Amnesty International

Briton jailed in Burma for ‘insulting’ Buddha image named prisoner of conscience by Amnesty

wildmind meditation newsPhilip Sherwell, The Telegraph: A British bar manager jailed in a notorious Rangoon prison for insulting Buddhism is to be named as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International as his family and human rights activists campaign for his release.

Philip Blackwood’s case has become embroiled in the political ascendancy of radical Buddhist nationalist monks in the run-up to landmark elections in Burma next month.

His supporters have argued that his prosecution for religious defamation for uploading an image of Buddha wearing headphones to advertise his bar was a maneuver by the military-backed government to court nationalist support in the former British colony also …

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In Buddhist Burma, monks gone wild

Andrew Lam: New American Media: For a country steeped in Buddhism, Burma is accruing terrible karmic debts.

Alarming news and images of attacks and killings by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine Province against a Muslim minority there have been slowly trickling out onto the Internet and the wider world. Pictures of charred bodies and crying parents have stirred largely unheeded calls for intervention, mostly from Muslim nations.

The attacks have been primarily one-sided, with Muslims generally and Rohingyas specifically the targets and victims,” Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty International, told The Associated Press. “Some of this is by the security forces’ own hands, some by Rakhine Buddhists with the security forces turning a blind eye in some cases.”

The government in Burma, recently lauded for taking steps toward democratization, declared a state of emergency in June following the outbreak of violence allegedly sparked by the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman by members of the Rohingya minority — a largely Muslim group on the country’s western border with Bangladesh. The official death toll stands at 78, though activists say it is likely much higher and prompted the UN to call for independent investigation over human rights violations.

The Rohingya, meanwhile, remain caught between a hostile populace and a neighboring Muslim nation in Bangladesh that refuses to open its borders to fleeing refugees.

Such is the irony in a country famous for its Valley of the Temples and its unrivaled devotion to the Buddha. Alas, while Buddhism through a Western lens can appear rosy for its message of compassion, inner peace, and self-cultivation, in Asian societies Buddhism as an institution has much broader political applications.

Five years ago thousands of monks across Burma led in mass demonstrations against the military junta that paralyzed the former capital Yangon and other cities. The catalyst was an economic crisis, coupled with a devastating typhoon that destroyed homes and rice fields. The government’s failure to respond drove the monks to revolt, leading to the arrest and beating of hundreds of clergy. In such an overwhelmingly Buddhist country as Burma, the crackdown posed serious risks for the leadership.

For the monks, on the other hand, if fighting on behalf of the people seemed a moral necessity, such “spiritual engagement” apparently does not extend to the country’s Muslims — estimated at around 800,000. They are a population denied citizenship and, by extension, the beneficence of the Buddha.

In 2001 monks handed out anti-Muslim pamphlets that resulted in the burning of Muslim homes, destruction of 11 mosques and the killing of over 200 Muslims in the Pegu region. Four years earlier, another anti-Muslim riot broke out in Mandalay during the worship of a Buddha statue at the Maha Myatmuni pagoda. In that incident, an estimated 1,500 Buddhist monks led the attack on nearby mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, looting as they went.

As for the current crisis, Human Rights Watch is strongly urging the Burmese government to end arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and “redeploy and hold accountable security forces implicated in serious abuses. Burmese authorities should ensure safe access to the area by the United Nations (UN), independent humanitarian organizations, and the media.”

“The Burmese government needs to put an immediate end to the abusive sweeps by the security forces against Rohingya communities,” noted Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Anyone being held should be promptly charged or released, and their relatives given access.”

So far the killings have garnered little attention in the West, where they have registered little more than a blip in the news cycle. Equally as troubling, however, has been the muted response of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – an icon of human rights across Southeast Asia. Her recent tepid call for ethnic equality in Burma, nearly two months after the violence erupted, was met with uniform criticism around the world.

In the 1960s the renowned Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “Engaged Buddhism.” The intent, then as now, was to exhort fellow monks to emerge from their temples and engage with a society then in the grips of war.

The practice continues across much of South and Southeast Asia today. One example is the long drawn out war in Sri Lanka, during which militant monks formed their own political party, held seats in parliament and advocated military solutions to the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

In Vietnam, the ruling class knows each time a Buddhist monk sets himself ablaze they’d better watch out. That was certainly true in 1963 when a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in downtown Saigon to protest a crackdown on Buddhism. Unrest grew as civilian fear turned into anger, and the Catholic controlled regime of Ngo Dinh Diem fell soon afterward. The current communist regime still keeps a number of leading clergymen under house arrest for fear for a popular revolt.

But if Burma’s monks held the moral high ground five years ago when they protested against government oppression, that standing has quickly turned into a deep and dark sinkhole of depravity amid calls for the majority to oppress their neighbors.

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech and a life of service and compassion renew humanity,” the historical Buddha, Gautama Siddharta, once said.

One wonders what he would say now, as innocent blood is shed in his name, and the path toward enlightenment that he taught to relieve the suffering of all beings had somehow derailed into a dark road of rebirth in the lowest levels of hell?

NAM editor, Andrew Lam, is author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres and Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora. His next book, Birds of Paradise Lost, a collection of short story, is due out in 2013.

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Viet Nam: Falun Gong practitioners detained over meditation protest

Mariah Jen: The beating and arrest of at least 30 peaceful Falun Gong demonstrators outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi yesterday is an unacceptable violation of freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

The demonstrators were protesting the trial and mistreatment of two local Falun Gong broadcasters, Vu Duc Trung (right, wearing white shirt)) and Le Van Thanh (behind, center), who had worked for the movement’s radio station The Sound of Hope. The trial of Vu and Le is due to take place on Thursday.

“The repression of these Falun Gong practitioners by the Vietnamese authorities is a violation of their rights to freedom …

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Falun Gong practitioner to tell about persecution

wildmind meditation news

In his native China, fellow practitioners of Falun Gong are persecuted for the same practice, said Xie, an assistant professor of marketing,

He will speak Wednesday about religious persecution of Falun Gong at a meeting of the CSRA Peace Alliance.

Falun Gong, a meditation practice centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, came to be seen as a threat to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Amnesty International has recorded nearly 1,600 cases of detention, arrest or sentencing of Falun Gong practitioners since China outlawed the belief system in 1999. The human rights organization reports that tens of thousands of practitioners have been arbitrarily detained, tortured, ill-treated or pressured to renounce their beliefs.

“All the while, the president of China is coming to visit, and our economy is tied up in China’s,” said Denice Traina, co-chairwoman of the Peace Alliance, which was established in Augusta in 2008. “We have to educate ourselves about that relationship. It seemed like such a timely issue to look at.”

Xie is thankful the topic is garnering attention. He’s traveled to universities in New York and Geneva to speak on Falun Gong persecution, and says too many Americans are still unaware.

“When I get the chance, I must speak up,” said Xie, who moved to the United States more than 20 years ago. “Americans are always shocked. Everyone is shocked.”

He studied science in China, and, in 1986, came to the United States to continue his education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. While he was away at school, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the subsequent government crackdown shook China.

“We couldn’t go back,” he said. “We had to stay.”

Xie, who was born in Anshan, China, worked as a chemist before deciding it wasn’t for him. He got his master’s degree from Georgia State University and worked in finance instead. Xie earned his doctorate in marketing, and began to teach. After working in classrooms at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Xie moved to Atlanta.

“We like the South better,” he said with a laugh.

He lives in Atlanta with his wife and commutes to Aiken mid-week to teach. He also writes a column for The Epoch Times , a multi-language international newspaper founded by supporters of Falun Gong.

It was there that Xie said he read of some of the gravest human rights abuses — such as organ-harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. A 2006 independent investigation by Canadian human rights lawyers and politicians found circumstantial but persuasive evidence in support of the claims of systematic organ harvesting.

“The government has turned persecution into a lucrative business with the buying and selling of organs,” Xie said.

Because of the hours Falun Gong practitioners spend meditating, Xie said, many have better-than-average health, which makes them targets for government organ harvesting. Practitioners also abstain from drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, premarital sex and homosexuality.

Since Xie began meditation in 2001, he says he’s had good health.

“I’ve had no sickness, no problems. Not one doctor’s visit for 10 years,” he said.

Falun Gong helped him in other ways, too, Xie said.

“I’m a better person. I’m more truthful, compassionate and tolerant,” he said.

Xie didn’t learn about Falun Gong until well after leaving China. He says he didn’t grow up with any particular faith.

“We were indoctrinated, everyone in China was, to be an atheist,” he said. “Everyone was. I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t believe in Buddha. I didn’t believe in anything.”

Even as a chemist, Xie said he knew there was plenty that couldn’t be explained by science.

“I knew something was there. I came to this country and started searching. I went to all the churches I could find,” he said.

“I found Falun Gong and knew the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance were true. If we all followed those, society would be much better.”

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Engagement, anxiety, and news addiction

twin towers attack, 9/11/2001

A Wildmind visitor called Cory asked:

I want to keep watch on world events so that I’m not naive with regard to politics, yet remain unburdened by worry, fear, and attachment of those events which I cannot conceivably control. My question to you is, what is the way to endure when a shadow of worry or fear pervades your heart? Loving Kindness has helped, but the worry returns again and again, as does foreboding of what the future will bring.

This is an issue I struggle with myself, and not always successfully. I’ve sometimes found myself addicted to the news, especially on the web. I’ve sometimes found myself endlessly browsing news stories. When I say I was addicted I don’t mean to imply that this was destroying my life or anything, but I would spend more time than was needed just to keep up with the news.

One thing I tried doing was having a “news fast” for a couple of weeks, where all I allowed myself to do was to read the headlines and lede of news stories. So I’d look at the first page of the New York Times’ website, for example, but not go any further. That definitely helped me break out of the cycle of news-addiction that I’d been experiencing, and at the end of the fast there was much less of a sense of compulsion and anxiety about my news reading.

I found over that time that I could basically get all I really needed from just the headline and lede (the one or two sentence summing-up of a news story that accompanies the headline). The rest is really just too much detail.

People’s stress after 9/11 was proportional to how many times they watched the towers falling on TV

You might want to think about your sources of news. The images on television news are designed to have an emotional impact. And the TV news will repeat images over and over again in order to heighten that emotional impact. They want you to be afraid and horrified and anxious so that you’ll keep tuning in to find out what’s happening next. It’s been shown that people’s levels of stress after 9/11 were directly proportional to how many times they watched the towers falling on TV. I don’t watch TV, so I didn’t actually see the towers falling until a long time after the event. It was horrifying, and I wouldn’t want to watch it a second time. Some people saw it hundreds of times. Newspapers, on the other hand, are much less sensationalistic. The images are static. They can’t repeat as much as TV does because you’d get bored and go away. A TV news program could show you the towers falling ten times in one show and you’d watch it. A newspaper isn’t going to tell you 20 times in one story that the towers fell, and even if it did the emotional impact would be much less. Public radio news (speaking about the US here) is also much more considered and less dramatic than TV.

There’s a notion out there that you’re avoiding engagement if you’re not subjecting yourself to all this violent imagery on television; you’re “avoiding reality.” But television takes us beyond merely knowing about what’s going on and into the realm of being a victim of what’s going on. We can become traumatized and stressed by being a participant in the world’s disasters. How does that help us? I don’t think it does. I think it disempowers us.

Another meditative method I’ve found useful in disengaging when I’ve found myself overly-caught up in news-surfing is to become aware of the craving as an object of mindfulness. So I’ll be sitting there surfing the net, becoming aware that I’m in craving mode where there’s a sense of compulsion beginning to mount. And I’ll turn my attention inwards, away from the news itself and towards the feelings I have about the news. In the pit of my stomach there is a sense of anxiety and longing, and I become mindful of that feeling. I surround it with a compassionate and gentle awareness that doesn’t judge but simply holds those feelings in my attention. At that point I can feel the emotional link with the news dissolve away, and I find it’s completely painless to close my laptop. No willpower required!

When we become addicted to the news we’re being overwhelmed by it and we’re attached to it. There’s a lack of balance in our relationship with the news. We’ve lost our equanimity.

It’s easy to watch the news and forget to be actively compassionate to all involved.

But I think Cory’s question was perhaps less about the phenomenon of being attached to the sensory input of news than to the actual content of the news itself, “attachment of those events which (he) cannot conceivably control.”

I have a few suggestions here. The first is compassion. It’s easy to watch the news and forget to be actively compassionate to all involved. Instead we get sucked into anger, or pity, or anxiety. All of these emotional responses are painful and unhelpful, and rooted in ego. When we cultivate genuine compassion for those involved in the news, not taking sides — not seeing good guys and bad guys — but simply seeing the human beings involved as human beings, there’s less ego involved. This isn’t easy for me to do. I tend to take sides. I tend to see political figures whose policies I’m opposed to as being either stupid or evil. I have to remind myself that in their own eyes their actions make perfect sense.

Having compassion where there are victims and perpetrators involved can be hard too, but it’s important to remember that everyone suffers, both those causing harm and those being harmed. It’s easy to demonize wrong-doers, but we’ve all thought of doing stupid things, and it might be wise for us to remember that when we see someone who has let thoughts turn into reality.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are various conditions — often hereditary — which make it harder for some people to empathize, to imagine the consequences of their actions, and to exercise self-restraint. If someone has such a condition and hurts others, their actions are reprehensible and we need to protect ourselves against them, but perhaps we could bear in mind that there’s an involuntary component to their actions. If we don’t blame a diabetic for having a faulty pancreas, perhaps we should also refrain from blaming a person with Antisocial Personality Disorder, which involves a defect in the way the brain processes information about relationships. We still have to hold people accountable for their actions — that’s not in question — but we can refrain from wishing them harm.

When we exercise compassion, we still suffer (suffering is inevitable in life) but we suffer in a healthier way. The sense of connectedness we have when we’re compassionate has an “immunizing” effect whereby suffering is in our system but can’t harm us. The pain hurts but doesn’t harm.

This reminds me that we also need to have compassion for ourselves. When we watch or read or hear the news we’re inevitably going to experience pain, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Often we can have a sense that we’ve failed if we experience pain, and we can try to push ourselves onwards, trying to ignore it. But if we’re suffering we’re suffering. And we need to respond to our own suffering in the same way we would if we were responding to the suffering of a child or a dear friend. Rather than brushing our suffering aside we need to hold it compassionately in our awareness and send it our love. In this way we can deal with our suffering in a kindly way. It’s like when you get a cut; you’d clean the wound, take care of it, and cover it in order to prevent infection. You wouldn’t just pretend it didn’t happen or see it as a sign of failure. Similarly, with our mental pain we need to take care of it. This doesn’t mean retreating to our bedroom for a week and sulking — it’s just a question of noticing our pain and being compassionate with ourselves. We can even do this while engaged in other activities.

…we also need to have compassion for ourselves

My second suggestion is that we practice rejoicing. In the Brahmaviharas meditations we start by cultivating love, then compassion, and then “empathetic joy.” And the balance of those qualities provides the basis for experiencing equanimity, which is what’s at the heart of Cory’s question. So if you hear bad news about, say, a famine in some far-off country, we can at least rejoice that there are people bringing this to our attention. Our focus can be completely on the negative — there’s something bad going on in the world — and this can lead to us thinking that there’s nothing but bad going on in the world. The very fact that someone cares enough to report on bad news is a good thing in itself. Then there are the people who are trying to help — aid workers, emergency responders, etc. And then there are all the other people out there who care; you may not be in touch with them but you can be certain they exist. Rejoicing and compassion complement each other, and as I’ve mentioned they lead to a more balanced state of mind that we can equanimity.

Thirdly, there are indeed many things that we can’t change, so it’s maybe worth thinking about getting engaged in those things that we can change. That could be volunteering one night a week, or giving a donation to Amnesty International, or writing letters to politicians. But if we do one thing where we feel we’re making a difference, we’ll feel less alone, and we’ll feel a sense of empowerment. We may not be able to do much individually, but no individual can sort out life’s problems. However many individuals doing a small amount can do a lot of good.

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Net Dissidents Jailed in China

Julia Scheeres, Wired Magazine: As part of an ongoing attempt to clamp down on Internet speech, the Chinese government sentences five members of the Falun Gong religious group to prison for posting an article critical of authorities.

In its ongoing repression of Internet speech, the Chinese government has sentenced five Falun Gong members to prison for posting an article to a discussion board that accused authorities of mistreating a jailed colleague.

In a terse news story, the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, stated Feb. 19 that a court in western Chongqing found the three men and two women guilty of “vilifying the government’s image through spreading fabricated stories on persecution of cult practitioners” and had given them prison terms of five to 14 years.

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that monitors free speech worldwide, has called for the release of the now 22 Falun Gong members imprisoned for publishing news on the Internet about the outlawed spiritual movement…

“The crackdown on members of this spiritual movement is completely unjustified,” said Julien Pain, who researches Internet speech issues for the group. “The five Internet users were convicted for posting online what is already very well-known to human rights organizations, that members of Falun Gong are systematically tortured in prison.”

Falun Gong — a spiritual discipline that combines exercise and meditation — had an estimated 70 million adherents before President Jiang Zemin outlawed the movement in 1999, calling it a doomsday cult. Activists say more than 800 Falun Gong members have died in police custody since the ban.

The Feb. 19 sentencing is symptomatic of the communist government’s struggle to control online content in a country that is second only to the United States in number of Internet users. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, 79.5 million Chinese are connected to the World Wide Web.

As China’s Internet economy burgeons, so have the government’s attempts to battle “subversive” content on home computers and in the country’s 110,000 cybercafes. According to some estimates, China employs 30,000 technocrats to police the Internet.

Laws regulating the Internet include the expected prohibitions on software piracy and the creation of software viruses, but also nebulous phraseology, such as a ban on “harmful information” that “spreads superstition,” said Bobson Wong, a specialist in Chinese Internet culture.

“The problem with China’s Internet restrictions is that they’re so vague,” Wong said.

“Most people know that there are certain taboo topics that can’t be discussed online — Tiananmen, Falun Gong, criticism of high-level officials. Anybody who is even remotely affiliated with these topics tends to be prosecuted.”

Amnesty International recorded the arrests of 54 people between November 2002 and January 2004 for online activities ranging from calling for government reform in a chat room to signing an online petition for the release of a Falun Gong member.

In a recent report, the group said it believed this number is merely a fraction of the real number of people detained in China for expressing their views online. In May 2003 alone, for example, Xinhua reported that more than 100 people were arrested for “spreading rumors” about SARS over the Internet or through phone text messages.

In addition to forcing ISPs and Internet cafes to use filtering software, government minders hand delete individual messages from discussion boards and change the domain name server records of forbidden sites so visitors are rerouted to authorized pages.

To thwart censorship, many Internet users employ proxy networks, which act as portals to other sites and allow users to hide their computers’ IP addresses. Bill Xia, a Chinese immigrant who founded a North Carolina company that created a proxy network called DynaWeb, says “tens of thousands” of Chinese use his product every day.

“The Internet gave dissidents a useful means to avoid state censorship, in a country where there’s no independent media,” said Pain, the Reporters Without Borders researcher. “The Chinese authorities are trying to censor the Internet and to track down cyberdissidents. But given the huge amount of information that is being published, they can’t succeed totally.”

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