Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Talking Back to China

Starting with an off-topic comment: I made a solemn vow that I would make one post per day for the month of March, but I missed yesterday for various trivial reasons, so today I must post two articles. So this is the second one, altho now it's on the top of the page and looks like the first one...

Yesterday, of course, was the 50th anniversary of China's final conquest of Tibet. (Yes, I know, it's a rather inflammatory way of putting it, but I'm tired and can't be bothered to be diplomatic.) By "final" I mean the moment when China took over the land completely, with no pretense of granting autonomy or independence or human, social and religious rights. The real "final" conquest is still progressing, and the path that China intends to follow with respect to Tibet seems quite clear, to me at least.

In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times expressed the view (which I have heard and read elsewhere as well) that China is squandering its best opportunity to reach a reasonable agreement with Tibet and Tibetans by attacking His Holiness the Dalai Lama with intemperate and actually quite violent rhetoric. They say the Chinese government would like to see some stability in Tibet and passing up this opportunity will actually guarantee instability.

The Dalai Lama strongly castigated the Chinese government yesterday in his speech about the plight of Tibet today and the remembrance of the uprising 50 years ago. He accused the Chinese of creating a "hell on earth" for the Tibetans. There may be some good reasons why he decided to use such strong language, not the least of which is the growing restiveness of the Tibetan community. Fifty years is a long time to preach "autonomy" and forebearance in the face of naked repression.

But in spite of that, the Dalai Lama has not changed his basic approach. He is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He's not likely to do an about-face.

However, the Chinese are materialists. They are not concerning themselves with the religious fervor and strong devotion of Tibetans for His Holiness. They're looking at the facts of the world as they present themselves, and as they can be manipulated.

The Dalai Lama represents the continuity of Tibetan autonomy and self-rule. When he dies, the next in line would have been the Panchen Lama. The Chinese kidnapped the boy His Holiness designated as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama more than ten years ago. He has not been seen since. In other words, they have broken the line of succession (never mind elections and Tibetan parliaments or councils in exile or Tibet itself...these have authority, yes, but not exactly the same cachet as the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama...the people look to his Holiness for inspiration and guidance...)

When the Dalai Lama dies, the Tibetans will be truly bereft. If you think there is pressure from the government of China now against the "splittists" of Tibet, wait until His Holiness is gone. Even with a firmly-established reincarnation, there will be a hiatus of at least fifteen years, probably more like twenty. Which is more than enough time for the Chinese to bludgeon the Buddhists of Tibet.

The Chinese know this. It's what they're waiting for. All the more reason why the rest of the world needs to push back and talk back with some courage.

Meanwhile, let's not forget that the Dalai Lama did receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are a couple of quotes gleaned from Beliefnet:
Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom and dignity. It is not enough, as communist systems have assumed, merely to provide people with food, shelter and clothing. Human nature needs to breathe the precious air of liberty.

We should not seek revenge on those who have committed crimes against us, or reply to their crimes with other crimes. We should reflect that by the law of karma, they are in danger of lowly and miserable lives to come, and that our duty to them, as to every being, is to help them to rise towards Nirvana, rather than let them sink to lower levels of rebirth.

The Dalai Lama From "The Pocket Dalai Lama," edited by Mary Craig, 2002. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Boston.

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2 comments:

X said...

Although I am not a Buddhist, I have an interest in Buddhism and the Dalai Lama and Tibet. I, too, noticed the change in tone with respect to the March 10th address. I felt rather relieved by the change in tone, and frightened by it too. It indicated that the talks had not gone well with China, and that frightened and disheartened me. However, I was also relieved that His Holiness was responding in clear and strong terms.

What do you think has happened to the boy, the Panchen Lama? Do you think he is dead, or do you think he has been indoctrinated and will be "pulled out" as a puppet when the Dalai Lama dies?

Larry Keiler said...

From the reading I've done in recent weeks, it looks to me like the "talks" didn't really go at all. Nothing more than a PR tactic by the Chinese.

As for the Panchen Lama, the last thing I heard was that there was a strong suspicion that he is dead.

It will be interesting times. The 17th Karmapa has been tagged as a possible successor to the Dalai Lama. The Karmapa, who is spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school, (a different sect from the Dalai Lama) made his first trip to North America last year. But even this is fraught with difficulties, because the Chinese have interfered here too and appointed their own Karmapa! The Chinese are, of course, also demanding a role in the identification/appointment of the next Dalai Lama, for which there is some historical precedent.

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