The love of ideals,
and the love for the men
who espouse such ideals,
sometimes blind us
to the very human passions
of those we worship.
Some time in 2007 I found buried in the Paper in page 9, or 12, a little article about China prohibiting Reincarnation in Tibet, the writer used a bemused, joking style focusing in how possibly the Chinese could block such thing if reincarnation true, obviously the person who wrote the article couldn’t be somebody aware of the political implications of such apparently ridiculous decree, sort like if Congress, or the President of the United States would ban Paradise, or Hell by official decree!
Later of course, political commentators with a better understanding of the implications of this check mate move by the Chinese government on the aspirations of the Dalai Lama, and his followers for the continuation of a Tibetan government in exile were deal a severe blow. Here we reproduce some of the comments:
“In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” But beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.
At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it’s under Chinese control. Assuming he’s able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks. “It will be a very hot issue,” says Paul Harrison, a Buddhism scholar at Stanford. “The Dalai Lama has been the prime symbol of unity and national identity in Tibet, and so it’s quite likely the battle for his incarnation will be a lot more important than the others.”
As you can see the implications of banning reincarnation outside of Tibet has the objective of eroding the hopes of an autonomous Tibet ruled by a successor picked by the Dalai Lama, or any of the monks in exile in Dharamshala, India.
For those of you not aware of the story of Tibet, things are not so easy as to say the Chinese are the invaders of Tibet, and they just should pack, and leave, during centuries Tibet and China have being united by common bonds, too long to explain here, but that you can easily search online, the bottom line on my view is that things are not black and white, and if there is grounds to condemn the Chinese takeover of Tibet, it is also true Tibet has never being a Shangri-La Theocratic kingdom were the Tibetans lived in peace, and harmony, until rudely overthrown by the Chinese, in fact Tibet medieval isolation worked against it’s integration to a more modern State, and if not by the current events Tibet would likely live in a caste system with Feudal overtones of serfdom, and slavery, more proper to medieval societies !
Some sympathizing with the plea for autonomy with the Tibetan people are naïve to ameliorate the dysfunctional equation of such society:
“In the academic debate of the ‘Serfdom in Tibet’ controversy, the nature of serfdom and its applicability to Eastern societies is contested amongst academics. Tibetologist Melvyn Goldstein wrote in 1971 that “Tibet was characterized by a form of institutionalized inequality that can be called pervasive serfdom”. However many academics have questioned the applicability of the concept to Tibet, a recent example being Heidi Fjeld who in 2003 argued that feudalism and the use of the term ‘serf’ was misleading in relation to the social system of Tibet and instead described it as “a caste-like social hierarchy”.
Feudal, or caste like hierarchy, is irrelevant! Tibet was a backward place for centuries, were 300 aristocratic families owned Tibet, it’s people, and economical resources, a far cry from the mythology of Tibet as a Shangri-La:
“Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.”
“Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.”
Conditions in Tibet were deplorable under the Theocratic rule of the Dalai Lamas supposedly the successive reincarnation of the same enlightened Buddha now represented by Tenzin Gyatzo the fourteen reincarnation of the original Dalai Lama Gendrum Drup.
“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.”
A 1999 story in the Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but
. . . few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power. “I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”
Personally I find the whole issue of Tibet, and the Dalai Lama muddled by our Western motivated Shangri-La fantasy, of a peaceful, lovely place, paradise like, ruled by a benevolent Theocracy dedicated selflessly to the happiness of it’s childlike citizens, and the erroneous conception of Tibetan Buddhism as a sort of mythical Wisdom, imparted by wise, and enlightened monks, to those who seek this ancestral wisdom, who now days it is easy to access due to the plea to survive of the Tibetans monks in exile, but when in Tibet under penalty of death you couldn’t as a foreigner come in to Tibet, and search for it!
Now I am not saying, that among Tibetans may not be some enlightened individuals, holders of some ancestral wisdom, but to confuse the Dalai Lama a political figure, charismatic no doubt, taking him as a Spiritual leader, it is a common but gross error in many Westerners, and Tibetans alike minds! The Dalai Lama chosen as reincarnation of his predecessor Thubten Gyatzo, is a symbolic image for the majority of Tibetans, but in order to accept this first you have to subscribe to a belief in Reincarnation, a highly doubtful belief. (Check my post: Ontological and Metaphysical Problems of Reincarnation, September 2010) The search for a tulku, (An individual usually a high ranking Lama who voluntary can choose his supposed reincarnation) Erik Curren reminds us, has not always been conducted in that purely spiritual mode portrayed in certain Hollywood films. “Sometimes monastic officials wanted a child from a powerful local noble family to give the cloister more political clout. Other times they wanted a child from a lower-class family who would have little leverage to influence the child’s upbringing.” On other occasions “a local warlord, the Chinese emperor or even the Dalai Lama’s government in Lhasa might [have tried] to impose its choice of tulku on a monastery for political reasons.”
Such may have been the case in the selection of the 17th Karmapa, whose monastery-in-exile is situated in Rumtek, in the Indian state of Sikkim. In 1993 the monks of the Karma Kagyu tradition had a candidate of their own choice. The Dalai Lama, along with several dissenting Karma Kagyu leaders (and with the support of the Chinese government!) backed a different boy. The Kagyu monks charged that the Dalai Lama had overstepped his authority in attempting to select a leader for their sect. “Neither his political role nor his position as a lama in his own Gelugpa tradition entitled him to choose the Karmapa, who is a leader of a different tradition…” As one of the Kagyu leaders insisted, “Dharma is about thinking for yourself. It is not about automatically following a teacher in all things, no matter how respected that teacher may be. More than anyone else, Buddhists should respect other people’s rights—their human rights and their religious freedom.”
What followed was a dozen years of conflict in the Tibetan exile community, punctuated by intermittent riots, intimidation, physical attacks, blacklisting, police harassment, litigation, official corruption, and the looting and undermining of the Karmapa’s monastery in Rumtek by supporters of the Gelugpa faction. All this has caused at least one western devotee to wonder if the years of exile were not hastening the moral corrosion of Tibetan Buddhism.
What is clear is that not all Tibetan Buddhists accept the Dalai Lama as their theological and spiritual mentor. Though he is referred to as the “spiritual leader of Tibet,” many see this title as little more than a formality. It does not give him authority over the four religious schools of Tibet other than his own, “just as calling the U.S. president the ‘leader of the free world’ gives him no role in governing France or Germany.”
“In the mid-1970s Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, told a Polish newspaper that he thought he would be the last Dalai Lama. In a later interview published in the English language press he stated “The Dalai Lama office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness.” These statements caused a furor amongst Tibetans in India. Many could not believe that such an option could even be considered. It was further felt that it was not the Dalai Lama’s decision to reincarnate. Rather, they felt that since the Dalai Lama is a national institution it was up to the people of Tibet to decide whether or not (sic) the Dalai Lama should reincarnate.”
Since the Chinese decision of controlling reincarnation for political reasons, the Dalai Lama who always has oscillated between the disinterested, selfless Spiritual leader, and the more ambivalent shrewd politician, with the clear goal of reestablishing Theocracy in Tibet if not under his leadership, under one of his successors lineage, has being caught many times in to quandaries between this opposite roles hard to conciliate, than not even Astragalomancy* are able to solve! He is caught many times off guard, making pronouncements, or committing acts that contradict his holy aura like declaring himself a Marxist:
“as far as socio-political beliefs are concerned, I consider myself a Marxist… But not a Leninist,” he clarified.
And at the same time, and place declaring:
“Marx was not against religion or religious philosophy per se but against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.”
Like if the whole apparatus of Tibetan Institutionalized Buddhist practices that he belongs and promulgate, were never allied in the past to Tibetan, and now to Western Plutocracy!
The Dalai Lama has been called by his critics: “And old political monk shuffling in Gucci shoes! This image unfortunately has not being dispel by the Dalai Lama preference for travelling, and hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, and powerful people, at the expense of thousand of his humble followers, if in doubt check Werner Herzog’s documentary of 2003 “The Wheel of Time” intended as a compliment to Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama, but backfiring miserably when declaring himself sick during the Kalachakra ceremony at Bodh Gaya, disappointing thousands of humble and downtrodden Tibetan pilgrims who sacrifice themselves to the outmost during the long, and arduous pilgrimage, just to recover suddenly and perform the ceremony in front of a couple thousand of wealthy Europeans in Graz, Austria.
The Dalai Lama through his life as a politician, had many changes of heart, appearing somewhat a voluble character for such an enlightened personality, he welcomed the Chinese in 1950’s as protectors against Imperialism:
The Dalai Lama saw the need to modernize Tibet and was open to Marxism.
“It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member. Tibet at the time was very, very backward […] Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. […] I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people. Instead the Chinese communists brought Tibet so-called liberation.[…] They started destroying monasteries and killing and arresting lamas.”
I guess the Dalai Lama was young, and naïve to think that reforming Tibet implied to leave the Theocratic feudal state intact!
But through the many years since his exile he has look for a reconciliation with the Chinese government, but upholding the right of Tibet to self determination, unfortunately this means for a return to the Lamaist controlled Tibet which in all honesty is tantamount to Abraham Lincoln giving back to Jefferson Davis his mandate to govern the South, or give back to the Native Americans their territory, or Mexico the Southwest!
Now believe me I sympathize with the plea of the Tibetan people, clinging to to your customs and Religion we take for granted in our Western oriented worldview, but when this customs are so old, and out of sync with the rest of Humanity, well…is just not going to happen, even if the Tibetan monks in exile are more enlightened than during the early Twenty century. There is many accusations of torture, repression, and taking over by the Han over Tibet, but there is also some progress that the Tibetan people wouldn’t give up. However the Dalai Lama position is ambivalent:
The Tibetan Government in Exile views current PRC rule in Tibet as colonial and illegitimate, motivated solely by the natural resources and strategic value of Tibet, and in gross violation of both Tibet’s historical status as an independent country and the right of Tibetan people to self-determination. It also points to PRC’s autocratic policies, divide-and-rule policies, and what it contends are assimilationist policies, and regard those as an example of ongoing imperialism aimed at destroying Tibet’s distinct ethnic makeup, culture, and identity, thereby cementing it as an indivisible part of China. That said, the Dalai Lama has recently stated that he wishes only for Tibetan autonomy, and not separation from China, under certain democratic conditions, like freedom of speech and expression and genuine self-rule.
The party has used two main methods to counter opposition in Tibet. The first is striving to better economic conditions. Over the last 30 years, it has directed billions of dollars worth of subsidies into Tibetan infrastructure and salaries to boost the region’s economy (Beijing gave $4.32 billion to Tibet in subsidies in 2007 alone). This has helped push GDP growth rates to more than 12 percent annually for the last 15 years — higher even than the rest of China — and improved living conditions in Tibet.
But the second method has been to increase restrictions on Tibetan culture and religion. These were stepped up in the mid-1990s, with bans on worship of the Dalai Lama, on any Buddhist practice among Tibetan students or government employees, on any increase in monks or monasteries, on any criticism of Chinese migration policies, and so on. Chinese officials apparently fear that these practices encourage Tibetan nationalism.
China’s current development policies in Tibet have also added to the problem: They are perceived by many Tibetans as an attempt to erode Tibetan culture. In the past two decades, the authorities have openly encouraged Han Chinese traders to move to Tibetan towns; by the year 2000, more than half the males of working age in Lhasa were non-Tibetans, even according to the official census. In 2010, the government announced that Mandarin would replace Tibetan as the principal language of instruction in schools in eastern Tibetan areas, leading to protests by hundreds of Tibetan students.
Finally in March 19, 2011 the Dalai Lama counterattacked and suggested of divesting the political office of the Dalai Lama in favor of a Democratic elected form of self government for the Tibetans, undermining the right of the Chinese to choose a reincarnation of their own as a Dalai Lama, however as usual the ambivalence of the statement cast doubts about being this the last words of the Dalai Lama saying:
“And then, regarding the future reincarnations, of course there is no hurry as of now. But after 20 or 30 years when I am near my end, then depending mainly on the wishes of the Tibetan people and also the people of the Himalayan regions and other Buddhists who are connected to the Dalai Lamas, if they so wish then the 15th, 16th and 17th Dalai Lamas and so forth, will come. So Ganden Phodrang will still remain intact. Political changes are bound to come but such a move will lend stability. Ganden Phodrang reverting back to its role and responsibility as being the spiritual head as during the times of the second, third and fourth Dalai Lamas have great significance and reason.” (Notice the optimist prognosis of his life span, 20, or 30 years, that would make him 96, or 106!)
On September 24, 2011 the Dalai Lama in a long explanation of Tibetan beliefs in reincarnation, in a declaration of autonomy advocated his own right to choose, where, when, how, and if there was to be a next reincarnation of the office of the Dalai Lama, would love to reproduce it here, but unfortunately is quite large, however you can search for it, and read it, this of course changes little the position he has taken as the only true leader of the Tibetan people in exile.
We are not Chinese apologist, we understand and sympathize with the Tibetan people, and would like real autonomy for the Tibetans and respect for their way of living, and whish the Tibetan people the best.
The complaint among Buddhist followers in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being undermined by the Chinese occupation. Many of the monasteries are closed, and the old Buddhist Lamaist Religion may soon be a thing of the past. We do not let the Chinese free of responsibility. However the question is what kind of country was old Tibet. What we dispute is the supposedly great spiritual nature of the Tibetan Theocracy. Tibetan old feudal system was Theocratic Buddhism, lead by the office of the Dalai Lamas, it was plainly oppressive, and a medieval form of serfdom, old Tibet never was a Paradise Lost, or a Shangri-La, we Westerners gave them that luster in our imaginations, Tibet was never the Hollywood Magical Kingdom of lost Horizons!
This critic outlook had been exposed before by some, if not many Westerners, and of course many Chinese, however little is being said about Westerners naïveté when it come to Tibet Spiritual relevance that has more to do with our Spiritual bankruptcy in the West, since Schopenhauer in the Nineteen Century, Buddhism, and other Eastern Religions, had become an idealize way to rediscover our lost Faith, transferring Spiritual value from our Christian depleted, and bankrupt beliefs, our secular system who fails to address the old: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Mathew 4,4. Has left Western man bare, empty, forfeiting his Spiritual self, and easy pray to many other forms of exotic belief, that to our eyes may appear juicy, ripe fruit for the taking, more appetizing than our own stale bread, for the simple reason of appearing new, fresh and foreign to our own understanding, ignoring the fact that Eastern Man is discarding the same Religions we try now to embrace, for our scientific atheist secularism! And they wonder what on earth we are looking in their discarded old shoes?
Not unlike our wonder at seeing at the success of our own Christian missionaries, that in lack of customers at home, they thrive in pagan lands, my own neighborhood full of Korean Presbyterian churches in almost every block! All this of course ignoring the old proverb: “The grass is always greener in the other side of the fence.”
Of course I have no qualm for true Spiritual inquiry, that can be found everywhere, and in anything if we look closely, once Gandhi said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
Phillip Yancey wrote in The Soul Survivor:
Gandhi and Reverend Andrews, a Presbyterian missionary, were walking together in South Africa. “The two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him. ‘Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?’ Andrews mumbles that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. ‘I’m not so sure,’ Gandhi replies. ‘I suspect he meant you must show courage – be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.’”
There is many misconceptions we in the West hold about Islam, Hinduism, and other Religions, Buddhism is just another realm of Human Spiritual experience that require a full immersion, in order to understand it at it’s core, is not an easy, feel good, mysterious, and exotic new dish for us to try, and said:
“Buddhism? Sure I try it the other day, it was good!”
The final major misconception that many people hold about Buddhism is that the religion is contained within temples, priests, or organizations. There is no need for you to join a temple, follow a priest, or join an organization in order to begin to correctly practice Buddhism. But of course you need a qualified Teacher, at least on the beginning, if you want to achieve Spiritual Enlightenment. Since a major element of practicing Buddhism is that you carry out a lifelong quest for the truth, you will continue to unfold truth after truth, not only about Buddhism, but also about your life. But that is also True of any other Religion you may follow with Heart.
*The Dalai Lama is reported as using the mo, balls of dough in which have been placed pieces of paper with possible “choices” written on them, to help in making important decisions. Tibetan divination has long featured the mo in making everyday decisions, too.There are books written by various lamas on interpretations for the casting of dice.