21,000 people, Sravasti Abbey sits as one of the only monastic communities in the West for Americans wishing to study the Buddha's teachings. What's even more unique is that the abbey now has five U.S.-born, fully ordained nuns, called bhikshunis.

With the five ordained nuns in place, official sanghakarmas (Sangha ceremonies) can be held at the abbey, including the twice-monthly private Posadha (ceremony of confession and restoration of precepts). To have the special rites, the abbey needed four bhikshunis. By this summer, the abbey expects to have six.

A Noted Atheist (No Not That One, The Other One) on What Religion Can Teach Non-Believers

Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Ex-cons, Homeless Seek Enlightenment Through Art

Golden Buddha statue | zhu difeng, Shutterstock.com

Golden Buddha statue | zhu difeng, Shutterstock.com

ST. LOUIS — The Buddha said, "I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering."

The end of suffering is something that Keith Freeman -- a former drug dealer, convict, alcoholic and crack addict -- has been after for decades.

And after taking part in an intense, five-month program at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts that connected former prisoners and homeless veterans with ancient Buddhist artwork, Freeman thinks he may have taken a step closer to enlightenment.

The group is hosting 15 performances in the Pulitzer's galleries featuring rookie actors speaking scripts culled from their own group sessions as they wrestled with Buddhist truths and their own demons.

Buddhist Bhutan Fails on its Own Happiness Index

Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

Monks rehearsing for the Jakar tsechu which is held the next day on Oct. 23, 2010 in Jakar. Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

THIMPHU, Bhutan — In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of "Gross National Happiness," this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren't happy, according to its own measurements.

While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were "happy" in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey's nine criteria.

Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people's happiness did not depend on the nation's economic wealth alone.

GNH indicators -- as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation's gross domestic product based on economic activity -- recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

Rule No. 1 of Interfaith Relations: Faith is Required

Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?

Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?

Of course not.

The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.

I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.

Pages

Subscribe