Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Honorable Dalai Lama

I respect the Dalai Lama, have read several of his books, and saw him speak twice. The first time I saw The Dalai Lama speak was in Washington, DC in 1995, and the second time was just last year in Vancouver, BC. Recently, I listened to a scholar on the Dalai Lama discuss about his appeal to Westerners. He said that the Dalai Lama's appeal comes from the universality and tolerance of his message. When I lived in Nepal, I often encountered this type of acceptance. This openness of thought. I'm too opinionated, not accepting enough when I feel strongly about a topic. The problem is that I feel strongly about many things. It has helped and hindered me, but I'm working on softening my opinions. Just Saturday my mom and I encountered a very kind craftsman selling his jewelery in our neighborhood. I noticed that he was reading a book on Sufis that I own and so I commented on it. He was delighted to tell me that he was, indeed, a Sufi and was actually married by a Sufi Imam. We talked and this led to a discussion on Turkish Mevlana. Some of his facts about Turkish Sufi's were, let's say, at odds with what I know and I went into the whole history, correcting the poor guy. He wouldn't give up, and I realized that I was attacking this man's belief system. I backed off. I mean, what did it matter to me or him if he knew about Ataturk's view of the Sufis. Instead, I validated his view and then started asking him about his work. Teaching me to turn off my mouth is like slowing the mouth of a springtime river. But, I'm working on it.

That said, let me spew some of my opinions.

This acceptance of leaders like the Dalai Lama and the intolerance of the Chinese leaders was one of the first aspects of culture that I researched for my novel. Cultures in conflict fascinate me. I asked my Chinese students, read many books, and went to websites to understand the Chinese justification for occupying Tibet. I read and listened to many arguments, each more heartfelt and stronger than the first. All of them lacked any real effort to listen to or try to understand the Tibetan side. Here the two most common arguments.

1.) From my most astute and articulate student, I heard the manner in which I believe the well-intentioned are brought on board the propaganda train. In this argument, China is seen as a benevolent big brother. There are levels on "enlightened" governments, of which communism is, of course, the most enlightened. Tibet, however, is unfortunately a feudal society and at the bottom of the hierarchy. Because the Tibetans are tightly bound by their "servitude" to their feudal ways, it is beyond their comprehension to change. It is the duty of the Chinese to bring the Tibetans up the hierarchy to communism. Unfortunately, because the Tibetans are so downtrodden, they are resisting the well-intentioned support of their more enlightened benefactors. The Chinese must be patient with the Tibetans because it will take this culture time to appreciate the efforts the Chinese have made to bring them a much better way of life. Before you scoff too hard, I ask you to fit this paradigm to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There isn’t much of a difference.

2.) A matter of pride. Tibet is the Jewel of the Motherland. Tibet has always been a part of China and will always remain a part of China. It is inconceivable that China would give Tibet sovereignty since Tibet has never been independent from China to begin with. The whole idea of sovereignty is stirred up by the separatist troublemaker the Dalai Lama and the westerners who don't know what they're talking about. Ah the power of the word “tradition.” It has always been this way, so why would you dare change it. So much is argued in the name of traditions. Of the top of my head, I can think of high schools refusing to comply to Native American’s requests to change their mascots from “warriors" with only the argument of tradition. It is amazing how much logic we can toss aside when the tradition elephant tromps through the room.

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