Category Archives: Uncategorized

Buddhist Emergency Fund for Rohingya of Burma

A Letter of Appeal from US Buddhist Teachers

We are sending you this request to help with a Buddhist Emergency Fund for the Rohingya of Burma. The Rohingya, an ethnic minority group of the Muslim faith living in Burma, face a dire situation, requiring immediate attention and support. Described by the United Nations as the most persecuted minority on earth, they have been denied citizenship, health care, education, and adequate food while forced to live in harsh and restrictive apartheid-like conditions. One hundred and forty thousand have been forced into squalid camps that have been called open-air prisons.

Many thousands have tried to escape by putting their lives into the hands of human traffickers and heading out to sea. Untold numbers of Rohingya have now been abandoned and left floating in rickety boats without food, water or medical care. Governments in the region and the world have refused to launch a search and rescue mission to save them and some navies have even pulled these desperate people further out to sea.

Because this refugee nightmare is in part due to the policies of Buddhist countries, principally Burma and also Thailand as well as Malaysia and Indonesia, it seems especially important for Buddhists around the world to visibly respond according to the central Buddhist values of compassion and respect for all beings.

This appeal is also inspired by the first Buddhist leadership conference at the White House that was held last week. 120 abbots and diverse leaders from temples and centers of all nationalities and traditions across the U.S. came together to bring Buddhist wisdom and compassionate concern to such problems as climate change, racism, the plight of the Rohingya and relief for Nepal.

Please read the appeal below and send it as widely as you can to the members of your own community and to the leaders of other Buddhist communities whom you know.

We are grateful for your help in this critical time.
PS – The Rohingya are a minority ethnic group of the Muslim faith living in Rakhine State, Burma. Although they have resided there for generations, the Myanmar government refuses to recognize them as citizens and has been subjecting them to a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya have been evicted from their lands, required to pay arbitrary taxes and work at forced labor. They have been banned from traveling, getting married without permission or even having more than two children. Since 2012, many have been killed by mobs of Buddhists often incited by Buddhist monks. Now hundreds of thousands have been herded into camps, where they are harshly treated and denied basic human resources such as adequate food and medical care.

Jack Kornfield – Spirit Rock Center
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi – Buddhist Global Relief
William Aiken – Soka Gakkai International
Tara Brach – Insight Meditation Community of Washington
Lama Surya Das – Dzogchen Foundation
Alan Senauke – International Network of Engaged Buddhists
Taigen Dan Leighton – Ancient Dragon Zen Gate
Larry Yang – Founder and Senior Teacher, East Bay Meditation Center
Rev. angel Kyodo williams – Sensei Founder Emeritus and Vision Fellow Transformative Change
Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki – President, Buddhist Council of New York

BUDDHIST EMERGENCY FUND for the ROHINGYA of BURMA

Please stand with us and join thousands of Buddhists across the West in responding to the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Burma who are lost at sea after fleeing horrific Apartheid-like conditions and what the US Holocaust Museum has described as “early warning signs of genocide”. Over one hundred and forty thousand have been forced into squalid, inhumane camps that have been described as open-air prisons.

Many thousand Rohingya have been abandoned without food on rickety boats floating on the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits. Governments in the region and the world have refused to launch a search and rescue mission to save them and some navies have even been pulling these desperate people further out to sea. Pressure on governments to act – including the United States – have been showing initial results but the situation remains dire and a concerted effort is needed to save the many thousands whose lives are at extreme risk.

Your donation will do three things:

(1) Help get immediate food, water and medicine to refugees on the boats, and to those in the camps;

(2) Bring skillful pressure on Burma and neighboring Buddhist and Muslim countries to respond humanely to the immediate crises and save the thousands of Rohingya whose lives are at immediate risk; and

(3) Address the root cause of this crisis – the attacks on and systematic persecution of the Rohingya in Burma – through a comprehensive strategic advocacy campaign.

It will show the world the true values of respect for human life, compassion and loving kindness that are at the heart of Buddhist teachings.

The fund is administered by United To End Genocide – an organization that has proven to be very effective in shining light on the plight of the Rohingya; generating support through skillful advocacy; and building the capacity – while coordinating the efforts – of individuals and organizations who are making a difference within Burma, the region and the world.

TO HELP, PLEASE OFFER YOUR SUPPORT NOW:

http://endgenocide.org/rohingya-crisis

AND PLEASE SEND THIS APPEAL ON TO OTHERS WHO CAN HELP!

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 1

BGR Staff

Over the first weekend of May, BGR team members held their annual general meeting on Saturday, May 2, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library of Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the US, including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State. Others from California and Florida joined via the internet.

At the board meeting on May 3, the board approved twenty-two projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $375,000. Several projects are renewals of repeated annual projects, while others are new. In addition to our long-term partners, we also established several new partnerships. Projects approved include several multi-year programs, which allow for the pursuit of bolder goals than is possible with one-year projects.

In addition to the regular projects, the board also agreed to provide two further emergency donations for relief work in Nepal: $2,000 to Karuna Shechen and $2,000 to the Tzuchi Foundation. Both are Buddhist-inspired relief organizations working to provide care to victims of the April 26 earthquake. These donations are in addition to the $10,000 emergency relief BGR provided immediately after the earthquake, which was divided evenly among five organizations: UNICEF, CARE, Direct Relief, Oxfam America, and the International Medical Corps.

This is the first of a five-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Charles Elliott, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts.

1. Bangladesh: Making Markets Work for Women           

Our partner in this project, Helen Keller International (established 1915), works in 22 countries to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through programs in vision, health, and nutrition. BGR will enter the third year of a three-year partnership with HKI on a program in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) called “Making Markets Work for Women.” In CHT, women are mainly responsible for agricultural production. The program teaches extremely poor women how to effectively utilize communal plots. It builds agricultural skills such as pest management, organic fertilizer use, and intercropping, as well as food processing techniques. It will also establish community marketing groups so participants can work together to process and sell products, helping to combat discrimination at local markets. Courtyard sessions focus on topics of gender and nutrition for men and women, including feeding practices for children from birth to 2 years of age. The project will improve food security for 75 households (375 individuals) across five villages, additional to those already being served in the first two years of the project. Year three of a three-year project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Our project partner, Moanoghar, was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently more than 1,250 children sheltered at Moanoghar, approximately 40% of them girls. Many of the children were left homeless or orphaned as the result of a decades-long ethnic conflict. All children at Moanoghar receive free or highly subsidized education. This will be the third year of a three-year project to establish a sustainable educational system that can generate income to support the institution and the children being schooled there. The BGR grant will provide continued educational stipends for food and educational expenses for students and enable the planting of fruit trees and crops. Year three of a three-year project.

3. Bangladesh: Food Support for School of Orphans       NEW

Our partner, the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, was founded in 1977 by Ven. Jivanananda Mahathera, a Buddhist monk who has dedicated his life to the service of suffering humanity. BBMS is a non-sectarian, non-communal, non-governmental organization officially registered in Bangladesh in 1979. Its purpose is to dispense humanitarian services especially to helpless orphans, distressed widows, and other indigent men and women. The Orphan’s Home Complex is located at Betagi in the rural Chittagong Hills region, near the Karnaphuli River. The number of orphans has increased, food prices have risen, and government grants are not adequate to the need. This BGR grant will provide a six month’s food supply for 54 orphans at the school.

4. Bangladesh: Educating Ethnic Buddhist Minority Girls     NEW

The Jamyang Foundation (founded 1988) supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that are harmonious with their unique Buddhist cultural backgrounds. About 275 girls are currently enrolled in their schools. This BGR project will fund a school lunch program at Yashodhara Girls’ School in the the Marma community, located in Ruma Village, Bandarban, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There are 106 students, all female, enrolled in the school; all are from the ethnic Buddhist minority. These girls live in substandard conditions with poor food, yet are happy to be there because it is a good opportunity for them to gain an education. The grant will cover the costs of cooking equipment, a cook for one year, and school lunches.

Buddhists at the White House

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  110Last week, on May 14th, I was privileged to be part of a group of Buddhist monastics, teachers, and leaders who converged on Washington DC for a conference on the role of Buddhism in the public square. The idea to convene such a conference originated with Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Officer for Soka Gakkai International–USA, who began to lay plans for the gathering as far back as December 2014. He established a steering committee, which eventually came to consist of Danny Hall (also of SGI), Professor Duncan Williams, Professor Sallie King, Matt Regan, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, and myself. The list of invitees, originally set at 80, increased incrementally until it amounted to approximately 125, the maximum that could comfortably fit into the facilities provided. Representatives included monks, nuns, ministers, academics, yogis, lay Dharma teachers, and Buddhist activists from all traditions, with a balanced blend of Asian immigrant Buddhists and convert American Buddhists.

The original goal of the event, as Bill Aiken conceived it, was to “to utilize the convening power of the White House to bring together a wide range of Buddhist community leaders to affirm our shared commitment to preventing climate change, sharing community best practices, and hearing from Obama administration representatives on issues of concern to us.” As preparations unfolded, two main points of focus emerged. One was climate change, which poses an ever-escalating threat to the security of human life on earth. The other, highlighted by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed people of color, has been the need for this country to finally implement full racial justice in all spheres of our communal life.

The conference was divided into two segments. In the forenoon, we met in a spacious hall in George Washington University to hear presentations on climate change, racism in America, and efforts to express Buddhist values in the public sphere. After a video message from  Mary Evelyn Tucker on faith as a catalyst for action to protect the planet, I gave a presentation on climate change. In the 20 minutes allotted to me, I used the four noble truths as a template to uncover the causes behind climate change and to highlight the need to make the transition to a new, environmentally benign economic system powered by clean sources of energy. Angel Kyodo Williams spoke next, giving an incisive talk on the interconnection between racism and the despoliation of the natural environment. She pointed out that the way we degrade the planet is symptomatic of the same mental frame that permits us to degrade people; thus, she said, to dig up the roots of climate devastation requires us also to cut the roots of racial discrimination and violence. Professor Duncan Williams spoke about the experience of Japanese Buddhists in America, emphasizing how deep biases simultaneously devalued their religious commitments and subjected them to constant suspicion as an alien menace, particularly during the Second World War. This was followed by a series of talks about Buddhist groups working for social upliftment. During this period BGR’s fundraising chair, Sylvie Sun, gave a presentation on the work of Buddhist Global Relief.

In the afternoon we all convened in the Executive Offices Building of the White House for presentations by Administration officials on the issues at the center of the morning’s gathering. After an initial welcome from the White House Office of Public Engagement, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki led a group of monastics and Dharma leaders in a short Vesak ceremony, certainly the first ever held in the White House. This was followed by presentations, including question and answer sessions, from representatives of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. During the proceedings we submitted two statements to government officials, signed by all attendees, one calling for action to stem climate change, the other calling for a need to address racism.

The day’s events concluded with a short talk by Jack Kornfield, who gave voice to the shared recognition that this day marked a significant step forward for Buddhism on American soil. Jack pointed out that in coming together to articulate our common concerns to see Buddhist values taken as guideposts for public policy, Buddhists were not breaking new ground but were continuing a tradition that goes back to the Buddha himself, who traveled through northeast India advising kings, princes, governors, and citizens how to establish a rule that conforms to the Dharma, the timeless law of goodness, truth, and justice. As Buddhists we do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on government, a violation of the separation of church and state, but to see that government policies conform to the standards of compassion, social equity, peace, and environmental responsibility at the heart of Buddhism and all the world’s great faith traditions.

All who attended felt that this year’s gathering marked only the first of what is likely to become an annual event–a major first step, but only a beginning. Bill Aiken suggested that next year’s conference might culminate in a visit with our legislators on Capitol Hill. My personal feeling is that a one-day conference is insufficient to exhaust the potentials of such an encounter. While meeting on the single day gave us the opportunity to make new contacts and articulate our shared concerns, for such a gathering to bear effective fruit, the conference would have to be extended over at least two days. The extra time would allow for additional full-length sessions devoted entirely to group discussions on the issues at the center of concern. In such additional sessions we would be able to assess the points made in the presentations and draw up plans for lines of action to exert pressure on public policy decisions.

I also believe that, given the small number of Buddhists in the US relative to the general population, it would be delusional for us to imagine that on our own we can exercise a significant influence. Rather, our best prospects for giving Buddhist values a role in public affairs would be to join hands with other faith-based organizations that share our values and to present a collective front, rooted in our respective faiths, advocating for greater social justice, ecological responsibility, an end to militarism, and efforts to establish global peace. Such a convergence of faiths has already emerged in the environmental movement through such organizations as Green Faith, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, and Our Voices. Through networking, a wider collective voice might emerge that could well set in motion the forces needed to articulate and embody a new paradigm rooted in perceptions of human unity, the intrinsic dignity of the person, and the interdependence of all life forms with each other and the natural world. Such collaboration could serve to promote values and a new way of life that offers a sane alternative to free-market corporate capitalism with its blind imperatives of exploitation, extraction, consumerism, and endless economic growth.

Here are a few photos from the gathering (all photos by Phillip Rosenberg):

Bill Aiken opens the conference

A section of the attendees

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  49

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi talks on climate

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  50

rev. angel Kyodo williams

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  73

Sylvie Sun speaks on BGR

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  108

Vesak ceremony in White House

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  109

Vesak ceremony in White House

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  123

Talk by Administration official

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  145

Jack Kornfield gives concluding talk

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  148

Group photo

 

Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.
Continue reading

Thank You from Haiti

A Thank You Message from Lavarice Gaudin
Program Manager, Na Rive

Since 2010, Buddhist Global Relief has been a partner of the US-based What If? Foundation, which over the past fifteen years has been providing free meals for hungry children in the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince. During the first three years of our partnership, the focus of our projects was on the free meals program, which had become especially critical after the earthquake that struck the capital on January 12, 2010.

Over the past two years our partnership has expanded to include an education component, as WIF initiated a scholarship program to enable children to attend school. In Haiti school tuition is extremely expensive in relation to the country’s overall economy, and thus the assistance that BGR provides has been a great asset to children who would otherwise be unable to attend school. 

Below is a letter of thanks from Lavarice Gaudin, Program Manager of Na Rive, What If? Foundation’s on-the-ground partner in Haiti. His letter is introduced by WIF founder Margaret Trost and executive director Suzanne Alberga.

Continue reading

Helping Orphans in Western China Attend School

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Shambala BGR 6Last May, at its annual projects meeting, the Board of Buddhist Global Relief approved a grant of $7,000 to a new partner, the Shambala Foundation, a Hong Kong-based organization working in rural China (unrelated to the American Buddhist network of Shambhala meditation centers). The purpose of the grant was to cover the costs of books, clothes, shoes, and school supplies for orphans and poor children between the ages of 10 and 16 from Qinghai Province in western China.

These children are already participating in the Shambala Foundation’s flagship program, Orphanage Without Walls (OWW), a long-term partnership with 650 rural children and their families. The overall goal is for each child to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Shambala Foundation works with each child so they can attend school for as long as possible and eventually find their first paid jobs.
Continue reading

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the Climate Movement

Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni

Last week the People’s Climate Train rolled across the country carrying 170 people to the People’s Climate March and about 200 Buddhist practitioners gathered to “Prepare the Heart to March” at New York Insight Meditation Center the day before the largest environmental action in human history. Both these events offer a glimpse into the diversity, determination and rapid growth of the climate movement.

Passengers on the People's Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate

Passengers on the People’s Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate


Continue reading