Dalai Lama

Tavia tavia.nyongo at yale.edu
Tue Apr 13 14:55:09 PDT 1999

Thanks Doug for thought-provoking historical background on Tibet, which I read with interest. But it doesn't seem to answer my question: where can I find quotes from the present-day Dalai Lama going around upholding feudal or antidemocratic or imperialist or pro-slavery views? He has lived his life mostly in exile, and increasingly it seems, in the West. He claims to be primarily a monk. Has anyone read his books, like the recent 'Art of Happiness'?

His problematic relationship to feudalism seems akin to Gandhi's; the grounding of their experience and values is agrarian and I don't see why that should seem inherently offensive to us. There something vulgar in the position that forced modernization is grand because it 'liberates' peasant societies from their backwardness. That doesn't characterize the views of anyone on this list, I trust. I don't pretend to know whether Tibet is legitimately part of China or not. Regardless, could one say that Chinese conduct in Tibet post-1959 fits a loose definition of cultural genocide? Like the Indonesian in East Timor? Or do we say the 'Free Tibet' movement in the US is mistaken, and the Free Tibeters are like the exiled Cuban elites driving around Miami with bumper stickers "Next Christmas in Havana"?

I am happy to hear Buddhism is resergent in China. The book Doug excerpted made the point that Buddhism was founded as a liberation theology propounding egalitarianism, and that Tibetan society--which the current Dalai Lama did not create but was born into--is a distortion or deviation from Buddhist tenets. This seems a useful corrective to, for example, Robert Thurman's position in "Inner Revolution" that Tibet is some sort of model society for the world's future. The strong (and in my mind incorrect) claim for Tibetan Buddhism is that life back there in the mountains was superior and magical and none of the usual forms of emiseration and domination existed becaused enlightened monks ruled. I don't accept that. The weak claim, which seems defensible, is the observation that Tibetan Buddhism in the US proposes a peace testimony as a core value, focuses on the individual and freedom of conscience, and displays relative humility as an explanatory system (how unlike the totalizing aspirations of charismatic "American" Christianity for example).

Since I think the secularization hypothesis (people are steadily growing less religious) is probably mistaken, I think atheists like myself are stuck trying to cooperate with religionists, and have to find as much common ground as possible. Calling the powerless, exiled, and ascetic Dalai Lama names and laying the blame for feudalism at his feat seems like the wrong strategy for building solidarity with American Buddhists. Am I missing something?


------------------------------------------------------------- Tavia Nyongo Turkish Doctoral Student American Studies Yale University

"I don't mind: Being called a Marxist-Leninist makes me feel young again. It's like being asked for ID in a bar." -- Mark Kingwell -------------------------------------------------------------

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