The year 2019 was a tumultuous and divisive 12 months, with environmental, political, and social disorder growing in almost all corners of the world. Fortunately, as Buddhism teaches us, even within the muddiest context, it is possible for a lotus flower to emerge. Chaotic as it was, 2019 had its share of lotus flowers, with people and communities the world over taking skillful action and planting wholesome seeds that may blossom in the years to come. Let us reflect here on some of these moments.
In the Thai cities of Ayutthaya and Bangkok, 2019 got off to a mindful start with the ninth International Lay Buddhist Forum (ILBF).* Following fruitful lectures and discussions around the theme “Lay Buddhists – Roles and Relations: Buddhist Lives of Mindful Transformation,” attendees gathered at the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan to welcome the New Year. Dr. Christie Chang, chair of the ILBF steering committee, described the event to Buddhistdoor Global: “Participants were overjoyed and touched by what they witnessed—thousands of people sitting outdoors so peacefully together, listening in hushed quiet to the sermons: it was unthinkable for those who had not seen such an environment before.”
In response to the catastrophic deforestation taking place in Cambodia, monks and activists organized a Buddhist ceremony in Prey Lang Forest.** As part of the ceremony, the particpants wrapped trees in the same saffron cloths worn by Buddhist monks. The purpose of this is to protect the forest from rampant illegal logging, which is wreaking havoc on the country’s environment and biodiversity.
Following devastating fires in Butte County, California, five monks from the Gaden Shartse Cultural Foundation traveled to the region to offer their support.*** The monks performed a healing ritual in which they offered blessings for all the sentient beings who lost their lives, as well as their valued possessions, during the tragedy.
A milestone was reached when it comes to protecting butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that form a key component of our fragile ecosystem. In order to combat the significant decline in populations of these creatures, more than one million households registered for the National Pollinator Garden Network’s challenge, thereby agreeing to grow pollinator-friendly plants in their backyards, gardens, and terraces.
The Cardboard Café opened in Mumbai, providing a wonderful example of how eco-friendly architecture can really be. Aside from the kitchen area, the entire restaurant has been built using corrugated cardboard. Owner Karim hopes to demonstrate that cardboard is a cheap and sustainable building material, and he also wishes to create a space that allows for open dialogue on issues related to sustainability.
Geshema Tenzin Kunsel and Geshema Delek Wangmo, both Buddhist nuns with advanced degrees in Buddhist philosophy, were the first female teachers hired at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India.****
Professors Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello installed the “Teeter-Totter Wall,” a set of seesaws that go through the US-Mexico border wall. Their spectacular creation enables people from Sunland Park, New Mexico and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to engage in positive interaction despite being on different sides of the wall.
The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts held a retreat for people who have been directly affected by mass shootings in the United States.***** The event was led by Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg and mindfulness instructor Shelly Tygielski, and offered a safe space for survivors to come together and practice meditation and coping skills as a community.
A crowdfunding campaign in Canada collected enough donations to buy 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of wilderness in British Columbia and turn it into protected land. The BC Parks Foundation led the campaign to prevent logging and development in the area.
In an incredible act of compassion, Brandt Jean hugged and forgave Amber Guyger, the white police officer who shot and killed his brother. During Guyer’s sentencing, Jean told Guyger: “I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” Among other heartfelt words he added: “I love you just like anyone else and I’m not going to hope you rot and die.” (ABC) With the judge’s approval, Jean made his way toward Guyger, who readily fell into his embrace.
The Second Buddhist-Muslim Summit took place in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.****** The event, which enabled members of the Buddhist and Muslim communities to come together and deliberate on significant issues, was important given the animosity and conflicts that have taken place between the two religions across South and Southeast Asia.
December was a successful month for green energy adoption. The US state of California achieved its Million Solar Roofs Initiative, a law that was passed in 2006 by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and has resulted in one million solar roofs being installed on homes, ranches, schools, and businesses. Across the country, the Detroit Zen Center installed a green roof on its monastery that is able to absorb 10,000 gallons of water, thereby protecting it from incurring damage during city’s regular rainstorms.******* The roof is due to start operating this spring.
As we enter a new decade, the outlook seems to have become even muddier. With the US government’s assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, tensions continue to escalate in the Middle East, and many believe that we may be on the verge of World War III. How can we—as individuals and as inhabitants of this wounded planet—cope with the many challenges that continue to present themselves? Although there are no simple answers, my personal resolution is to practice looking for lotus flowers and to help nourish them whenever I can. After all, as we can see by reflecting on the events of last year, even in the midst of hardship individuals and communities can make wonderful things happen.
Upon a heap of rubbish
in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus,
fragrant and pleasing.
Even so, on the rubbish heap
of blinded mortals the discipline
of the Supremely Enlightened One shines
resplendent in wisdom. (Dhammapada, 58–59)
* International Lay Buddhist Forum Held over the New Year in Thailand (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Monks and Activists Hold Buddhist Ceremony to Address Deforestation in Cambodia (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** Monks Perform Healing Ritual at California Town Affected by Devastating Wildfire (Buddhistdoor Global)
**** In Historic First, Two Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Hired to Teach Buddhist Philosophy (Buddhistdoor Global)
***** Barre Center for Buddhist Studies Hosts Family Members and Survivors of Gun Violence (Buddhistdoor Global)
****** Buddhist and Muslim Leaders Meet in Bangladesh to Reaffirm Humanitarian Commitments (Buddhistdoor Global)
******* Detroit Zen Center’s Green Roof Paves the Way Toward Sustainability (Buddhistdoor Global)
Over 1 Million Gardeners Have United to Create Global Network of Greenery That Nourishes Bees and Butterflies (Good News Network)
This Breathtaking Café Made Entirely Out of Cardboard Shows Just How Eco-Friendly Architecture Can Be (Good News Network)
California Professors Place Seesaws Across US-Mexico Border So Children Can Play Together (Good News Network)
For the First Time Ever, Canadians Use Crowdfunding to Buy Up Land For New Protected Public Park (Good News Network)
Extraordinary act of mercy: Brother of Botham Jean hugs and forgives Amber Guyger after 10-year sentence imposed (ABC)
California celebrates 1 million solar roofs (Solar Power World)