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Barbara O'Brien

The Dalai Lama Responds

By March 16, 2008

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[Update: The Dalai Lama says he will not stop the protests; click "Read more" below for details.] CNN reports that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is calling for an international probe of China's policies in Tibet, which he said is causing the "cultural genocide" of his people.

"Cultural genocide" refers to the fact that China has been moving ethnic Chinese into Tibet for years, to the point that Tibetans have become an ethnic minority in their own country. At the same time, the school systems and other institutions are forcing Chinese culture on the Tibetans. This, combined with the widespread destruction of Buddhist institutions, could cause Tibetan culture to be wiped out in Tibet.

For more background on why Tibet is in crisis, see "Behind the Turmoil in Tibet."

Mark Magnier writes at the Los Angeles Times that yesterday thousands of Tibetans in Xiahe, which is outside Lhasa, attacked a police station and raised a Tibetan flag. Display of the Tibetan flag is a crime in Tibet. By this morning, police had surrounded Xiahe and were not allowing foreigners to pass.

Meanwhile, China is blocking access to YouTube, so that Chinese cannot see videos like this one.

If there are more developments today, I will update this post.

Update 1:00 pm EST: The BBC has photographs of Lhasa and demonstrations in Dharamsala.

Update 3:45 pm EST: Somini Sengupta and Hari Kumar report for the New York Times that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will not instruct his followers in Tibet to surrender to Chinese authorities. His Holiness also described feeling helpless to stop further violence.

He spoke of a phone call he had received from Tibet. “‘Please don’t ask us to stop,’” the caller asked. His Holiness said he would not, although he fears there will be more violence. “Now we really need miracle power,” he said. “But miracle seems unrealistic.”

Photo Caption: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, photographed at the Ise International Forum for Religion at Kogakkan University on November 17, 2007 in Ise, Mie Prefecture, Japan.

Photo Credit: Junko Kimura / Getty Images

March 17, 2008 at 1:22 pm
(1) X Coder says:

I’m new to Buddhism so this comment is not intended to offend but rather to seek clarification.

Is it “Buddhist” for the Dalai Lama to not urge his followers to give up? Isn’t his followers’ lives more important than their becoming an ethnic minority?

I’m from a Catholic background and I don’t agree with the Crusades, i.e., the notion that you send people to their deaths with an indulgence guaranteeing their passage to heaven (does this sound familiar). In the Church’s situation, they had tremendous political power backed by military power. In the case of Tibet, isn’t it guaranteed suicide to go against the Chinese government?

March 17, 2008 at 4:02 pm
(2) Canadian Mikes says:

:“How China Got Religion” By SLAVOJ ZIZEK

“…the problem with Tibetan Buddhism resides in an obvious fact that many Western enthusiasts conveniently forget: the traditional political structure of Tibet is theocracy, with the Dalai Lama at the center. He unites religious and secular power — so when we are talking about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, we are taking about choosing a head of state. It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama — a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one. ”

March 17, 2008 at 4:43 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

X Coder — for 49 years the Dalai Lama has been advising Tibetans not to resort to violence. If you read the article, he’s not urging them to be violent now, but rather stepping aside at their request. For him, this is pretty radical, which is why it is newsworthy.

I don’t see an analogy with the Crusades. The Tibetans aren’t marching into China to start a fight. I don’t tend to support violent solutions, either, but it’s my understanding that the current demonstrations were peaceful until some Chinese soldiers took it upon themselves to beat the stuffing out of some monks.

March 17, 2008 at 4:46 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Canadian Mikes — I don’t think anyone, not even the Dalai Lama, is calling for Tibet to be returned to theocracy.

You might want to read “Dalai Lama, God-King?” and “Behind the Situation in Tibet” for reasonably non-romantic background into what’s actually going on in Tibet.

March 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm
(5) X Coder says:

Barbara: Thanks for your response. I guess the point I was trying to make is that if the Dalai Lama could have spoken out by telling his constituents to stop the protests, which most likely, if not inevitably, would lead to violence if done in China (as opposed to, e.g., in the United States), bloodshed could have been avoided. Thus, by coming out and positively saying he, the Dalai Lama, will not tell the Tibetans to stop the protests, the Dalai Lama was effectively telling them to protest.

Again, respectfully, what did the Tibetans expect, if not a fight? Yes, one may argue that the protestors expected, not a fight, but that the Chinese government to think maybe it is doing something wrong. I think such an expectation is naive, given the history of China, particularly in recent history. Surely the Tibetans were aware that the Chinese government massacred its own citizens in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989? Did the Tibetans expect a different outcome because of the upcoming Olympics?

March 25, 2008 at 2:05 pm
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

X Coder — It’s become apparent from recent news stories that younger Tibetans, especially those under 30, no longer feel compelled to abide by His Holiness’s advice. They still respect him and look up to him as a symbol of Tibetan nationalism, but they no longer do as he says. He could not have stopped the demonstrations, and I suspect he knows that.

The Tibetans also know full well, and first hand, about Chinese massacres. They don’t need the Tiananmen example for that. There are plenty of Tibetan examples that are much bloodier.

And, frankly, as powerful as China is I don’t think it can keep its thumb on Tibet forever. If it doesn’t loosen up and allow Tibet more autonomy, outbursts such as the recent one will happen again.

March 27, 2008 at 5:08 pm
(7) X Coder says:

I suppose the question is, regardless of whether or not people will listen, whether it still makes sense for a religious leader such as the Dalai Lama to say that he is opposed to the protests, assuming, of course, that he is indeed opposed. The stance he took, i.e., that he will not ask his constituents appears to be a political, rather than a Buddhist response.

Yes, I suspect you are correct that outbursts will happen again. That’s like saying, however, is it not, that suffering will continue in the world regardless of whether or not the Buddha decided to teach his disciples. But thank goodness the Buddha did teach his disciples.

Why should the Dalai Lama’s actions, or non-actions, be conditioned on what might or might not happen or on what others might or might not do in the future? The question is: was it right for the Dalai Lama to say he will not ask them to stop the protests?

As Daido Roshi said in one of his discourses: “For whatever reason, Xixian abdicated his responsibility and, by ignoring the opportunity to teach, created a karma that continued into 20th century Japan.” See http://www.mro.org/zmm/teachings/daido/teisho55.php (commenting that the priest Xixian Faan’s response of “I am watching closely” created bad karma that was realized in Yasutani and Harada Roshi’s support of the Japanese war efforts during World War II).

X Coder

March 27, 2008 at 5:27 pm
(8) Barbara O'Brien says:

that he is indeed opposed. The stance he took, i.e., that he will not ask his constituents appears to be a political, rather than a Buddhist response.

Had you been paying closer attention you would have known that since this post he has emphatically called for an ending of violence and even threatened to resign as head of the government in exile if it didn’t stop. That was directed at Tibetans, not China.

I think the only reason he hesitated this time is that people in Lhasa were begging him not to try to stop the demonstrations. But since then he’s clearly called for it to stop. In fact, Tibet would have had a bloody meltdown long before were it not for His Holiness discouraging violence.

April 1, 2008 at 10:57 am
(9) X Coder says:

My apologies for not paying closer attention.

April 1, 2008 at 10:59 am
(10) X Coder says:

Again, my apologies for not paying closer attention, but we could have made this thread much shorter had you just pointed that out in the beginning rather than taking the stance you took on behalf of the Dalai Lama.

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