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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

The Zen of Dying

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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.

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

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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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U.N. Human Rights Experts Unite to Condemn China Over Expulsions of Tibetans

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Buddhist monks at Larung Gar last year. A half-dozen United Nations experts have condemned the expulsions of monks and nuns from two Tibetan religious enclaves, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar.

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Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

A half-dozen United Nations experts who investigate human rights abuses have taken the rare step of banding together to condemn China for expulsions of monks and nuns from major religious enclaves in a Tibetan region.

In a sharply worded statement, the experts expressed alarm about “severe restrictions of religious freedom” in the area.

Most of the expulsions mentioned by the experts have taken place at Larung Gar, the world’s largest Buddhist institute and one of the most influential centers of learning in the Tibetan world. Officials have been demolishing some of the homes of the 20,000 monks and nuns living around the institute, in a high valley in Sichuan Province.

The statement also cited accusations of evictions at Yachen Gar, sometimes known as Yarchen Gar, an enclave largely of nuns that is also in Sichuan and has a population of about 10,000.

“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar,” the statement said.

It was signed by six of the United Nations experts, or special rapporteurs, who come from various countries. They each specialize in a single aspect of human rights, including cultural rights, sustainable environment and peaceful assembly. It is unusual for so many of them to collaborate in this manner.

The statement was sent to the Chinese government in November, but was made public only in recent days, before the start of this year’s session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The session began Monday and is scheduled to end on March 24.

The United Nations experts have asked Beijing to address the reports of evictions and demolitions. The release of the statement before the session in Geneva puts more pressure on China to explain the actions taking place at the two Tibetan Buddhist institutions. China says matters related to Tibet are internal affairs, but Chinese officials in Beijing have privately expressed some concern over outside perceptions of the demolitions and evictions at Larung Gar and related Western news coverage.

Over the summer, Chinese officials began deporting monks and nuns living at Larung Gar who were not registered residents of Garze, the prefecture where the institution is. Since then, hundreds of clergy members have been forced out, and workers have demolished small homes clustered along the valley walls. One day last fall, I watched workers tearing and cutting apart wooden homes, sometimes using a chain saw.

Official reports have said the demolition is part of a project to improve safety in the area because people live in such tight quarters there. In 2014, a fire destroyed about 100 homes.

Residents said the government planned to bring the population down to 5,000 from 20,000 by next year. The government evicted many clergy members once before, in 2001, but people returned. The encampment was founded in 1980 near the town of Sertar by Jigme Phuntsok, a charismatic lama, and is now run by two abbots. Those abbots have not protested the demolitions or evictions.

The United Nations experts said in the statement that while they awaited China’s response, they “urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their reoccurrence.”

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South Korea Can Keep Buddhist Statue Stolen From Japan, Court Says

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Sekko Tanaka, a Buddhist monk on the Japanese island of Tsushima, in 2013, holding a photograph of a Buddhist statue that was stolen the year before.

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Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — A court ruled Thursday that a South Korean temple can have a Buddhist statue that was stolen from a Japanese temple in 2012, on the grounds that it had been taken from Korea centuries earlier by Japanese pirates.

Japan called the ruling “regrettable” and urged the statue’s return. The dispute is being closely watched by both governments, whose relations are often roiled by historical disputes.

The 20-inch gilded bronze statue, of a bodhisattva known as Kanzeon in Japan and Gwaneum in South Korea, was taken from a Buddhist temple on Tsushima, a Japanese island halfway between the two countries, by South Koreans who also stole another statue from a Shinto shrine there. The thieves were caught while trying to sell the artifacts in South Korea, and the statue from the Shinto shrine was eventually returned to Japan.

But a South Korean temple, Buseoksa, which says the bodhisattva statue was made there in the 14th century, won a court injunction in 2013 preventing its return until it could be determined whether it had originally been brought to Tsushima legitimately.

The statue shows the bodhisattva, a being on the path to enlightenment, in the lotus position. It has been in the government’s custody since 2013, and on Thursday a district court in Daejeon, a city south of Seoul, ruled that it should be given to Buseoksa. The government, which was the defendant in the civil suit, did not say whether it would appeal.

Upbeat monks at Buseoksa, in the west coast city of Seosan, prepared for the statue’s homecoming. The temple’s chief monk, the Venerable Wonwoo, hailed the ruling as a milestone that should inspire South Koreans to try to bring home what he claimed were 70,000 ancient Korean artifacts that had been looted and brought to Japan. Buddhists and other South Koreans have rallied behind Buseoksa’s campaign.

The Japanese temple, Kannonji, was not a direct party to the lawsuit, but it argued at the trial that the statue had not been removed from Korea illicitly, noting that there had been legitimate trade in goods, including Buddhist statues, between Korea and Tsushima in ancient times. The statue has been designated an important cultural asset in Japan.

After an investigation, South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration said in 2014 that the statue had probably been taken to Japan by plunderers, though it could not reach a definitive conclusion.

Scholars supporting Buseoksa’s cause cited a document found inside the statue’s belly in 1951, which they said showed that the statue was manufactured in Seosan in the 14th century. They said it did not record a transfer of ownership to the Japanese temple, although such a document normally would.

They also presented the court with historical documents showing that parts of Korea’s west coast near Seosan had been visited by pirates from Japan during the 14th century. And they said the statue had burn damage, which they said could be a sign it had been plundered by pirates.

“There is enough reason to think that the statue belongs to Buseoksa,” the presiding judge, Moon Bo-gyeong, ruled Thursday.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the ruling “very regrettable.” He urged South Korea to take “appropriate” action to ensure the statue’s swift return to Japan.

“The Japanese government has appealed to the Korean government through various diplomatic channels to request the return of this statue to Japan as soon as possible,” he said at a news conference.

A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Cho June-hyuck, said the ministry would try to resolve the matter with Japan “based on mutual trust.”

Correction: January 28, 2017

An earlier version of this article, along with the headline and a picture caption, misidentified the subject of the statue. It represents a bodhisattva known as Kanzeon in Japan and Gwaneum in South Korea, not Buddha.

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South Korea Can Keep Buddha Statue Stolen From Japan, Court Says

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Sekko Tanaka, a Buddhist monk on the Japanese island of Tsushima, in 2013, holding a photograph of a Buddha statue that was stolen the year before.

Credit
Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — A court ruled Thursday that a South Korean temple can have a Buddha statue that was stolen from a Japanese temple in 2012, on the grounds that it had been taken from Korea centuries earlier by Japanese pirates.

Japan called the ruling “regrettable” and urged the statue’s return. The dispute is being closely watched by both governments, whose relations are often roiled by historical disputes.

The 20-inch gilded bronze statue was taken from a Buddhist temple on Tsushima, a Japanese island halfway between the two countries, by South Koreans who also stole another statue from a Shinto shrine there. The thieves were caught while trying to sell the artifacts in South Korea, and the statue from the Shinto shrine was eventually returned to Japan.

But a South Korean temple, Buseoksa, which says the Buddha statue was made there in the 14th century, won a court injunction in 2013 preventing its return until it could be determined whether it had originally been brought to Tsushima legitimately.

The statue, of the Buddha in the lotus position, has been in the government’s custody since then, and on Thursday a district court in Daejeon, a city south of Seoul, ruled that it should be given to Buseoksa. The government, which was the defendant in the civil suit, did not say whether it would appeal.

Upbeat monks at Buseoksa, in the west coast city of Seosan, prepared for the statue’s homecoming. The temple’s chief monk, the Venerable Wonwoo, hailed the ruling as a milestone that should inspire South Koreans to try to bring home what he claimed were 70,000 ancient Korean artifacts that had been looted and brought to Japan. Buddhists and other South Koreans have rallied behind Buseoksa’s campaign.

The Japanese temple, Kannonji, was not a direct party to the lawsuit, but it argued at the trial that the statue had not been removed from Korea illicitly, noting that there had been legitimate trade in goods, including Buddha statues, between Korea and Tsushima in ancient times. The statue has been designated an important cultural asset in Japan.

After an investigation, South Korea’s Cultural Heritage Administration said in 2014 that it was “probable” that the statue had been taken to Japan by plunderers, though it could not reach a definitive conclusion.

Scholars supporting Buseoksa’s cause cited a document found inside the statue’s belly in 1951, which they said showed that the statue was manufactured in Seosan in the 14th century. They said it did not record a transfer of ownership to the Japanese temple, although such a document normally would.

They also presented the court with historical documents showing that parts of Korea’s west coast near Seosan had been visited by pirates from Japan during the 14th century. And they said that the statue had burn damage, which they said could be a sign that it had been plundered by pirates.

“There is enough reason to think that the statue belongs to Buseoksa,” the presiding judge, Moon Bo-gyeong, ruled Thursday.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the ruling “very regrettable.” He urged South Korea to take “appropriate” action to ensure the statue’s swift return to Japan.

“The Japanese government has appealed to the Korean government through various diplomatic channels to request the return of this statue to Japan as soon as possible,” he said at a news conference.

A spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Cho June-hyuck, said the ministry would try to resolve the matter with Japan “based on mutual trust.”

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