FaithWorld

In Indonesia, keeping the religious status quo

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Youths read the Koran in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province September 5, 2008/Yusuf Ahmad

 Even though Indonesia is officially secular, belonging to a religious group is part of your national identity — to the point of being listed on your identity card.

But don’t try to spread a religion that isn’t one of six recognised by the constitution or you could be accused of blasphemy.

You can’t leave blank the space for religion on an Indonesian ID card or else you are likely to face difficulty attending college or university, getting a job or even marrying and having children.

The issue has been in the news in Indonesia this week after the Constitutional Court upheld a challenge by rights groups and pluralists to a law that says Indonesians can only be Muslim (the overwhelming majority), Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu or a follower of Confucianism.

Nepal’s “living goddess” eyes banking career

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Living goddess Chanira Bajracharya at her residence in Patan, near Kathmandu, April 6, 2010/Gopal Chitrakar

Even a “living goddess” is sometimes faced with tough decisions.

Chanira Bajracharya, 15, has been the Kumari or “living goddess” of Patan, an ancient town south of Kathmandu, for nine years, blessing devotees at the temple and riding in decorated chariots 18 times a year during Hindu and Buddhist festivals.

Now, with her time as living goddess drawing to a close — the young virgin deities retire on reaching puberty — Bajracharya is contemplating a career in banking if she makes grades good enough to study commerce or accounting.

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.

“Going against your core values, losing sight of it,” he said when asked how he lost control of his life. “I quit meditating, I quit being a Buddhist, and my life changed upside down.  I felt entitled, which I had never felt before. Consequently, I hurt so many people by my own reckless attitude and behavior.”

Q+A – Does Dalai Lama meeting help or hurt Obama?

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Dalai Lama in a 11 Nov 2009 file photo in India/Adnan Abidi

U.S. President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on Thursday after avoiding a get-together before his China trip last year. The White House visit by the Tibetan Buddhist leader comes at a time of increased tension between the United States and China, which has warned that the session will hurt Sino-U.S. ties.

Since 1990 every U.S. president has met the Dalai Lama at the White House. President George H.W. Bush started the tradition after the Chinese authorities crushed student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and an uprising in Tibet.

Is this a meeting Obama could do without? Will it help him burnish his human rights credentials? Examine these and other questions about the visit in this question-and-answer piece from our Washington bureau.

Singapore raps evangelical pastor for ridiculing Buddhists, Taoists

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Lighthouse Evangelism church in Singapore, 11 Sept 2005/Slivester

Singapore has warned an evangelical Christian pastor that his online videos are offensive to Buddhists and Taoists, underlining the city-state’s concerns that religion is a potential faultline for its multicultural society.

Pastor Rony Tan, of the Lighthouse Evangelism megachurch, apologized and pulled the video clips off the internet after being visited by the government’s Internal Security Department (ISD) on Monday, the pastor and the government said on their websites. “I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again,” Tan said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday that “Pastor Tan’s comments were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists. They can also give rise to tension and conflict between the Buddhist/Taoist and Christian communities. ISD told Pastor Tan that in preaching or proselytising his faith, he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.”

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

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A gold statue of Buddha in Tokyo, 26 Nov 2009/Yuriko Nakao

He raps. He chants. And this month, Japan’s famed hip-hop loving monk, better known as MC Happiness, will tap dance on stage, in the name of Buddhism.

Kansho Tagai heads the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple in central Tokyo, offering softly chanted prayers throughout the day amid traditional bell chimes and wafts of incense.

But once in a while, he raises the volume, and the tempo, of these prayers, going before an audience to rap Buddhist sutra, or teachings, to hip hop beats and in modern Japanese.

Climatic cracks of doom threaten monastic fortress in Bhutan

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Punakha Dzong monastic fortress in Bhutan, 28 June 2009/Singye Wangchuk

For centuries the Punakha Dzong monastic fortress in Bhutan’s Himalayas has sheltered ancient Buddhist relics and scriptures from earthquakes, fires and Tibetan invasions.  Now the lamas here may have met their match — global warming.

At least 53 million cubic metres of glacier melt is threatening to break the banks of a lake upstream in the Himalayan peaks and spark a “mountain tsunami” in Punakha valley.

The government is pressing the lamas, so far unsuccessfully, to transport relics to a nearby hilltop for safekeeping. Massive flooding could inundate these valleys, which hold about a tenth of Bhutan’s population, by 2015.

from Raw Japan:

Church attacks shake Kansai

In the minds of many people, religious rivalry could occasionally be expected to  spill over into violence in places as diverse as the occupied West Bank or Glasgow's 'Old Firm' football derby.

Japan's Kansai region, home to the world's most renowned Zen gardens and some of the country's finest cuisine, on the other hand, is not generally seen as a tinderbox of religious tension.

But over the last year a series of mysterious attacks on Protestant churches and other facilities have roiled the area, leaving many churchgoers shaken and perplexed.

Buddhist charity turns bottles into blankets for disaster victims

bottles (Photo: Crushed plastic bottles at the Tzu Chi Foundation recycling factory in Taipei, 4 Nov 2009/Nicky Loh)

A plastic bottle thrown into a Taipei recycling bin could be reincarnated as a blanket to warm disaster victims in any of 20 countries, thanks to a unique project by the world’s largest Buddhist charity.

The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been taking plastic bottles from the waste stream of Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, for three years to convert them into about 244,000 polyester blankets intended for disaster zones. It has sent volunteers with relief supplies to some of the world’s biggest disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and last year’s devastating Sichuan earthquake in China.

This week, Tzu Chi expanded its one-of-a-kind recycling effort to begin making shirts, scarves and cloth shopping bags.  It sends the plastic bottles to a factory that breaks them down into a polyester fabric, which is then sent to crew of volunteers who fashion it into blankets or garments.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.