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Happening this week: Queer Climbing Night, Basics of Buddhism and more – Vail Daily News

Posted: February 1, 2021 at 6:52 pm

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For more information and to view other events happening this week, check the Vail Dailys events calendar in the print paper and online at

Queer Climbing Night, taking place the last Sunday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m., invites LGBTQ+ idenitfying and curious individuals to chalk up their hands and step into climbing shoes. All abilities are welcome. REservations are required and participants should be prepared to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols at the gym. This months event is Sunday, Jan. 31.

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Longtime local yoga instructor Karen Anderson is offering a 12-session course, with recorded and live practices, in the basics of Buddhism. The course is donation-based with suggested $120, but Anderson urges, please dont let finances stop you from participating. The workshop runs from Feb. 1 to March 10.

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Whether youre taking the class in-person or virtually, an instructor at Alpine Arts Center will guide you through the process of creating your own painting. The $49 class price includes all the materials and instructions. Virtual participants can pay $25 for the class, not including materials, if they choose, though take-home kits are available. For in-person participants, $6 wine, beer and champagne is available for purchase. Be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time. The event is Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

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Walking Mountains half-day snowshoes take hikers into the wilderness surrounding the Vail Valley. This weeks event, on Thursday, Feb. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., voyages to Tennessee Pass for an easy trek to learn about tracks and signs left by wildlife in the backcountry. Advance registration is required.

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Happening this week: Queer Climbing Night, Basics of Buddhism and more - Vail Daily News

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How Durga images and sculptures showed up in Ghazni, Afghanistan – ThePrint

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The presence of Hindu gods in Central Asia is the evidence of cross-fertilization of local and Indian cultures during the pre-Islamic period. It also points to the migration of Indians to Central Asian cities, not only the Zerafshan Valley at Penjikent but also the valley of the Syr Darya (then known as Jaxartes) at Ferghana and the Amu Darya (then known as Oxus) valley at Arytam.

Any visitor to the Rudaki Museum at Penjikent in Tajikistan and the National Museum at Dushanbe can immediately identify the Hindu gods and goddesses on display. There are images of a goddess riding a lion at the Museum of Antiquities, Dushanbe, as well as others such as Siva and ParvatiSiva with a third eye and Siva with three heads, amongst others. At the Rudaki Museum, Siva is seen sitting in a vast arena that resembles wilderness with his trisul or trident next to him.

Among the images of local divinities found in Temple II, one was identified as that of Uma Maheshwar (Siva and Parvati) sitting on the Nandi bull. Incidentally, the Pharro-Ardoxsa image at Ayrtam in the Oxus valley is also believed to be closer to the portrayal of Siva and Parvati.

Renowned Indian scholar and archaeologist S.P. Gupta has noted the presence of Hindu deities, such as Brahma, Indra, Siva, Narayana and Vaisravana in Central Asia, who had their own local counterparts.

It is important to note that nearly 25 marble sculptures and other artefacts of Hindu art dated between the fifth and eighth century ad have been discovered in Afghanistan.

Also read: India was a land of dharma but Europeans reduced it to Hinduism, Islam. And we accepted it

When the Islamic armies attacked Afghanistan in seventh century ad, Buddhism was flourishing in the province of Ghazni. One of the monastic centres located on a hill at Tepe Sardar had richly decorated stupas, chapels and monk cells which were excavated by modern archaeologists in the early twentieth century.

The Tepe Sardar Buddhist sanctuary occupying a hill of the Dasht-i-Manara plain was excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission led by Giovanni Verardi between 1960 and 2003. An inscribed votive pot found at the site attested to the name of the sanctuary as the Kanika Maharaja Vihara, meaning the Temple of the Great King Kanishka. It also said that it was built during the Kusana period in the second century ad. Following the attack by the Islamic armies, it was abandoned in the late eighthninth century ad.

The 22-metre square towering central stupa was the focus of the complex and could be the largest yet found in Afghanistan. The chapels surrounding the stupa contain evidence of the colossal statuary art in the form of murals and painted clay images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas. Their fragments have been recovered during excavations. Massive gilded images of the Buddha have also been found at the entrance of the sanctuary. A gigantic Reclining Buddha measuring over 15 metres was found in Chapel 63 of the Tepe Sardar monastic complex. Unfortunately, as per the notice put up by the National Museum, it has been completely destroyed in recent times.

Yet another notice by the National Museum of Afghanistan at Kabul states that although Buddhism had spread in the Ghazni area since the time of Asoka in the third century bc, this particular complex whose main stupa was the largest in Afghanistan was built in third century ad during the Kusana period, and thrived for nearly six centuries until the arrival of the Arabs.

A large head of the Buddha dated fifthseventh century ad from Tepe Sardar is an example of the beautiful statuary art from Ghazni, which can be seen at the museum in Kabul. The Buddha head must have adorned a life-size image of the Buddha in dhyan mudra. Made of clay, the Buddhas eyes are closed in meditation. The thin, long, curved brows and a high nose appear to be finely chiselled. Small volutes adorn the head and the hairline is sharply drawn.

Another image of grey-blue schist dated from the fifthseventh century ad is headless, and the throne or the pedestal depicts monks and disciples holding out a large tray of lotus flowers at the Buddhas feet.

Also read: We the people of Pakistan, irrespective of religion, are the true Indians

Interestingly, the complex also hosted a Hindu Shaivite shrine where an image of Durga Mahisasur Mardini was found during excavations. The size of the original image can be guessed from the colossal head of the goddess preserved in a glass case at the national museum. The image is evidence that female divinities were worshipped in Afghanistan.

In Chapel 23 at Tepe Sardar, excavators also found the decapitated body of Mahisasur, the Buffalo Demon, with his severed head lying beside it. This was once part of a composite sculpture depicting the victory of the many-armed Durga over Mahisasur, the demon and enemy of the gods. According to explorer-historian Nancy H. Dupree, Durga defeating Mahisasur was a popular cult theme under the Hindu Shahisthe Hindu dynasty ruling over Kabul Valley and Gandhara after having taken over from the Turki Shahis.

It is possible that the Hindu Shahis installed Durgas image in the Buddhist monastery. It is a good example of the absorption of Hindu deities in the Buddhist pantheon, and also points to the fact that Buddhist shrines were converted into Hindu shrines. This has been discussed by Indologist and art historian P. Banerjee in New Light on Central Asian Art and Iconography. In his interesting study, Banerjee explains that though subordinate in position, these Hindu deities made their original importance felt now and then even in the Buddhist framework.

Banerjee presents several examples of the popularity of Shaivism in Central Asia and about Buddhist scholars such as Asanga and Aryadeva who tried to assimilate Hinduism and Buddhism. It is generally believed that Asanga, the well-known Buddhist philosopher from 400, created an amalgam of Shaivism and Buddhism, as Aryadeva did in bringing Vaishnavism and Buddhism together. Banerjee, says that Asanga tried to reconcile two opposing myths by placing a number of Saiva gods, both male and female in the inferior heavens of the prevalent Buddhism as worshippers and supporters of Buddha and Avalokitesvara.

According to Banerjee, Asanga by reconciling Shaivism and Buddhism made it possible for:

[T]he half-converted and rude tribes to remain Buddhists while they brought offerings to their more congenial shrines and while their practical religion had no relation at all to the truth of the noble Eightfold path.

Bannerjee also suggests that the popularity of Shaivism continued in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia during the late Gupta and early medieval periods. In Afghanistan, a collection of Shaiva antiquities, attributable to the seventheighth century ad, has come to light from the regions of Togao and Gardez. These include a head of Shiva from Gardez and a smaller head of Durga overcoming Mahisasur. This is an evidence of the spread of Hindu worship during the seventh and eighth centuries when large parts of Afghanistan were under the rule of the Hindu Shahi kings. This list includes the inscribed Mahavinayaka or Ganesa with Urdhvamedhra or erect phallus, clad in a tiger skin from Kotal-i-Khair Khaneh, about 17 km from Kabul and dated to the seventh century ad. Banerjee mentions the inscribed Uma-Mahesvara image, also dated to the seventh century from Tapa Skandar.

Excerpted with the permission of Rupa Publications fromBuddha in Gandhara by Sunita Dwivedi.Hardback; 336pp with colour inserts; Rs 795

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How Durga images and sculptures showed up in Ghazni, Afghanistan - ThePrint

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February 1st, 2021 at 6:52 pm

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Explained: What are the amendments in Thailands abortion law? – The Indian Express

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Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 30, 2021 10:34:30 am

On Monday, Thailands Parliament voted to make abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy legal. Before this, abortion was illegal in the country, regardless of the duration of the pregnancy and was allowed only in limited circumstances governed by the countrys medical council.

This week, another country made an announcement dealing with abortion laws. On Wednesday, the right-wing Polish government said it will publish a court ruling that proposed a near-total ban on abortion in its journal. This ruling banned termination of pregnancies including of foetuses with defects. The governments sudden announcement has sparked countrywide protests in the country, where abortion laws were already very strict.

In India, the Union Cabinet cleared changes to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 early last year. These changes raised the legally permissible limit for an abortion to 24 weeks from the previously legal 20 weeks. The change also accepted the failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion, not just in married but in unmarried women as well.

Opposition to abortion in Thailand

The opposition to abortion comes mainly from Thailands majority of conservative Theravada Buddhists who believe that abortion goes against the teachings of Buddhism.

This week, a Buddhist monk Phra Shine Waradhammo who is known for his support for LGBT+ rights sparked outrage among some conservatives after he supported decriminalisation of abortion, according to a Reuters report.

Even so, illegal abortions are not uncommon in Thailand before this. For instance, in 2010 dozens of white plastic bags were found on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. Each of these bags contained the remains of a foetus. At the time, Thai authorities found over 2000 remains in the temples mortuary, where the remains had been hidden for over a year. The countrys prime minister at the time, Abhisit Vejjajiva was opposed to legalising abortions and maintained that more should be done to stop illegal abortions.

In the book titled, Abortion, Sin and the State in Thailand, author Andrea Wittaker says that over 300,000 illegal abortions are performed in the country each year.

In the same year, the arrest of a 17-year-old girl after she attempted to perform an abortion on herself with drugs obtained over the internet reignited the debate on abortion in the country.

So, what changes for women in Thailand now?

In February last year, Thailands constitutional court called the provision dealing with abortion, which is under the countrys criminal code, unconstitutional. As per this provision, women who got an abortion could be imprisoned for up to three years and those who performed them could be imprisoned for up to five years. Following this, the court gave the Thai government 360 days to change the laws dealing with abortion.

As per the new amendments, women can get an abortion if the age of the foetus is up to 12 weeks. But if a woman gets an abortion after 12 weeks, she can face being imprisoned for up to 6 months and will be liable to pay a fine of 10,000 baht or face both.

Significantly, abortions can be carried out after the completion of the first trimester, but only if they are in line with the criteria established by the Medical Council of Thailand (MCT). As per these criteria, a pregnancy can be terminated beyond the permitted period of time if it poses a threat to the mothers physical or emotional health, if the foetus is known to have abnormalities or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault.

How are these amendments being interpreted in Thailand?

While the amendments signal some progress, pro-choice activists in Thailand are still not convinced and continue to demand the complete decriminalisation of abortion. Human Rights Watch has also called for complete decriminalisation of abortion so that women can fully exercise their reproductive rights.

One of the faces of the pro-choice movement in Thailand is the gender equality and LGBT rights activist Chumaporn Waddao Taengkliang, who is the co-founder of a group called Women for Freedom and Democracy.

She also joined the pro-democracy or anti-government protests last year that demanded that the monarchy be reformed and Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha resign. The protests were some of the biggest seen in recent times and while they were broadly against the monarchy, other groups joined them with demands including expanding LGBT and womens rights, reforms in education and the military, and improvements in the economy.

Taengkliang told The New York Times last year that The male supremacy society has been growing since the coup. Taengkliang was referring to the way Chan-ocha came to power in 2014, which was through a coup. He is endorsed by the king and is alleged to have meddled with electoral laws during the 2019 elections, which has enabled him to remain in power. Thailand is a Buddhist-majority country of about 70 million and converted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Following a coup in 1947, Thailand has been ruled by the military for the most part.

During the pro-democracy protests last year, many young women, many of whom were students dominated the protests. These women called for gender equality and endorsed issues specific to women, including abortion, taxes on menstrual products and school rules that force girls to conform to an outdated version of feminity a report in The New York Times said.

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Explained: What are the amendments in Thailands abortion law? - The Indian Express

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Dying ‘the Buddhist way’ gains in hospice centers in the West – Religion News Service

Posted: November 12, 2020 at 5:57 pm

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Sukhavati, located in northern Germany, is a Buddhist center for the dying. Images courtesy of Oliver Peters

BERLIN (RNS) The man, a local baker, appeared onemorningat Sukhavati, a Buddhist center for the dying in the north German spa town of Bad Saarow.His friends said he never talked about being a Buddhist, Oliver Peters, head of spiritual care and volunteering at Sukhavati, said of the unexpected client, who died that evening. Only one friend knew his little secret, but his wish was to live and die the Buddhist way.

There is no single way of death in a faith that is the dominant religion across Southeast Asia and Japan, and rites vary greatly by region, culture, class and tradition. But Buddhism puts an emphasis on encountering death that is answering a call in the West for a more spiritual approach to palliative care, hospice service and chaplaincy programs.

In Buddhism, there are a lot of texts and sutras that emphasize death and dying, said Dr. Tuck Wai Chan, a physician in Singapore who has worked to bring Buddhist ideas about the end of life into hospitals. In certain traditions, the whole purpose of Buddhist practice is about death and dying. We know death well.

In the past decade and more, a Buddhist end-of-life movement has sprung up in Western Europe,Australia, New Zealand and theUnited States, testifying to a need for spiritual accompaniment at the end of life that is felt not only by an aging generation of Buddhist converts and immigrants but to those who only know that a secular, clinical approach is not enough.

Buddhanets Buddhist Hospice Directory lists about 20 such hospices in predominantly English-speaking countries, as well as Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. There are many more, such as Sukhavati, not listed on the site.

At Sukhavati, Peters said the center looks to the teaching of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom, particularly the bestselling Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche.

In practice, this means the regular chanting of mantras, guided meditations on death and instructions from Sogyal Rinpoches book on the passages and obstacles faced in what are known as thebardos the liminal states between death and rebirth.

Finally, the body is attended to for three days after death. Requiring special permission from the German health authorities, this time allows the deceased to be honored by family and friends, guided through thebardos, and for those left living to contemplate the separation of the body and mind at death.

A Buddha at Sukhavati. Image courtesy of Oliver Peters

A belief in Buddhism is not required, Peters said: We dont want to make people Buddhists. Everyone can come here Muslim, Christian, atheist.

We want to help the people to live and to die how they believe and want, he said. Its important for us, what someone believes. If someone is a Christian, we find a Christian priest. We try to be open.

To that end, Peters and his team have worked with a range of religious leaders to provide spiritual accompaniment for the dying. Recently, Peters sat by a Muslim mans bedside as an imam said prayers and recited verses from the Quran.

Peters tells of a client who came to spend his last day at Sukhavati despite never being interested in Buddhism. When Peters asked him why, he simply said, I am here that you pray for me.

People like this man, said Peters, dont really know where they are, but they like the environment or theyve heard something about the Dalai Lama or think that Buddhists are quiet and peaceful. Maybe they dont have a good history with Christianity and they think Buddhists are better with caring for the dying.

But in the rising popularity of places like Sukhavati is an implicit critique of conventional Western views of life and death. Frank Ostaseski, Buddhist teacher and co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, said that, in a consumerist culture often enchanted by youth, Buddhist hospice care is offering an alternative whose unvarnished view of death also offers a new perspective on living.

Author Frank Ostaseski. Courtesy of Ken Chitwood

It also suggests that people are realizing they dont want to end their lives in the company of medical professionals, said Ostaseski, author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully.

We dont want to just give this over to medicine anymore, he said. Death is much more than a medical event.

Medical professionals from a variety of backgrounds have echoed Ostaseskis point and are recommending that Buddhist principles be part of palliative and hospice care.

In a paper in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, co-authors Dr. Eva K. Masel, Dr. Sophie Schur and Dr. Herbert H. Watzke wrote, Buddhist teachings may lead to a more profound understanding of incurable diseases and offer patients the means by which to focus their minds while dealing with physical symptoms and ailments.

Courtesy of Ken Chitwood

Buddhist spirituality, said Chan, the Singaporean doctor, doesnt aim to alleviate fears about death by concentrating on an afterlife. Buddhists reflect on difficult things like death in order to deal with it, to make a better life in full view of the difficult facts.

One of the key principles of Buddhism is balance between compassion and wisdom, faith and facts. It is like a bird with two wings. The balance makes us able to fly, he said.

Nor does Chan advocate that medical professionals be involved in patients spirituality or use of Buddhism as a method of care. But he suggested that a basic literacy in Buddhism makes them able to provide compassion and comfort alongside medical insight.

Medical science isnt able to treat and cure everyone, he said, but they can provide comfort to everyone.

That comfort can transform caregivers as well as patients.

Courtesy of Ken Chitwood

Chenxing Han, author of Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists,spent a summer volunteering for the Brahmavihara AIDS Project in Cambodia, the country with the highest per capita concentration of Buddhists.

It was a humbling summer, she said. I did not speak Khmer and my undergraduate degree had not taught me how to be present with people who are severely ill and dying. Many times I wanted to run away, to flinch from the reality before me.

Her mentors at Brahmavihara helped her by modeling a spiritual care suffused with steadiness, love, faith and compassion, she said.

After her time in Cambodia, Han not only deepened her own Buddhist practice, but volunteered at the Pathways hospice in Californias Bay Area, then enrolled for formal training as a Buddhist chaplain at the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies in Redwood City, California.

As a chaplain, she said, my work was not the same as hospice, though many of the patients I met died.

For me, Buddhism isnt all gloom and doom, she said. I appreciate Buddhisms lessons for life and living as much as its insights on death and dying.

Through her experiences, Han said, she learned that the chaplains role is in many ways countercultural to the biomedical model of care.

In the chaplains view, death is not a failure, but a sacred transition that awaits us all.

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November 12th, 2020 at 5:57 pm

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Buddhist thought and practice: an exploration | Columnists – Herald Review

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Its surprising how important Buddhist beliefs and practices have been to evolving world communities and their ability to live together in peace and mutual respect. I first learned about Buddhism during the 1960s VietNam war, when Buddhist monks led non-violent protests against American aggression. At its height, the US committed 500,000 American soldiers to the war. Every man in my college class had to face Vietnam one way or another.

Back home, at my Jesuit college, we studied Catholic philosophy and Jewish philosophers like Martin Buber. My non-Catholic roommate was allowed to take a World Religions course, which we dorm mates envied. At dinnertime, we plied her with questions about what she was learning.

As the world has become more connected by news, online exchanges and travel weve learned more about the histories of world religions. We can study how they are practiced today, including their collaborations with or opposition to other religions in their societies and in ours. Organized religions periodically gravitate towards, or are coopted by, secular political power and ambitions. Many warring factions and much political oppression in our own times are undergirded by religious conflict.

Im drawn to Buddhism. Its not easy to study it alone, living in a rural Christian community. We need fellowship, to share learning and insights and yes, disagreements, with others on spiritual paths. In the 1980s, I made a life-long friend, a writing teacher and Buddhist activist, who has taught me much of what I understand. Among other practices, she joined the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and participated in the late 1990s Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, walking from Boston to the many sites of slavery urban slave markets, former plantations -- down the eastern seaboard, actions that helped prompt a reconsider of southern monuments that is still bearing fruit to this day.

Buddhism is practiced in many forms and countries. My explorations rely heavily on the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanhs work. Hanh, a young activist in the Vietnamese opposition to the 60s war, engaged with others in nonviolent protest. Eventually he settled in France, creating and leading his Plum Village, writing books, and establishing retreat and residential centers around the world including in New York State and in the San Diego area. Among his many books, my favorite is Being Peace. In it, he shares a poem he wrote, Call Me By My True Names, in which he imagines himself as a mayfly, a bird, a frog, a snake, a child in Uganda, a refuge girl in a boat, a member of the politburo, and a man dying in a forced labor camp. I weep every time I read this poem.

Compassion forms a central theme in Buddhism. Buddhists do not see the living world as a top-down hierarchy, with humans on top and some humans on top of others. All creatures, even the most noxious or dangerous, are respected. I try hard not to kill even the peskiest little mosquito. Im not all the way there yet. Its a powerful challenge to begin seeing oneself not as an individual who will be saved by being good and/or believing in religious dogma. Buddhism encourages us to see ourselves as part of a larger world, animal and mineral, a wonderful relief from the narcissism so rampant in our culture.

Buddhist practices vary by community. All prioritize meditation, alone or with others. Its not that easy. The idea is to focus on the breath and to empty the mind of all other thoughts. At Deer Park near San Diego, I once spent a day on a slow walking meditation, led by monks in silence. Forty of us formed a beautiful single-file procession up and down the dry hills. We ate in silence. It was remarkably restorative.

The version of Buddhism to which I am drawn embraces compassion as a central behavioral prescription. You can explore this in its many forms - stories, how-to accounts, Buddhist retreats - in your own meditative practice. My favorite go-to books, besides Being Peace, are His Holiness the Dalai Lamas The Heart of the Buddhas Path; theologian and religious historian (and former Catholic nun) Karen Armstrongs Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life; and Thich Nhat Hanhs wonderful reconstruction of Buddhas life: Old Path, White Clouds.

Prominent Buddhists have engaged in fellowship with Christians and vice-versa. For instance, in Christine Bochen, in her edited Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, recounts the Trappist monks week-long encounter with the Dali Lama in the Himalayas. They shared insights from each others traditions, focusing especially on meditation and on monastic life in their respective communities.

Its liberating to feel in communion with many people around the world by sitting quietly reading, meditating, and walking silently and mindfully. Especially at a time when our nation and our world are so torn and challenged. Id love to join a sangha, the Buddhist term for a group that convenes frequently to meditate, share ideas and challenges. I cherish opportunities to share thoughts and insights from other spiritual paths, respecting others beliefs as well as fears, discouragement, and criticism.

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Buddhist Nuns and Their Crusade for Recognition in Southeast Asia – VICE

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In 2003, Venerable Dhammananda came back from a trip to Sri Lanka that challenged Thailand's Theravada Buddhist beliefs. She had become the first Thai bhikkhuni a fully ordained nun in modern history. To this day, full ordination and the privileges that come with it are usually only reserved for male monks.

The full ordination had always been in my head, Dhammananda, now 76 years old, told VICE. I just waited for a realization. And when I had it, I knew it was my time to become a bhikkhuni."

A bhikkhuni is a status given to fully ordained female monastics in the three different branches of Buddhism Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Theravada. Their male equivalents are called bhikkhus. Being fully ordained means one has achieved the highest level in the Sangha, the Buddhist assembly.

Dhammananda with other bhikkhunis in Thailand. Photo: Courtesy of Venerable Dhammananda

Unlike modern branches of Mahayana Buddhism, many Theravada authorities still question whether full ordination of women is valid. This was not always the case, with records of these female monastics dating back to Buddha's death, around 400 BCE. This was practiced for over 1,500 years but eventually disappeared.

"Monks want to be able to trace everything back to The Buddha," Brenna Artinger, president of Alliance for Bhikkhunis, told VICE. "They think that, if lineage has died, they cannot revive it."

With no wish to revive the Theravada bhikkhuni order, the only status left for Theravada Buddhist women were 'laywoman' or 'novice,' leaving all the highest positions to monks.

To this day, the bhikkhuni ordination ceremony is prohibited in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, where violators could face imprisonment. Dhammananda believes the prohibition of full ordination for nuns is a misunderstanding of the religion's beliefs. Referring to the Maha Parinibbana Sutta scriptures, she said The Buddha created a gender-balanced monastic order composed of both fully ordained monks and nuns bhikkhus and bhikkhunis at the highest level of the Sangha.

"The Buddha gave women permission to be fully ordained. If you respect him, you should try to revive what he established."

Dhammanandha has been challenging Buddhism in Thailand for over two decades. In the 2000s, she left Thailand and joined a Theravada temple in Sri Lanka to practice, study, and receive her full ordination before turning 60.

"The Buddha is my first feminist," she said.

"In a very traditional society, he opened the space for women by recognizing they can achieve a highest spiritual goal. He was a revolutionist."

Following this mentality, Dhammananda pioneered a modern revolution in Thai Buddhism. By advocating for full ordination of women, she's challenging an order that, she says, lets social and gender expectations take over religious rights.

Dhammananda and fellow bhikkhunis. Photo: Courtesy of Venerable Dhammananda

"Socially, if you allow the ordination of women, everything has to change because monks have been in power for 2,500 years," said Karma Lekshe Tsomo, former president of the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. "Theravada Buddhists differ in their attitudes toward full ordination for women, but those in positions of power generally oppose it."

Despite 70 percent of its population practicing this branch of Buddhism, Sri Lanka is the first and only Theravada Buddhist country that allows the full ordination of women. Since 1998, the government has allowed local and foreign nuns to receive the ceremony on its soil.

As Mary Kate Long, a doctoral candidate in Asian Studies at Cornell University, explained, this decision could have been motivated by various reasons: the rise of female monastics in Sri Lanka, the complex historical link between Theravada Buddhism and East Asian Mahayana Buddhism in the country, and the ongoing contests for symbolic capital between different religious and monastic authorities. By being the first Theravada country to allow full ordination, hundreds of nuns have flown to Sri Lanka since the 2000s. However, these new bhikkhunis are not always welcomed when they return home.

About 89 percent of Myanmar's population is Theravada Buddhist. It is also one of the most conservative Buddhist countries, with a religious authority that believes the full ordination of women is a crime.

In 2005, ex-bhikkhuni Saccavadi was sentenced to five years in prison for having been fully ordained in Sri Lanka. She was released 76 days after her conviction,after her story was highlighted in international media. Fearing more repercussions, she quickly left the country and has not returned since. She flew to Sri Lanka, then to the United States, and disrobed in 2008, because of the traumatic experience.

In Thailand, bhikkhunis are in a gray zone. They cannot be fully ordained in the country but dont face imprisonment if they do so abroad. Over 94 percent of Thais are Theravada Buddhists. Dhammananda, as the first officially recognized bhikkhuni in the country, initiated changes in the society.

"When I came back from Sri Lanka, I was a lone voice in this big world of monks."

"I was rejected, but wasn't punished legally. Today, there are 285 bhikkhunis spread out in at least 40 provinces. Weve come this far. But we are still facing a lot of legal issues."

Unlike their male equivalents, bhikkhunis have no legal status in Thailand and thus remain marginalized. They don't have any clerical advantages or recognition, which means they suffer financially. They pay taxes to the government for their temple, receive less donations from the people, and pay the full fare for public transportation.

"Nuns, as monks, are technically not allowed to use money, and neither to ask for it. It makes their everyday life more complicated. Sometimes, bhikkhunis can't even afford going to lectures or ceremonies," Artinger, from the Alliance for Bhikkhunis, explained.

"Because we don't have our religious status on our IDs, all the prices are really decided by the person in front of us," Dhammananda said. "If they recognize us as ordained monastic, we'll get half price. But if they ask for our ID, we'll pay full fare. Its up to them."

A bhikkhuni ordination in Los Angeles in March 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Alliance for Bhikkunis

However, she remains hopeful that things will improve as more nuns from around the world are opting for full ordination. She believes there's strength in numbers, and in staying true to what it means to be a bhikkhuni.

We didnt [get] fully ordained to be accepted, said Dhammananda. We did it because we respect The Buddha. If we do proper work, if the people accept us, then eventually the Sanghawill have to recognize us.

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Buddhist Nuns and Their Crusade for Recognition in Southeast Asia - VICE

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The Angsty Buddhist: Chronic Pain & Trying Not To Be A White Yoga Lady – Autostraddle

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This is the third essay in The Angsty Buddhist, a series about being Chinese American, nonbinary, and finding my own relationship with Buddhism, in a country where so many of its ideas have been whitewashed.

I usually think of 23 as when my body started to rebel, but it could have been earlier. Before that, there was the drive between San Francisco and LA where I felt like my entire body was being contorted by the seatbelt. There was the way I couldnt understand how other people carried shoulder bags didnt that make them feel lopsided? There was the way I flinched when other people tried to touch me. My mom always said I was tense, even when I was a little kid. Shed squeeze my shoulders, and theyd be like cement. When I tell people about this, I laugh. Isnt it funny that Ive never been able to relax?

But 23 was when my body and its tension became the center of my life how I scheduled my day, chose what I wore, and spent most of my critical thinking skills trying to figure out how to manage. More than my angst about gender, what propelled me towards mens clothing was that the pants have pockets and it hurt too much to carry a purse.

I also thought I was making it all up and didnt mention it to my friends, even ones that I saw almost every day. Youre just doing this for attention, I told myself, even though I wasnt getting any attention because I refused to talk about it. The couple of times, I did bring it up vaguely, people dismissed me by saying I probably spent too much time on the computer, which Im sure I do, but not more than anyone else my age.

In the midst of this, or maybe because of it, I started going to meditation sessions at an acquaintances Zen Center. The Zen Center practiced a type of Buddhism that a Korean monk had started in Providence, Rhode Island because he thought Brown students would be the most receptive to his teachings (And they have money, I thought). This type of Zen gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe before making its way back to Asia. At the time, I was living in Hong Kong, and even though I didnt connect with this version of Buddhism and chafed at the fact that many of its leaders were white men, I reserved my biggest judgments because there were many people I met there whom it seemed to be helping.

What surprised me was how much meditation soothed my chronic pain. Afterwards, I walked back to the minibus feeling light, reveling in the fact that I was not thinking about the knots in my back, at least for the moment. I started researching mindfulness after that, trying to see if there were other things I could do to manage my pain. Yoga was something that always came up.

I started doing those white lady yoga videos everyday. Sometimes, when the teacher would start chanting or say namaste: at the end, I would groan performatively or mutter fuck you

I felt conflicted about this. I didnt want to be like a white yoga lady whose life centered around cultural appropriation. As someone who grew up with Buddhism and feels pretty pissy about white Buddhism, it felt hypocritical to try yoga. In the end, though, my own self-interest won out, and I found a short yoga video on YouTube. The teacher was a white lady who liked to talked a lot about self-love. I followed her instructions about when to inhale and exhale grudgingly.

Afterwards, my muscles did feel looser, and I could go a few hours without really thinking about my body. I started doing those white lady yoga videos everyday. Sometimes, when the teacher would start chanting or say namaste at the end, I would groan performatively or mutter fuck you, which made me feel a little less embarrassed about how much this was helping me.

Two of the most common questions I get when I tell people about my chronic pain are Have you seen a doctor? and Have you tried yoga? I hate both of these questions.

I have seen a doctor, many times. Because Im privileged to have insurance, I feel bad complaining about the care Ive received. Whenever my doctor doctor finishes examining my spine or the x-ray comes back clear, I feel like a fraud. You should just take more breaks when youre working, she says, misgendering me often during our conversations because Im too wimpy to tell her my pronouns and the intake sheet only offers two options for gender. When I say that I do take breaks, something that always makes me nervous because I dont want my boss to think Im slacking off, my doctor says, Are you stressed? Its probably stress. Try getting a standing desk.

Being asked if Ive seen a doctor annoys me because I feel like the people asking think that Im being lazy or silly for being in pain just go see a doctor, as if this will fix everything. When people ask if Ive tried yoga (or meditation or acupuncture), its usually because they dont know what else to say. I think it freaks people out to have to sit with someones pain and not be able to do anything. It freaks me out, too. That doesnt make the questions about yoga any less irritating.

I find it interesting, though, that many of the miracle cures that people offer up when there isnt a clear diagnosis are from the East. It feels connected to the ways we are always trying to find healing in the Other.

I find it interesting, though, that many of the miracle cures that people offer up when there isnt a clear diagnosis are from the East. It feels connected to the ways we are always trying to find healing in the Other. So much of the way we characterize Eastern medicine in this country, regardless of what culture or spirituality it comes from, is as something spiritual and holistic, collapsing the divide between body and mind. Probably this is sometimes true and someone will whitesplain why this is so in the comments. But I think a lot of this is orientalism Asia is too big of a place, with so many different and conflicting peoples and cultures, to make sweeping generalizations like that.

I think that these ideas do not tell us anything about what defines Eastern cultures and does tell us more, at least subconsciously, about what were lacking. What do we do with pain that is ongoing? What is the connection between emotions and the physical body? How do we talk about this in a way that is not gaslighting and dismissive of the often very physical causes of pain? I dont know, and I see how it seems so easy to look to the Other the Buddhist nun, the Hindu goddess, that incense burner on sale at Ross and ask them to hold that for us.

Healing is a buzzword in queer and trans spaces. This makes sense, given how much there is to heal from. The first people I felt comfortable talking to about chronic pain were other trans Asian Americans. They seemed to understand, without explanation, the way that the body is shaped by everything it has experienced, its traumas and its joys.

I hear a lot of people talking about ancestors a lot, about lineage and intergenerational healing. Ive been told I should try to reclaim my ancestral healing practices, and this is something I would like to do. When I try to learn about Chinese things, it feels performed. I wonder if me learning qigong is any better than yoga, and the other day while my partner and I were trying to learn how to make an herbal soup, we were more amused by the fact that one of the herbs was called Semen Euryales than anything else.

Sometimes, these practices helps relieve the pain in my body, and sometimes they also help quiet my anxieties. Other times, they dont do anything at all. It always seems like a bit of a crapshoot. But even when I dont feel the immediate effects of these practices or if Im not doing them correctly, theres something healing about learning practices that were taken away from me and my family because of the violence of white supremacy and assimilation. For me, this makes learning Chinese healing practices feel different than doing white lady yoga, at least just a little.

Once, in a BIPOC writing group that I am part of and love, we had a guest host, who led us through some exercises that were definitely culturally appropriated from yoga, before instructing us to free write. The host didnt mention the cultures that these practices came from or from whom he had learned them. I dont think he was South Asian, but I could be wrong. I reluctantly did his breathing exercises and felt the muscles in my neck ease.

There was one point where he led everyone in chanting Om. When this started, one person left the Zoom call. I am assuming that this person was South Asian because of their name, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe they just left because they had something else to do. Maybe I was just projecting how uncomfortable I was feeling. I should private message one of the hosts and tell them this is a little weird, I thought but didnt.

At the end of the session, many people thanked the guest host, including me. I was grateful that hed taken the time to be at our group. I was thinking about how so many BIPOC spaces are held together by people giving their labor for free. Other people liked the exercises. This is the first time Ive been able to be in my body, someone said, and I felt guilty for being judgy because BIPOC folks are so often cut off from the resources they need to heal. Why would I want to take this away from anyone?

Still, I think its important to connect to our own ancestral practices, even if this process is imperfect. I dont want to become a white yoga lady.

During a recent pain flare, I tried taking a new medication, but all it did was make me drowsy. I tried to meditate but after a few minutes got frustrated and crawled back into bed. I went through my normal procession of unhelpful thoughts, youre faking this, youre lazy, get up, but this time, it seemed like it was more out of habit than anything else. Instead of spiraling, I let the thoughts pass. Instead of trying to get up, I let myself cry until I fell asleep.

I think a lot about my own body, whose pain I often try to aggressively breathe and stretch away. What would it mean to stop trying to find a way around this?

I think a lot about how disability justice activists critique the idea of cure. That it is ableist to treat cure as the end goal, that the disabled body is not something to be fixed. I think a lot about my own body, whose pain I often try to aggressively breathe and stretch away. What would it mean to stop trying to find a way around this? This is not to say that I enjoy being in pain. I want to be in less pain but not in a way that only makes me better at capitalism or that allows me to dissociate from the histories and traumas that caused me to be in pain in the first place.

This is similar to how I think about culture. Even if I am trying to connect to my own cultures and histories, I dont want to return to an identity that existed before imperialism and diaspora. It would be impossible to erase the ruptures that have already occurred. Im not sure what the end point of this kind of healing is, or if I should even be thinking about this in terms of end points. I dont think anyone knows for sure. I still think I need to try.

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The Angsty Buddhist: Chronic Pain & Trying Not To Be A White Yoga Lady - Autostraddle

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Meet Thich Nhat Hanh, the man behind Escondido’s famed Deer Park Monastery – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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The life of Thich Nhat Hanh has come full circle. Two years ago, the government of Vietnam quietly allowed the revered Zen master to return to his homeland and live out his remaining days at Tu Hieu Temple, near the city of Hue, where he became a monk at the age of 16.

Thay, or teacher, as he is affectionately known, is 94 and continues to suffer the effects from a severe stroke in 2014, which left him unable to speak and in a wheelchair. Because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, he had lived in exile for more than 50 years, during which time he established several monasteries and practice centers from Plum Village in Southern France to three in the United States, including Deer Park in Escondido. Hes written more than 100 books many of them best sellers as he spread the gospel of mindfulness around the world.

As with the Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, he amassed widespread popularity. The late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. President Barack Obama quoted him. And last year, a congressional delegation visited him in Vietnam.

During his visits to Deer Park, I interviewed him on topics ranging heaven to happiness. Here is some of what he had to say.

Heaven: The kingdom of God is really available in the here and now. This is important, he says, because once you understand that, you will behave better. If you have the kingdom of God, youll not have to search for happiness in sex, wealth or fame anymore.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the capacity to live deeply in the moments of your entire life. There is freedom from worries, anger and forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is the opposite of mindfulness.

Proselytizing: When Christian missionaries came to Vietnam when he was young, they tried to convert Buddhists. When Nhat Hanh brought his spiritual practices West, he did just the opposite, urging people to use mindfulness and meditation to deepen their own faiths. People are free to take from Buddhism as much as they want. Buddhism is inclusive, not exclusive.

America: Americans are not as accepting as they used to be. The war on terrorism, for example, has put an entire religion under suspicion. When a culture goes like that, it goes wrong. It only serves to create more hate and terrorists. In Buddhism, every person is looked at as a potential Buddha an attitude and a perception that he prefers.

Happiness: The art of happiness is to learn how to be there, fully present, to attend to your needs and to attend to the needs of your loved ones. And if you dont do the first step, its very difficult to do the second. Stop running and begin to make steps.

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One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Tradition – Earth Island Journal

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In Vietnams Red River, navigating the space between environmental conservation and cultural preservation can be trickier than it first appears.

November 11, 2020

On a chilly, gray January morning in Hanoi, Vietnam, a local development worker named Anh Ngoc Thi Nguyen volunteered at a river clean-up at the Red River near Chuong Duong Bridge. Keep Hanoi Clean (KHC), a nonprofit funded by USAID, had organized a crew of nearly two dozen volunteers to form a human chain, passing sack after sack of trash from the riverbank to a small parking lot beneath the bridge. KHC organizers planned to remove over 11 tons of garbage.

But when Nguyen noticed that some of the sacks contained ceramic incense bowls and urns, and waterlogged bits of wooden altars, she refused to take part. I didnt want to touch them, she says. It was scary.

In Hanoi, almost every house and storefront has its own wooden altar. Twice a month and on special occasions, residents offer food, alcohol, and cigarettes in the altars as a gift for their ancestors. When homeowners move, tradition dictates they must discard that house altar in a large body of water. Many in Hanoi choose to throw the altar and its contents from one of the many bridges that span the Red River.

Nguyens family members rigorously follow the many customs and traditions passed down to them by their elders. When Nguyens fathers body was reinterred, for example, her mother threw the ceramics that sat on top of his former grave into the river not far from where they lived. Nguyen and her family believe that those ceramics belong to the spirits of their ancestors and the water helps to carry them away.

The altars and offerings represent just one small part of the pollution picture on the Red River. Once the lifeblood of Hanoi, the river, through years of unfettered dumping of plastic waste, illegal sand mining, and industrial runoff, has become a symbol of the degradation caused by rapid industrial development.

At the KHC cleanup site, a debate ensued among volunteers on whether or not the discarded urns and altars represented spiritual artifacts to leave alone, or if they should be disposed of alongside the trash clogging the river. Ultimately, the events coordinator and KHCs founder, James Kendell, decided that these artifacts would be removed.

Watching KHC remove these artifacts from the river made Nguyen feel unsettled. Why couldnt they just leave them where they were? she asked later. They werent hurting anyone.

This debate on the Red River is a microcosm of a much larger question of how we balance environmental activism and cultural traditions. A 2013 paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production estimates that each year, more than 2 million pilgrims to Mecca emit 60.5 kilograms each of carbon dioxide per day (as opposed to a global average of just under 14 kilograms per person per day) during their pilgrimage as a result of transportation and lodging.

During the Lunar New Year, the Chinese set off fireworks to ward away evil spirits. In 2018, Beijings air quality soared above 500 on the Air Quality Index due to this tradition. Anything over 50 is considered unsafe.

And each year, during Christmas time, the United Kingdom produces 30 percent more waste than usual, air travel around the world spikes, and 540,000 tons of wrapping paper fill Canadian landfills.

In Hanoi, Keep Hanoi Clean has been trying to figure out how to navigate its programs with consideration to cultural practices on the Red River. According to Doug Snyder, KHCs general director, up until the January volunteer event, the nonprofits policy has always been to leave spiritual artifacts where they lay.

In previous years we did not touch the urns because one of the people on our team told us not to, he says.

But now, the organization is changing course.

Diep Ngoc Bui, chief operating officer at KHC, says complaints against river clean-ups mostly come from older people for whom the custom of immersing altars, ashes, and other sacred items in rivers is heavily ingrained. Bui says in these situations she tries to explain why the ceramics and altars should not be thrown into the river in the first place. But that tactic is not always successful.

Its really hard to tell the older generation you shouldnt throw these things into the river, she says. [They believe] its going to affect their business or health of the family, the rest of the year. Its really a delicate issue.

We really have to get on the education side, says Snyder. Unless we put out some information about giving them an alternative thats less destructive, then theyll just keep doing it.

Snyder says there are plans to consult with members of the local Buddhist community to help to initiate a public education program.

Thich Tinh Giac is a Buddhist monk and reformist who runs Chua Phuc Son, a buddhist pagoda just outside of Hanoi. He says that people throwing religious artifacts into Hanois waterways have got it all wrong. He says the idea that this practice brings good fortune is all superstition.

It does not, he says, have any significance in the Buddhist faith.

Giac also makes one other important observation: He notes that the Vietnamese people have historically been poor. They could not traditionally afford to make sacrifices the size and scope of those they make now.

The GDP per capita of Vietnam has increased six-fold since the year 2000. As a result, per-capita consumption has also increased, and Vietnam is now the worlds fourth largest contributor to ocean plastic waste, producing an estimated 730,000 tons each year.

Snyder has made a similar observation. At one cleanup event, he and a Vietnamese volunteer confronted two women who had been throwing plastic flowers into the river. Snyder and a Vietnamese volunteer then collected the flowers.

It was kind of like a comedy skit, Snyder says. But then one of them got really upset.

A conversation about the origins of the practice for this woman ensued.

What did you put in the water in the past? asked the Vietnamese volunteer.

Well, we didnt put this kind of stuff in, the woman replied. We were too poor but now were rich.

In other words, a big issue that Snyder and the KHC staff are dealing with is how plastic waste has infiltrated a cultural practice.

Of course, this may seem a minor issue given the bigger problems facing the Red River. Admittedly, KHCs work is somewhat piecemeal given the size and scope of the environmental challenges facing Vietnam, such as mining, urban and industrial runoff, and rampant corruption and top level apathy toward environmental issues that hinder any form environmental activism that goes beyond picking up rubbish.

This is particularly true when money is involved. For example, in May, a local newspaper called Phu Nu TPHCM (HCMC Women) tried to expose a local developer for damaging Vietnams natural heritage. As a result, the newspaper was fined and its website taken offline for a month. Advocacy can be risky when it jeopardizes profits.

So KHC is doing its best to clean up the river by picking the safer option: working with local traditions to find a solution that helps the river.

Luckily, Giac says that support for these practices is waning, particularly as Buddhist leaders occupy an important role in society.

Because I am a monk, they believe me, they respect me, Giac says. At his pagoda he has urns he has retrieved that he now uses to grow plants. He says repurposing rather than destroying the bowls makes a lot more sense.

In this vein, Giac says he has an important role to play in helping to save Hanois waterways. He often confronts worshippers in the process of making their offerings and counters that Buddhist doctrine actually supports protecting the environment.

In Buddhism, we say, you reap what you sow, he says. So the environment, you look after it and over time you get good results.

One Man's Trash, Another Man's Tradition - Earth Island Journal

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China wants to build a Tibet with more wealth and less Buddhism – Livemint

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I could have never dreamed my life would be so good," the 41-year-old father of two, who by tradition uses only one name, said in comments translated by a local official. Foreign journalists can only report from the region on trips organized by the government.

Asked about the Dalai Lama, Tibets 85-year-old spiritual leader now living in exile and condemned by China as a separatist, Sunnamdanba said: I never met him and I dont understand him."

And Buddhism, the religion that has for more than a millennium been the foundation of Tibetan culture? I spend most of my time and energy now on work and making a living," he said. Theres less time to spend on religion."

Why hang a portrait of President Xi Jinping in your living room? None of this could have happened without the party."

Legitimacy to Rule

For China, showcasing Tibetans singing the Communist Partys praises helps affirm its legitimacy to rule the region, something thats weighed on Beijings ties with the West since a failed uprising in 1959 forced the Dalai Lama to flee and set up a government-in-exile in northern Indian. Its become more important recently as politicians in the U.S., Europe and India accuse China of using forced labor, detentions and re-education campaigns to assimilate ethnic minorities in its borderlands.

The Trump administrations newly appointed special envoy for Tibetan issues met with the head of the exiled Tibetan administration this month, generating outrage from China. India, which only recognized Beijings sovereignty over the area in 2003, also recently venerated a Tibetan soldier who died fighting against China this year in the worst fighting along the border since a 1962 war.

Tensions have risen in other areas as well. Earlier this year, a Chinese government effort to make Mandarin Chinese the language of instruction at schools in a region inhabited by ethnic Mongolians sparked street protests. And in Xinjiang, a province directly north of Tibet, outrage over Chinas move to detain more than a million minority Uighur Muslims in re-education camps has led some U.S. lawmakers to push for the actions to be declared genocide."

Xi has personally defended the moves in Xinjiang, saying they are necessary to stem terrorism and improve the lives of people. In comments last month, he called the partys policies completely correct," urged more economic development and pushed for more nationalism in education to allow the sense of Chinese identity to take root in people."

Sinofication of Buddhism

At a meeting on Tibet issues in August, Xi told officials to actively guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to socialist society, and promote the Sinofication of Tibetan Buddhism."

In Tibet, often called the Roof of the World" because of its high elevation along the Himalayas, ethnic Tibetans comprise about 90% of the 3.5 million people spread across an area the size of South Africa. Their language bears no relation to Chinese, most are Buddhists, and many consider the Dalai Lama their spiritual head -- if not their political leader.

In 2008, deadly riots erupted in Lhasa, leaving at least a dozen dead. A spate of self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans followed a few years later, with the Dalai Lamas followers and human-rights activists attributing the actions to government oppression. Beijing has blamed the Dalai Lama for fomenting the unrest, and that sentiment continues to be expressed by officials today who see religion as the root cause of some of Tibets biggest challenges.

Due to some outdated conventions and bad habits -- particularly the negative influence of religion, people put more attention on the afterlife, and their desire to pursue better living this life is relatively weaker," Tibet Governor Qi Zhala told reporters at a briefing that was part of the trip. Therefore, in Tibet, well need to not only feed the stomach, but also fix the mind."

Tibetans are allowed to continue with religious practices only under strict controls: Those who openly show reverence and support for the Dalai Lama can face harsh punishment.

This Is How You Control Tibet

Now they want Buddhism to be taught in Chinese language," Lobsang Sangay, president of Tibets exiled government, told a seminar in Washington on Sept. 28. This is how you control Tibet and this is how you control the Himalaya belt. This is how you control Asia."

But Beijing is also investing heavily in Tibet, betting that new roads, jobs, better housing and improved access to education and healthcare will bring stability to the region. Its also counting on modern life to erode the sway that religion has had over Tibet since the seventh century.

A gift makes you indebted to the giver," said Emily Yeh, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is the author of the book Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development." The bottom line is loyalty to the state and the party."

Tibet is crucial to Beijing for strategic purposes. Its mountainous terrain abuts a 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) border with countries including India, Nepal and Myanmar, forming a natural security barrier. Beijing has recently reinforced troops stationed in Tibet as it prepares for a long winter in its high-altitude standoff with India.

To govern a country, its necessary to govern the border," Xi told the Tibet symposium in August, where the party set policy directions for developing the region. To govern the border, its required to stabilize Tibet first."

Family Relocations

For Xi, the key to snuffing out calls for independence in Tibet and strengthening Communist Party rule is delivering economic growth in one of Chinas poorest regions.

Since 2016, China has spent more than $11 billion on poverty alleviation efforts in Tibet. Authorities say theyve pulled 628,000 people above the countrys absolute poverty threshold, which Beijing currently defines as those with annual earnings of less than approximately $600 -- or $1.64 a day.

Those efforts have included building roads to far-flung villages, securing safe drinking water and providing access to health care. But theyve also fueled concern about the loss of Tibetan culture, in particularly due to widespread relocations of families.

Sunnamdanba is among roughly 266,000 Tibetans who have been relocated to new villages over the past five years as part of Xis poverty alleviation campaign. He said his family now makes about $13,000 annually, four times what it used to make in a good year, from his job as a security guard, his wifes work as a cleaner and renting out three rooms in their new home to Chinese tourists.

The governments stance that it hasnt forced anyone to move as part of the poverty alleviation drive was backed up by an ethnic Tibetan researcher who studies relocations in the region. Asking not to be named for fear of retribution, the researcher said he is aware of villages where only two out of 120 households took up the offer to be relocated.

However, a new drive by the government to move 130,000 people from fragile ecosystems at high elevations has been less flexible. According to the researcher, villagers in these locations arent given a choice.

I Believe in the Party

Those presented to reporters on the trip appeared happy to change locations. Among them were 35-year-old Luoce, who used to graze animals on his grassland some 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level, where he says the thin air gave him nosebleeds.

In 2017, he moved to a so-called relocation village and now works as a security guard and firefighter. His earnings have tripled thanks to his wages and various government subsidies, including one he receives to not graze animals on his land for environmental reasons. Luoces goal is to give his seven children the education he never received.

I believe in the party and in science more than I believe in religion," he said through a government translator.

Still, a poorly executed relocation program could also leave people worse off and foment the very kind of instability improved economic conditions were meant to prevent.

A notable example of this occurred in Inner Mongolia about a decade ago, when provincial authorities relocated herdsmen from the steppe to so-called milk villages. Chinas dairy industry imploded shortly afterward following a tainted milk scandal, forcing many of the herdsman to eke out a living doing odd jobs.

Disadvantaged Underclass

Large-scale resettlement involves major changes to social structures, family links, culture, lifestyle, communities and class structure, according to Robbie Barnett, who headed Columbia Universitys Modern Tibetan Studies Program until 2018 and has written about the region since the 1980s.

Its impossible to overstate the enormity of these new forms of development and economic policy in Tibet and Tibetan areas, particularly resettlement," he said. To put it at its crudest, the risk is that, while some will prosper, many farming and herding communities will be transformed into a dislocated, disadvantaged underclass."

Officials interviewed during the reporting trip spoke extensively about that risk, and highlighted two solutions: Teaching Tibetans new skills to make money, and expanding education.

Outside Shigatse, Tibets second-largest city, low-income families are growing mushrooms -- something Tibetans havent traditionally done -- and then selling them to a government-financed company. More than 600 kilometers away in Nyingchi, authorities are planning to spend more than $100 million on a vocational training center designed for students who failed a test to continue onto high school after compulsory education in Tibet ends after grade nine.

One of those students is Suolanyixi, the 19-year-old son of pepper farmers. Hes already mastered the cappuccino in his quest to become a professional barista, and hopes to one day land a job at one of the roughly half-dozen five-star hotels in Lhasa.

And while none of the other students whove studied coffee making at the school has ever gotten a job outside of Tibet, Suolanyixi is not ready to rule out the thought -- something that would further the Communist Partys goal of integrating the region with the rest of China. Maybe if I am lucky," he said in fluent Mandarin Chinese.

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