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Buddhists boldly bully buzzed Brits: GetReligion, April 25, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The obnoxious Englishman abroad is a well loved story in the British press. The opprobrium once reserved for the British football hooligan abroad has now spread to his vacationing cousins. Cheap airfares and package holidays to the beaches of the Mediterranean, Florida and points East have given the Briton abroad a reputation for boorishness, lewdness, and alcohol-fueled vulgarity.

“They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit,” the mayor of Malia, a popular Greek resort, told the New York Times in 2008. “It is only the British people – not the Germans or the French”.

Are the British the world’s worst behaved tourists? I think Americans can still give the Brits a run for their money. Let me note the annual horror of Spring Break here in Sunny Florida in defense of my claim of American exceptionalism. Aesthetically speaking the sunburnt, tattooed, shaven-headed, bandy-legged Briton abroad is an unpleasing sight. And the men are even worse!

The British government keeps track of the bad behavior of Englishman abroad, publishing an annual report on consular support given to jailed tourists, football hooligans and other assorted louts.The British press has a love hate relationship with yobos abroad. The Daily Mail and other popular newspapers will run stories bemoaning bad behavior and vulgarity with headlines like: “Beer-swilling Britishwomen are branded the ‘ugliest in the world’.” However, British television celebrates the bad behavior with documentaries and series like Channel 4‘s “What happens in Kavos” — an English version of the soft porn “Girls gone wild” films distributed in America.

The news that a British nurse vacationing in Sri Lanka is being deported from that country due to a Buddha tattoo that state officials find to be offensive to Buddhist sensibilities is being reported along these lines — the clueless tourist acting in a way that insults the locals. The Guardian‘s story came from the French wire service AFP, which stated:

Sri Lanka has detained a female British tourist for having a Buddha tattoo on her right arm and ordered her deportation, police said on Tuesday. The unidentified woman was arrested at the country’s main international airport on Monday and appeared before a magistrate, who ordered her deportation, police said in a statement.

The statement said she had an image of the Buddha seated on a lotus flower tattooed on her right arm. “She was taken before the Negombo magistrate, who ordered her to be detained prior to deportation,” it said, adding that she was arrested shortly after her arrival on a flight from neighbouring India.

It did not say what charges were brought against her, but Sri Lanka barred another British tourist from entering the island in March last year for showing disrespect to Buddhism by having a Buddha tattooed on his arm.

Subsequent stories in the Guardian and other Western news outlets reported the woman’s name and provided a photo of the tourist showing off her Buddha tattoo. The Guardian also ran an opinion piece noting that the Buddha tattoo was offensive to Sri Lankans arguing:

The arrest and pending deportation of a 37-year-old British nurse, Naomi Coleman, from Sri Lanka for sporting a tattoo of a meditating Buddha on her right arm has once again raised the issue of tourists being woefully unaware of religious and cultural sensitivities in places they visit.

While alcohol was absent from this incident, the photos of the tattoo and its wearer, coupled with statements that the tattoo was considered offensive by Buddhists, slots this story into the ugly Briton abroad category.

But … is this all there is to say on this story? Are Buddhists offended by tattoos of the Buddha? Why is this offensive?

Could this be political chauvinism disguised as religious piety?

The Western press appears to have accepted uncritically the argument that tattoos of Buddha are offensive on religious grounds. Yet no scholars of Buddhism are questioned on this point. In its opinion piece the Guardian cites a story in the Daily News of Colombo — one of Sri Lanka’s principle newspapers — in support of the offensive to Buddhist claims that also raises political questions. The Daily News article quotes a senior Buddhist monk demanding the government ban publications printing images of Buddha.

The Mahanayake Thera during a meeting with the President pointed out that the print media material bearing the images of The Buddha were even used as serviettes at eateries and also used to wrap various consumer goods by traders.

While noting the above, the Mahanayake Thera asserted that this amounted to an act of sacrilege.

Images of Buddha according to the senior monk must be protected from sacrilege. But again we do not have an explanation of why other than the monk’s assertion that this must be so.

In April of 2010, I wrote an article for the Church of England Newspaper reporting that:

Buddhist extremists have forced the cancellation of a concert tour in Sri Lanka by the pop singer Akon, after a mob ransacked the offices of his booking agent in Colombo for insulting the Buddha. … The protesters were offended by Akon’s latest video “Sexy Chick,” which shows bikini-clad women dancing at a pool party, while in the background stands a statue of the Buddha. Jathika Bhikku Sansadaya, a Buddhist monk organization affiliated with the Sinhala nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) demanded the government cancel the concert stating Akon had insulted Buddhism.

The government caved in to the demands of the rioters and refused to issue Akon a visa. The reason why the Church of Englan Newspaper ran the story was due to the intervention of the Anglican bishop in Colombo.

Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo upbraided the police for their inaction. “Reports that the police failed to prevent the attack and did not object to some of the perpetrators of this offense being released on bail the same day, are worrying,” he said. “Such behavior implies political patronage in the attack and political interference in the investigations. When some who frame the laws of the land and some of those responsible for the enforcement of the law disregard the law, the plight of the people is critical,” he said in a statement given to the media.

The bishop argued the motivation for the protests were not religious but political. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks have a long history of political activism and in recent years have used perceived insults to Buddhist imagery — t-shirts, tattoos, music videos, a parcel wrapped in a newspaper that displays an image of Buddha — as a stick to beat the government and rouse their supporters.

How then should the Western press have handled the story of Naomi Coleman? Was it wise to assume that Buddhism is akin to Sunni Islam where images of the prophet or the enlightened one are forbidden? Should the assertion that this is offensive be tested by reference to a scholar of Sri Lankan Buddhism or a political analyst? Should we trust as true the statements made by the police?

The deeper story here is not the social or aesthetic faux pas of an English tourist, but the political activism of militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Religious offense may be the issue trumpeted by the Sri Lankan government, but could it really be Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism at play?

What does it mean to be transgendered in India?: GetReligion, April 18, 2014 May 9, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Hinduism, Press criticism.
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Is it possible to write intelligently about sex in the non-Western world for an American media audience? Or, is our culture so narcissistic, so incurious, so parochial that a newspaper would be wasting its time in attempting to explain the difference between our world view and their’s?

A recent spate of articles in the American press about Tuesday’s decision by the Indian Supreme Court creating a “third gender” under law prompted these musings. Stories in the Washington Post and MSNBC about the Indian court ruling are so slanted for an American audience (and these outlet’s particular audiences) that there is but a tenuous link between their reporting and reality.

The pro forma MSNBC story begins:

Transgender people in India no longer have to categorize themselves as “male” or “female” in official documents. India’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling Tuesday that allows hundreds of thousands of transgender people to identify themselves as a third gender. Human rights groups are lauding the decision as historic and groundbreaking.

The article follows a standard formula for legal news and provides snippets from the decision.

“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” the court wrote. “Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue,” Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, one of the two head judges on the Supreme Court bench, told the court.

The article notes what the implication of the ruling might be:

The high court has ordered the government to allocate public sector jobs to transgender people, known as “hijras” and include them in welfare programs.

And also offers comments from a high profile transgender activist and refers to arguments made in the brief. It then offers political and legal context to the ruling and closes with a word of hope from the LGBT community.

While India now recognizes the transgender community as a third gender, the ruling only applies to transgender people and not gays, lesbians or bisexuals. In December, the Supreme Court reversed a 2009 court order that decriminalized homosexuality, reinstating a ban on gay sex. India’s general elections will be held on May 16, and LGBT rights activists hope the new parliament will repeal the anti-gay law.

All in all the structure and tone of this story is what one would expect of an MSNBC story about an American court decision on transgender issues. Voices opposed to the ruling would have provided balance and developing the apparent contradictions between this latest ruling and the December 2013 ruling criminalizing gay sex would have been welcome.

Yet, this is not a story about America, but India. And the American left-liberal model, with all of the assumptions implicit in that world view, does not work.

First off, can we assume that an American transgendered person is the same as an Indian transgendered person, or what the article calls a hijra?

According to the leading study on India’s transgendered community, With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India by Gayatri Reddy, hijras are:

phenotypic men who wear female clothing, and ideally renounce sexual desire and practice by undergoing a sacrificial emasculation — that is, the excision of the penis and testicles — dedicated to the goddess Bedhraj Mata. Subsequently they are believed to be endowed with the power to confer children on newlyweds or newborn children.

Hijras do not occupy the same place in Indian culture as the transgendered do in America. First hijras are almost exclusively male to female. Second they have a quasi-religious cultural roll in Hindu society and have been present, though on the fringes of that society, for thousands of years.

Can we also assume that gender identity in America is equal to gender identity in India? In her monograph Reddy notes that by the 3rd Century (AD or CE) the view that there were three genders was being debated in Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jain thought. For Brahmans sexual identity was founded upon the presence or absence of certain primary sexual characteristics. For Buddhists it was controlled by procreation with the impotent consigned to the third sex. But the Jains argued that biology was only one marker of sexual identity. One’s psychological gender was as important as one’s physiological gender in establishing sexual identity.

And, what is the role of Islam in all of this. Hijra is an Urdu word and Indian popular culture associates hijras with those parts of India where Muslim influence is strongest.

And, how can we understand the court’s decision’s recognizing a third sex yet upholding criminal penalties for homosexuality? I am no scholar of Indian law, but could the quasi-religious understanding of the hijras be at work? It seems India’s courts are moving in an opposite direction than America’s — in the West sexual identity is tied closely to sexual activity while the Indian courts seem to separate the two.

Let me say that the issue being addressed by this post is not the moral worth of transgendered people or the rights and wrongs of the Indian court decision. Nor am I saying that every foreign news story be accompanied by a scholarly monograph.

I am asking whether it is possible to understand the issue of the hijra without a single reference to religion in the MSNBC story? Treating this story as if it were an exotic version of Bowers v. Hardwick may come naturally to an American newspaper, but it leaves the reader ignorant of what has happened.

Tibet is burning: Get Religion, January 18, 2013 January 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, China, Get Religion, Persecution, Politics.
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Let me commend for your reading this AP article by reporter Gillian Wong on the military crack down in Tibet. Entitled “As Tibet burns, China makes arrests, seizes TVs” this article reports on the wave of self-immolations that have swept across Tibet in protest to the Chinese regime’s occupation of the region.

It opens with a strong lede, provides the facts in a straight forward – balanced way, offers good comments from knowledgeable experts, provides the principle points of view — all while being written under a Beijing dateline (which means the reporter can find herself severely discommoded by the government for reporting unpalatable truths.)

The article opens:

Chinese authorities are responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by clamping down even harder – criminalizing the suicides, arresting protesters’ friends and even confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes.

The harsh measures provide an early indication that the country’s new leadership is not easing up on Tibet despite the burning protests and international condemnation.

For months, as Tibetans across western China doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves alight, authorities responded by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, but those efforts did not stop or slow the protests. The self-immolations even accelerated in November as China’s ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.

There is a strong religious component to the story:

Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Speaking technically, (e.g., removing the subject of the story and looking at its construction, language and the reporter’s craft) this is a superior news story — it has all the elements of good journalism. And when you add in the compelling subject matter of religious freedom and political self-determination for Tibet you have a great story.

Where I to add anything to this story, it would be a paragraph or two on what the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has to say about self-immolation. Buddhism holds that human life is sacred — how does suicide as political/religious protest stand in light of these teachings?

My sense is that a reporter writing from Beijing can only go so far down this path before they find their visa cancelled. One telephone call to a leader of the Tibetan exile community in a story might pass police muster — direct quotes or a response from the Dalai Lama would be too much. An informed reader should look at the dateline of an article — the location where the story was written often placed in parentheses at the beginning of an article — so as to understand how to read the story. A dateline of Beijing as opposed to Hong Kong or Tokyo for this story says very different things. Let the reader understand.

Informed Western readers of this article are likely to come to this story with the knowledge the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Older readers will remember the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war in protest to the South Vietnamese government’s policies. Is this the tradition in Tibet?

Not according to the Tibetan government in exile. They released a You-Tube video this past summer that looks into this question — noting the first Tibetan self-immolation took place in 2008.  The video received little news attention when it was released, and I do hope that it is picked up by the press now that the Chinese government has pushed this issue into the limelight with its crackdown.

What say you GR readers? Is an extra sentence or paragraph necessary to explain the religious “why” question behind this story? Or, given the threat of censorship from Chinese government that hovers over all Tibet or religion (think House Churches, Falun Gong) stories, is it incumbent upon the reader to approach these stories with a modicum of wisdom — knowing that he will only hear part of the story?

First printed in Get Religion.

Buddhism compatible with democracy, Tibetan leader says: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 7. November 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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Lobsang Sangay

Democracy and Buddhism are compatible social institutions, the leader of Tibet’s government in exile declared last week, but they can only survive in East Asia if Western governments engage with China over Tibet.

In a statement released on 14 Nov 2012 and subsequently published in the Wall Street Journal, Tibetan political leader Lobsang Sangay, said U.S. President Barack Obama’s forthcoming trip to Asia was a hopeful sign for Buddhists in the region’s fledgling democracies.

The tour will “attract a lot of attention throughout the region, but especially in Tibet. Mr. Obama will visit Cambodia and Thailand, two predominantly Buddhist countries, and will be the first sitting American president to visit Burma, also a majority Buddhist nation,” he said.

The American President “should use his trip in part to make a broader point about the compatibility between Buddhism and democracy,” said Mr. Sangay, who holds the title of sikyong, and serves as the democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people and the political successor of the Dalai Lama. Like their Burmese counterparts, “Tibetans in exile have worked to build a democracy. Indeed, as with the upsurge of the Saffron Revolution in Burma, Tibetan monks have been at the forefront of a non-violent struggle for freedom in Tibet for the last 60 years.”

He called upon the Obama administration to press the cause of Tibet with China’s new leaders appointed this month at the 18th Party Congress. “Tibetans in Tibet are crying out for justice, including the autonomy and freedom to worship they have been promised by Beijing over the years. Some 72 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, 70 of them since March 2011, and five in one day this month alone. The common cry of all self-immolators is the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.”

Western engagement with the Chinese government over Tibet would be applauded by the world’s Buddhists, he said, the “millions of Indians, Nepalese, Bhutanese and Mongolians who at one time looked upon Tibet as the source of their culture and home of their faith. Today there are reportedly more than 300 million Chinese Buddhists.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christians under threat from Burmese govt, NGO reports: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2012 p 5 September 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Christians in Chin State worshiping in a makeshift church beside the ruins of their old church, destroyed by the military. Photo: CHRO

The Chin people of western Burma are denied religious freedom and are being coerced into abandoning their Christian faith and forced to convert to Buddhism by the state, according to a new report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

The 160-page report, entitled “‘Threats to Our Existence’: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma” released on 5 September 2012 documents the military junta’s abuse of religious freedoms including forced labour, torture, church demolitions, banning of Christian worship services and forced conversions to Buddhism.

The 2012 US State Department’s International Commission on Religious Freedom categorized Myanmar as a country of “particular concern”, but a reform government led by President Thein Sein which came to power in March 2011 has ended press censorship, ended the ban on opposition parties, and released many political prisoners.

However, “Threats to Our Existence” reports the abuses of religious rights for the Chin have not ended.  The government’s “claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de-facto state religion,” said CHRO Program Director Salai Ling.

“The discriminatory state institutions and ministries of previous military regimes continue to operate in the same way today. Few reforms have reached Chin State.”

Chin students are also frequently targeted for enrollment in schools run by Myanmar’s military which convert them to Buddhism, she said, adding that Christian students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures.  CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming stated, “These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students.”

“They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” she said.

Chin state, which borders India, is home to around 500,000 people – the majority  of whom are Baptist or Anglican Christians.  Amnesty International reports that tens of thousands of Chin have fled to India and still face persecution from the state in Burma.

“The government needs to recognize that a multi-ethnic Burma needs to be a multi-religious Burma,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “This is a challenge the government has to face.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Is it Race or Religion at Issue in Burma: Get Religion, September 5, 2012 September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Press criticism.
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What is driving the violence in Burma? Race or religion? And can the two be distinguished from one another. Reports from the South East Asian nation have framed the conflict in terms of sectarian violence — but is religion really the issue here?

The English-language service of France 24 reported that Buddhist monks had staged a mass political rally in the streets of Burma’s second largest city Mandalay. But unlike the 2007 anti-government protests that sparked the unsuccessful “Saffron Revolution”, France 24 reported this week’s rally was in support of the government and against Muslims.

Drawn from an AFP wire service report, France 24‘s headline read: “Buddhist monks stage anti-Rohingya rally”. The subtitle firmly anchored the story to the theme of sectarian Buddhist-Muslim clashes.

Hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in the Burmese city of Mandalay on Sunday to back President Thein Sein’s proposal to deport members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group. Fighting between the two sides has left almost 90 people dead since June.

The article stated:

“Protect Mother Myanmar by supporting the President,” read one banner, while others criticised United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has faced accusations that he is biased in favour of the Rohingya, following deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine state.

This article is the best I have seen so far on the disturbances. Written from Burma, it offered comments from a leader of the monks as well as concerns from international rights groups. But the title and subtitles given by France 24 do not quite match the story written by AFP.

The leader of the protest march did not use religion as a reason for his march, but race.

Wirathu, the 45-year-old monk who led the march, claimed that as many as 5,000 monks had joined the procession, with another several thousand people taking to the streets to watch.

He told AFP the protest was to “let the world know that Rohingya are not among Myanmar’s ethnic groups at all”.

The monk, who goes by one name, said the aim was also to condemn “terrorism of Rohingya Bengalis who cruelly killed ethnic Rakhines”.

Speaking a dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants and the violence has stoked a wave of anger across the Buddhist-majority country.

The video accompanying the France 24 story along with the text of the article quoted the leader of the monks as stressing a clash of peoples who happen to be of different faiths, than a clash of faiths. In the video Wirathu tells the camera that all Burmese “religions, sects and political parties” are united against the Rohingya.

A second AFP story from Burma suggested that race and religion may not be divisible. In an article entitled “Myanmar Christians forced to convert: rights group” a spokesman for the Chin, a predominantly Christian minority group in Burma, stated:

Rachel Fleming, another member of the [Chin] group, said Christianity does not fit with the national view that “to be Burmese, you should be Buddhist”.

Where then should the emphasis be in the phrase “Rohingya Muslim minority group”? On the ethnic — Rohingya — or religious — Muslim — descriptors for this minority group? It may well be argued that this is a meaningless distinction, that the reasons for the Rohinga’s suffering are of secondary consequence to the fact of their suffering. I have some sympathy for this argument, but it is a journalist’s duty to split these hairs and dig into a story. The bottom  line is that what AFP reported is not so straight forward as the France 24 title suggested.

To paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, Burma is a far away country that we know little about — and hence care little about. Why would balancing race versus religion matter? One consequence of the Rohingya conflict is that it has become a political football in the Islamic world, with some extremist groups calling for jihad against Buddhists.

The anti-Buddhist rhetoric became so bad the Central Tibetan Administration — the Dhali Lama’s government in exile — issued a press statement denouncing the use of misleading photos to whip up anti-Buddhist sentiment in the Muslim world.

The Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala is deeply disturbed and concerned over the circulation of a misleading photograph in some section of the media showing Tibetan monks in their reports on the recent violence in Myanmar involving Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

A photograph of Tibetan monks standing in front of a pile of dead bodies appeared in  many websites in the Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. This photo of Tibetan monks was actually taken during their relief work in Kyegudo (Yushul), eastern Tibet, after a devastating earthquake hit the region on 14 April 2010. The Tibetan monks extended remarkable service in the rescue and relief operations at the time.

The relevant department of the Central Tibetan Administration wrote a letter to a website in Pakistan (ColumPk.com, Urdu Current Affairs Portal) on 30 July to remove the photo from its website, which it did so the next day. But the photo is still in circulation, as some Muslims carrying the photo during their recent protest in Mumbai on 11 August 2012, appeared in Zee News, a leading news channel in India.

We strongly appeal to the media across the world not to use this photo, which is being circulated by miscreants to provoke conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Pakistani pro-democracy bloggers have chronicled the use of the fake atrocity photo by Islamist extremist groups to inflame public sentiment, while retaliatory attacks on Buddhist temples in Indonesia by Muslim extremist groups in the wake of the Burmese conflict have been reported. Would these attacks have taken place if the Muslim angle were downplayed and the ethnic angle stressed? Does it make any difference? Should the press dig deeper into this story and find out what is really going on in Burma?

What say you GetReligion readers? How should this story be played out? Should reporters worry about the consequences of their stories if fanatics seize upon them for their own ends?

First printed in GetReligion.

Buddhists behaving badly: Get Religion, May 12, 2012 May 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Gambling, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Hypocrisy sells newspapers.

This is a conclusion I have drawn in my years as a religion reporter. Story proposals on a new doctrinal development or a report on a major church conference seldom excites the interest of an editor. [A story proposal about doctrinal development discussed at a conference in Canada is the kiss of death].

But if I can work in an angle about church leaders behaving badly, it may generate a return phone call. And if there is hypocrisy involved I’m just about home. I’ve even found that a long time staple of mine — the naughty vicar story — no longer generates the same level of interest. Sex does not sell by itself. You need an element of hypocrisy in the story to close the deal with a commissioning editor.

All of which brings me to a great story from The Korea Times. While there is no sex, it has the next best thing: monks behaving badly.

Here is the lede from the article entitled from the 11 May 2012 story “Jogye Order in disarray over gambling monks”:

The leadership of Jogye, the nation’s largest Buddhist order, is being thrown into question following the disclosure Thursday of a video clip showing monks gambling, drinking and smoking in a hotel room.

The monks were seen playing poker with hundreds of millions of won, which is believed to be from donations from believers.

Many within and outside the Buddhist circle sees the case as only the tip of the iceberg, saying the government must take action to address corrupt practices in religious groups. Some activists urged the government to introduce a “tax on religion” in a bid to make their spending of donations and expenditure transparent.

Behind the revelation is an internal conflict between the head of the Jogye Order, Ven. Jaseung, and his critics.

The article lays out the disputes within the Jogye Order, which have led to lawsuits between the various factions (Who says Episcopalians have all the fun in suing each other?) And reports that the leader of the Jogye Order has issued an apology for the actions of his worldly clerics.

We deeply apologize for the behavior of several monks in our order. The monks who have caused public concern are currently being investigated and will be punished according to Buddhist regulations as soon as the truth is verified by the prosecution,” said Ven. Jaseung in a statement.

He added that his order will conduct a 108-bows ritual for 100 days starting next Tuesday to repent the misbehavior of the monks.

The Korea Times also reports on how the film of the monks made it into the public eye. It reported that the leader of the dissident faction within the Jogye Order gave the film clip to government prosecutors after he “found a USB drive containing the footage on the floor of his temple.”

I give the Korea Times great credit for playing the article straight. Imagine what another newspaper whose name contains the word “Times” would do with this story about hypocrisy in top religious leaders coupled with a extraordinary explanation of how the tape came into the possession of the dissident faction. He might as well have said it fell off the back of a truck.

The article closes with a comment from an advocate for the reform of the Buddhist orders who states:

“In Europe, religions pay taxes to the government on donations from believers and that money is redistributed to religious groups. In Korea, there’s no such system so temples or churches are not properly monitored. It’s not like the monks make money out of farming or any other work. So basically all the money comes from donations,” said Chung.

“The Jogye Order and its monks must make their financial affairs transparent and rethink the role of Buddhism in society.”

All in all this was a great article. There were opportunities galore to be cynical or to advance an agenda, but The Korea Times allowed the facts to tell the story, provided the context of the internal feuds within the Jongye Order, and closed with a note about the scandals relevance to the Korean religious scene. No hyperbole — just solid reporting. Well done.

As this article was written for an English-speaking Korean audience, or for resident foreigners in Korea, there was one angle that is not mentioned in the story that would have been helpful for a foreign reader. Is gambling, smoking and drinking problematic for Jogye Order monks? One can deduce that this is so, but it isn’t spelled out in full.

This is not a problem for a Korean newspaper as the answer would likely be self-evident in a Korean context. However, this issue leads me to a deeper journalistic issue. It begins with the question as to whether there are universal human norms of moral conduct. Couched in journalistic terms — should a reporter assume that an action that is regarded as bad behavior in the West be labeled a bad behavior when it occurs in the non-Western world? In the Christian, or post-Christian, or Jude0-Christian West hypocrisy is regarded as sinful, or bad conduct. Can we assume that this is so in non-Western cultures?

In this particular case, the Western conception of bad behavior is in line with the Buddhist, both have clearly defined standards of ethical conduct. In the Simile of the Cloth, the Buddha lists the sixteen defilements of the mind of which number 9, maya, is hypocrisy:

1. Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed the monks thus: “Monks.” — “Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:

2. “Monks, suppose a cloth were stained and dirty, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink, it would take the dye badly and be impure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was not clean. So too, monks, when the mind is defiled, an unhappy destination [in a future existence] may be expected.

“Monks, suppose a cloth were clean and bright, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink, it would take the dye well and be pure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was clean. So too, monks, when the mind is undefiled, a happy destination [in a future existence] may be expected.

3. “And what, monks, are the defilements of the mind? (1) Covetousness and unrighteous greed are a defilement of the mind; (2) ill will is a defilement of the mind; (3) anger is a defilement of the mind; (4) hostility…(5) denigration…(6) domineering…(7) envy…(8) jealousy…(9) hypocrisy…(10) fraud…(11) obstinacy…(12) presumption…(13) conceit…(14) arrogance…(15) vanity…(16) negligence is a defilement of the mind.

4. “Knowing, monks, covetousness and unrighteous greed to be a defilement of the mind, the monk abandons them …

There are hypocritical Buddhists just as there are hypocritical Christians, but the way this hypocrisy works itself out has different theological connotations. Shallow Buddhists have not renounced their selfish desires. Shallow Christians have not surrendered their lives to Christ’s authority.

While Western and Buddhist ethical standards matched up in this instance, they do not always do so — nor do the ethical constructs of other thought or religious systems always line up with Christian or Jewish moral teachings. If a reporter does not address this issue, is he not guilty of some form of imperialistic thinking? Is he not saying “the world operates according to my culture’s norms and shall be judged by my standards”?

In writing a story of less than 500 words a reporter is not given the opportunity to speculate on the nature of truth. Should he not then have a line in a story that states why a particular behavior offends in non-Western cultures? Or, is this stating the obvious? Or, are there non-negotiable moral norms that are present through out humanity?

What say you GetReligion readers? What is truth and where can it be found?

First printed in GetReligion.

Holy Cow Batman!, The Guardian on Hinduism: Get Religion Oct 16, 2011 October 17, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Islam, Judaism, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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After me everybody … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

Repeat please … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

One more time like you really mean it … “Hindus do not worship cows.”

It is the caped crusader’s sidekick who cries “Holy Cow”, not the sadhu.

Hindus venerate cows. There is a difference.

The Observer — the Sunday edition of the Guardian newspaper in London — doesn’t appreciate the distinction. Nor does it appear to be fully on board about a number of religious dietary laws. But it does have an excruciatingly hip article in its lifestyle section entitled “Religion and food: Lord knows, they don’t mix.”

Written in a jocular, off-hand style this article offers the philosophical musings of a food writer on the dietary laws and food customs of some of the world’s major faiths. It is also a silly little piece whose treatment of religion is puerile, offensive and profoundly ignorant of the subjects it seeks to address. I am not complaining mind you. Critics need stories like this. When a quality newspaper like the Guardian is willing to throw a slow pitch down the center of the plate it is churlish of me to complain. Let’s take our place at the plate.

There are lots of good reasons for cutting down on meat; Jesus really isn’t one of them. Not that the Catholic Church would agree. A few weeks ago the UK’s bishops declared that they would be encouraging their congregations to give up flesh on Fridays as a way to “deepen… the spiritual aspects of their lives”. Organised religions have form where this sort of thing is concerned. This summer also saw the publication of Kosher Modern, a cookbook designed to make the stringent dietary rules of observant Jews – no pork, no shellfish, no mixing of milk and meat – an opportunity rather than a constraint. A few years ago, a Welsh Hindu community went to court (unsuccessfully) to save a bull called Shambo, marked down for slaughter because he had tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. Hindus don’t eat beef. They worship the animals. The Muslims don’t eat pork. The Buddhists are vegetarians and the Jains are strict vegans who won’t even touch root vegetables because of the damage it does to the plants.

From this I can reach only one conclusion: God is a seriously picky eater. And yes, I know, the Jains and the Buddhists don’t have an overarching deity per se, but you get the point. The divine is marked by a palate that would shame a three-year-old brought up on crisps and Sunny Delight.

From this point forward in the article the author provides his interpretation of these dietary laws, noting that he is a “head-banging atheist” and consequently a “Very Bad Jew”. I am not concerned with the author’s views on the merits of religion or dietary laws. His sentiment: “Worship however and whatever you wish, but don’t expect me to respect you for it,” is not the subject of this critique. What concerns me are the statements of fact.

Let’s go through these one by one in order of veracity.

“Muslims don’t eat pork.” Yes.

“Jews – no pork, no shellfish, no mixing of milk and meat.” Yes … but.

The author’s interpretation as to why Jews keep kosher: “Because it defines difference. It sets them apart” — would not meet with universal approval amongst all rabbinic scholars.

England’s Catholic “bishops declared that they would be encouraging their congregations to give up flesh on Fridays as a way to “deepen… the spiritual aspects of their lives”.  Yes and no.

Effective 16 Sept 2011, Roman Catholics in England and Wales are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays as an act of penance. Those who do not eat meat normally should abstain from some other food. The bishops stated:

“Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord” …  the Bishops’ Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat.

The Catholic Church in Britain is going back to meatless Friday’s as a mark of penance. No the bishops are not “encouraging their congregations to give up flesh”, it is an obligation. And they are not to give up “flesh”, but meat.

“Jains are strict vegans.” No.

Jains are “strict” vegetarians but not all Jains are vegans. Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition, do not consume animal by-products such as eggs, dairy products,  or honey. Guided by the principle of ahimsa (non-harm) some Jains in the Indian diaspora have adopted a vegan lifestyle out of an ethical concern over Western factory farming practices. Their holy texts do not prohibit the consumption of dairy products and Jains may consume milk, curds and clarified butter (ghee).

“Buddhists are vegetarians.” No.

Not all Buddhists are vegetarians. The Buddha was not a vegetarian, and he did not prohibit eating meat. Some schools of Buddhism interpret his ethical strictures so as to discourage meat eating. Roughly speaking among the two major Buddhist traditions, the Mahayanists are vegetarian and the Theravadins are not. There are exceptions to this dictum. Ceylonese monks of the Theravadin school are often strict Buddhists, whilst amongst Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists of the Mabayanist school vegetarianism is rare.

“Hindus don’t eat beef. They worship the animals.” No.

Taking as my guide, What is Hinduism? published by Hinduism Today:

Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle creature, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creation … Gandhi once said, “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”

Looking at the box score, 2.5 answers rights, 3.5 answers wrong. This would have prompted a Holy Cow! out of Harry Caray.

I appreciate the audience for this article is the home team Guardian reader. But it does help not to be infantile when posing as l’enfant terrible. When you mock the religious sensibilities of others in a superior tone it helps to know what you are talking about. The Guardian doesn’t.

Lama says he’s no spy: The Church of England Newspaper, Feb 11, 2011 p 8. February 13, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Karmapa Lama

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Karmapa Lama has denied allegations that he is a Chinese spy.

On Feb 1, the office of Tibet’s third highest ranking religious leader, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, released a statement “categorically denying” press speculation that cash found at the lama’s Dharamsala monastary came from the Chinese government.

The “allegations being leveled against His Holiness the Karmapa and his administration are grossly speculative and without any foundation in the truth whatsoever,” the statement said.

In the two-day search of the lama’s monastery last month, police found approximately £750,000 in cash.   The Karmapa Lama was questioned by police for several hours over the source of the undeclared funds and over his ties to China, and his accountant was arrested.  Unnamed government sources in the Indian police have told the press thelama is suspected of being an agent of influence for the Chinese government.

The Karmapa Lama is the spiritual leader of one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, ranking only behind the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.  As head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa is believed by devotees to be a living Buddha.

The lama’s aides confirmed that approximately one million US dollars was “taken by the authorities from the Monastery. This sum represents unsolicited donations that have been made by the followers of His Holiness the Karmapa from around the world to enable the substantial social and spiritual programmes of the Karma Kagyu order.”

The reason why the cash had not been deposited in banks was due to Indian banking laws.  “Our administration has sought to acquire clearance since 2002 to deposit cash donations under the Foreign Currencies Regulation Act of India. Until the necessary permissions are granted, the Monastery diligently recorded and stored the currency on its own premises. We are currently in the process of providing this evidence to the authorities,” the statement said.

The lama’s aides explained the Chinese cash as having come from “devoted” followers in Tibet and China “who make offerings in the Yuan. The Yuan found constitutes less than 10% of the cash in question, which included currency from over 20 countries,” the statement said.

Speculation the Karmapa Lama maintained “links with arms of the Chinese Government to counteract the Free Tibet Movement” was false, they said.  The Dalai Lama’s statement that the accusations were false “furnished the final word on this issue,” the Karmapa Lama’s office said.

Espionage accusations leveled against Buddhist leader: The Church of England Newspaper, Feb 4, 2011 February 8, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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The 17th Karmapa Lama

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

India is in the midst of a media frenzy over speculation that the third highest Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Karmapa Lama, is a Chinese spy.

Speaking to reporters last week in Bangalore, the Dalai Lama defended his likely successor as political leader of Tibet in exile, saying he was “an important lama, a spiritual leader. People from different parts of the world including many Chinese, come to seek his blessing and offer money.”

However, the 25 year-old Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorjee, had been unwise, the Dalai Lama conceded, saying the cash discovered by police “should have been deposited in a bank and not kept in cash at the monastery.”

In the two-day search of the Karmapa’s Gyuto Tantric monastery in Dharamsala last month, police found approximately £500,000 in cash in half a dozen currencies, including 110 million Chinese yuan—in wads of notes with consecutive serial numbers.  The Karmapa Lama was questioned by police for several hours over the source of the undeclared funds and over his ties to China, and his accountant was arrested.

Citing unnamed government sources, the Indian press has reported the Lama is suspected of being an agent of influence for the Chinese government.

The Karmapa Lama is the spiritual leader of one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, ranking only behind the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.  As head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa is believed by devotees to be a living Buddha.  He is also the first high lama to be recognised by China’s communist government.

The search for the 17th Karmapa Lama began in 1981 when the 16th Lama died.  In 1992 the Dalia Lama had a vision of where the new high lama could be found, and a search team sent to Eastern Tibet found the 7-year old boy, a nomad’s son.  The Dalai Lama gave his blessing to the selection and on June 27, 1992 the Chinese government endorsed Ogyen Trinley Dorjee as the 17th Karmapa Lama.

In December 1999, the Karmapa Lama escaped from Tibet to India, crossing the Himalayas by foot.  Some Tibetan Buddhists believed the boy’s winter flight across the mountains was suspicious and suspected he had been sent to India by the Chinese government.  A rival group anointed another monk, Trinley Thaye Dorje, as the 17th Karmapa Lama.

Indian police, intelligence services and tax authorities are currently investigating the affair.  However, the Lama’s aides have denied any wrong doing.  The cash had been “received for charitable purposes from local and international disciples from many different countries wishing to support His Holiness’ various charitable activities. Any suggestion that these offerings were to be used for illegal purposes in libelous,” the statement said.

“The allegations being leveled against the Karmapa and his administration are grossly speculative and without foundation in the truth,” the Lama’s aides said, and they “categorically deny having any link whatsoever with any arm of the Chinese government.”

Buddhist riot over Akon concert in Sri Lanka: The Church of England Newspaper, April 9, 2010 p 8. April 16, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Popular Culture.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Buddhist extremists have forced the cancellation of a concert tour in Sri Lanka by the pop singer Akon, after a mob ransacked the offices of his booking agent in Colombo for insulting the Buddha.

On March 31, the Anglican Bishop of Colombo denounced the failure of the police to stop the riot, and also condemned the arrest by the police of a Buddhist convert to Islam for allegedly defaming Buddhism.

On March 22, Buddhist extremists attacked the offices of Sirasa Media, who in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau was organizing the tour for Akon, the stage name of Aliaune Badara Akon Thiam, an American pop singer of Senegalese extraction.

The protesters were offended by Akon’s latest video “Sexy Chick,” which shows bikini-clad women dancing at a pool party, while in the background stands a statue of the Buddha. Jathika Bhikku Sansadaya, a Buddhist monk organization affiliated with the Sinhala nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) demanded the government cancel the concert stating Akon had insulted Buddhism.

After the riot, Tourism Minister Achala Jagoda met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and on March 23 the government announced that it would not issue Akon a visa, forcing the cancellation of the tour.

Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo upbraided the police for their inaction. “Reports that the police failed to prevent the attack and did not object to some of the perpetrators of this offense being released on bail the same day, are worrying,” he said.

“Such behavior implies political patronage in the attack and political interference in the investigations. When some who frame the laws of the land and some of those responsible for the enforcement of the law disregard the law, the plight of the people is critical,” he said in a statement given to the media.

Bishop de Chickera also criticized the detention of Malini Perera, a Sri Lankan expatriate living in Bahrain who had written two books describing her conversion from Buddhism to Islam. Police arrested the 38-year old author while she was on holiday in Sri Lanka, charging that her books offended the religious sensibilities of Buddhists.

“The detention of Malini Perera, a Sri Lankan who converted to Islam, reportedly on the grounds of defamation of Buddhism, needs clarification,” the bishop said.

“It will help to know exactly how the contents of the books she wrote defame Buddhism. If not, it would appear that she is being punished for either converting to Islam or for publishing her religious experiences; both of which cannot be considered offenses and are well within her rights,” the bishop said.

Concern over arrest of Burmese monk: CEN 9.12.08 p 6. September 15, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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The abbot of a Buddhist monastery was arrested during a pre-dawn raid in Rangoon on Sept 5, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Burma reports.

The arrest of the Ven U Thila Won, abbot of the Malayone monastery in the Rangoon’s Thanlin district comes at the start of the treason trials of monks who led last year’s “Saffron Revolution” against the military junta in Burma. According to a statement released by the Bangkok-based AAPP, the security services entered the monastery at around 2:00am on Sept 5 and forced the 17 monks in residence to lie down on the floor as the building was searched. The abbot was taken into custody and the monks told not to leave the monastery.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Concern over arrest of Burmese monk

Burmese jail over 700 monks: CEN 9.05.08 September 5, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics.
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Over 700 monks have been jailed by the Burmese military junta since the introduction of martial law in 1988, the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) reported on Sept 2, with at least 19 having died while in custody.

The statistics on the government’s jailing of Buddhist monks for pro-democracy activities comes at the start of the trial of the Ven. U Gambira, leader of Burma’s “Saffron Revolution.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Burmese jail over 700 monks

Royal visit sparks crisis: CEN 5.23.08 p 8. May 26, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper.
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A royal visit to a Buddhist temple has inflamed a hundred year old dispute between Cambodia and Thailand and comes amidst increased domestic and regional political and religious tensions.

On May 15 the King of Cambodia, Prince Norodom Sihamoni, flew to the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai/Cambodian border to observe three days of religious rites in celebration of his birthday. Past celebrations of the prince’s birthday, who assumed the throne in 2004 following the abdication of his father Prince Sihanouk, had taken place in Phnom Penh.

While the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is expected to retain power following the July National Assembly elections, the democratic opposition will likely test Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CCP’s dominance. In 2003 the CPP polled less than 50 percent of the votes cast, but was able to capitalize on the disarray of the country’s 57 opposition parties to form a government.

Provoking a diplomatic spat with Thailand is seen by democracy activists as a ploy by the CPP to bolster its electoral fortunes by inflaming nationalist and religious sentiments.

In 1907 a treaty between the French colonial government and Thailand placed the temple, which lies atop a 525-meter high escarpment, in Cambodian hands. During the Second World War Thailand took control of the temple, and when France pulled out of Indochina in 1954 it again took possession.

Cambodia brought a case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and in 1962 the court ruled in favor of Cambodia, prompting Thailand to return the complex. Accessible by foot chiefly from Thailand or by helicopter, the remote location atop the Dângrêk Mountains has preserved the temple from destruction, one of the chief spiritual centers of the Khmer Empire.

The CPP has proposed making June 15 a national holiday to commemorate the World Court decision giving Cambodia control of the landmark Buddhist/Hindu shrine. It has also petitioned for the temple to be made a UNESCO World Heritage site, a move opposed by Thailand which fears international recognition would bolster Cambodia’s territorial claims.

On May 15, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said Thailand did not recognize Cambodia’s claim of sole control of the temple. He said the dispute over the temple would be ended only if both countries reached agreement on the larger issue of disputed border territories, the Bangkok Post reported.

The CPP has ruled Cambodia since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1993 and has been condemned by rights advocates for its strong-arm rule and harassment of the opposition. On March 23 Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the CPP was conducting a “concerted campaign” to “split and weaken the opposition party before the national elections.

The “dubious arrests of opposition officials months ahead of an election should set alarm bells ringing,” he observed, adding that this “divide-and-conquer strategy is a well-known tactic of Prime Minister Hun Sen to subdue his opponents.”

Political storm over Dalai Lama’s Lambeth invitation: CEN 5.23.08 p 4. May 22, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, British Foreign Policy, Buddhism, China, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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THE GOVERNMENT’S decision to receive the Dalai Lama at Lambeth Palace rather than at 10 Downing Street has spawned protest from Tibet activists and criticism the government is appeasing China.

The exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet began an 11-day tour of Britain on May 20, but will only meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown on May 23 at a reception at Lambeth Palace, prompting shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague to tell The Times that Gordon Brown “should be prepared to meet all leaders in Downing Street.”

Former Liberal-Democratic leader Sir Menzies Campbell also noted there was “no reason” why the Prime Minister should not see the Dalai Lama “at No 10.” The “suspicion must be that he is responding to the Chinese Government,” he said.

Controversies over Western governmental cowardice in the face of aggressive Chinese lobbying have followed the Dalai Lama as he toured Europe this month. His May 19 meeting in Berlin with German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul prompted a war of words within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet between those keen on pursuing cordial relations with Peking, and those supportive of the Dalai Lama’s calls for democracy and freedom in

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declined to meet with the Dalai Lama and criticized his cabinet colleague’s actions. A government memorandum leaked to the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that China’s foreign minister warned that his country’s good relations with Germany could be jeopardized “through reckless actions.”

Chinese embassy spokesman Junhui Zhang told German broadcaster ARD his government was “absolutely against” any meeting between the Dalai Lama and European government leaders.

Meeting the Dalia Lama at a reception where he is the guest of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and not the Dalai Lama’s host, will insulate the government from China’s official wrath, analysts note, as the meeting will be between spiritual leaders rather than political leaders.

Anne Holmes, Acting Director of Free Tibet Campaign urged the government to reconsider its decision. “By meeting the Dalai Lama at Lambeth Palace Brown has signalled his determination to appease the Chinese government,” she argued.

“The overwhelming message from Tibetans during recent protests inside Tibet was for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, showing that he is still considered the legitimate voice of the Tibetan people and that he holds the key to a lasting negotiated settlement,” she said.

A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams declined to comment on the circumstances leading to the Dalai Lama’s invitation to Lambeth, but noted that several British
religious leaders had been invited to the reception.