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from Photographers' Blog:

Recharging the mystical powers

Wat Bang Phra, Thailand

By Damir Sagolj

A devotee with a small zoo of animals tattooed on his body speeds toward the large statue of the Big Master, jumping over others and making unusual sounds and gestures. A volunteer standing in his way is big but fortunately very quick to stop the frantic run before a man crashes into the stage. A tattooed man bounces off the volunteer’s huge body, wakes-up from the trance and calmly goes back into the crowd. The air-bag volunteer turns to his colleagues and, as if nothing special is happening, comments in the ultra-cool manner of Bud Spencer (remember the Banana Joe movie?) “It is hot today. Very hot.”

And it’s hot indeed. It's the beginning of the Thai summer. Only a few hours after the sunrise, the temperature is over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). It is also abnormally humid. However, people who came to Wat Bang Phra today don’t really care for such banal things as heat and humidity – they are here for a higher cause.

Every year, on a special day in March thousands of devotees from all around Thailand (some from abroad, too) travel for the Magic Tattoo festival to Nakhon Prathom province, just over an hour drive from Bangkok. The festival takes place at a temple well known for "magically charged" tattoos.

People with such tattoos believe the inked drawings with elaborate designs of animals and sacred scripts give them mystical powers – protection from bullets and other danger, along with other benefits. They are made all across the country and very different people wear them, just like the amulets you can see everywhere in Thailand. When soldiers from the Thai army went to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission, 443 of them carried 6000 magic amulets for protection.

from FaithWorld:

China plans to help Nepal develop Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini

(A reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple in Bangkok April 8,2008/Sukree Sukplang)

 

A Chinese-backed foundation and Nepal's government plan to transform Lord Buddha's birthplace in southern Nepal into a magnet for Buddhists in the same way as Mecca is to Muslims and the Vatican for Catholics. The Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation plans to raise $3 billion at home and abroad to build temples, an airport, a highway, hotels, convention centres and a Buddhist university in the town of Lumbini, about 171 km (107 miles) southwest of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.

The foundation, blessed by the Chinese government, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nepalese government last month to jointly develop and operate Lumbini, where Buddha was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha about 2,600 years ago. The foundation also pledged to bring communications, water and electricity to Lumbini.

from FaithWorld:

Can saffron be red in Thailand?

THAILAND

(A monk walks along a red shirt barricade in Bangkok's business district on April 25/Sukree Sukplang)

At the sprawling red shirt encampment in central bank, Buddhist monks clad in their distinctive saffron robes mingle with men wearing helmets walking around with sharpened bamboo sticks.

from FaithWorld:

Tiger Woods promises to wear Buddhist bracelet forever

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Tiger Woods pauses while delivering a statement after admitting cheating on his wife and taking a break from golf, 19 Feb 2010/Sam Greenwood

Rehabilitation and religion were the two themes Tiger Woods was most open about discussing in his first television interviews Sunday since revelations about his marriage infidelities emerged last November.  Woods has long been connected to Buddhism through his Thai mother and he said his detachment from the religion had been behind his fall from grace.

from FaithWorld:

Top Japan pol calls Christianity self-righteous, Islam hardly better

japan-buddhistA top politician in Japan's ruling Democratic Party has praised Buddhism while calling Christianity "exclusive and self-righteous" and Islam only somewhat better.  Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa made the remarks after meeting the head of the Japan Buddhist Federation, a group traditionally close to the rival Liberal Democratic Party, which was trounced by the Democrats in an August election.

Christianity "is an exclusive and self-righteous religion. And society in the United States and Europe, which are based on Christianity, are at a dead end," the Nikkei newspaper quoted Ozawa as telling reporters after the meeting. "Islam is better, but it is also exclusive."

from FaithWorld:

Tibetans welcome mountain spirits

Every summer the green hills of Rebkong are home to unique celebrations during which local Tibetans believe the mountain gods visit villagers -- and each other -- through human mediums.

TIBET-SPIRITS/

See a report on these colorful celebrations by my colleagues Christina Hu and Lucy Hornby here and a picture slideshow here.

from Left field:

Is Phil Jackson the best coach in NBA history or just lucky?

jacksonThe man who’s become known as the “Zen Master” for tapping Buddhist teachings has been fortunate enough to coach the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant as they grew into dominant superstars, but rounding their games into championship form was a never-ending battle of wills.

In his 2006 memoir, Jackson refers to Kobe as “uncoachable” for his tendency to try to win games as a solo artist. After breaking the late Red Auerbach’s record to stand alone as the first coach to win 10 NBA championships, Jackson paid tribute to Bryant for his maturity as he accepted his very first MVP award.

from FaithWorld:

Singing away theological differences in Nazareth

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(Photo: Pope Benedict with Galilee religious leaders, 14 May 2009/Osservatore Romano)

Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words. There's more than that behind this picture of Pope Benedict holding hands and singing a song for peace with leaders of other religions in Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation on Thursday. This might seem like an innocent gesture to most people who see it. To some Vatican correspondents following the pope on his Holy Land tour, it was an unprecedented step that spoke volumes about the evolution of his theological thinking.This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics "Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace." At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a "kumbaya session" -- a "religious version of We Are The World," one colleague quipped -- but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul's pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor's papacy. Catholics cannot pray together with other religions, he argued, because only Catholicism was the true faith and all others were flawed to greater or lesser extents. Praying together carried the risk of syncretism, or mixing religions.Over the years, Cardinal Ratzinger made several critical comments about other religions, especially Buddhism and Islam (although he is changing there as well). He drew a sharp line between Catholics and other Christians in the 2000 document Dominus Iesus that called Protestant denominations deficient and not proper churches. They felt slighted and several said so openly. The only faiths Ratzinger seemed interested in were Orthodox Christianity and Judaism (ironically, given the cool welcome he got in Israel -- but that's another story).Things change when a cardinal becomes a pope. Suddenly, he was no longer just the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, he was the head of the world's largest church and its smallest country. He was a spiritual leader, a temporal head of state, a major diplomatic figure and one of the most prominent -- if not the most prominent -- spokesman for religion on the planet. That's a lot to juggle at the same time.

from FaithWorld:

Tibet exiles embrace new “living Buddha”

He is a "living Buddha" with an iPod, the 23-year-old possible successor to the Dalai Lama who may bridge the gap between Tibet's elder leaders and both an alienated Tibetan youth and a suspicious China.

For the Karmapa Lama, who fled Tibet nine years ago to India and is now the third highest ranking Lama, it is time for Tibetans to modernize to survive.

from FaithWorld:

China’s Religious Character May Be Deeper Than Thought

china-2.jpgThe light being cast on China by the coming Summer Games is far brighter than the flickering Olympic flame now wending its way across that vast country. Politics, society, human rights, the status of Tibet and even the environment have been widely discussed.

china1.jpg 

Now a window has been opened on faith and religion in a country where six decades of Communist philosophy and rule might seem to have pushed those subjects into obscurity.

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