human rights

The Candy Crush Sutta

book illustration of the Buddha holding an iPhone. Image is generated by an AI.

This is a bonus post, following from yesterday’s, in which I interviewed the artificial intelligence known as ChatGPT about meditation.

This time I gave the AI the prompt, “Write a Buddhist sutta, in the style of the Pali canon, in which the Buddha tells Ananda to stop playing Candy Crush on his iPhone.”

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Here’s what ChatGPT came up with.

Once, the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. And at that time, the Venerable Ananda was addicted to playing Candy Crush on his iPhone.

The Blessed One approached Ananda and said, “Ananda, what are you doing?”

Ananda replied, “I am playing Candy Crush, Lord.”

The Buddha spoke: “Ananda, this is not the path to liberation. The playing of such games only leads to craving and attachment. To achieve true peace and wisdom, one must let go of such distractions and engage in virtuous and meaningful actions.”

Ananda listened to the Buddha’s words and put down his iPhone, vowing to let go of his attachment to Candy Crush. He turned his attention to the Buddha’s teachings and soon realized the path to enlightenment.

And so it is said:

“Just as a bird is freed from its cage
when the door is opened, so too one is freed
from the bonds of ignorance and craving
by practicing the path taught by the Buddha.”

Appropriately, the image above was generated by another AI (Craiyon: formerly DALL-E Mini), using the prompt, “book illustration of the Buddha holding an iPhone.”

Coming back down to earth, ChatGPT’s predecessor was prone to using vile racist and misogynistic language, because its database of information was drawn from the web, and the web is full of that sort of stuff. For the latest version of the AI, a program had to be developed that could recognize and screen out the toxic material. In order to do that, Kenyan workers were paid as little as $1.32 an hour (via a subcontractor of OpenAI, which owns ChatGPT) to read and categorize the text. Workers were traumatized by reading, for example, graphic descriptions of bestiality and pedophile sex.

The contract between OpenAI and the subcontractor ended after an article was published showing that Facebook had employed the subcontractor to screen content. In this case, Kenyans were required to view images and videos of executions, rape and child abuse for as little as $1.50 per hour. This is traumatizing work.

AI and social media are fun, but there’s a dark and exploitative side to it as well.

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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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Tibetans in Switzerland protest visit of Chinese premier

Harold Mandel, The During his recent visit to Switzerland Chinese Premier Li Keqiang found out the hard way that he can not seem to escape from protests by Tibetans worldwide. The Tibet Sun reported on May 25, 2013, Switzerland’s Tibetans protest amid China premier’s visit. Tibetan exiles have urged Swiss authorities to raise China’s human rights record during a landmark visit by Premier Li Keqiang to discuss a trade deal.

Hundreds of Tibetan demonstrators rallied in the Swiss capital of Berne, waving Tibetan flags and chanting slogans such as “free the prisoners”, “stop the killing” and “long live the Dalai Lama.”…

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Tibet issue is raised by France with China On April 26, 2013, the Central Tibetan Administration reported, France Raises Tibet Issue with China. French President Francois Hollande has said he raised the issue of Tibet during his talks with the new leadership in China. The situation in Tibet has been becoming increasingly tragic as 117 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest against the Chinese government’s repressive policies in Tibet.

The Tibetan self-immolators have been calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans. President Hollande, who has been on a visit to China, told a press conference that during his talks with Chinese…

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Buddhism’s dirty secret


One of the things that makes Buddhism an attractive spiritual path for people in the west is its historical track record as a peaceful religion. You’ll often hear western Buddhists say that Buddhism has never had any holy wars, for example. But there’s a but…

Certainly, there’s nothing in the Buddha’s teaching to support violence. In essence, Buddhism is a religion of peace whose teachings have no place even for “righteous anger” or violence as a means of self-defense. As the Buddha said,

“Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred.”

But there have been historical instances of Buddhists resorting to violence, or supporting violence. And there are instances of that in recent times, and those are going on right now. In the recent past there’s been ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and recently two disturbing reports from Burma (or Myanmar): the forced conversions to Buddhism of Christians, and violence and oppression against the Muslim minority.

Greg Constantine, an award-winning photojournalist from the U.S. and currently based in Southeast Asia, has published the first of a two-part series on the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who have faced discrimination in Burma, to the extent that hundreds of thousands have become homeless, many of them spilling over into neighboring Bangladesh, “where they are exploited, unrecognized, denied almost all humanitarian assistance, and in recent years, have faced a growing intolerance toward them by their Bangladeshi hosts.”

In Burma, Constantine says, the Rohingya “face severe restrictions on the right to marry, are subjected to forced labor and arbitrary land seizure and forced displacement, endure excessive taxes and extortion, and are denied the right to travel freely.”


“Most Rohingya are not permitted to travel beyond their village. Family household registers are updated regularly so the authorities know who and how many Rohingya are in each house. Any discrepancies to these records are punishable by fines and arrest.”

This is a disgraceful state of affairs. In a sense, this says nothing about Buddhism, since the principles of Buddhism forbid violence, and since merely adopting the label “Buddhist” does not magically transform people into saints. But in another sense the Burmese government is bringing discredit upon the name of Buddhism by perpetrating these actions. That such suffering is being brought about in a country that proclaims to be Buddhist should be unacceptable to all Buddhists.

Burma has made huge strides forward in the last few years, with the military dictatorship having handed over power to a democratic government. Today, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing military rule in Burma, is at the White House to meet President Obama and receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Buddhists should hope that she is being asked for an accounting of recent anti-Christian and anti-Muslim actions in Burma, and how they can be ended. This is not to suggest that Suu Kyi is in any way responsible for these actions, or that she approves of them. I’m sure she isn’t, and doesn’t. The forces of reaction in Burma are still strong, with the military insisting on holding 25% of seats in the country’s government, and it’s possible that she’s not in a position to affect these unjust policies. But questions should be asked.

Thein Sein, Burma’s president, is attending the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, presenting another opportunity for Burma to be asked to account for the actions of its security forces. The pressures that helped Burma move from military dictatorship to fragile democracy can perhaps help stop further human rights violations.

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Burmese Christians forced to convert to Buddhism

The Express Tribune: Christian students from Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority have been forced to convert to Buddhism, shave their heads and wear monastic robes, a rights group said Wednesday.

The Chin, a mainly Christian group in the poor and remote west of the predominantly Buddhist country, face harassment for the link between their faith and British colonial rule, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

“President Thein Sein’s government claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de facto state religion”, said Salai Ling, Program Director of the CHRO.

Rachel Fleming, another member of …

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Three Tibetan herders self-immolate in protest

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Sharon LaFraniere, NY Times: In a fresh illustration of growing turmoil among ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan Province, three livestock herders set themselves on fire to protest what they saw as political and religious repression at the hands of the Chinese authorities, according to a Tibetan rights group and an ethnic Tibetan living in Beijing.

If confirmed, the latest cases would bring the total self-immolations over the past year to 19, an unprecedented wave of self-inflicted violence among the tiny ethnic minority in China, according to scholars. They were also apparently the first by lay people, rather than current or former members of the …

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China’s bloody crackdown on Tibetan protesters escalates, as self-immolations continue

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Xeni Jardin (BoingBoing): Ethnic Tibetans throughout Tibet this week held some of the largest demonstrations against Chinese rule in four years. Chinese forces responded by shooting protesters. Up to 5 are said to have been killed and more than 30 wounded, according to Tibetan advocacy groups.

On January 9, a 42-year-old monk became the latest in a continuing string of desperate protesters who burned themselves alive to protest Chinese military rule and cultural repression.

A New York Times report gathered accounts from a number of human rights groups. NPR’s Morning Edition today aired an extensive report on the worsening human rights crisis in Tibet.

Details are hard to confirm, as foreign press access to the areas involved is all but impossible. Free Tibet has more, and Radio Free Asia has compiled various reports.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, issued a statement on the conflict, published in video on YouTube (and embedded above). [YouTube account has since been terminated.]


I want to tell my dear brothers and sisters inside Tibet that we hear your cries loud and clear. We urge you not to despair and refrain from extreme measures. We feel your pain and will not allow the sacrifices you have made go in vain. You all are in our heart and prayers each and every day. (…)

To demonstrate our solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet, I urge Tibetans and our friends around the world, to participate in a worldwide vigil on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. Let’s send a loud and clear message to the Chinese government that violence and killing of innocent Tibetans is unacceptable! I request everyone to conduct these vigils peacefully, in accordance with the laws of your country, and with dignity.

The Chinese government responded to activist groups’ reports on one recent shooting incident with a statement blaming monks and protesters, saying they attacked stores and a police station, and started a riot.

“The mob, some armed with knives, threw stones at police officers and destroyed two police vehicles and two ambulances,” read the report from China’s official news agency Xinhua.

And there are reports of fresh protests again today, with more shootings. From an item at, posted just three hours ago:

In reports coming out of Tibet, another Tibetan was killed and several others seriously injured in police firings in eastern Tibet earlier today. This is the third bloody incident this week when unarmed Tibetan demonstrators have been fired upon by Chinese security personnel.

At around 12 noon local time, a Tibetan man named Tharpa put up signed flyers around Zu To Bharma Shang, declaring that until the demands of the Tibetans who have self-immolated are met, Tibetans will never abandon their struggle and continue to organise more campaigns.

Since March 2011, 16 Tibetans have set their bodies on fire demanding the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile and protesting China’s continued occupation of Tibet.

In a release today, the exile base of Kirti monastery said that Tharpa had himself gone around the town putting up the flyers with his name clearly signed on it.

“You, Communist Chinese, come and arrest me,” Tharpa had challenged.

Following the wave of self-immolations, numerous flyers and pamphlets have been reportedly cited in Ngaba and Drango areas, stating that many more Tibetans were ready to set their bodies on fire.


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Freed prisoners add momentum, risks to Myanmar reform

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Aung Hla Tun, Reuters: Buddhist monk Shin Gambira endured solitary confinement, beatings and sleep deprivation in Myanmar’s prisons for his leading role in the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” — peaceful protests that were crushed by the country’s military.

Finally free at a monastery on the outskirts of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, about the worst he will say of his captors is that they were “very rude and cruel”.

“Don’t let me elaborate on it. Let bygones be bygones,” the 33-year-old former protest leader said of his ordeal, following his release last week with about 300 other political prisoners.

Interviews by Reuters with more than a dozen of the newly released prisoners reveal a similar remarkable lack of bitterness toward their captors after years of imprisonment and torture for their beliefs. They described overcrowded cells at the notorious Insein detention center, watching a fellow inmate die from a lack of medical care, and routine deprivation of water and sleep among other abuses.

But nearly all said they backed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to place trust in the government’s reform pledges and take part in April by-elections that could give her National League for Democracy (NLD) party a vital foothold in parliament, part of dramatic changes underway in the former Burma.

Still, the interviews with the former prisoners in Myanmar reveal an undercurrent of scepticism about the government’s true intentions and an impatience for more concrete democratic reforms.

Many also expressed concern that Suu Kyi risks weakening her powerful political capital if, as some believe, she takes a ministerial role as part of the reconciliation process. That could point to future tensions within the opposition and complicate the reform process if the pace of change stutters in coming months.

Sources within the opposition told Reuters there was already intense debate among dissidents over whether to set up a new political party as an alternative to the NLD. Opponents of such a move fear it would dilute the opposition’s message and pave the way for further splintering.

Htay Kywe, who helped lead pro-democracy protests in 1988 in which thousands of demonstrators were killed by soldiers, said Suu Kyi had made a “practical choice” to run in the by-elections and help restore the rule of law in the country.

“This is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi trying in the most non-violent way to work for the country’s transition to democracy. We support this,” said the 44-year-old, referring to Suu Kyi by her honorific title.

Htay Kywe, who spent about 17 years in prison in two spells after his first arrest in 1991, is among many members of the so-called “88 generation” who have been released in recent months and who are sure to play an important role in opposition debate.

The largest release yet of high-profile dissidents promises to speed up the national reconciliation process and provides a powerful argument for the United States and other Western nations to lift economic sanctions against the impoverished but resource-rich country.

Business executives, mostly from Asia, have swarmed into the commercial capital, Yangon, in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in the country of 60 million people, one of the last frontier markets in Asia. Myanmar is also at the centre of a struggle for strategic influence as the United States sees a chance to expand its ties there and balance China‘s fast-growing economic and political clout in the region.

Myanmar has thawed astonishingly quickly in the past year.

The government has begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship, allowed trade unions and protests, and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of its giant neighbour China. It was rewarded last November when Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.

The exact number of political detainees still locked up in Myanmar’s prisons remains in doubt. But the opposition and government agree it is now in the hundreds. That may not be much higher than some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, making it hard for countries to argue in favour of maintaining sanctions.

Communist Vietnam, which has a bilateral trade deal with Washington, for instance, probably has political prisoners “in the hundreds”, said Bangkok-based Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.


Last week’s release brings the number of political detainees freed since last May to 645, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. This number represents a significant body of high-profile dissidents who are likely to influence internal opposition debate.

The latest group, ranging from the former head of military intelligence to a musician who penned songs about Suu Kyi, rejoin the political scene just as the government and opposition engage in a delicate, high-stakes dance toward reconciliation.

The views of this respected group of dissident opinion-formers are a vital gauge of support for Suu Kyi’s leap of faith in engaging with the nominally civilian government. If they clamour for faster reforms than the government or Suu Kyi are comfortable with, for example, it could risk a backlash from military hardliners who many observers believe are eager for a chance to reverse the democratisation process.

“We shouldn’t settle for the present situation, there is a lot to be done,” said Gambira, the freed Buddhist monk.

“Since the people were deprived of everything under a brutal regime for about 50 years they tend to be satisfied when they get something, compared with nothing in the past. I’d like to stress there is no room for complacency at present.”

Sceptics worry that Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, herself released from house arrest in late 2010, could be walking into a trap, handing valuable international legitimacy to the government before any fundamental changes in Myanmar’s political system are secured. The United States, which has made the freeing of political prisoners a condition for lifting sanctions, said after the latest release it would exchange ambassadors with Myanmar for the first time in 20 years.

But Myanmar’s generals still effectively control parliament after a deeply flawed 2010 election and the constitution, written in 2008, guarantees the military’s dominant role in politics.

“Concerning the overall political situation, I’m not that optimistic. I’ll put it at about 55 percent,” said Khun Tun Oo, chairman of an ethnic Shan party allied to Suu Kyi’s NLD and who was released after nearly seven years in jail.

He plans to re-register his party but not to run in the upcoming by-elections, which many believe would legitimise the 2010 elections widely seen as a sham.

“No doubt she (Suu Kyi) will have her say but I’m not sure she will be able to change the constitution … the military is in a position to put a spanner in the works since they have the constitutional right.”


Khun Tun Oo appears to have suffered relatively little torture in prison, but others were less fortunate.

Sithu Zeya, a 22-year-old journalist for exiled media outlet Democratic Voice of Burma, said he had to drink toilet water for the first five days in prison in 2010 and went without sleep for 15 days. He was regularly beaten and saw an old man in his cell die from breathing difficulties after medical help failed to arrive on time. Like many fellow prisoners, he found solace in meditation and limited chances to read and play sports.

“We have been released because foreign countries demanded it, not because they (the government) think it was wrong to have political prisoners,” the former biology student told Reuters.

He said he supported Suu Kyi’s participation in the elections but worried she would be a weaker voice as a lawmaker. “I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Perhaps the most remarkable figure to emerge from detention last week was former military intelligence chief and prime minister Khin Nyunt, whose purge from the government in 2004 turned him overnight from one of the regime’s most powerful figures into a lowly prisoner.

Ironically, he coped with his seven years under house arrest on charges of corruption in much the same way as Suu Kyi — meditating every day and tending to his garden.

Deprived of financial support, he said he and his wife scraped a living by selling orchids from their garden and later by selling his clothes, including traditional silk “longyi” garments he had received as gifts when he was thought to be the regime’s third most powerful official.

“It’s embarrassing to tell this but this is the truth,” he told Reuters at his home and former prison.

He ruled out a return to politics, saying he wanted to focus on his religious practice. Asked if he thought President Thein Sein could operate independently in his dealings with Suu Kyi, he smiled. “I think so, but I don’t know for sure.”

A concern repeatedly voiced by the freed dissidents was that the revered Suu Kyi could jeopardise her iconic and clean status by being drawn into a flawed political system.

“I’m fully confident in Aunty Suu’s leadership. She’s a national leader,” said 32-year-old blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was picked up by security forces at a Yangon café in January 2008. “But I’m really worried that she will become a cabinet member. Then she might lose contact with the party.”

Win Min, a Burmese political scientist at Harvard University and a student protester in the 1988 uprising, said the newly released 88 generation faced a challenge to push for genuine reforms without giving hardliners an excuse to crack down.

“At this critical juncture, 88 generation leaders may want to work in a space between the politics of struggle and normal politics to encourage the continuation of reform in a non-threatening way to the hardliners,” he said.

“For the moderates in the government, the challenge is how to work with the opposition and the 88 generation leaders to improve the economy on the grassroots level.”


Many freed prisoners cautioned that ordinary Burmese, struggling in poverty and often at the mercy of authoritarian local officials, have yet to benefit from the changes.

“They keep saying the higher authorities have changed, but the officials on the ground have not changed so the people are still suffering,” said Zeya, the journalist. “The reforms have yet to make positive impacts on the general public so I can’t say they are successful just yet.”

A near-term source of tension is likely to be the fate of the political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Of the 604 political prisoners claimed by the NLD, the government only released 302 by its count, saying that 107 had already been released, others had been double-counted or died and that 128 would not be freed because they had committed serious crimes such as using explosives.

“I want the government to carry out more meaningful changes like releasing the remaining prisoners of conscience, which really will benefit the people and the country,” said Nilar Thein, a female leader of the 88 generation whose latest arrest was in 2008.

For her, though, the most promising sign of real change in Myanmar was the confident smiles that greeted her on her recent release from detention. “I was really encouraged to see the courage and confidence on the faces of the people,” she said.

“There is more transparency then before. It was a big difference from my previous releases.”

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok.; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Jason Szep and Jonathan Thatcher)

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Vietnam’s Falun Gong under pressure

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Ian Timberlake, AFP News: In silent meditation, the Falungong members did not flinch when a shirtless, tattooed man slapped them on the head, or when a burly female security agent dragged a dried palm leaf across their faces.

Vietnamese practitioners of Falungong — a Buddhist-inspired traditional Chinese spiritual discipline practised in more than 70 countries.– say treatment like this has become routine. They say communist authorities in Hanoi have bowed to pressure from China, using police and hired thugs to harass, assault and detain members of the movement.

Their plight has been highlighted with the jailing by a Hanoi court in early November of two Vietnamese Falungong …

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