FaithWorld

China says everything normal at restive Tibetan temple

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(A Tibetan in Nepal on a 24-hour hunger strike in Kathmandu April 18, 2011, to express solidarity with victims of a Chinese crackdown last month/Navesh Chitrakar)

China has said everything was “normal” at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery after the Dalai Lama urged restraint in a stand-off between security forces and Tibetans at the temple in southwest China. “According to what we understand, over the past few days the life and Buddhist activities of the monks at the Kirti monastery are all normal. Social order there is also normal. Material supplies in the temple are totally sufficient,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing.

“The Kirti temple’s administration and local police a long time ago set up a police-temple joint patrol team. The aim was to prevent people of uncertain identity from entering the temple. Relations between the police and the temple have always been harmonious,” Hong added on Tuesday without elaborating.

Hundreds of ethnic Tibetans had gathered at the Kirti monastery in Aba in Sichuan province last week trying to stop authorities moving out monks for government-mandated “re-education,” according to exiled Tibetans and activists. That prompted police to lock down the monastery with as many as 2,500 monks inside.

A 21-year-old Tibetan monk burned himself to death on March 16 in Aba, an overwhelmingly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese Communist Party control three years ago. Instead of putting out the flames, Chinese police beat the young monk, creating huge resentment in the monastery, the Dalai Lama said in his statement last week.

Tibetan monk burns to death in China protest, support group says

tibet protest

A Tibetan Buddhist monk burnt himself to death in western China Wednesday, triggering a street protest against government controls on the restive region, a group campaigning for Tibetan self-rule said. The self-immolation appeared to be a small repeat of protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

The 21-year-old, named Phuntsog, was a monk in Aba, a mainly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese control three years ago. The monk “immolated himself today in protest against the crackdown,” said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a London-based organisation.

“He shouted some slogans about freedom when he did it,” said Zorgyi, a researcher for the organisation, who is based in northern India, where many exiled Tibetans live. “We’ve also received widespread information about a protest with nearly one thousand monks and lay people that came after,” Zorgyi said.

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

gold buddha

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.

Monks take back seat in Trappist beer success story

BELGIUM-BEER/TRAPPISTSIt came as a surprise to discover that monks were no longer involved in the beer-making at Trappist brewer Westmalle during a visit to research for a feature of Trappist beers. With the exception of small-scale Westvleteren that is pretty much the case at all seven Trappist breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands.
It is largely the result of demographics – the average age of monks at many monasteries in western Europe is up in the 50s, 60s or 70s, hardly an age to be pushing around barrels. The modern brewery is also very much automated, requiring fewer people on the factory floor, but a number of trouble-shooting experts – a monastery has no guarantee of having an brewing engineer in its flock. 
Monks at Koningshoeven Abbey in the Netherlands do still prepare gift packages of its La Trappe beer. It helps that their average age is just below 60. “We are a bit lucky,” admitted brewing chief Gijs Swinkels.
So what makes a Trappist beer different from any other brew? It’s not the taste, the colour or even the strength – from 5 percent Achels to the 11.3 percent alcohol of the Rochefort 10.
The answer is threefold and applies to other Trappist products such as cheese, biscuits and chocolate: 1. It must be made within the walls of a Trappist monastery; 2. It must be controlled by monks; and 3. The profits must be used for upkeep of the monastery and its community and for its charitable projects.Worker at bottling plant of Westmalle Brewery
Sure enough monks do take key decisions on investment, production size and the limited level of marketing.
However, the very ageing that has forced monks to cease day-to-day tasks raises questions about the future of the beers — the pinnacle of brewing to some beer connoisseurs, but just a means to an end for the monks.
Trappist monks accept that some communities may die out, while others emerge. Will some of the Trappist beers die out too?

Will the Nobel Peace Prize go to a religious leader this year?

nobel-ceremony (Photo: Nobel Peace Prize 2008 award ceremony, 10 Dec 2008/Ints Kalnins)

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.

“The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game,” chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.

prio-logoBy contrast, the independent International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in Oslo publishes its own picks and it named Colombian peace activist Piedad Cordoba, Jordanian interfaith dialogue pioneer Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal and Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar as its favourites. “PRIO does not appear to have any special inside track, but they have on occasion been right,” said Moskwa.

Time to re-think ban on women at Greek holy site?

Last month I visited Mount Athos, a self- governing monastic state in northern Greece where some 1,500 monks live according to rules which have changed little in the last millennium. Athos’ 20 monasteries are considered by the world’s 300 million Orthodox as perhaps the second most holy site of their faith, after Jerusalem. They are home to breathtaking religious art and thousands of manuscripts dating back to the Byzantine empire, as well as priceless relics, like fragments of the True Cross, believed by the Orthodox faithful to have performed countless miracles. (Photo:Simomos Petras monastery at Mount Athos/Daniel Flynn)

For many Orthodox it is the fulfilment of a long-held dream to visit the rugged Holy Mountain — but not if you a woman. Women are completely banned from the 300 sq kilometre peninsula and any breach of this strict rule is a criminal offence in Greece punishable by up to two years in prison. Athonite tradition has it that the Virgin Mary’s ship was blown off course as she travelled with St John the Evangelist to visit Lazarus in Cyprus and that on making ground in Athos she immediately prayed to her son to dedicate the beautiful peninsula to her, which he did, meaning that other women were banned. Modern day monks say there are good practical reasons why women are prohibited: “God built a sexual attraction between men and women. To have them here would distract us from our main aim, which is prayer,” one monk told me. Many pilgrims have more flippant excuses. “Women would not like it here, there are no mirrors,” said one elderly Greek. The ban on women has already raised the ire of the European Parliament, which has two voted to criticise the prohibition: European Union taxes are helping to fund a massive renovation of the monasteries, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In January a group of women including a Greek MP briefly entered Athos in a protest. Apart from accepting some female refugees during the civil war in the late 1940s, the most the monks have done to open up is allow many of their most precious treasures to be briefly seen at exhibitions in Greece.

But the main treasure of Mount Athos is the place itself and many Orthodox women feel frustrated by the ban on visiting it. “I would love to see it, but I know I never will,” is a common comment, though some say they understand the ban. At the same time, many Greek women are angry that their taxes are being used to fund wealthy institutions that they are banned from setting foot in, arguing that UNESCO status means the monasteries are treasures of humanity, not just of male humanity.

Fed up with market crisis? Here’s one broker who left it all behind

Traders at New York Stock Exchange, 3 April 2008/Brendan McDermidFed up with this market crisis? Looking for a change? Take a look at how one former Nasdaq broker got away from it all:

Brother Nikanor, a Nasdaq broker turned monk, advises former colleagues to put a jar with soil on their desks to remind them where we are all heading and what matters in life.

As western banks fold into each other like crumpled tickets and commentators portray the current crisis as the last gasp of modern capitalism, Hristo Mishkov, 32, shares the pain — and offers home truths.