President Ram Nath Kovind to be in Japan for emperor’s enthronement


President Ram Nath Kovind will join Britain’s Prince Charles, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan and leaders of several Asian countries in attending the enthronement ceremony of Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito on October 22. Mr. Kovind, who leaves on Thursday for a four-day state visit in the Philippines, will travel to Tokyo on October 21.

According to officials, about 80 world leaders are expected at the ceremony and banquets, which will be held over two days. Royal families of the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Saudi Arabia are also among the invitees due to attend.

Mr. Kovind will also visit a Buddhist Temple in Tokyo to plant a Bodhi tree as well as travel to the city of Kakegawa, about 230 km away, to inaugurate an Indian cultural and yoga centre there, funded by a Japanese citizen of Indian origin.

“President Kovind’s visit underlines the deep traditional and civilisational bonds between India and Japan, and shared heritage of Buddhism,” said MEA Secretary (East) Vijay Singh, briefing the media. “His participation in the enthronement ceremony signifies the high importance India attaches to Japan,” Ms. Singh added. No bilateral talks are expected during Mr. Kovind’s visit, although he will attend both the court banquet hosted by Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, and a state banquet hosted by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.

In the Philippines, bilateral talks during Mr. Kovind’s State visit will focus on the joint challenge of terrorism. Indian and Philippines officials will hold a joint working group on terrorism, with a focus on fighting urban terrorism, narco-terrorism, and work on information-sharing on terror groups. India had donated $500,000 to the Philippines for the reconstruction of Marawi city, which had been destroyed during a siege in May 2017 by a terror group claiming allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in which more than 1,000 people were killed, and the two sides will discuss strengthening counter terror cooperation, officials said.

President Ram Nath Kovind to Embark on 7-day Visit to Philippines, Japan from Thursday


New Delhi: President Ram Nath Kovind will embark on a seven-day visit to the Philippines and Japan beginning on Thursday with an aim to expand bilateral cooperation, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Monday.

“The President’s visit to the two countries reaffirms India’s commitment to strengthen its bilateral ties based on traditional bonds of friendship and mutual understanding,” it said.

The president’s first destination will be the Philippines where he will hold restricted and delegation level talks with his Filipino counterpart Rodrigo Roa Duterte in Manila and attend business and community events during his stay from October 17-20.

“The state visit is taking place on the occasion of 70 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” the MEA said.

From the Philippines, the president will leave for Japan on October 21 for a three-day visit.

He is visiting Japan to attend the Enthronement ceremony of the Emperor of Japan Naruhito, the MEA said.

In Japan, the MEA said the president will attend various ceremonies related to the Emperor’s enthronement and also a banquet hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Along with participating in a community event, the president will visit a Buddhist temple and plant a sapling from the sacred Bodhi Tree in Gaya to highlight India and Japan’s historical and cultural linkages based on Buddhism,” the MEA said.

IndiGo set to fly to Vietnam


HO CHI MINH CITY, 13 September 2019: India’s low-cost airline IndiGo confirmed this week the launch of a new service between Kolkata and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, effective 18 October.

Tour operators in both cities welcomed the news. Indian tour operators are keen to sell tour packages to Vietnam’s commercial capital that is famous for its shopping, food and entertainment. The destination is seen, as a potential competitor to Bangkok and a direct route will introduce lower fares and shorten flight times.

Travel firms in Ho Chi Minh City see a market for outbound Buddhist pilgrimage tours as Kolkata is the main gateway to Bodh Gaya.

One of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites, it marks the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment beneath a sacred Bodhi Tree. The nearest airport is at Gaya served by domestic flights from Kolkata.

According to Airlineroute timetable information IndiGo will fly the route daily using an Airbus A320.

The flight will depart Kolkata at 1030 and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 1550. The return flight will depart HCMC at 1650 and arrive in Kolkata at 1915.

A report earlier in the year by Network Thoughts said the airline announced it would also launch services from Kolkata to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital also in October.

The online aviation site said airline market breakdown between the two countries shows that based on available seats, the top route is Delhi – Ho Chi Minh City, followed by Mumbai – Ho Chi Minh City and Delhi – Hanoi.

How a Tiny Bit of Indian Soil Might Have Found Its Way to the Moon


New Delhi: Even before India’s much-touted lunar missing, Chandrayaan-2, lands on the moon, a very small biological sample from the country may already be there.

According to The Hindu, this is because the only likely surviving payload onboard the Israeli lunar lander Beresheet, called the Lunar Library, contained a leaf and some soil from the Bodhi tree in Bihar.

Beresheet, whose name is Hebrew for the biblical phrase ‘In the beginning’, was launched on February 21 on board a SpaceX rocket. On April 11, it crash landed on the moon after a series of technical failures during its final descent. It was reported then that the Lunar Library, created by the Arch Mission Foundation (AMF), was likely the only payload that wasn’t destroyed in the crash.

But what is this Lunar Library, and why was it carrying Indian soil?

The Library, according to the AMF, “contains a 30 million page archive of human history and civilisation, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods”. It’s meant to be a “backup” of life on Earth, in case of human extinction.

It “is housed within a 100 gram nanotechnology device that resembles a 120mm DVD. However it is actually composed of 25 nickel discs, each only 40 microns thick,” AMF says.

Nova Spivack, co-founder of the AMF, told The Hindu in an email that a small sample from the Bodhi tree, along with material on learning Hindi, Urdu and information on music, were a part of the Lunar Library. He said:

“The management of Mahabodhi stupa (Bihar) privately gave me a leaf from the Bodhi tree and some soil from under the Bodhi seat. These were included. We mixed these with relics from saints and yogis, as well as earth from sacred caves and tiny bits of relics from India, China, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and Tibet.”

This isn’t the startling revelation Spivack has made about what the Lunar Library contains. Last week, he revealed that thousands of tardigrades – microscopic creatures commonly known as “water bears” – are also a part of this backup. Tardigrades are known to be some of the most resilient creatures on Earth. As The Wire has reported before, they have been known to come back to life even after being exposed to radiation in space and being frozen for several years.

On the AMF website, the organisation had earlier revealed the some of the contents of four analogue layers and 21 “layers of 40 micron thick nickel foils, each containing a DVD master”. This included private archives on culture and music, thousands of PDFs of books, linguistic datasets and more.

Even then, though, the foundation had made it clear that there was more than it was saying. “But this is only the beginning of the story – there is in fact much more in the Lunar Library. This will be revealed in coming months and years,” it said.

For the Times They Are a-Changin’: Sakyadhita and the Radicalism We Need to Save the World


The 16th Sakyadhita Conference, held in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in Australia, proved to be an uplifting and informative event. Held outside of Asia for the first time in its history this year, the conference drew 800 people from 29 countries under the theme “New Horizons in Buddhism.”

Since its inception 32 years ago under the Bodhi Tree, Sakyadhita has been a conference unlike any other: held by women for women (and non-binary people and women’s supporters). Sakyadhita is an international association of Buddhist women working for women’s issues and bringing women together to build support and mutual understanding about issues that are important to the empowerment and spiritual growth and well-being of Buddhist women.

This year’s conference  was very skilfully organised, with fewer academic papers and more workshops. The papers presented were educational, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, a senior Buddhist nun and teacher, described the difference between Sakyadhita and other—more male-dominated—Buddhist conferences she had attended by observing that at Sakyadhita there is no sectarianism, all traditions are given a voice, and more women are empowered to speak out and help one another.

Buddhist superstars including Roshi Joan Halifax, Ven. Lekshe Tsomo (for many years the main impetus and energy behind the conference and a champion of nuns in the Tibetan community and in developing countries), and Ven. Thubten Chodron (abbess of Shravasti Abbey) each gave inspiring Dharma talks.

There was extensive diversity in terms of both the papers and workshops. A beautiful montage of the history of Buddhism in Australia was given. Householder yoginis spoke of the power and embodiment of balancing motherhood and practice. Korean celebrity nuns presented Korean cooking. A married female Western Rinpoche spoke of the profound Tibetan lineages of marriedyoginis and dakinis. Bhutanese nuns and Australian ex-nuns both spoke on the devastating effects of sexual and spiritual abuse by teachers in Buddhism.

Other attendants presented workshops for people from the LGBTQIA community, and many people within this group expressed that they still felt prejudice and marginalization in society and within the Buddhist community. Korean laywomen joyfully shared their Buddhist choir, and women in traditional dress mindfully led a tea ceremony.  

After 16 conferences—gathering thousands of women from across the globe—one has to ask: has Sakyadhita achieved its objectives of empowering Buddhist women, creating gender equality, fostering an alliance of Buddhist women, engendering compassionate social action, and promoting the Buddhist teachings? 

On the positive side, Buddhist women now know a lot more about each other than they did when they were separated by borders and languages 100 years ago. Sakyadhita has fostered an international sisterhood. In particular, many more prosperous Buddhist women have become aware of female monastics and lay women living in poverty in developing Buddhist countries and have sought to help those women and nuns.

Examples of this include the Jamyang Project, founded by Ven. Lekshe Tsomo, which helps many nunneries throughout the Himalayas receive basic necessities; Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery for Drukpa Kagyu Himalayan nuns, founded by Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo; and the many Sri Lankan and Thai bhikkhuni viharas that have been founded as the ideas of gender equality and the legality of full ordination for women have spread.

There are now hundreds of bhikkhunis (fully ordained nuns) in Thailand, and thousands in Sri Lanka. Although Sakyadhita may not be directly responsible for these ordinations, its members have done a great deal to promote and fund these women and their institutions. Nuns and lay women now have more access to information, opportunities for solidarity, occasional funding, and pathways to full ordination—in part due to the amazing work of Sakyadhita. At the meeting 32 years ago under the Bodhi tree, and at later gatherings, nuns from Ladakh admitted they had hardly any education or support. Now, decades later, there are many schools with nuns studying to be geshemas. Sakyadhita was one of the first Buddhist organisations to hold bhikkhuni ordination.

On the “challenges to grow from” side, only half an hour was dedicated to an issue that has rocked the Buddhist world: the sexual misconduct of many prominent Tibetan male lamas. This has damaged lives, traumatised numerous people, and caused them to lose faith. The whole issue has made many people question the efficacy of a system based on complete devotion to fallible human beings.

Additionally, looking around the conference, although there were so many wonderful women doing amazing work, I could not help but notice that most heads were grey. Like most Buddhist organizations, Sakyadhita is still dominated by the baby boomer generation. Millennial and Gen-Y women are often absent from many of the Buddhist events that I attend, or they are a minority. While Sakyadhita does a great deal to try to be inclusive, a generation gap exists—not just in terms of age, but in understanding the priorities of each generation. Because the boomers are such a large generation who made such radical shifts in culture and change, it is still quite normal for them to dominate and center on themselves. But the world in which Gen-Yers and millennials are growing up is radically different from the world that baby boomers knew.

We now need to question whether civilisation will last beyond the next 20–30 years because of previous generations’ reckless consumption of natural resources and the cumulative damage to the natural environment. Baby boomers are the most prosperous generation that have ever lived. Millennials are burdened by much higher university fees and housing prices, while earnings have not kept pace with the cost of living. Many millennials will never own their own home and question whether it’s ethical or responsible to bring a child into a world with the looming potential of social collapse due to the climate crisis.

When I spoke to one senior nun about the massive effect that the #metoo movement was having on my faith, leading me to question the whole system, and how I wished that they would let the audience discuss it more, she replied: “That’s a topic you personally want to hear, it’s not a topic many of us want to hear, we are sick of it.”

After 32 years, has enough changed for women? Western Tibetan Buddhist nuns still have little support and a 75 per cent disrobing rate, and many nuns and women in developing countries still lack resources and gender equality. Clearly we need to do more than give speeches and present PhD papers. We need to go back to our centers, question male dominance, and support nuns and women from our pockets, not just our mouths. 

There is no doubt about the beauty and potential of women coming together to share stories and pool resources. The legacy of Sakyadhita is groundbreaking, especially around rights for Buddhist women in developing countries, the geshema degree for Tibetan nuns and full ordination for Theravada nuns. But as someone sitting on the cusp of being a millennial, who may not grow old, who feels for the children alive today and worries if the society will survive, I can’t help but feel frustrated that patriarchy has not been more efficiently dis-assembled, that Buddhist women in so many places are still poor and not equal, that absolute power in Buddhism has not been abolished, that rapist/abuser teachers are still being defended and idolised. As someone who is losing their future, I am growing impatient with those who talk about using more efficient light bulbs and going vegan when what is needed is something much more radical as a collective. I appreciate the amazing work and solidarity of women from previous generations, but I am also frustrated when I see the world is on fire, yet women in Buddhism are still largely subservient to men.

Why do we go on supporting men whose only agenda is to support and perpetuate the power of other men from their own race? Why after all this horrible abuse and all these women disrobing and being exploited and raped is it considered taboo to question male authority? Why are those who dare to speak up considered too radical and faithless, and therefore sidelined?

Where are the male leaders who claim to love all beings equally? They are most noticeably absent from an international conference on the well-being of half the Buddhist population. The sad fact is that those most noticeably absent are those with the most power in Buddhism. Sakyadhita is groundbreaking and has made inroads that no other Buddhist organisation has been able to make.

In terms of “New Horizons in Buddhism,” I can’t help feeling that we need to be much more radical if we are going to end patriarchy and save the planet. Although the older generation has done some truly remarkable things, they don’t have their finger on the fault lines that my generation is living on, which go much deeper than we previously thought and could tear humanity apart. I hope my generation and those after us will have a future.

Saigon pagoda decorated with thousands of plates


Belonging to the Linji school, a branch of Zen Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Giac Lam Pagoda in Lac Long Quan Street, Tan Binh District, is also known as Cam Son or Cam Dem Pagoda.

The pagoda has a total area of nearly 29,000 square meters and is located on a high mound. Its architecture is distinctly southern. There was no gate for the pagoda until a three-part entrance was built in 1955.

The pagoda consists of three interconnected horizontal blocks: the main hall, the lecture hall and the dining hall. After three major restorations, the pagoda has some additional features including the tower, stupa and lecture hall.

The pagoda’s old tiled roof is different from most pagodas in southern Vietnam. It consists of four flanges in which the tiles are lined up neatly. This style is different from the blade tile structure in the northern region.

On top of the roof is the familiar dragon, a mythical creature of great importance in Vietnamese traditions and beliefs.

The main hall still retains its ancient style and ambience with two wings and four pillars. It is deep and spacious. There are 56 large wooden columns, each elaborately engraved with parallel sentences and painted in gold.

In the center of the main hall are the statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas on the Three Jewels altar. Most of the statues are made of wood, and are hundreds of years old.

Surrounding the pagoda are 113 ancient statues, all wooden, except for seven cast in bronze. The statues are of Buddha Amitabha, Shakyamuni Buddha, Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha and other bodhisattvas sculpted by artisans in Binh Duong Province in early 19th century.

The most distinctive feature of the pagoda is that its ceiling is paved with more than 6,000 decorative plates.

Next to the main hall, the Hong Hung Tower also has more than 1,000 decorative plates. Other towers around the pagoda mark the graves of its abbots.

The decorative plates are made of ceramic in the kiln at Lai Thieu Ward of Thuan An Town, Binh Duong Province. Some are from China and Japan. The decorative plates were added to the wall of the pagoda in the first half of the 20th century.

With more than 7,000 decorative plates, Giac Lam Pagoda holds the record of being the pagoda with the biggest number of decorative plates in Vietnam.

In front of the pagoda is the 7-story hexagon Stupa. The tower’s construction was begun in the 1970s, but was suspended until 1993.

The pagoda’s garden is filled with many trees, shrines and Buddha statues. Most prominent is the ancient bodhi tree brought from Sri Lanka in 1953.

Giac Lam Pagoda is one of the oldest pagodas in Saigon. It was recognized a national historical-cultural relic in 1988 and is a major tourist attraction now.

The Power of Pilgrimage


You don’t need to walk where the Buddha walked or sit where the Buddha sat. You don’t need to go on a pilgrimage, because you can awaken anywhere. And yet, for so many people, it’s transformative to leave home, travel for miles and miles, and go to the places — be in the places — associated with the Buddha’s life. I know it was for me.

Last summer, I attended the International Buddhist Conclave in India and had the opportunity to sit under the Bodhi tree, where it’s believed Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was sitting when he reached enlightenment. Generation after generation of Buddhists have gathered to practice in this spot, and when I joined them and listened to the chorus of birds in the branches above me, I discovered a new appreciation for lineage and the precious relationship between teacher and student. My practice was enriched.

As the dharma teacher and pilgrimage guide Shantum Seth put it, “That tree has a characteristic chime sound when the wind blows through, and it calms your mind. There are experiential things that you can only do while you’re there.”

Of course, you can gain realization under any tree in your very own yard or local park. “But sometimes,” Seth continued, “you have to go to the Bodhi tree once or twice to realize that the maple tree at home is your tree of awakening.”

In addition to the Bodhi tree, I journeyed to several other Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. I wrote the three stories in this Weekend Reader about that trip. In “The Buddha Was Here”, I go to places associated with the life of Siddhartha Gautama and explore what it means that he was actually a living, breathing human being. In “The Dharma Was Built on These Bricks” and “Only Nirvana Is More Beautiful” I visit magnificent ancient ruins that offer a window into how Buddhism took root and began to flourish. Perhaps these stories will inspire you to take a trip of your own.

‘Peace walk’ monk returns to Thailand


A Thai Buddhist monk recently returned to Thailand after finishing his walk across America to promote world peace.

Phra Sutham Nateetong, 59, completed his walk from Santa Monica, California, to New York on June 30 and returned to Thailand on Wednesday. 

His journey from the West to the East Coast of America took him 121 days to complete and spanned 5,013 kilometres. 

“America gives you a picture of the world. I saw all kinds of people and faced all kinds of weather conditions during the walk,” he said. 

Phra Sutham received support from people all over the United States.

“Native Americans were very supportive of me,” he said. “They appreciated my presence and gave me blessings whenever we met.”

He added that Laotians and Thais in America were also very supportive of his journey. 

Fans took turns accompanying him and sharing the news about his walk with those living in the areas that he was passing through. Some offered him food and money, while others travelled for several hours just to pay their respects, he said.

In some areas, he became the talk of the town because none of the residents had met a Thai person or a Buddhist monk before. 

He also insisted on continuing his entire trek by foot despite pressure from some supporters to pass through certain areas using a vehicle, due to fears of potential attacks. 

“They prioritise peacebuilding so much. American people love peace, not war. Only capitalists and weapons and oil traders want wars. They manipulate politics too. But ordinary Americans love peace and live peacefully,” he said.

Some cities and towns such as Eureka, California, provided protective police motorcades anyway. 

“I think people know that I went to promote peace and nothing else. They understand,” he said.

“Learning to live with those who think differently from us is an art that brings happiness to people and the world,” he added. 

Phra Sutham plans to resume his walk in France after he spends Buddhist Lent in Bodh Gaya, India, where Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment beneath a Bodhi tree.