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The Zen of Dying

Photo Credit Preston Gannaway for The New York Times Anthony Valentine, 72, is a hospice nurse at the nonprofit Zen Hospice Project … Keep Reading

For This Couple, It’s Death Till They Part

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Ms. Numeroff brought it up when praising the couple for helping her husband, Marvin, die peacefully in 2015.

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Susan Numeroff, who hosted the wedding at her home, brought out red velvet cupcakes for Mr. Campbell, who turned 64 on his wedding day.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

Mr. Paley Ellison and Mr. Campbell’s Zen teacher, Sensei Dorothy Dai-en Friedman, discussed its value while offering them the first blessing of the hourlong ceremony: “They have helped us to see that death transitions are deeply significant, and as meaningful as our entrance.”

But if the spirits of those who had been shepherded from this life with help from the two monks could be felt in Ms. Numeroff’s home during the service, one ghostly presence loomed especially large.

“At 3 a.m., I was awakened by Mimi,” said Mr. Paley Ellison’s father, Richard Ellison, referring to his own mother, who died at age 87 on June 23, 2002, exactly 15 years before the wedding. Mimi’s spirit, he said, was with them all at that moment. “Her death day was the beginning for Koshin and Chodo,” he said. “I feel her warmth and her great joyous smile, so happy for this day.”

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The couple met at Beth Israel Medical Center after Mr. Paley Ellison had moved his grandmother into the hospice unit there, where Mr. Campbell was a volunteer.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

Mr. Paley Ellison, a native of Syracuse living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at the time, had been his grandmother Mimi’s primary caregiver for six years, bringing her to doctor’s appointments, holding her hand on ambulance rides to the hospital, and eventually, in 2002, moving her into the hospice unit at Beth Israel Medical Center, where Mr. Campbell was a volunteer.

For Mr. Paley Ellison, 47, getting to know Mr. Campbell at the hospice center that year led to a till-death-do-us-part love affair. For Mr. Campbell, the love story began six years earlier.

“Twenty-two years ago, we saw each other across the room, and I knew that my whole life had changed,” said Mr. Campbell, a former art director who began practicing Soto Zen Buddhism in 1990. “It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

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The designer Donna Karan was among the guests.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

Mr. Campbell, who turned 64 on the couple’s official wedding day, was then living in Sag Harbor, N.Y. He was in Manhattan for the day and stopped to meditate at a Zen center, the Village Zendo, where Mr. Paley Ellison, a Buddhist since college, was also meditating.

Neither man forgot the other, though they didn’t see each other again until they met at the same Zen center in 2002. Mr. Campbell suggested that Mr. Paley Ellison bring Mimi to Beth Israel’s hospice. He also asked Mr. Paley Ellison to join him for coffee. They ended up on a bench at Father Demo Square in the West Village.

“He seduced me with his big smile and his shiny eyes,” Mr. Campbell said. But after some getting-to-know-you banter, it became clear to both that the connection ran deeper. Mr. Paley Ellison asked Mr. Campbell the most recent book he had read, for example, and out came the answer “Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey,” by David Schneider. Mr. Campbell had just read the same book, about a man’s journey from drug addiction to creating the first Zen hospice house.

“Can you imagine meeting someone for the first time and being excited by talk about death and dying?” said Mr. Campbell, a bearded, magnetic and lighthearted person with a slight British accent. He grew up in Birmingham, England, then traveled the world, eventually settling in New York in the mid-1980s for work.

“One of the things we talked about on that bench is how important it is to take care of people in your life and in your community,” said Mr. Paley Ellison. Both had recently ended relationships with other people and were contentedly single, preparing to ordain as Soto Zen Buddhist monks. Mr. Paley Ellison was ordained in 2002, Mr. Campbell in 2005.

“I had decided, no more dates,” Mr. Paley Ellison said. “I was waiting to meet someone who understands me.” Mr. Campbell, of course, was just that person. But he was slightly eager.

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Death is what brought the newlyweds together, and talk of it at their wedding was as free flowing as talk about love being patient and kind is at more typical ceremonies.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

“It took weeks and months for me to convince Koshin that we should take this thing seriously,” Mr. Campbell said. “I was like, ‘Come on, come on.’ Then, maybe three months in, I said it.”

“It” being “Let’s get married.” They had only just started dating.

“We were at a street fair on the Upper West Side, walking along Amsterdam Avenue,” Mr. Campbell said. “I stopped in a store and bought two silver bands, and then I came out and said to Koshin: ‘I have a question for you. Will you marry me?’” Mr. Paley Ellison cried happy tears.

Gay marriage wasn’t legal at the time. But Mr. Paley Ellison, despite his initial cautiousness, was already thinking long term, too.

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“Twenty-two years ago, we saw each other across the room, and I knew that my whole life had changed,” Mr. Campbell said.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

“It sounds sappy, but we knew from that first date we were destined to be together,” Mr. Paley Ellison said. A month after the street fair, he rented a U-Haul truck and moved from Brooklyn into Mr. Campbell’s Upper West Side apartment, where the couple still lives.

Mimi gave her blessings before she died a few months later. “I had a little time with her at the bedside,” Mr. Campbell said. “She said: ‘Make me a promise. You have to take care of my baby.’ I said, ‘Of course.’”

She also planted a seed that would become the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care when she told Mr. Paley Ellison that he and Mr. Campbell should start a nonprofit, where they could teach others how to care for people the way they had cared for her.

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“It sounds sappy,” Mr. Paley Ellison said, “but we knew from that first date we were destined to be together.”

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

“That’s the amazing thing, that she gave us the idea,” Mr. Paley Ellison said.

It took some years, and a party, to set it all in motion.

On March 3, 2007, Mr. Paley Ellison and Mr. Campbell were unofficially wed at a Zen commitment ceremony in Manhattan. Instead of accepting wedding gifts, they asked for donations to create the center. It began operating a few months later and has since graduated more than 400 students, who have gone on to care for more than 90,000 people at their bedsides, in homes and at hospices.

“They’re two funny monks who changed the world by helping people who are dying,” said Alex Von Bidder, a longtime friend of the couple’s and a guest at their legal wedding. “Their first child was the contemplative care center.”

The wedding of Koshin Paley Ellison and Chodo Campbell on June 23, 2017. Video by Sandi DuBowski

The official marriage, like the unofficial one, was Mr. Campbell’s idea. He reproposed in 2016. “I thought, for our 10-year anniversary, what could be more fun and more radical than to get legally married,” he said.

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The couple’s first dance, after the celebration moved to the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which they both founded.

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Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

Two film crews showed up for the wedding. One was working on a documentary about the officiant, the conservative rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, a friend of the grooms’. A film crew working on a documentary about the rabbi accounted for half the video cameras in Ms. Numeroff’s gallery.

Another film crew belonged to a team led by Dan Harris, an anchor on ABC’s “Nightline.” Mr. Harris is making a film about his own training at the New York Zen Contemplative Care Center and his work with Mr. Paley Ellison and Mr. Campbell.

Rabbi Lau-Lavie broke with the Rabbinical Assembly when he agreed to marry a Jew (Mr. Paley Ellison) and a non-Jew (Mr. Campbell). He said that he thought carefully before agreeing to marry the men, who wore robes and skullcaps, stood under a huppah and performed the ceremonial breaking of glass once they were legally married. Ultimately, it was Mr. Campbell’s commitment to embracing Judaism after marriage that won over the rabbi.

The designer Donna Karan, who got to know the couple through her work as the founder of Urban Zen Integrative Therapy, was among the guests. So was Shelley Rubin, a founder of the Rubin Museum of Art. “I’ve said to friends, ‘When I’m dying, will you call them first?’” Ms. Rubin said. “I’m willing to bet that more than half the people in this room have said the same thing.”

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A Buddhist Leader on China’s Spiritual Needs

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Does the mainland leadership support your work?

I support the leadership. They care for us as well. It is mutual. We Buddhists uphold whomever is in charge. Buddhists don’t get involved in politics. But we respect the leadership, ethics and rule of law.

After the Cultural Revolution, Buddhism in China was severely damaged. The new generation of Buddhists lacks talent, education and role models. I encourage fellow Buddhists to strive for kindness.

Are you satisfied with Fo Guang Shan’s development in the mainland?

The mainland is gradually making progress. There are some restrictions on religion. But I have also felt their kindness. They help us to restore temples in the mainland.

When I give speeches in the mainland, I don’t feel any restrictions. There are always thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people listening to me speak. They never stop them. I also have many undertakings, and they never say no to me. The People’s Publishing House even publishes my books. I think they know that I acknowledge Chinese culture, especially Buddhism in Chinese culture.

Chinese believe in karma, which contributes to stabilizing society, rebuilding moral ethics and building people’s confidence. We are here to strengthen it to inspire our compatriots.

What do lay Buddhists in the mainland need the most?

Lay Buddhists most need Buddhist doctrine and a relieved mind. Society is rife with superstition and cults. Fewer people believe in real Buddhism. Real Buddhism is about mercy, wisdom and dissolving confrontation.

Is Taiwan part of China?

President Xi said Taiwan and the mainland belong to the same family. I think the entire human race should love, respect and tolerate each other. The government here gives us land without asking for money. They send people to water the plants for us. I hope the government can treat people fairly like this.

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Is a Buddhist Group Changing China? Or Is China Changing It?

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Fo Guang Shan is perhaps the most successful of these groups. Since coming to China more than a decade ago, it has set up cultural centers and libraries in major Chinese cities and printed and distributed millions of volumes of its books through state-controlled publishers. While the government has tightened controls on most other foreign religious organizations, Fo Guang Shan has flourished, spreading a powerful message that individual acts of charity can reshape China.

It has done so, however, by making compromises. The Chinese government is wary of spiritual activity it does not control — the Falun Gong an example — and prohibits mixing religion and politics. That has led Fo Guang Shan to play down its message of social change and even its religious content, focusing instead on promoting knowledge of traditional culture and values.

The approach has won it high-level support; President Xi Jinping is one of its backers. But its relationship with the party raises a key question: Can it still change China?

Avoiding Politics

Fo Guang Shan is led by one of modern China’s most famous religious figures, the Venerable Master Hsing Yun. I met him late last year at the temple in Yixing, in a bright room filled with his calligraphy and photos of senior Chinese leaders who have received him in Beijing. He wore tannish golden robes, and his shaved head was set off by thick eyebrows and sharp, impish lips.

At age 89, he is nearly blind, and a nun often had to repeat my questions so he could hear them. But his mind was quick, and he nimbly parried questions that the Chinese authorities might consider objectionable. When I asked him what he hoped to accomplish by spreading Buddhism — proselytizing is illegal in China — his eyebrows arched in mock amusement.

“I don’t want to promote Buddhism!” he said. “I only promote Chinese culture to cleanse humanity.”

As for the Communist Party, he was unequivocal: “We Buddhists uphold whoever is in charge. Buddhists don’t get involved in politics.”

That has not been true for most of Master Hsing Yun’s life. Born outside the eastern city of Yangzhou in 1927, he was 10 when he joined a monastery that he and his mother passed by while searching for his father, who disappeared during the Japanese invasion of China.

There, he was influenced by the ideas of Humanistic Buddhism, a movement that aimed to save China through spiritual renewal. It argued that religion should be focused on this world, instead of the afterworld. It also encouraged clergy to take up the concerns of the living, and urged adherents to help change society through fairness and compassion.

After fleeing the Communist Revolution, Master Hsing Yun took that message to Taiwan and founded Fo Guang Shan in the southern port of Kaohsiung in 1967. He sought to make Buddhism more accessible to ordinary people by updating its fusty image and embracing mass-market tactics. In sports stadiums, he held lectures that owed more to Billy Graham than the sound of one hand clapping. He built a theme park with multimedia shows and slot machines that displayed dioramas of Buddhist saints.

The approach had a profound impact in Taiwan, which then resembled mainland China today: an industrializing society that worried it had cast off traditional values in its rush to modernize. Fo Guang Shan became part of a popular embrace of religious life. Many scholars say it also helped lay the foundation for the self-governing island’s evolution into a vibrant democracy by fostering a political culture committed to equality, civility and social progress.

Fo Guang Shan expanded rapidly, spending more than $1 billion on universities, community colleges, kindergartens, a publishing arm, a daily newspaper and a television station. It now counts more than 1,000 monks and nuns, and more than one million followers in 50 countries, including the United States.

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The Zen of Dying

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Credit
Preston Gannaway for The New York Times

Anthony Valentine, 72, is a hospice nurse at the nonprofit Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco.

Q. What is the difference between traditional hospice and Zen hospice?

A. The difference is the level and quality of attention the Zen hospice approach can give. At the Zen Hospice Project, our whole idea is to help dying people live fully right up to the end. Drawing on the principles of Zen Buddhism, we bring a strong sense of simply being 100 percent present, with, and for, them. As well, we focus on offering a healthy dose of compassion and a lot of personal touch.

Do staff members have to have a meditation practice or background?

No, one doesn’t have to be a practitioner of any Eastern philosophy to work or volunteer here. Nor, for that matter, do residents or their families.

What was your work experience leading into your current job?

My first career was as a flight attendant for 10 years. Based out of Japan, I worked routes from the Far East to Europe. Then, when I moved to San Francisco in 1980, I received a nursing license and practiced as a nurse for 34 years, after which I retired.

Then you rejoined the work force? Why?

I felt something missing. I’m a very giving person and found I wanted to make that a priority in my life. One day, I visited a friend who works at the Zen Hospice Project, and as soon as I came to the front door — it’s in a big Victorian house in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco — something spoke to me, like I belonged here. I decided that day to dedicate my life to providing comfort, care and compassion to residents and families transitioning to their next stage.

Had you worked in any hospice situation before?

No, but I was there with my mother, my sister-in-law and my closest friend as they died in hospice care. My work now is in essence my living memorial to them.

What are the best and worst parts of sitting with someone who’s dying?

Getting to witness the last phase of someone’s life cycle is a sacred time, really a gift. Ironically, it has put me more in touch with life; it reminds me to live this life fully. It’s heart-opening and heartbreaking at the same moment. Either way I’m not afraid of the process, for them or for myself. The hard part is letting go, even after a short time, of people you get to know.

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50 Years of Marriage and Mindfulness With Nena and Robert Thurman

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Nena von Schlebrugge’s quest for larger truths began when she was a schoolgirl of 14 in Stockholm. “No one there was even asking the right questions,” she said. Scouted by Norman Parkinson, the British fashion photographer, and then recruited by Eileen Ford, a founder of Ford Models, Ms. von Schlebrugge became a successful, if ambivalent, model, arriving in New York City after a rough passage on the Queen Mary. (Photos of her at the time show just how much the actress Uma Thurman resembles her mother.)

Unimpressed with uptown mores, she found a salubrious crowd in Greenwich Village, which included the poets Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. One night, she, Mr. Corso and others rented a car and drove up to Cambridge, Mass., where a Harvard professor named Timothy Leary was testing the effects of small doses of mescaline. She remembered Dr. Leary, 20 years her senior, as being boring and overweight. Yet a few years later, she married him.

“I must have been hallucinating,” she said, “but it turns out I had a father complex, which I got completely cured of.”

She and Dr. Thurman met in the kitchen at Millbrook, the New York estate given to Dr. Leary, Richard Alpert and their followers by scions of the Mellon family. She was there to persuade Dr. Leary to sign their divorce papers. Dr. Thurman was there to persuade Dr. Leary to stop taking so many drugs — though he too had indulged in a bit of hallucination. Dr. Thurman was not looking his best: He had thrown kerosene on a brush fire and his face was covered in soot. He had given up being a monk, and the hair on his shaved head had just begun to grow in.

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“Deity-tchotchkes,” as Dr. Thurman calls them, on display in a room that houses the Thurmans’ yoga studio.

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Andrew White for The New York Times

Yet Dr. Thurman “had all kinds of answers and interesting questions and new ideas,” Ms. Thurman said, and learning about Buddhism felt like “déjà vu.” “Life is full of serendipitous happenings. It’s like a skateboard is hovering just outside your door. You can close the door, or you can jump on and take the ride.”

Money was tight for the ex-monk and the ex-model. Dr. Thurman spent some weeks trying to be a waiter, but his bad eye led to serving calamities, like the time he tipped a salad into a woman’s handbag (though she was drinking heavily and didn’t notice, he said). At the urging of his family, Dr. Thurman returned to Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. in Buddhology.

“‘In the ’60s, you guys thought you knew everything,” the admissions director said to him. “You wrote, ‘infinite leave of absence,’ and now you’re back.’”

“How do you know it wasn’t infinite?” Dr. Thurman replied.

Ms. Thurman had a small inheritance, and the couple bought nine acres on a hill here in Woodstock for $7,000, cleared the land and put up a few tents and a tepee. When the VW Microbus in which they had traveled through India died, it became a planter. Then Dr. Thurman had a commission to translate a Tibetan sutra. He saved $3,000 to build a house, Ms. Thurman said, “which was enough to either hire people and dig a cellar, or buy lumber — we decided to buy the lumber.”

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Dr. Thurman’s most recent book, a biography of the Dalai Lama in graphic-novel form.

They began with a post-and-beam cabin, sketched out by Dr. Thurman and added to in fits and starts by his children, other family members and graduate students pressed into service over the years. Visiting lamas urged them on. “A triumph of American do-how over know-how,” Ganden Thurman, now the executive director of Tibet House, likes to say. “My father is maybe not a master carpenter. His tendency is to solve problems with a liberal application of force.”

“Why do it right when you can do it yourself?” he likes to tease his father.

Robert Thurman will reply: “Why do it yourself when you can pay someone else to screw it up for you?”

They named the place Punya House — “punya” means “merit” in Sanskrit — though Ms. Thurman’s brother, recruited on weekends to work, called the cellar he was digging the Gulag. Taya Thurman, Dr. Thurman’s eldest daughter, said, “You can see that my dad’s house was drawn and made by hand, which is a beautiful feeling.”

Inspired by Buckminster Fuller, a hero of Dr. Thurman’s, he topped the cabin with a geodesic dome built from shingles and plexiglass. (You can see this iteration of the place in “Woodstock Handmade Houses,” the indie classic from 1974.) But it leaked badly. And the couple needed more rooms for their four children, Ganden, Dechen, Uma and Mipam. So Dr. Thurman took it down and built a second floor.

By then, he was a professor at Amherst College, where the Buddhist family found themselves outliers among his conservative colleagues, whose hobbies ran to hunting, golf and baseball. One professor, an avid hunter, ended up teaching a course with Dr. Thurman on the karma of killing animals. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said in a toast years later. “Now every fall when I go hunting, I keep missing!’”

The Thurman children drank goat milk from a nearby farm and dealt with being different in other ways.

“When Uma was 6 or 7, she told me that a classmate had said she would go to hell because she didn’t believe in Jesus Christ,” Dr. Thurman said. “I thought a bit and then told her, ‘Just say we’re from New York, and Jesus isn’t worried about us.’ For some reason, that seemed to do the trick.”

When the children were teenagers, Ms. Thurman said, they tried on Western names. “I was at a dance rehearsal for Uma, and the teacher said, ‘Oh, here comes your Diana!’”

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Andrew White for The New York Times

Theirs was a lively, and somewhat Darwinian, dinner table, filled with graduate students, Tibetan refugees and a rotating cast of monks and lamas. “One night my brother Dechen kept asking my father to please, please pass the salt,” Ganden said. “My father was debating heatedly, talking shop, and finally the telephone rang. It was Dechen phoning my father to ask him to please, please pass the salt.”

Clodagh, the Irish designer who collaborated with Nena Thurman on Menla, the Tibet House outpost and retreat space in Phoenicia, N.Y., said Thurman events were “always very Irish, with everyone laughing and telling stories. They understand the elements and they understand the senses.” Her husband describes the couple as “Enlightenment Within Reach.’”

Downstairs at the Thurmans’ house, a rope swing was looped over a beam; a climbing plant seemed to be growing up the wood stove, and deity-tchochtkes, as Mr. Thurman called the house army of Buddhas and other Indo-Tibetan figurines, were marshaled along most of the horizontal surfaces.

On the second floor, beams were painted with lotus flowers and other so-called lucky signs. In an anteroom, there is a wall of 500 or 600 Tibetan sutras, each wrapped in a bright orange cloth, that Dr. Thurman has promised the Dalai Lama he will translate. Finally, up another twisting staircase, a 16-sided bedroom is overseen by a fearsome, gilded figure with 16 feet. “I call it the terminator exterminator,” he said, “because it’s a fierce symbol of overcoming death.”

He explained how the theory of relativity is expressed in the 16 emptinesses that are the core of Buddhist teachings. “The relative universe means there is no absolute container,” he said. “And so we are empty of any isolated, separated identity, if you follow me. We are a complete nexus of interrelatedness, which means there is nothing to do but improve.”

Ms. Thurman, meanwhile, had some tips for successful marriage. “If you share a spiritual outlook,” she said, “it’s an area you can return to when you are having your petty struggles, which are nonsense compared to what you really care about. On a practical note, you have to take turns, so that no one partner becomes dominant in the relationship.”

Ganden Thurman had another theory about his parents, gleaned from reading about some early work at the MIT Media lab having to do with interactivity, and the essential elements of human conversation..

“Turns out it’s a high degree of mutual interruptibility,” he said. “You had to have a high tolerance for that in my family. There were always a lot of ideas — and grudges, too — pouring forth. Being somewhat social oddballs who were often left to our own devices, we became, as people who are marooned together often do, a little funky.”

Correction: May 28, 2017

An article last Sunday about the prominent Buddhists Nena and Robert Thurman referred incorrectly to Mr. Thurman’s vision. He lost sight in his left eye, not his right.

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Ultranationalist Monks in Myanmar, Facing Crackdown, Say They’re Unrepentant

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Sectarian tension is a fact of life in parts of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country dotted with monasteries and gilded pagodas. But interfaith conflict has escalated sharply since 2012, when communal violence in the far-western state of Rakhine left dozens dead and displaced more than 100,000 members of the Muslim minority group Rohingya from their homes.

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The nationalist monk Ashin Wirathu, center, in 2013. Under his leadership, Ma Ba Tha has been accused of promoting violence against Muslims.

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Adam Dean for The New York Times

Other sectarian clashes were later reported in the country’s heartland, and Buddhist mobs killed more than 200 Muslims. Ma Ba Tha has long denied promoting violence, but critics say that its statements — which often go viral on social media — have clearly fueled it.

“You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ma Ba Tha’s best-known ultranationalist monk, Ashin Wirathu, said in a 2013 sermon, referring to Muslims.

Analysts say the Buddhist authority’s directive, and Ma Ba Tha’s headstrong reply, illustrate a central challenge facing the governing National League for Democracy, the political party led by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The government’s crackdown on Ma Ba Tha, they say, could ease pressure on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from rights advocates overseas who have criticized her inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to curb state-sanctioned violence against Rohingya who live in western Myanmar.

However, the analysts said, it could also drive Ma Ba Tha’s supporters toward political parties that increasingly embrace hard-line Buddhist rhetoric, including one party that is linked to the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades until 2011.

The National League for Democracy “continues to ignore this movement in general at its peril,” Matthew J. Walton, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford who studies religion and politics in Myanmar, said of Ma Ba Tha.

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Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city. Sectarian tension is a fact of life in Myanmar, a majority-Buddhist country, but interfaith conflict has escalated sharply since 2012.

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Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Popular support for Ma Ba Tha did not hurt Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in Myanmar’s 2015 general election, the first since the end of military rule, because many people voted for broad change instead of specific policies, Mr. Walton said. But because that could change by the next general election in 2020, he added, the National League for Democracy must ask monks who support it to “articulate an alternative discourse of protecting and promoting the Buddhist religion that doesn’t require expelling Muslims.”

The state-run Buddhist authority’s directive on Tuesday came two weeks after a raid on a Muslim neighborhood in Yangon by Buddhist vigilantes who were searching for Rohingya they believed were hiding there illegally. There is a widespread view in Myanmar that Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, regardless of whether their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

The raid led to street clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, a rarity in Yangon, and left at least one person injured. A Buddhist nationalist group, the Patriotic Monks Union, later claimed responsibility for the raid, and several people were charged with incitement to commit violence.

Sectarian tensions have been especially high in Myanmar since the fall, when Rohingya militants killed nine police officers at a border post in Rakhine, inciting a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that sent tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh. In March, widespread reports of state-sanctioned rape and killing in Rakhine led the United Nations to call for a fact-finding mission to investigate accusations of rights violations by Myanmar’s Army and security forces.

In another potential blow to religious harmony, U Ko Ni, a Muslim lawyer and a top adviser to the National League for Democracy, was shot and killed outside Yangon’s international airport in January, in what appeared to be a political assassination. Mr. Ko Ni had been working on a plan to replace Myanmar’s military-drafted Constitution with one that would strip the military of its political powers.

Tuesday’s order by the state-controlled Buddhist committee is the latest in a series of moves by the country’s religious authorities to push back against Ma Ba Tha’s influence. Last summer, for example, a top Yangon official said that the group was “not necessary” for the country, and the committee rebuked an assertion by Ashin Wirathu, the nationalist monk, that Ma Ba Tha was operating under the committee’s authority. And in March, the committee barred him from preaching for a year.

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Police officers guarding an Islamic religious school on the outskirts of Yangon last month after protests by Ma Ba Tha supporters.

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Ye Aung Thu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U Khin Maung Lwin, a taxi driver in Yangon, said he welcomed the Buddhist authority’s moves to clamp down on Ma Ba Tha’s activities. “We don’t need Ma Ba Tha” because Myanmar already has an official Buddhist clergy, he said. “It will only create divisions among monks.”

Ma Ba Tha was formed in 2013 and gained prominence by promoting a package of so-called race and religion laws that were passed by a military-backed government just before the 2015 election. The laws cover topics like monogamy and interfaith marriage and are widely seen by scholars and human rights groups as discriminatory toward Muslims.

After the Buddhist authority’s directive this week, Ma Ba Tha canceled an event that it had planned for this weekend in Yangon to celebrate its fourth anniversary, according to reports in the local news media. But the group’s leaders have asked their supporters to gather in Yangon anyway for a briefing about the group’s next steps.

Few expect Ma Ba Tha to go quietly. Mr. Walton said that the group had recently created a spinoff, called Dhamma Wunthanu Rakita, “to do the things that monks can’t do, like bring defamation lawsuits.” He predicted that the group would essentially rebrand itself.

“This isn’t going to spell the end for extremist monks affiliated with Ma Ba Tha,” said Matthew Smith, the chief executive of Fortify Rights, an advocacy group based in Thailand that has urged Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to curb state-sanctioned violence against the Rohingya. “They’re still mobilizing, they still have a sizable following, and they’re still attempting to influence the minds of young people.”

But even though the National League for Democracy’s patience for hard-line Buddhist groups has “clearly worn thin,” the party remains unwilling to challenge the race and religion laws and other policies that institutionalize discrimination, said Gerard McCarthy, the associate director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University.

“Anti-Muslim sentiment is ubiquitous in Myanmar and has not been challenged by the N.L.D. in any substantive or legislative sense so far,” he said.

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Dalai Lama’s Journey Provokes China, and Hints at His Heir

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At stake on this journey, scholars said, is the monumental question of who will emerge as the Dalai Lama’s successor — and whether that successor, typically a baby identified as the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, will live inside or outside China’s zone of influence.

By visiting Tawang, a Tibetan Buddhist stronghold that was the birthplace of a previous Dalai Lama, he is expertly needling Beijing, which maintains that this area should be part of China. He is also consolidating his sect’s deep roots among the population, potentially laying the groundwork for a reincarnation there.

“He is a wise Lama, and he is thinking far ahead, as he always has,” said Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “He is not given to sentimental reasoning. There is nothing about his trip to Arunachal Pradesh that is sentimental in its nature.”

Tawang is home to the Monpa people, who practice Tibetan Buddhism and once paid tribute to rulers in Lhasa, 316 miles to the north. Though the town’s population is about 11,000, officials said they were expecting as many as 60,000 to gather for the Dalai Lama’s appearances at Tawang’s monastery this weekend.

“We have been preparing for the last two months,” said Lobsang Khum, secretary of the monastery. “Everybody wants to see him, get his blessings, touch his feet. For us, the Dalai Lama is more important than our lives.”

The most treasured lore among the Monpa surrounds Tsangyang Gyatso, who in 1682 became the sixth Dalai Lama. People here make pilgrimages to his childhood home, where a stone is displayed with a faint footprint said to be his, and speak longingly of the possibility that it could happen again.

“That is the dream of many people here, that the next Dalai Lama should be born in Tawang,” said Sang Phuntsok, Tawang’s deputy commissioner. Tsering Tashi, a local legislator, said that, as a layman, he had no business commenting, but in the end he could not restrain himself. “I wish that the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama happens in Tawang,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

The Dalai Lama has been enigmatic about how his successor will be chosen.

In the past, monks have turned to visions and oracles to lead them to a child conceived just as the previous Dalai Lama died. Having identified a child, they administer tests seeking to confirm that he is the reincarnated lama, such as asking him to pick out objects belonging to his predecessor.

But that method would leave Tibetan Buddhism without a leader for at least a year, allowing China to identify and promote its own candidate. The Dalai Lama has hinted that he may instead opt for a nontraditional selection process, selecting a child or an adult to succeed him while he is still alive.

Aging Tibetan Buddhist lamas have, in some cases, visited places where they would later be reincarnated as babies, and the Dalai Lama’s visits to Tawang and Mongolia seemed to fall into that pattern, said Robert J. Barnett, a historian of modern Tibet at Columbia University.

“This is a way of getting under the skin of the Chinese, of probing them, and reminding them that they have no control over where the next reincarnation occurs,” he said.

As the Dalai Lama’s arrival in Tawang grew closer this week, Chinese statements grew increasingly bellicose, a tactic that has succeeded in pressuring officials of many countries to snub the Tibetan leader.

On Wednesday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said India had “obstinately arranged” the Dalai Lama’s visit, causing “serious damage” to bilateral ties. On Thursday, The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, suggested that China could retaliate by supporting the anti-Indian militancy in Kashmir.

“Can India afford the consequence?” it asked sarcastically. “With a G.D.P. several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”

Though India is typically wary of provoking China, several officials have been unusually pugnacious in their responses. Pema Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, took the unusual step this week of stating that an independent Tibet, not China, is India’s true northern neighbor.

“Let me get this straight,” Mr. Khandu told journalists. “China has no business telling us what to do and what not to do because it is not our next-door neighbor.”

The Dalai Lama, for his part, has been characteristically jovial to the crowd of journalists trailing after him, expounding cheerily on subjects from quantum physics to global warming. He hardly needs to do more, Mr. Barnett said.

“He doesn’t have to do anything except exist and be his usual beaming self to embarrass the Chinese,” he said. “He will be right on the border, he will be a complete free person, he will be only meters away from Chinese territory, but they cannot do anything about it.”

The Dalai Lama also revisited his escape from Tibet in 1959, when he fled a Chinese military crackdown in Lhasa. Disguised, and with a small group of aides, he crossed the mountain passes to safety in Tawang.

He was reunited this week with Naren Chandra Das, 76, an Indian soldier who escorted him on the last three days. The two embraced before the cameras: the former soldier painfully thin, his eyes clouded by cataracts; the monk apple-cheeked and jovial.

“I became old, but he stays the same,” Mr. Das said. “He is a big man, the king of Tibet.”

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Joanne Kyger, Beat Generation Poet, Dies at 82

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In her “Night Palace,” from 2003, she wrote:

“The best thing about the past
is that it’s over”
When you die.
you wake up
from a dream
that’s your life.
Then you grow up
and get to be post -human
in a past that keeps happening
ahead of you

Brenda Knight wrote in “Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution” (1996) that Ms. Kyger’s poetry “is exemplary of Buddhist consciousness in Beat writing, of a sensibility for which wisdom is the greatest beauty.”

Ms. Kyger’s poetry appeared in about 30 collections, drawing a devoted, though relatively small, following.

“She has been a secret to the larger, more dominant official verse culture worlds,” Ms. Waldman wrote in an email, “but already has a palpable underground reputation, and I am confident it will grow.”

She added: “She lived within the most interesting alternative communities of our time. She was Buddhist; she was an environmentalist. She lived her ethos daily, modestly, below the radar, and with great attention to the natural world and the magic of the cosmos.”

Joanne Elizabeth Kyger was born on Nov. 19, 1934, in Vallejo, Calif., to Jacob Kyger, a Navy captain, and the former Anne Katharine Lamont, who worked for the city of Santa Barbara’s coroner and police and fire departments.

When she was an infant, her family moved to China after her father was posted there for a time, but she was largely raised in Long Beach, Calif.

Her first published poem appeared in her elementary school literary magazine when she was 5. She shared the title of features editor of her high school newspaper with Leland Hickman, who later became a poet and publisher of Temblor magazine. After graduating she enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara, but left a few credits short of getting a degree in philosophy and literature.

By then she had been drawn to Zen Buddhism.

“My own interest in Zen came about because I had been studying Wittgenstein and Heidegger in Santa Barbara,” Ms. Kyger told an interviewer. “Their philosophy just comes to an end saying you just have to practice the study of nothing.”

Ms. Kyger moved to San Francisco in 1957 and soon became a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese-born monk who helped popularized Zen Buddhism in the United States. She entered a world of consciousness-raising hallucinogenic drugs, meditation and Eastern religion communal living.

Ms. Kyger had earlier marriages to Jack Boyce, a painter, and, in 1960, to the poet Gary Snyder. They lived in Japan for four years and were divorced in 1965, after she had tired of playing wife and hostess to other Beat guests, Ms. Knight wrote.

Ms. Kyger and Mr. Guravich, an artist, poet and her closest survivor, had lived together since 1978 and were married in 2013.

While teaching occasionally at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado, Ms. Kyger became associated with the West Coast School of writers that also included Richard Brautigan, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Philip Whalen.

She published “The Tapestry and the Web,” the first of her collections of poetry and prose, when she returned from Japan.

In that book she re-imagines Penelope’s story in “The Odyssey,” casting doubt on the received image of her as the long-suffering wife who fends off male suitors while waiting patiently for Odysseus to return from his adventures. Kyger paints her as in control of her life and even suggests that she had been unfaithful to her husband.

I choose to think of her waiting for him concocting his adventures bringing the misfortunes to him— she must have had her hands full

In a critical essay, Matilde Martín González wrote, “Kyger’s practice consists of re-imagining a more fruitful account of the story for framing her own life and career in the early 1960s as a woman involved in all-male poetic circles, no matter how benevolent to her.”

Ms. Kyger’s last collection, “There You Are: Interviews, Journals, and Ephemera,” is to be published in September.

Her travels in Japan and India provided grist for her witty and well-received nonfiction work “Strange Big Moon: Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964” (1981). In one passage, she recalled meeting the 27-year-old Dalai Lama, “lounged on a velvet couch like a gawky adolescent in red robes.”

“And then Allen Ginsberg says to him how many hours do you meditate a day,” Ms. Kyger wrote, “and he says me? Why I never meditate, I don’t have to.”

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Printing the Ancient Way Keeps Buddhist Texts Alive in Tibet

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Chanting emanated from loudspeakers. In hills to the east of the monastery stood clusters of red three-story wooden homes, a traditional design around religious centers in Kham.

Even if the scene around the monastery evoked ancient customs, the town did not. Modern five-story buildings lined the valley walls along the river. Yellow construction cranes loomed above the skyline, a sight typical of cities big and small across China. At night, neon signs glowed.

Katia Buffetrille, a scholar of Tibet at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, said the sprawl of the town had surprised her when she visited last year. She had last come here three decades earlier.

The monastery was in bad shape in 1985, she said. But the printing press was functioning back then, years after the end of the destructive Cultural Revolution.

“The operations of the printing press are today similar to what they were in 1985,” Ms. Buffetrille said. “It’s amazing how many pages they print every day.”

“That can explain the bad quality of the printing sometimes,” she added.

But the traditions endure. On the afternoon I visited, in a monastic building uphill from the printing press, monks held a dharma ceremony, which they do every few weeks. One monk walked around a crowded courtyard sprinkling drops of water on worshipers. Others sat on a dais at the front, reading aloud from scriptures that had been printed by hand next door.

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Crouching Junta, Hidden Abbot

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Members of the royal family appear to have sponsored the sect, and are thought to have helped pay for buildings at its main compound. But the movement is better known for its suspected ties to the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, and to his sister Yingluck, who was ousted by the current junta, in 2014, after she, too, became prime minister.

Phra Dhammachayo was charged with embezzlement in the late 1990s and removed from his position. But he was cleared of the charges and reinstated as abbot after Mr. Thaksin became prime minister. Many Shinawatra supporters, better known as the red shirts, are hardcore loyalists of Phra Dhammachayo.

Much like Mr. Thaksin challenged the political domination of the traditional Thai elites — namely royalists, the military and big business — Dhammakaya’s brash form of Buddhism threatens the belief system of Thai conservatives. Together the Shinawatras and this sect seem to erode traditional forms of authority, and so in the junta’s view, must be quieted.

Photo

Phra Dhammachayo, center, arriving for a ceremony at the Dhammakaya temple in 2015.

Credit
Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Buddhism is one prong of the holy trinity that makes Thai identity, alongside the nation and the monarchy. It is the state religion, and a compulsory subject of study in public schools. The king is considered to be Buddhism’s ultimate patron and the gatekeeper of the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic order.

Tensions between Dhammakaya and the Prayuth government were bound to come to a head after the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October. Bhumibol had ruled for seven decades, partly by forging strong ties with the military and Bangkok-based elites. But in recent years the Shinawatras defied those traditional networks, tacitly challenging the king’s moral authority, by appealing to rural voters with populist projects. The military arguably staged the 2014 coup in the hope of steering the impending royal succession in ways that would safeguard the interests of the establishment. Now it is trying to control the Buddhist establishment as well.

It so happened that as Bhumibol’s health was faltering last year and the question of his succession became a pressing concern, the conservative elites had to worry about another passing of the guard: The Supreme Patriarch, the head of the monks’ order, died in 2013 and had yet to be replaced.

Traditionally, the country’s top religious position goes to the most senior monk designated by the Sangha Supreme Council, the Buddhist order’s governing body. In this instance, the presumptive heir was Somdet Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, better known as Somdet Chuang. But the Prayuth government blocked his nomination by invoking a tax evasion scandal involving vintage cars. More to the point perhaps, Somdet Chuang was a mentor to Phra Dhammachayo and he enjoys massive support among Thaksin supporters.

In January, the government amended the Sangha succession law to give the king sole power to appoint the Supreme Patriarch. In February, Maha Vajiralongkorn, the new king, chose Somdet Phra Maha Muniwong, the abbot of a competing sect, circumventing the Sangha Council.

Then on March 5, the government issued a royal command, signed by the king, stripping Phra Dhammachayo of his religious titles.

Are the new king and the military working in tandem? Who knows. Almost three years after the coup, Thai politics remains precarious and very opaque. Vajiralongkorn has asked for revisions to a junta-drafted constitution that was approved by referendum last year; a form of horse-trading may be underway. The controversial constitution has yet to come into force, and pending that, the date of the next election, already many times delayed, remains uncertain.

One major question is how long the Thai people will stand for this, especially if the Prayuth government starts cracking down on religious leaders. At the height of the recent siege at the Dhammakaya complex, several thousand monks and supporters stayed in the compound to protest the raid. The standoff was the most high-profile mass demonstration against the junta since the 2014 coup.

The generals’ tough stance hardly is surprising given their insistence on quashing critics in the past. But their failure to eradicate Mr. Thaksin’s influence has probably made him stronger, and if their attack on Dhammakaya, and meddling in religious affairs, was an attempt to tighten their grip on power, they may well come out the weaker for it.

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