Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Seekers of tooth

WOULD you ask Ian Paisley to adjudicate on a doctrinal dispute in the Vatican, or Saddam Hussein to resolve conflicting opinions among Talmudic scholars? No? Well, that is how we should view China's pronouncements on the Buddha's third tooth.

Peking, as you might recall, knows better than the Dalai Lama which young boy should be regarded as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Nothing has been seen of the Dalai Lama's choice (or his parents) for some time, while the lad China prefers has taken his place. Now the Chinese insist that a tooth given to Taiwan, which arrived in Taipei amid great ceremony last week, is not authentic.

According to a spokesman for the state-controlled Chinese Buddhist Association, a historical text showed that only two teeth were found after the Buddha's cremation: one now in Peking and the other in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Those teeth had both been proved authentic, but the "so-called third Buddha tooth" had not, he said: "We have no idea where the third Buddha's tooth originates." Buddhist monks in India, who gave the tooth to Taiwan, say it was brought there from a temple in Tibet in 1968, when China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution.

I have no more standing than the Chinese government in this matter, but it does occur to me to wonder why, as apparently happened, Peking wanted the supposedly phony molar brought there rather than to Taiwan.

Burgers of Calais

THE French are a long way behind us - let alone the Americans or Germans - in obesity, but they cannot afford to relax their vigilance, according to a new survey. This says 8.2 per cent of French people are obese and a third are overweight. (But then a third of all US adults are obese.)

What caught my eye, though, was that you are more likely to be corpulent the closer you are to Britain. Just across the Channel in Haute-Normandie and Nord-Pas-de-Calais, 13.3 per cent of the population are fatties, while in Provence and the Alpine regions of France, the proportion is only half that.

Are the burghers of Calais all nipping over here for fish and chips? Or is it that they put mayonnaise on their frites over there? I don't know, I'm afraid.

Prophet and loss

MAYBE the question of the Buddha's dentition should be settled by a US court. As you know, we like to keep you abreast of life in the American judicial system, and this week we are with The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, a breakaway from the Mormons which has a difference of opinion to make the China-Taiwan squabble seem tame.

Three former members are suing the polygamous sect, claiming its charismatic leader took all their money, failed to deliver on a promised face-to-face meeting with Jesus Christ and then excommunicated them.

Jim Harmston, the church's self-proclaimed prophet, took advantage of their "deepest spiritual needs", say the trio. He believes the church will probably countersue, saying: "We're getting tired of this kind of thing, the defamation and libel that goes on."