18 Apr 2008 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 3 Comments.
A Startling Contrast
I’ve just returned from conducting a meditation retreat in Southern California at Joshua Tree National Park, where the desert is blooming and sprinkled liberally with native turquoise pieces where I took my daily walks. As often happens, when returning from the news fast that occurs while away on a silent meditation retreat in the wilderness, I found it a startling contrast to face the frightening news of China’s renewed crackdown on protesters in the normally peaceful lands of the Tibetan people.
After the retreat I traveled to San Francisco for a Buddhist teachers’ meeting, where I witnessed the peaceful, mainly Burmese Buddhist monks demonstrating by walking in mindful fashion across the Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, more tumultuous demonstrations were going on elsewhere in San Francisco to protest the Olympic Torch relay and China’s deplorable human rights record — particularly the Tibet situation. What a contrast indeed between these peaceable, politically engaged monks from many countries with their lay friends and followers walking the bridge — faithfully exemplifying Buddha’s adage to abide joyfully amidst the sufferings of this fleeting, dreamlike world — and some enraged Buddhists who advocate fighting for peace .
Even some ordinarily pacifist Tibetan Buddhists are up in arms about the recent crackdown in their beleaguered country, although the Dalai Lama himself has continuously warned against violent protest and considers it to be unproductive and even suicidal. Monks and nuns have demonstrated before, but now tens of thousands of lay people have joined in, revealing deeply seated resentment and frustration with China’s misrule in Tibet. How to follow the middle way, the golden mean of balance and appropriateness, in these troubled times? Will the peace-loving Dalai Lama ever get back to his endangered country of Tibet, where the Han Chinese already outnumber the native Tibetans and more and more Chinese are arriving every day?
In Inner Mongolia, Han Chinese now outnumber natives by approximately eight to one. This is China’s plan for Tibet after the Olympics, according to reliable sources. The Chinese regime’s anachronistic Cultural-Revolution-like language such as “the Dalai Lama is a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes and an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast” used by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in the Tibet Autonomous Region is of no help in easing the situation, nor is it beneficial to the Chinese government’s image. China explicitly aspires to In order to be a global power and especially to lead the Third World and developing countries; this cannot be accomplished without moral authority and basic freedoms in place in their own country.
At the Center of History-making Events
The Dalai Lama is in Seattle right now, stressing his message of universal responsibility, human rights for all, nonviolence, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation. He called on China to make Tibet completely open to foreign journalists and visitors, and said his representatives are conducting private talks with mid-level Chinese officials. And, he spoke about having hope for the future and the need for humanity to look past a century of bloodshed toward a new era of dialogue.
He reiterated his appeal for an international investigation into China’s recent crackdown of the anti-government uprising in Tibet, calling Beijing’s version of events “distorted.” He called for international relief efforts on behalf of the thousands injured in the recent demonstrations in Tibet and China who are afraid to seek medical attention for fear of being documented or reported as terrorists. China has long accused the Dalai Lama of being a “splittist” and inciting the recent violent protests in Tibet, which it describes as looting by a small group of Tibetan separatists. The Dalai Lama refutes those claims, saying the uprisings come amid wider discontent in the autonomous region and reaffirming his long-held position that he is seeking autonomy and freedom of religion and culture for his country rather than independence.
In a recent statement, he reiterated this viewpoint: “For the future of Tibet, I have decided to find a solution within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. Since 1974, I have sincerely remained steadfast to the mutually beneficial Middle-Way Approach. The whole world knows this. The Middle-Way Approach means that all Tibetans must be governed by similar administration that enjoys meaningful National Regional Autonomy and all the provisions in it, self-rule and full decision-making, except for matters concerning foreign relations and national defense. However, I have said it from the beginning that the Tibetans in Tibet have the right to make the final decision for the future of Tibet.” In addition, he has repeatedly assured that he is not anti-Chinese but is pro-human rights and seeks to avoid the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people–an oppressed people held hostage in their own homeland.
Geography Informs Tibet’s Wisdom Tradition
Tibet lies at the center of Asia, with an area of 2.5 million square kilometers and an average altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level. The earth’s highest mountains, a vast arid plateau and great river valleys make up the physical homeland of 6 million Tibetans. The Himalayan Mountains are in fact the source of Asia’s major rivers including the Ganges, Mekong and Yellow and Yangtse, which nourish billions of people in Asia. These rivers are therefore extremely important and environmentally sensitive. I read that China plans to drain the Himalayas to solve its water woes
Tibetans use the term Tibet to mean the three provinces U-tsang (central Tibet), Amdo, and Kham (eastern Tibet). When Chinese officials and publications use the term “Tibet,” they mean only The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which was created by China in 1965 for administrative reasons. It includes only one of the five provinces of the Tibetan plateau that comprise the historical homeland of the Tibetan people and culture as it existed before the 1949-50 invasion. Two million Tibetans today live within the TAR as well as four million in those Tibetan areas now under Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Two-thirds of the population of the TAR consists of Han Chinese.
Tibetan religious culture is widely revered as perhaps the last remaining great wisdom culture from ancient times. Those of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean are long gone, so preserving this endangered wisdom resource should be high among our priorities for maintaining and passing on what is best and most necessary to life. What is the future of the nontheistic ethical and psychologically astute, mind-science and wisdom tradition known as Buddhism? — once the world’s most populous religion, yet decimated in recent times by communism in Asia? Can we afford to lose this knowledge resource in favor of free trade and globalism? Tibet symbolically represents the high ground within us all.
In his recent interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, The Dalai Lama asserted that Tibetan Buddhist knowledge is one of the ancient treasures of India, and has become an ancient treasure of the whole world that can contribute to our physical and mental health to produce happier human individuals, families and societies. He affirmed three commitments that he has made and is currently focused upon:
– To promote human values in order to better the lives of human beings
– To promote religious harmony in the world and the region
– To promote the Tibetan cause: the preservation of the Tibetan nation as a people, and the preservation of Tibetan culture and knowledge as well as the Tibetan language.
The Dalai Lama often says that war is an outmoded means of conflict resolution. To learn more about how he came to think and be the way he is, read Pico Iyer’s thoughtful new book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Dalai Lama, or view Martin Scorcese’s film Kundun about His Holiness’ early life and upbringing in Tibet. His Ethics for a New Millennium and My Land, My People and Richard Avedon’s Cry of the Snow Lion are also good sources.
The World Weighs In
What is the future of religion in Communist China, which has consistently been atheistic, harshly critical to and restrictive of all forms of religious expression, now that its current regime has stepped into the fray by cynically appointing religious leaders Buddhist and Catholic for no other possible reason than gathering political power? The Communist regime, famously atheistic and dismissal of all forms of religion, has recently taken a new, more politically maleficent tack by insisting it has the right to appoint Buddhist reincarnate lamas (such as the Dalai and Panchen Lamas) as well as Catholic Archbishops and others.
The Beijing Olympic Torch relay leading up to the summer Olympics has helped illuminate the actual the situation of occupied Tibet, as well as the larger issues of other minorities in China. Religious freedom is equally unavailable to Christians, Muslims, Uyghurs, and Mongols. The so-called “torch of harmony” paraded around the globe by China as a public relations event for the Olympics was actually initiated as a custom in modern times by Adolf Hitler for the 1936 Berlin Games.
To win its bid to host this summer’s 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government made broad commitments to improving its human rights record as well as specific pledges to improve media access in advance of the Games. The United Nations, Amnesty International, the International league of Jurors, the European Community and others repeatedly have called for investigations into issues of human rights abuse. The head of the International Olympic Committee has just taken an uncharacteristic step into the political fray by reminding China that one of the conditions of it being awarded the opportunity to host the Olympics at this time was to clean up its rights record and to provide media access.
In recent weeks, European leaders including Gordon Brown of the UK, Angela Merkel of Germany, and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy have, in protest and solidarity, pulled out of participating in the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing, calling for meaningful dialogue to be established between top Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama. All three main US presidential candidates have spoken out against human rights abuse, for world leaders to boycott the Olympic opening ceremonies, and for meaningful dialogue between Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama.
And yet, although it’s a good start, conscious-raising and expressions of moral outrage are insufficient unless followed by effective action and some form of change. The United States and other governments chose to overlook continued suppression of human rights in favor of market opportunities in China when negotiating trade deals with Beijing. In the Boston area where I live, I cannot find a toy to give to my Tibetan friends’ children that is not Made in China, as are so many other products today. Trade sanctions have historically proven valuable in ending apartheid and other abusive practices; why not bring such pressure to bear on China today?
We may have to tighten our belts and put our money where our mouth is to undermine the success of China as a trade partner if it does not enter more willingly into the free global economy with its checks and balances, and if we wish to live a more moral and equitable life on our endangered planet. China, by the way, is a notorious atmospheric polluter and gargantuan consumer of world resources. And its support for totalitarian regimes in Tibet, Sudan and Burma is based upon hunger for their natural resources such as lumber, natural gas and minerals.
Human rights activists are seizing the media moment to point all this out. They rightly see the Olympics as an opportunity to draw international attention to their causes: Tibet, Darfur, Falun Gong, North Korean refugees, oppressed Christians, imprisoned journalists, and more. In San Francisco the weekend of the torch relay, Save Darfur demonstrators vied for space with Free Tibet supporters.
The Wall Street Journal opined this week: “But as the crackdown in Tibet demonstrates, China still has far to go to meet developed-world standards in the way it treats its own people. Nor is it a responsible player on the world stage, as seen by its support of murderous regimes in Sudan and Burma.”
Future of the Tibetan People at Stake
In fact, most Tibetans live in poverty, excluded from the economic gains seen by the Han Chinese settlers dispatched by Beijing to Tibetan areas for the purpose of diluting local culture. Since China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950, countless Tibetans have been killed and hundreds of religious sites destroyed.” In response to the question: What does the average Tibetan want? Is it independence, or a greater share of Tibet’s modernization and economic growth, which has been dominated by Han Chinese? Columbia professor Robert Barnett, an expert on Tibet said, “It’s not really either of those things. We have to be very careful not to confuse exile politics, which is a demand for anti-China this and anti-China that, with internal politics, which is much more pragmatic, complex, and sophisticated.”
An important group of Tibetans has become very wealthy because China has poured money into creating a middle class in Tibetan towns, though there hasn’t really been a dividend for the countryside and the underclass. So, we can’t explain this as just economic modernization. We could explain the violence against the Han Chinese in that way, but the violence is present in just one demonstration out of 50 in the last few weeks.
According to Tibet expert Robert Barnett in an interview with Foreign Policy, “These protests are really about two things: A huge sector of the rural population has said, ‘Tibet was independent in the past. We reassert that belief. That doesn’t mean we demand that it be independent again, but we are reinserting that into the discussion.’ And, ‘The Dalai Lama represents our interests.’ I suppose a possible third thing is, ‘We are certainly not happy with Chinese President Hu Jintao.’ This is a huge political statement that nobody anticipated.”
Barnett continues, “There is a growing group outside China, generally young and English or Hindi speaking, who are strongly animated by the idea that diplomacy doesn’t work — and will never work — in China, and instead they must go for independence. In this case, independence stands for a criticism that China can’t be trusted and an implication that a spiritual figure like the Dalai Lama can’t be tough enough. But it’s quite complicated. These people feel they are adding muscle because they are doing what he can’t as a monk and spiritual figure. But even they do not generally question his standing, and they certainly see him as the solution.”
Tibetan civil servants, party members and schoolchildren recently have been ordered to attend special re-education sessions, according to Tibet Daily. But the campaign may be backfiring. Recent clashes in Sichuan province reportedly were triggered when the head of the Tongkor Monastery objected to Communist Party teaching materials criticizing the Dalai Lama. “Getting people to denounce the Dalai Lama or to recite ideological statements shows a lack of imagination on the part of the Communist Party. There is no way they can force people into what they say is the correct way of thinking,” said Ronald Schwartz, a Canadian scholar.
Beijing’s oppression of the Tibetan people is indeed abhorrent. “We are deeply concerned with the selective way in which the Chinese authorities are representing the crisis,” wrote Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s chief representative in talks with Beijing. “The rifts that are developing between Tibetans and Chinese could last for generations and they could cause irrevocable harm to the harmonious relations between the two communities. The protests that we have seen among my Tibetan compatriots are not only a result of several years of hard-line policies by Beijing. They have deeper roots, arising from 50 years of Chinese misrule.”
Meanwhile, although it is doubtless true that some Tibetans have garnered significant economic benefit from the Chinese development of their country, all Tibetans — historically among the most religious people on earth, even into the mid-twentieth century — continue to live and suffer under stringent religious restrictions unheard of throughout the rest of mainland China. Their fundamental human rights increasingly are restricted and they are under threat of arrest for such simple things as carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama or a Tibetan national flag.
What shall we do as the Dalai Lama enters his last years and the Tibetan people may be doing so as well? I believe that we cannot afford to stand by and watch or avert our gaze without becoming complicit in this crime against humanity.