Dalai Lama

Tavia tavia.nyongo at yale.edu
Tue Apr 13 01:40:51 PDT 1999

I am open to persuasion here--not being formally a Buddhist myself--but what exactly is up with the matter-of-fact Dalai Lama bashing? His alleged comment on forgiving Pinochet sounds weird (as many note, it is probably taken out of context) but where are people getting the rest of this left folk wisdom that the Dalai Lama a) supports slavery b) is against 'lust' c) suports nuclear war d) is an imperialist-backed stooge leading a reactionary peasant religion? I mean, other than from the writings of Christopher Hitchens, who ridicules all forms of religious belief out of principle? Can anyone provide quotes from the horses mouth?

American Buddhism, within which Tibetan-inflected beliefs play a growing role, seems to be primarily oriented towards individual and collective liberation from acquisitiveness and insecurity, and the cultivation of an ethic of peace-mindedess. Its focus on inner revolution makes it appear quietist, but I think that word misdescribes the actual practice of American Buddhists, who seem more rather than less activist around issues of social justice than American Christians or Muslims for example.

The trivia and trappings of Tibetan Buddhism are easy targets for poking fun, and we (post?)moderns perhaps particularly need this fun because the conditions of present-day Tibetans uncannily re-stage our own disavowed peasant heritage. I would point out that the trivia and trappings of Quakers seemed analogously ridiculous to the respectable heads of the 18th and 19th century. And yet the outrageous Quaker testimony and practice against the slave trade meant more for the abolition of slavery than the positions taken by more respectable religionists of the day.

In the context of our ongoing attempt to articulate what a coherent opposition to our government's current activities in Kosovo would look like, is it too much to suggest that a faith-based opposition to war--as reflected by the ecumenical Fellowship of Reconciliation which has Buddhist, Christians, Jews, and other members--might play a role?

I would hazard to guess that I agree with the Dalai Lama more than with any other leader of an organized religion around. I have yet to see an actual quote from him, in its context, that I could not second or at least respect.


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