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Barbara O'Brien

China Unhinged Over "Son of India"

By July 14, 2010

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Sometimes I think the government of China must have a Ministry of Dalai Lama Outrage. At least, a large part of China's bureaucracy seems to be dedicated to thinking up reasons to express outrage at His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness is calling himself a "son of India" these days, and the People's Daily, the official voice of the Chinese Communist Party, has gone off-the-wall ballistic about it. More "proof of his reckless separatism," China sniffs.

At first blush it seems a silly thing to get whipped up about. His Holiness has lived in India most of his life, after all. But China sees "son of India" as a challenge to the historical narrative China has adopted to claim control of Tibet, and of Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness explains that Tibetan Buddhism came in large part from the Buddhist tradition of Nalanda. Nalanda, located within present-day Bihar, India, was a great center of Buddhist education from the 5th to 13th centuries CE. Tibetans today trace their spiritual roots to Indian masters such as Padmasambhava and Naropa. His Holiness said,

"I consider Indians as my gurus, because we follow the Nalanda tradition. All our concepts and way of thinking comes from the Nalanda Masters. Therefore, we are the chelas [disciples] and Indians are our Gurus. I also often say that we are reliable chelas, because after the 8th century, the Nalanda tradition was established in Tibet, after that in our gurujis' own home, lots of ups and downs happened. Over thousand years, we have kept intact the Nalanda tradition. That means that we are reliable chelas."

China is not having this. "The Dalai Lama must have forgotten that the Tibetan Buddhism was strongly influenced by the Chinese Zen Buddhism throughout its entire process of development," says an anonymous writer at ChinaTibetOnline, a Chinese government website. "The equal-sized statue of Sakyamuni housed in the Jokhang Temple was originally introduced by the famous Princess Wencheng in China's Tang Dynasty."

My understanding is that the Tibetans are the inheritors of Buddhist traditions from India and latter-day Gandhara that died -- sometimes violently -- by the 13th century. Nalanda itself was sacked and burned about 1200. Most of the early patriarchs of Tibetan Buddhism were Indian, not Chinese, and their teachings traveled directly to Tibet without going through China.

Most of the other schools of  Mahayana originated and developed for centuries in China before spreading on to Korea, Japan, and elsewhere. But on the whole this was much less true of Buddhism in Tibet. This is not to say there was no Chinese influence at all; of course, through the centuries there was cross-pollination going on between Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. And Indian masters from Nalanda and elsewhere influenced Chinese Buddhism, so there was cross-pollination going on in many directions. But my understanding is that His Holiness is mostly correct when he says Tibetan Buddhism is more Indian than Chinese.

I'm pretty sure it's a gross overstatement to say that Chinese Zen (Chan) influenced Tibetan Buddhism through "its entire process of development." There's supposed to be some connection between Zen and the Nyingma Tibetan school, but I'm not sure what that connection is, or how deep it goes.

The government of China is determined to completely control Tibetan Buddhism, to the point of naming and enthroning reborn lamas. Beijing claims this authority through their particular version of history. His Holiness surely is aware that he is tweaking China's nose with his "son of India" talk.

For more about China's claims to Tibet, please read "Tibet and China: History of a Complex Relationship" by Kallie Szczepanski, About.com's Guide to Asian History.

Comments
July 15, 2010 at 5:32 am
(1) Arhat Ariya says:

“WORDS OF TRUTH

Honoring and Invoking the Great Compassion of the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Spiritual Community

O Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and disciples of the past, present, and future:
Having remarkable qualities Immeasurably vast as the ocean,
Who regard all helpless sentient beings as your only child;
Please consider the truth of my anguished pleas.

Buddha’s full teachings dispel the pain of worldly existence and self-oriented peace;
May they flourish, spreading prosperity and happiness through- out this spacious world.
O holders of the Dharma: scholars and realized practitioners;
May your ten fold virtuous practice prevail.

Humble sentient beings, tormented by sufferings without cease,
Completely suppressed by seemingly endless and terribly intense, negative deeds,
May all their fears from unbearable war, famine, and disease be pacified,
To freely breathe an ocean of happiness and well-being.

And particularly the pious people of the Land of Snows who, through various means,
Are mercilessly destroyed by barbaric hordes on the side of darkness,
Kindly let the power of your compassion arise,
To quickly stem the flow of blood and tears.

Those unrelentingly cruel ones, objects of compassion,
Maddened by delusion’s evils, wantonly destroy themselves and others;
May they achieve the eye of wisdom, knowing what must be done and undone,
And abide in the glory of friendship and love.

May this heartfelt wish of total freedom for all Tibet,
Which has been awaited for a long time, be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the good fortune to enjoy
The happy celebration of spiritual with temporal rule.

O protector Chenrezig, compassionately care
For those who have undergone myriad hardships,
Completely sacrificing their most cherished lives, bodies, and wealth,
For the sake of the teachings, practitioners, people, and nation.

Thus, the protector Chenrezig made vast prayers
Before the Buddhas and Bodhisativas
To fully embrace the Land of Snows;
May the good results of these prayers now quickly appear.

By the profound interdependence of emptiness and relative forms,
Together with the force of great compassion in the Three Jewels and their Words of Truth,
And through the power of the infallible law of actions and their fruits,
May this truthful prayer be unhindered and quickly fulfilled.”

Tenzin Gyatso – The Last Dalai Lama – Swarg Ashram, 29 September 1960 – Dharamsala, Himachal State, India.

July 15, 2010 at 10:04 am
(2) Pete Rickard says:

The more the Chinese government does this stuff, the more it reveals itself to be a farce in regards to Tibetan Buddhism. They try to brainwash the Chinese people with this kind of propaganda, but the free world will never buy it. And freedom, and freedom of information, is bound to spread in China, and noone will ever accept their attempted authority over the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

July 15, 2010 at 11:14 am
(3) Mumon says:

Sometimes I think folks just want to bash China for the sake of bashing China.

You are aware that China and India have border disputes that are separate from the Tibet issue, aren’t you?

July 15, 2010 at 11:46 am
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Sometimes I think folks just want to bash China for the sake of bashing China.

And sometimes folks defend China even when it’s being crazy, although I cannot imagine why.

You are aware that China and India have border disputes that are separate from the Tibet issue, aren’t you?

Of course, but what does that have to do with the post? Are you saying that the Dalai Lama’s “son of India” remarks are a secret code that he sides with India in a border dispute? If so, that a stretch and a half.

July 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm
(5) Mumon says:

Barbara:

You may not like it, but the Dalai Lama has a history in Tibet, and that includes being the titluar head of a violent campaign against China.

India, as I’ve noted, has had border disputes with China.

Countries tend to be strange; they take guerrilla insurgencies seriously. And when someone, claiming to be the titular head of a “free Tibet” says he’s a “son of India,” you can’t not expect that the country in which Tibet lies might take umbrage at that statement.

So it’s not anywhere near surprising that the Chinese made these remarks.

July 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

You may not like it, but the Dalai Lama has a history in Tibet, and that includes being the titluar head of a violent campaign against China.

Well, yes, when people’s nations are invaded, their families slaughtered, and their way of life — for better or worse — threatened, they can be irritable about it. So sorry.

FYI, His Holiness does not claim to be the titular head of a “free Tibet.”

So it’s not anywhere near surprising that the Chinese made these remarks.

No, it is not surprising, because China is forever being irrational where the Dalai Lama is concerned. However, it continues to amaze me that anyone outside of China who is bright enough to know how to eat with a fork can be an apologist for China.

July 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm
(7) Kenneth Elder says:

It not only Tibetan Buddhism being suppressed by the very evil Chinese government. A student of the head abbot of Taoism in China returned in the 1990s to find Chinese soldiers assigned to keep the abbot from ever sitting in meditation. (Chronicles of Taoism by Deng Ming-Dao). The horrors done to Falun Gong members is well documented. The Chinese government supports the evil Burmese government which smashed many Theravada monasteries and tortured many monks. The Chinese government is a great threat to the spiritual evolution of mankind. They are trying to suppress meditation and make religion a puppet of corrupt rich rulers. The rulers of China will be reborn into myriads of terrible lifetimes for their heavy bad karma, joining Mao for a long hot stay in purgatory.

July 15, 2010 at 6:06 pm
(8) crowsfly says:

If China is evil, then what is the Vatican?

July 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

If China is evil, then what is the Vatican?

At the moment, a non sequitur.

July 16, 2010 at 7:03 am
(10) crowsfly says:

“New rules announced by the Vatican have declared that ordaining women as Roman Catholic priests is a crime against the faith and subject to discipline by its watchdog. The Telegraph quoted Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, as saying that the new rules put attempts at ordaining women among the most serious crimes alongside paedophilia and will be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), considered the successor to the Inquisition. The unexpected ruling follows Pope Benedict XVIs open-armed welcome to Anglican clergy dissatisfied with General Synod attempts to compromise over calls for the ordination of women as bishops. Under current plans the first women bishops could be ordained in the Anglican Church as soon as 2014, a move which has caused a deep schism between reformers and traditionalists, who threaten to leave the Church of England in droves and defect to Rome. However, within the Roman Catholic Church itself, there have been growing calls to allow women to become priests in the wake of the widespread paedophilia scandal. But the Vatican has made its stance clear on by comparing such actions to child abuse crimes and issuing new rules for investigating both by the same disciplinary body. “

July 16, 2010 at 8:32 am
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

crowsfly — that’s an issue for the Catholic section of About.com. Whatever your or my personal opinion, I’d prefer to stay out of specific doctrinal issues of other religions on this blog.

July 16, 2010 at 11:43 pm
(12) James says:

For the Chinese to select high lamas is not without precedent. In the 18th century, for instance, the emperor introduced the Golden Urn method of selecting them, including a few Dalai Lamas, whose power over the whole of Tibet depended on China’s backing. From the Chinese point of view, then, historical precedent serves to support (we might say rationalize) the actions they’re taking now. A political move to be sure, but one that has worked in the past.

Tulku selection has always included some politics. During the period during the Golden Urn was introduced, the Dalai Lama banned recognitions of the powerful Shamarpa tulkus, who nonetheless survived.

China’s obsession with the Dalai Lama and Tibet reminds me of our own with Castro and Cuba over the years. Of course, there are significant differences, and in the latter case, the results have not been quite the disaster China’s occupation of Tibet has been. As for the title of the post: I think “unhinged” is apt.

July 17, 2010 at 9:59 pm
(13) Tom B says:

China has always been about warlords and imperialism. They are much like the US of the westward expansion times, when we were wiping out the native Americans. Except we did that stuff in the 19th century and we weren’t trying to present ourselves to the world as worthy trade partners.

July 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm
(14) Anjaneya Reddy says:

Before long, Tibetan Buddhism would influence Buddhists in China. That would answer all questions of who influenced whom.

February 14, 2011 at 11:49 am
(15) Gyani Pade says:

Anjaneya, think about India. It seems Muslims will influence Indians, if they don’t think about this.
China is very strong and wise and no one be able to do anything to them.

It seems Indian Hindus are big fools.

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