Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tibet: Can we just turn down the volume a bit?

I've posted quite a few pieces on Tibet and China, and my posts generally run a bit critical of the preponderance of Western ways in which this situation is characterized.

Today, let me focus on an article on "China Tibet Online," specifically, what appears to be an editorial, "A look at the Dalai Lama's ridiculous Indian heart."

According to reports January 16, 2010, during the opening ceremony of the International Buddhist Conference in Gujarat State, India, the Dalai Lama remarked that due to the fact that he was from purely Tibetan parents, he was Tibetan in appearance, but an Indian in spirituality. Thus, his comments and ideas originate from Indian traditions.

I think it's fair to say that Buddhism in most of its varieties does so, although the actual instantiations of the Chán, Zen, Pure Land, Lamaist (Tibetan, Kalmyk, etc.) traditions became what they were essentially in the lands in which they were nurtured. Nichiren Buddhism, perhaps the most distant case to consider in this question of origination, has to claim origination from Indian traditions as well, given the origin of the Lotus Sutra.

[B]ased on the reports from VOA April 15 [2009], Indian Bhupendra Kumar Modi told reporters that the Dalai Lama mentioned before that he was by nature an Indian, and would try to obtain Indian nationality if the conditions were right. Later, the Dalai Lama's remarks and actions bore out Modi's words.

And why should anyone really care if the Dalai Lama, for the sake of expediency, chooses Indian citizenship? Oh, yeah, I guess it might not look good for exiled people who are saying they want to return to Tibet with the stated expectation of having some position of prominence if not authority to say they don't want Chinese/Tibetan citizenship. Yeah, I can see that, but so what?

The Dalai Lama pleases his Indian masters not only by showing his willingness to be a "son of India," but also by effacing the originality of the Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama uses such words to dwarf the rich Tibetan culture with distinctive local characteristics. He could not be more subservient.

I swear this reads just like the way right-wing AM talk radio sounds in the US, just with the nouns replaced. I am as uncomfortable with these sentences as I am when I read statements by the Dalai Lama that imply some sort of cultural chauvinism compared to Chinese culture.

I don't like it when any side tries to do cultural chauvinism. Yeah, yeah, could by my American chauvinism, but I don't think so.

The Dalai Lama might have forgotten many historical facts when saying so. For example, Chinese Buddhism played a very important role in the formation and development of Tibetan Buddhism, and the Sakyamuni statue in the Jokhang Temple was taken to Tibet by Princess Wencheng in Tang Dynasty. In addition, during the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese government established a special department to handle Tibet-related military and political affairs and put Tibet under the control of the central government. Of course, he also forgot that in the Qing Dynasty, the Dalai Lama's reincarnation and enthronement had to be confirmed by the central government. For instance, the 7th Dalai Lama was conferred the title by Emperor Kangxi in 1719 and the 8th Dalai Lama was confirmed by an official dispatched by Emperor Qianlong in 1762.

I know there are at least some truths here, and many Western fans of the Dalai Lama usually have a difficult time explaining away some of the bits of Tibetan and Chinese history that ties Tibet to China a bit less like the Republic of Ireland is tied to the UK and a bit more the way Quebec is bound to Canada. However there are also some interesting logical conundra: why should anyone care whether the Dalai Lama is approved by one set of folks acting without checks and balances or another acting without checks and balances?

Again, it's not my tradition, and if people want to follow a Dalai Lama approved by the Chinese government, or approved by the folks the present Dalai Lama approved of to select the next Dalai Lama, it's really not my business, and if both Dalai Lamas can foster an increase in wisdom, generosity, understanding and loving-kindness, maybe it's better for all, as long as there is an attenuation leading to a cessation of hostility.

But I'll finish with one last comment:

He also claims that the Tibetan language derived from India and he is a "son of India," will such a guy really want to protect Tibetan culture?

Tibetan, of course, is part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Now it is possible that Tibetan is derived from the language of the people from the Indian subcontinent in the same way that Malay is, or the language of the aborignal peoples of Australia or the Americas, but linguistically, it is indeed closer to Chinese languages.

I don't know if the Dalai Lama has actually made this claim, but if he has it should be chalked up in the Region of Things Not Borne Out by the Evidence.

So to conclude, can't all parties in the Tibetan/Dalai Lama issue just sort of chill out and avoid language that deteriorates into smears of peoples and cultures?

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