Dalai Lama: forgive Pinochet

D.L. boddhisatva at mindspring.com
Mon Apr 12 16:03:06 PDT 1999

Comrade Liu,

Fine, he's the 14th reincarnation of the Boddhisattva Avallokiteshvara. It is all a lot of hocus-pocus to me anyway. The history of Buddhism is fascinating and I have a spiritual interest in the religion, but Tibetan Buddhism seems to me to be filled with far too much hocus-pocus. Aesthetically, from the outside, it's a beautiful religion, as a practitioner I wouldn't care for it. It's also a religion that reflect an undeveloped feudal society and it has all the carry-over from that kind of society. Frankly most forms of Asian Buddhism are filled with lore, myth, and culture-specific practice that obscure the religion, so far as I'm concerned.

Since I never thought the Dalai Lama was anything like a saint, I'm not as surprised at, disillusioned by, or delighted by his failings as others seem to be. He, as he has said about himself, is essentially an ignorant monk coming from the backest of backwaters. Still, while he may be ignorant about almost everything but Tibetan society, he is deeply immersed in the very complex ethics and morality of Tibetan Buddhism. I think his comments come out of that quite detached and unfamiliar ethos.

When President Jimmy Carter said in an interview that he had "lusted after women," people made a crass interpretation of a fairly specific religious statement. Lust, as defined by Carter's brand of Christianity, was something as commonplace as turning your head to watch a shapely woman walk away from you. I think the seemingly weird comments of the Dalai Lama are the product of trying to interpret the world through the kaleidoscope of doctrinaire Tibetan Buddhism. His comments about lust echo the biblical "it is better to spill thy seed on the belly of a whore" message, that posits straight heterosexual sex to be the only legitimate outlet for sexual desire. The Buddhist doctrine against lust but not sex is complicated. Try to simplify it too much or take a piece out of context and it can sound pretty absurd. Add to that the complications of Tibetan Buddhism, embroidered as it is with Tibetan traditional belief and practice, and it becomes clear that the Dalai Lama's comments are essentially always out of context, except for Tibetans, I guess (I'll bet the Dalai Lama is a little abstruse for them too).

The politicking of the exiled Tibetan Buddhists, whether in Hollywood or India, has seemed to me comically obvious and awkward. These bucolic monks are not cut out for modern politics. Any Buddhist monk would call for forgiveness for anyone, that's their job. Even though the call was for Pinochet to be forgiven while his sins were not forgotten, it was absurdly impolitic, while morally right. Making Hollywood stars into saints is the kind of idea the Catholic church abandoned centuries ago. I guess it takes some people longer to get up to speed.

Still, your idea that the Dalai Lama is some sort of criminal seems to be colored, at the least, by Chinese chauvinism. The biggest problem the world does *not* have is that too many people are Buddhist monks, no matter how ignorant they may be. For that matter if more people were like the Pope, or the Jesuits, or the gurus on high hilltops, it wouldn't do us any harm. These people live a moral, religious lives. They aren't necessarily equipped to guide people politically, or even practically, but then that is why secular culture has developed. Monks and priests shouldn't be in the dirty business of politics.

That most of the sanga seem to live in the 16th century simply means Buddhism has same problem that most religions have. Buddhism will have to transform itself from an anachronistic faith, shot through with practices derived from ancient local cultures, to a modern, universal one. People look to the Dalai Lama for inspiration mainly because they like Buddhism, don't understand it, and need a simple symbol for it. Any Buddhist, including the Dalai Lama, will tell you that doesn't exist. It's not a simple religion and no icon of a Bodhisattva or even the Buddha will lead someone into the faith.

In a more reasonable world the Dalai Lama would be an antique curiosity, a living icon like the Pope is quickly becoming. Because of the Chinese oppression of Tibet, the Dalai Lama has been forced to remain out front politically where he does not belong. As a living anachronism he is obviously going to strike some people as a reactionary force. The real reactionary force is those Chinese who would "liberate" Tibet with military occupation and by defacing their religion, antique though it may be.


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