Soka Gakkai

Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

 Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

Not to encourage the mistreatment of any animal, but from time to time the phrase, "It's like shooting fish in a barrel" pops up when the GetReligion team discusses (via email) a given story.

The news this week about an apparently very misguided individual vandalizing a statue of the Buddha that was placed in a Los Angeles traffic median is, I believe, very much one of those kinds of stories. Spotting the key journalistic issue here is just like taking aim at the proverbial barrel-dwelling fish.

Some background first, however. There is a little piece of pavement (some call it a traffic "island," others call it a "median") in the Palms neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, not far from where your correspondent spent seven very happy years living in Marina del Rey. (I miss that neighborhood, and the adjacent Venice Beach, greatly.)

The traffic island triangle became a dumping ground for sofas and other debris until -- as both the Los Angeles Times and the local CBS Los Angeles TV affiliate report (video above) -- someone placed a concrete statue of the Buddha there. Take it away, LA Times:

The stone statue, raised on a large planter, prevented people from dumping bulky items at the traffic island. It’s unknown whether that was the intent, but neighbors embraced the Buddha, dropping off roses, daisies and other types of flowers.
“It really rallied the community, and people started taking care of the Buddha,” [Motor Ave. Improvement Association director Lee] Wallach said.

The neighborhood Nirvana didn't last long, however:

All was peaceful in the Los Angeles neighborhood until one evening last month, when a man in a white sedan pulled over, got out and used a sledgehammer to decapitate the statue. Wallach said two people witnessed the incident but were unable to write down a license plate number.
“He was heard yelling about Al Qaeda and Muslim extremism and things of that nature,” he said. “I think this gentleman is a little confused and obviously a little violent. It's important we find him, educate him and help him.”
The crime left residents stunned.

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Buddhists, brownies and being engaged in the nitty gritty of life (and maybe news)

Buddhists, brownies and being engaged in the nitty gritty of life (and maybe news)

In 1997 I went to Yonkers, N.Y., to interview one of the most senior Zen Buddhist teachers in the United States about Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Browne ice cream. Pretty sweet assignment, right? (Is that a collective groan I hear?)

The teacher was Brooklyn-born Bernard Glassman, also known by his Zen name Tetsugen, who  started a community there designed to provide job training, employment, child care, housing, medical care, and other assistance to ex-drug addicts, ex-felons, single parents, the homeless, HIV and AIDS sufferers, and others facing hard times. He named his endeavor Greyston and one of its creations was a bakery that produced brownies for Ben & Jerry's ice cream products.

I was reminded of Greyston and Glassman -- both still going strong, by the way -- by a story that ran recently in The Washington Post about a White House-sponsored conference on Buddhism and public life. It contained the following paragraph:

"The daylong conference represents, some experts say, the start of a civic awakening not only among U.S. Buddhists, but even Buddhists overseas, where spiritual and religious life can sometimes be separated from things like politics and policy. U.S. Buddhists have high rates of political attentiveness and voting, but until recent years haven’t considered or focused specifically on how their Buddhism translates into public action."

Start of a civic awakening?

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