Thursday, July 21, 2011

Discussions With The Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama’s still in the news even after getting himself out of his political position in Tibet last month. He’s recently finished an 11 day visit to Washington, during which a birthday celebration was held July 6th for him, a Kalachakra sand mandala, a practice of making a visual representation of the world and its interconnectedness, was made as a sign of goodwill towards America, a discussion was held at the Capitol, where the Dalai Lama explained his stepping down from politics in Tibet and China and he met with President Obama, causing more contention in U.S.-China relations.

Tenzin Gyatso’s 76th birthday was attended by other people related to peace activists, including Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King III, son of MLK Jr. Bishop Desmond Tutu also attended in spirit through a video conference, stating alongside Gandhi and King that the Dalai Lama’s efforts towards peace were admirable and should be seen as a prime example for future activists. All these generations of people working towards peace are an encouragement to people like myself who feel small in comparison to these veritable giants who have worked much of their lives to advance the cause of pacifism in one way or another.

More importantly, however, was the Dalai Lama’s explanation to U.S. congressional leaders as to why he surrendered his political position to a more suitable candidate. It wasn’t simply that he felt he wasn’t capable of serving in that position, but that there was a necessity to separate the religious and secular aspects of life in Tibet, similar to what many would advocate in one way or another in America. He wants to avoid the allegations of hypocrisy that would no doubt come up, since he had long since been in a position of both religious and secular power in Tibet. So for him to finally separate himself from the political sphere reflects progress in his beliefs conforming to his behavior.

A lot of concern has been voiced as to the effect these engagements with U.S. political leaders will have on relations of the U.S. with China. China believes that the Dalai Lama is dangerous, a separatist. But either they don’t listen to him or try to skew his words in some way to say he’s advocating independence of Tibet, which has never been his explicit goal and if it ever was, he’s changed his position over time. The U.S. has always tried to maintain good relations with Tibet, potentially in order to keep in good with China as well, which we’ve done pretty well on since at least Reagan, from what little history I know. President FDR gave the Dalai Lama a watch as a sign of friendship and George W. Bush gave him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.

Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2010 caused uproar in China, which I covered in part in “On Tenzin Gyatso (In General)”. The President also had a meeting with Tenzin Gyatso just recently, which made Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu outspoken on this, as he was the last time this sort of engagement of what China considers a political/religious revolutionary with the head of such a political powerhouse as the U.S. .
A lot of this is based on the persistent misunderstanding of the Dalai Lama by the Chinese government. They understand the U.S. supports Tibet remaining part of China, but they think that just because the U.S. gives ANY support to a man who, by his own words, only wants Tibetan autonomy; which it doesn’t take a genius to distinguish between by just using a dictionary; that the U.S. is breaking its promise to support Tibetan association with China. But I don’t think anyone is advocating that Tibet become independent merely by associating with the Dalai Lama. This is especially true since he himself has said, as I’ve repeated twice now, that he only wants autonomy within the Tibetan area, not at all opposed to being part of the People’s Republic of China.

All in all, I respect Obama for persisting in spite of the Chinese government’s consistent opposition and disapproval of these meetings the last two years. At the same time, one could argue that’s it not practical or reasonable to keep pushing the issue, unless Obama plans to engage with the Chinese and communicate what the Dalai Lama has told him about only seeking autonomy, not independence as a country. But of course the Chinese government could potentially become more hostile to American support of the Dalai Lama’s sentiments. This is a very touchy situation politically, but the Dalai Lama’s own religious obligations to seek peace far override any concerns he’d have about the Chinese, especially since he’s been through enough running away and living in exile most of his adult life. I respect him and wish him well in this endeavor to engage with other world powers who’d support his cause to grant Tibet autonomy under Chinese rule. I only hope he doesn’t have to become another martyr, since his own people would probably memorialize him in some way if they could get their hands on his remains, or even just sanctify him as a sort of saint, which can exist in Buddhist practices.

Admittedly, the Dalai Lama is already understood by many Buddhists to be this sort of person, this Buddhist “saint” if you will, which is known as a bodhisattva in Sanskrit. This is a Buddha who puts their enlightenment off to be reborn again and help others learn the Buddha dharma and achieve nirvana. In the Dalai Lama’s case, he’s the 14th in a line of sages in the Tibetan tradition who are believed to be reincarnations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara, more commonly exposed to Westerners as Guan Yin from Chinese traditions. I don’t necessarily believe that literally, but Tenzin Gyatso does give off an air of metta, or loving kindness,in the purest sense. It leaves you speechless almost, or at the very least, in awe of his “holiness” if you will. Here’s wishing him well in the future. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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