Every day I get two or three e-mails urging me to do something about the current unrest and repression in Tibet. Perhaps signing some of these petitions is helpful, but perhaps not. Feeling powerless is not a nice feeling for any of us, but sometimes the truth is that there is almost nothing we can do to influence events the other side of the world. Least of all if we are seen to be intervening in a hypocritical way, as part of a Western propaganda offensive. No matter our 'opposition' to the misdeeds of our own governemnts, 'Why don't we take the beam out of 'our' own eye first?', many in Tehran or Moscow or Beijing might be tempted to ask us - for our 'opposition' stance - however important to the construction of our own right-on identities, seems to them barely observable.
The following thoughts are shared at a time when Western Buddhists and other would-be consistent supporters of peace and human rights find ourselves joined by many mainstream Western media in 'championing the cause of the Tibetal people': Hmmm.
These same Western media which haven't reported the 'avoidable death of 1.3 billion people since 1950 on Spaceship Earth with the First World in control of the flight deck' to quote the veteran biologist and public health statistician Dr Gideon Polya of
These same Western media who also downplay the scale of the West-attributable excess avoidable mortality figure in the the Middle East/West Asia wars since 1990, which Dr Polya puts around around 8 million: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/17139/42 . Hmmm.
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These same Western media which have averted their eyes and ours from the ongoing Holocaust of 5-10 million dead in the new scramble for Africa taking place in the Congo: see Keith Harmon Snow's The War that did not make the headlines: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7957 ). Hmmm.
I should add that I write as a Buddhist who believes that we should try to put truth/reality before all comforting myths. Let all ideological camps and political 'sides' wash our own dirty linen, and not necessarily only in private either! For a good example of such public truth-telling, see Zen at War by fellow Zen Buddhist, Brian Victoria: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_at_War .
Whatever the truth about the scale and the brutal and/or relatively measured response by the Chinese, it is far from clear that the original protests which broke out recently in Lahsa were peaceful, or remained so for long.
Even those who are usually suspicious when the neocons start to champion the human rights of people living in or near Yugoslavia/Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Russia or China, seem all too ready to ignore the Dalai Lama's long term strategic alliance with - or use by - the CIA and the West.
This strategic alliance was most embarrassingly displayed when the Dalai Lama consented to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour from that same US Congress that has loyally voted credits for the illegal wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
At a time when the 'freedom-loving' West keep amping up the propaganda against Iran, Russia and Beijing, and the US surrounds all these countries with missiles and battleships, it seems to me most unlikely that US-led 'external pressure' on Beijng will lead China's rulers to look on Tibetan autonomy with favour.
Such pressures wll be particularly conuter-produective if the Dalai Lama is either happy to be praised as a 'man of peace' by 'President' (non-elect) Bush or so compromised that he can't avoid being required to do so as an integral part of the West's surging propaganda offensive. Instead Political Sociology 101 tells me that China will redouble its authoritarian vigilance, and refuse to believe that the Dalai Lama is sincere in his protestations of only wanting self-rule within China. What some hail as a great day for Buddhism, I feared was a tremendously unskilful move which will just make life harder for all the people of Tibet.
For supporters of popular freedom and social progress in Tibet to avoid being swept away in a media-concocted hysteria against China and all things Chinese in the coming months leading up to the Olympics, it will be helpful to read an article such as
'For the rich lamas and secular lords, the Communist intervention was an unmitigated calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Many, however, escaped that fate. Throughout the 1960s, the Tibetan exile community was secretly pocketing $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama's organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama's annual payment from the CIA was $186,000. Indian intelligence also financed both him and other Tibetan exiles. He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked for the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment.
'In 1995, the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline "Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right." ....
'Into the twenty-first century, via the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable sounding than the CIA, the U.S. Congress continued to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for "democracy activities" within the Tibetan exile community. In addition to these funds, the Dalai Lama received money from financier George Soros. (Heather Cottin, "George Soros, Imperial Wizard," CovertAction Quarterly no. 74 (Fall 2002).'
In November 2005 at Stanford University Nobel Peace Laureate, the Dalai Lama declined to condemn all use of force e.g. to defend and protect people. (Fair enough, for few of us are absolute pacifists. The devil lies in the detail of which applications of force people then identify as just or skilful, i.e. more life-protective than life-negating.) However as Michael Paenti continues:
' What of the four years of carnage and mass destruction in Iraq, a war condemned by most of the world -- even by a conservative pope -- as a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity? The Dalai Lama was undecided: "The Iraq war -- it's too early to say, right or wrong." (San Francisco Chronicle, 5 November 2005)
'Earlier the Dalai Lama had voiced support for the U.S. military intervention against Yugoslavia and, later on, the U.S. military intervention into Afghanistan. (Times of India 13 October 2000; Samantha Conti's report, Reuter, 17 June 1994; Amitabh Pal, "The Dalai Lama Interview," Progressive, January 2006.) '
' To welcome the end of the old feudal theocracy in Tibet is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in that country. This point is seldom understood by today's Shangri-La believers in the West. The converse is also true: To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. ...."
"Tibetan feudalism was cloaked in Buddhism, but the two are not to be equated. In reality, old Tibet was not a Paradise Lost. It was a retrograde repressive theocracy of extreme privilege and poverty, a long way from Shangri-La.'
Yet the Dalai Lama has often portrayed an idealised image of Tibet and exaggerated the degree of popular opposition which the Chinese-imposed and Chinese-backed reforms engendered in Tibet in the fifties - and which actually left both the common people and the monasteries free to practice their religion to a much greater extent than subseqently obtained - i.e. in the context of the Tibetan struggle being taken up the the USA, with two brothers of the Dalai Lama actively involved with armed CIA-trained Tibetan liberation forces.
Parenti does mention the Dalai Lama's repeated praise of non-violence, and support for e.g. somewhat greater equality for Buddhist nuns compared with the monks. However, it is possible that he takes more care than is warranted not to risk offending Tibetan and other Buddhists by asking, as we now need to, whether there are deep-structural correspondences between Vajrayana Buddhism at the level of religion and a patriarchal-feudal social order which was admired by Hitler's SS and in some circumstances mutates into aggressive militarism, viz the religious zeal of Mongolian Genghis Khan or the Fifth Dalai Lama whose calls for a holy war of extermination mirror what we can read in Jewish/Christian holy books - or what some exponents of Imperial Zen advocated and practiced in Korea, Manchuria and China in WW2.
No such inhibitions detain two German scholars of Tibetan Buddhism, pro-feminists Victor and Victoria Trimondi (surely pseudonymns?) in their well-informed and comprehensive E-book, The Shadow of the Dalai Lama:
The Trimondis show with abundant examples that Tantric and 'Shambala warrior' mythology are full of bloodthirsty imagery, weapons, slaying, torture, etc. Reflecting real historical battles both defensive and agressive against Islam, strands in such mythologies also look forward to an ultimate showdown with Islam/unbelievers. Here is an excerpt from one disturbing chapter (Chapter 2-9: The War Gods behind the Mask of Peace
Political calculation and the Buddhist message of peace 'It is not the task of our analysis to make a personal choice between “armed rebellion” and the “ahimsa principle” or to answer the question whether violent action in Tibet is morally justified and makes sense in terms of national politics. We also do not want -as the Chinese attempt to do — to expose the Kundun as no more than a fanatical warmonger in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps, by and large he is personally a peace-loving person, but without doubt he represents a culture which has from its very origins been warlike and which does not even think of admitting to its violent past, let alone reappraising it."
"Instead, Dharamsala and the current Dalai Lama make a constant propaganda project of presenting Tibetan Buddhism and the history of Tibet to the world public as a storehouse of eternal teachings about nonviolence and peace. There is thus a refusal to accept that the Kundun first acquired his pacifist ideas (e.g., under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi) after his flight; instead it is implied that they are drawn from the inexhaustible inheritance of a many hundred year old tradition and history. Even the aggressive “Great Fifth” and the “Great Thirteenth” with his strong interest in military matters now appear as the precursors of the current “Buddhism of peace”.
'On the basis of this distortion, the current Dalai Lama is able to fully identify with his fifth incarnation without having to mention his warlike and Machiavellian power politics and murderous magic: “By holding the position of the Fifth Dalai Lama I am supposed to follow what he did, this is the reason I have to interfere”, the Kundun explained in 1997 (HPI 006). Thus there is much which speaks for the pacifism of the Dalai Lama being nothing more than a calculated political move and never having been the expression of a principle.
'Jamyang Norbu, co-director of the Tibetan cultural institute, thus accuses his “revered leader” (the Kundun) and his exile Tibetan politicians of fostering the formation of the western myth of the good and peaceful Tibet of old. At no stage in history have the Tibetans been particularly pacifist — the terrible fighting out of the conflicts between individual monasteries proves this, as well as the bloody resistance to the occupation in the fifties. “The government in exile”, says Norbu, “capitalizes upon the western clichés, hampers a demythologization, a critical examination of its own history” (Spiegel, 16/1998).'There is also absolutely no intention of doing this. For the Dalai Lama the fundamental orientation to be adopted is dependent upon what is favorable in the prevailing power-political situation. Thus a immediate volte-face to a fighting lineage is thoroughly laid out in his system. Neither religious, nor ideological, and definitely not historical incarnational obstacles stand in the way of a possible decision to go to war. In contrast, the Tibetan war gods have been waiting for centuries to strike out and re-conquer their former extended empire. Every higher tantra includes a call to battle against the “enemies of the faith”. In any event, the Kalachakra ritual and the ideology at work behind it are to be understood as a declaration of war on the non-Buddhist world. Important members of the Tibetan clergy have already reserved their places in the great doomsday army of Shambhala. „Many of them already know the names and ranks they will have.” (Bernbaum, 1980, p. 29, 30).
'When the political circumstances are ripe the “simple monk” from Dharamsala will have to set aside his personal pacifist tendencies and, as the embodied Kalachakra deity, will hardly shrink from summoning Begtse the god of slaughter or from himself appearing in the guise of a heruka. “The wrathful goddesses and the enraged gods are there,” we learn from his own mouth (before he was awarded the Nobel peace prize), “in order to demonstrate that one can grasp the use of violence as a method; it is an effective instrument, but it can never ever be a purpose” (Levenson, 1992, p. 284). There is no noteworthy political leader in the violent history of humankind who would have thought otherwise. Even for dictators like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin violence was never an end in itself, but rather an “effective instrument” for the attainment of “honorable” goals.'
Finally, as an engaged Buddhist I believe that we should not draw too big thick black lines between 'spirituality' and 'politics', since to do so would compound and mirror the conventional but illusory separation between 'the divine' and 'reality', and 'society' and 'self'. Among engaged Buddhist teachers I have learned the most from David Loy, Ken Jones and Thich Nhat Hanh. It would be nice to walk into bookstores and find their work represented alongside that of other fine teachers, but lo!, for some reason it is the Dalai Lama whose books have been so very heavily promoted in the West, even to the extent of describing him as some kind of all-Buddhist equivalent of the Pope for Roman Catholics.
For the health of Buddhism's continuing development in the West, do Western Buddhists now need to ask ourselves to what extent our understanding of spirituality has been subtly shaped by shadowy forces and corporate marketeers who for different reasons have considered it expedient to promote such a 'de-politicised' - or Western imperialist and privatistic - understanding of our dharma?
May all beings know peace, may all beings be happy.