Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
CELEBRATING THE BUDDHA’S BIRTHDAY—QUARANTINE STYLE
Buddhists around the world this week celebrated Vesak, the holiday that commemorates Buddha’s birthday, death, and enlightenment, albeit with the restrictions we’ve come to expect from COVID-19. In Thailand, the Sangha Supreme Council, Buddhism’s ruling body in the Southeast Asian country, ordered all Buddhist temples under their jurisdiction to suspend religious activities honoring what they call “Visakha Bucha Day,” according to the Straits Times. One Bangkok temple, Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, livestreamed a Vesak ritual on Facebook.
Buddhist temples in Malaysia also chose to broadcast their ceremonies online, and many Buddhists made donations in order to have oil lamps lit for their loved ones, reported Religion News Service. “COVID-19 is an eye-opener for us, as we are trying our best to reach our audience online,” said monk Sri Dhammaratana, chief high priest of Malaysia. “Sometimes 100-200 people come to the temple for service, while online 400-500 people participate.” He indicated that the increased attendance may change how his temple does things in a post-pandemic age. “We must be prepared to reach [our followers] in the future by new means. They have the opportunity to learn about the teachings of Buddha using modern technology, so we are planning to implement this on a regular basis for the future.”
Indonesia’s Council of Buddhist Communities urged Buddhists to worship at home and prohibited any public processions at the temples, according to the Jakarta Post. While in the past thousands of people gathered for large temple processions, this year most of the rituals were muted, and accessible only through online streaming for people sheltering in place. “I feel like something is missing because we’re celebrating…[at home],” 20-year-old university student Hasta Arya Marga Yonanda told the Jakarta Post. “At first, it was so sad knowing that I couldn’t observe rituals and meet friends at the temple. The first puja bhakti [devotion] livestream also felt very different,” he said. “But as time goes by, I am getting used to it.”
CAN PRAYER HEAL COVID-19?
A new medical study will investigate the role that prayer might play in the treatment of patients with COVID-19, reported NPR. Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy of the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute on May 1 launched the four-month-long study of 1,000 COVID-19 patients whose infections require intensive care. In addition to standard medical care, 500 participants will receive a “universal” prayer from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. The study will record how long patients remain on ventilators, how many suffer from organ failure, how quickly they are released from intensive care, and how many die. “We all believe in science, but we also believe in faith,” said Lakkireddy. “It’s not like we’re putting anyone at risk. A miracle could happen.”
TIBETAN BUDDHIST NUNNERIES PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING
DALAI LAMA ANNOUNCES LIVE WEBCAST
The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India, recently extended its shelter-in-place order until June 5, and Tibetan nuns have been working hard to maintain social distancing practices and maintain their access to necessary supplies and food, according to nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project, which supports Tibetan nuns in exile. At Dorjee Zong Nunnery in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, many nuns have temporarily left to stay with their families due to a shortage of space in which to practice social distancing. At the Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Himachal Pradesh, nuns have been sharing their food rations with poor village families. The nunnery is closed and nuns have been guarding the gates to make sure no one enters without proper protective equipment. There is some good news. As a result of a generous gift of 3,500 masks from Charles-Antoine Janseen, the founder of Kois Invest in Mumbai, nunneries that are part of the Tibetan Nuns Project have access to masks.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama will deliver a two-day teaching on the 2nd century Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna’s treatise Precious Garlandfrom 8:00 am to 9:30 am, Indian Standard Time, on May 16 and 17, his office announced on Wednesday. He will also address the present situation and give advice for these challenging times. The webcasts will be broadcast with translations in English, Chinese, and other languages on the official websites and Facebook pages of the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.