Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in New York: New film “Vara” to screen online for free next week; public talk webcast Friday night

Dance sequence from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's new film, "Vara: A Blessing".

Dance sequence from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s new film, “Vara: A Blessing”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, the Buddhist teacher whose ventures into filmmaking to date — The Cup and Travellers and Magicians — have focused on his native Bhutan, has ventured into new cultural territory. His latest film, entitled Vara: A Blessing, was shot in Sri Lanka and is a spiritually-infused love story based on a special style of Indian classical dance. And now, in conjunction with its North American premiere next week at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, US residents will have the chance to screen Vara online for free and participate in the festival’s audience award competition.

From 9 pm on Monday, April 21, to 3 pm on Wednesday, April 23, viewers may visit the festival’s online audience page, select Vara, and halfway through the film, click to rate it on a scale of one to five stars.  Be aware that only the first 1,500 viewers will have access to the film. Read More »

UPDATED: Two-week Mongolian monastery retreat program offered to foreigners

Pethub Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Pethub Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

A dharma adventure for foreigners is on offer in Mongolian monasteries just prior to the Dalai Lama’s conferral of the Kalachakra initiation in the capital Ulaanbaatar, beginning August 1 [UPDATE: the Dalai Lama's visit to Mongolia has been postponed until 2015]. From July 14-30, retreat participants will stay in Mongolian Buddhist monasteries in both Ulaanbaatar and the ancient capital of Genghis Khan, Kharkhorin. They will meditate and take meals with the resident monks, and receive teachings from some of the most learned of the elder Mongolian lamas, focused on Mongolian commentaries to Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva. There will also be plenty of free time for guided exploration of traditional Mongolian culture. For further information, visit here and click on the PDF link at the bottom.

Reuters wins Pulitzer for reporting on Myanmar’s Buddhist/Muslim conflict; signs of hope appear amid ongoing violence

Youth activists with Myanmar's new "Flower Speech Movement" spreading their anti-hate speech message at the recent Water Festival

Youth activists with Myanmar’s new Flower Speech Movement spreading their anti-hate-speech message at the recent Water Festival

This past Monday, Reuters reporters Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their two-year series of articles from Myanmar — whose inhabitants mostly self-identify as Buddhist — raising international awareness of the sometimes violent persecution of that country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, as well as their susceptibility to human trafficking in their desperation to escape these conditions. For an example of Szep and Marshall’s reporting, see “Apartheid tactics separate Myanmar’s minority Muslims from majority Buddhists” from May 2013.

Other news from Myanmar this week draws attention to a more positive trend. Read More »

PBS NewsHour Tuesday: “Culture at Risk” segment to examine tourism vs. preservation at Myanmar’s ancient Bagan Buddhist site

Tourists pay $350 for a 40-minute balloon ride at sunrise over the temples and pagodas in Bagan. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks/PBS NewsHour

Tourists pay $350 for a 40-minute balloon ride at sunrise over the temples and pagodas in Bagan

PBS NewsHour will launch its “Culture at Risk” segment today, April 15, with a report from Myanmar, including an examination of the efforts to restore Bagan, “the site of what’s said to be the highest concentration of Buddhist architecture of any place in the world.” Will the site — with more than 2,000 temples and pagodas, some of which are more than 1,000 years old — be preserved according to its original spiritual vision? Or, as PBS correspondent Jeffrey Brown asked while researching the piece, will the lure of tourist revenue result in Bagan being “turned into a kind of theme park…’loved to death,’ as has been the fate of some other great archaeological sites”? Tune in tonight, or watch the episode once it’s uploaded here. Read More »

NYT editorial urges Nepal to cease China-influenced mistreatment of Tibetan refugees

Tibetan Buddhist nun detained by Nepalese police during protests as the Chinese Olympic flame reached Lhasa, Tibet.

Tibetan Buddhist nun detained by Nepalese police during protests as Chinese Olympic flame reached Lhasa, Tibet

The repression of Tibetan refugees by authorities in their temporary Nepalese home, and Chinese influence in provoking it, has garnered serious international condemnation this month, including a New York Times editorial this past Sunday. The Times’s editors referenced findings detailed in a Human Rights Watch report released in late March, entitled Under China’s Shadow: Mistreatment of Tibetans in Nepal.

“In effect,” they said, “Nepal has turned itself into a partner of China’s anti-Tibetan policies.” Read More »

Ratna Ling printing press survives permit challenge from nearby resident group

Volunteers load texts into shipping boxes at Ratna Ling's printing press.

Volunteers load texts into shipping boxes at Ratna Ling’s printing press

The expansion of printing activities at Tarthang Tulku’s Ratna Ling Retreat Center in rural Sonoma County, CA, has gotten the approval of county authorities, overriding a challenge to its permit by a local resident group called Coastal Hills Rural Preservation. Since 2005, volunteers have run the massive press to print Buddhist texts that are distributed for free to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries throughout Asia. According to a story in the Press Democrat, those in charge of the printing press contended that creating the texts is “a religious practice ancillary to the retreat,” while those in opposition said the scope of the project, which includes regular truck traffic, “is an industrial activity inappropriate to the county’s strikingly beautiful northwest hills and violates the county’s general plan.” After a review and public hearing, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors sided with Ratna Ling in a 3-2 vote.

Read the full story, which has drawn numerous comments, pro and con.

Met to offer first look for the West at ancient Burmese Buddhist sculpture, other early Southeast Asian works

Buddha in meditation, Thailand, late 6th - early 7th CE. Image via

Buddha in meditation, Thailand, late 6th – early 7th CE

Repressive politics has a way of concealing art. Such was the case in Myanmar, ruled under a military dictatorship for decades until a more lenient civilian system emerged in 2010. One fruit of this opening is the inclusion of ancient Buddhist sculpture never seen outside Myanmar in a major exhibition that opens April 14 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century” will feature 160 works in total — many on loan from the source countries, not just those in Western collections — showing the profound influence of Indic culture on the early kingdoms of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. You can see images of all the objects by visiting the Met’s “Lost Kingdoms” exhibition site. has also provided some narrated preview film, which you can see at this link. Read More »

“Open the Vaults” project launched for free online access to vast Tibetan Buddhism film archive

Over nearly three decades, Great Britain’s Meridian Trust has amassed and organized more than 2,500 hours of Tibetan Buddhism film footage, featuring nearly all of the last century’s great masters who taught in the West, as well as landmarks in modern Tibetan spiritual culture. With all of the archive now digitized, their aim now is to fulfill a promise made to the Dalai Lama by making all of it available on one website for free. Toward that end, the trust has launched an “Open the Vaults” Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds, and there’s one week left to reach their goal. The video below offers a concise overview of the project; click here for more info and to participate.

Bernie Glassman’s 75th birthday, Zen career honored with book of Peter Cunningham’s photos

a thousand armsZen Buddhist teacher Bernie Glassman is approaching his 75th birthday, and one of the ways his Zen Peacemakers organization is honoring the occasion is through the release of a glossy coffee-table-size “photo essay” of images taken by photographer Peter Cunningham, spanning Glassman’s spiritual career. Entitled A Thousand Arms, a reference to the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the 234-page book is being sold as a fundraiser for Zen Peacekeepers’ Elder Fund, a project to support Glassman and his wife, Eve Marko (see the Buddhadharma News post on the Elder Fund here), as their schedule necessarily slows down. Click here for a digital preview of the entire book.

Patriarch of Vietnamese Buddhism dies, Dalai Lama sends special letter to mourners

thich tri tinhThe Patriarch of Vietnamese Buddhism, Most Venerable Thich Tri Tinh, passed away last week on the day before his 98th birthday, prompting Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to write a special letter directly to the National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha. In the letter, reports, the Dalai Lama expressed his sorrow and sympathy, saying “the best way to pay tribute to him would be to do whatever we can to implement the Buddha’s message of inner peace, non-violence and compassion in our own lives.”

Mourning among Vietnam’s Buddhists has continued throughout the week, with memorial events attended by high government officials. The official funeral was held April 2.

Writer, Zen master Peter Matthiessen dies at 86

Peter Matthiessen hands foldedPeter Matthiessen — towering literary figure, passionate naturalist and environmental activist, ex-CIA agent, and Zen master — passed away April 5 after a year’s struggle with leukemia. He was 86.

Matthiessen was on the cusp of publishing the 33rd book of his 60-year writing career, In Paradise, a novel based on his experiences in three “Bearing Witness” meditation retreats at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau with Bernie Glassman’s Zen Peacemakers. In Paradise will be released by Riverhead Books on April 8.

Said Bernie Glassman about his dharma successor Matthiessen on his Facebook page, “With much love for a wonderful, inspirational and great Zen Master, I wish to honor the passing of a dear friend, student, extraordinary Author and Socially Engaged Human Being. We will love you forever.”

Another longtime spiritual friend of Matthiessen’s, Roshi Joan Halifax, posted on her Facebook page, “My dear friend Peter, gone beyond. Offering incense and candlelight for his parinirvana………. In Kyoto and watching blossoms fall on this day of his death.” Read More »

Top jazz talent to headline Buddhist Global Relief benefit concert

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding

Buddhist Global Relief has signed on top-level jazz talent to headline its Concert to Feed the Hungry April 25 in New York City. Triple Grammy-winning bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding and her long-time collaborator, pianist Leonardo Genovese, will take the top slot, sharing the bill with pianist Kenny Werner’s acclaimed quartet. Spalding brings an activist background, having lobbied for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, alongside Herbie Hancock and Harry Belafonte.

Werner’s 2010 album-length composition No Beginning No End arose from a Buddhism-inflected poem he wrote after his daughter’s tragic death at 16. “By reconnecting with the elements of Eastern spirituality that had long guided their thinking,” wrote Giovanni Russonello in Capital Bop, “the Werners eventually began to climb out of their despair together.”

“Few albums,” declared John Kelman in All About Jazz, “have ever so clearly demonstrated the healing power of music.”

All proceeds from Concert to Feed the Hungry will support Buddhist Global Relief’s hunger-elimination projects. A special website for the concert has been set up here, and you may learn more about Buddhist Global Relief’s programs here.

Buddhist scholar Helmut Krassner passes away at 57, warmly remembered

Helmut KrassnerThe International Association of Tibetan Studies has posted a moving farewell to respected Buddhist scholar Helmut Krasser, who passed away over the weekend at age 57. IATS says that Krassner most recently served as director of the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna) since 2007, during which time he “had been increasingly involved in…groundbreaking cooperation with the China Tibetology Research Center (Beijing), a cooperation that resulted in the sensational publication of numerous works of which the Sanskrit originals had been hitherto considered lost.”

Of Krassner’s personal qualities, IATS observed that “all those who had the privilege to meet [him] were instantly charmed by his wit, the warm and vibrant expression of his eyes, his exceptional understanding of things human and social, and the unique manner in which he managed not to take himself or his research (too) seriously.” During his two years of terminal illness, they said, Krassner “exemplarily never gave up hope and never abandoned his optimism or his good mood.”

Read the full remembrance here.