|Featured Columnist – Meditations
The Dalai Lama has said that he may not reincarnate again, and if he does, it will not be in Tibet. He isn’t referring to illumination however. After all, bodhisattvas reincarnate; illumined beings incarnate.
The Dalai Lama is saying he’ll reincarnate in another country because the Chinese have corrupted the selection process of Lamas in Tibet. As a prominent American Buddhist put it, the Chinese government is perpetrating “a slow and deliberate asphyxiation of the Buddhist faith in its own home.”
I’m not a Buddhist, but I respect the Dalai Lama, and feel he’s a great human being. I don’t think he’s illumined however, and he’s said as much.
A great sage once said, “Reincarnation is a fact, but not the truth.” Withholding reincarnation for the sake of all sentient beings is, to my mind, the essence of a bodhisattva. But that has its limits in lifetimes. That’s another issue however.
Beginning in the 17th century until he fled the Chinese government in 1959, the Dalai Lamas were the spiritual and political heads of Tibet.
Tibet represents one of the few places where the fusion of Church and State worked quite well in the past. But I don’t think even the Dalai Lama would recommend a return to the status quo ante if he was allowed to return to an autonomous Tibet. Of course, the Chinese government is so insecure that it won’t allow even a semblance of autonomy in Tibet.
The second highest figure in the Tibetan hierarchy is the Panchen Lama. When the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was forced to leave China as a young man in 1959, the Panchen Lama, Chökyi Gyaltsen, stayed behind and tried to work within the framework of Chinese domination.
For his efforts at peaceful coexistence with the Chinese Communists, the Panchen Lama was tortured and confined to solitary confinement for ten years. After his supposed rehabilitation, he mildly criticized the Chinese government at a meeting in 1989.
Within days of his speech, he suddenly and mysteriously died. His supporters were certain the Chinese government poisoned him. To the inwardly weak Chinese government, sovereignty requires the extinguishment of Tibetan spiritual and political authority.
After the Panchen Lama’s death, the Dalai Lama, according to tradition, directed the search for his reincarnated successor. Through the inscrutable means of Tibetan rebirth, the Dalai Lama pinpointed the place where the new Panchen Lama, a young boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, would be found.
The boy promptly disappeared, with Chinese authorities later saying he had been taken into “protective custody.” The Chinese government then installed its own Panchen Lama, one who would follow their party line. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remains the world’s youngest political prisoner.
Why does the most populous nation on Earth, an economic superpower, a nation with a long and venerated history, fear tiny Tibet so?
As the actions of the Chinese authoritarian government attests, its power is precarious, and its stature is small. Despite the West’s awe of China’s scale, political stability in the country is ephemeral, maintained by a shaky social compact with the people (‘you stay out of politics, and we’ll provide prosperity’).
The social compact in China is under increasing strain. Not only externally, from the economic downturn in the West, but also internally, due to enormous social and psychological pressures and conflicts, as the spate of horrendous attacks on children in schools across China attests.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese people feel an immense spiritual emptiness in their lives. Many, ironically, are flocking to Tibet to find substance and meaning.
The Dalai Lama is no fool, but as a political strategy, his “Middle-Way approach” has been a failure.
As his official website states, in the late 1950’s, “the Chinese army unleashed a harsh military crackdown in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, and this convinced His Holiness the Dalai Lama that his hope for co-existence with the Chinese government was no longer possible, [and that] under the circumstances, he had no other option but to seek refuge in India and work in exile for the freedom and happiness of all the Tibetan people.”
That loss of control, and the establishment of the Tibetan Government in Exile, has infuriated the Chinese Communist government from 1959 until today.
Despite all the atrocities the Chinese government has committed, the Dalai Lama has not abandoned his “Middle Way Approach.” On one hand this reflects tremendous tenacity of spirit, as well as unswerving faith in human nature and the eventual prevailing of what is right and just and good. On the other hand, it reflects a failure to understand the nature of evil, and to develop a more workable political strategy in accordance with the realities of unbridled power, ruthless oppression, and repeated betrayal.
The Chinese government, as long as it retains power, will not accept the premise that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile seek autonomy within and not independence from China
Since the Chinese government holds all the cards, and is completely ruthless, the Dalai Lama’s “approach that offers mutual benefits to China as well as to Tibet” has always been a non-starter.
There is no “mutual benefit” as far as tyrants are concerned. There is only acquiescence. That does not mean they should be opposed with violence.
But it does mean that where intractable evil has been demonstrated, people around the world must stand against it. The Chinese government is a lot shakier than people think, and things can change.
There is an old Tibetan prophecy: “When the iron bird flies, the dharma will go to the West.” Perhaps it will. But as Tibetans also say, “May Tibet never be forgotten or forsaken.”