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Is the Tibet Issue a Buddhist Issue?

January 18, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

by Gelongma Losang Drimay

If you are involved with Tibetan Buddhism, you have no doubt seen and heard numerous reports about the situation in Tibetan--the upheaval and hardships that the Tibetan people have been experiencing over more than half a century now. For many people who consider themselves to be "Tibetan Buddhists"--whatever their nationality--being in favor of freedom for the Tibetan people seems to go hand-in-hand with one's religion, one's Dharma practice.

But is the situation in Tibet a Buddhist issue? If you are a Buddhist--a Tibetan Buddhist--do you HAVE to get involved with a "Free Tibet" or a "Save Tibet" movement? Do you have to look at horrifying pictures of people being tortured, humiliated, and executed?

After all, there are many atrocities in the world, in China itself and even here in the United States. Americans and non-Americans, humans and non-humans all over the world are experiencing exploitation, injustice, the suffering of having their lives stolen from them, their opportunities to have a meaningful life stolen from them.

On the website of the Campaign for Tibet, there is a quote:

"Tibet is a human rights issue as well as a civil and political rights issue. But there's something else too - Tibet has a precious culture based on principles of wisdom and compassion. This culture addresses what we lack in the world today; a very real sense of inter-connectedness. We need to protect it for the Tibetan people, but also for ourselves and our children."

- Richard Gere, Chair of the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet

I, the author of this blog, tend to stand back and watch, not getting involved. I'm not advocating that; I just feel frozen by the overwhelming magnitude of the problems in the world, Tibet just being one issue out of many.

Prof. Robert Thurman argues that Buddhists should be interested in preserving the Tibetan culture because it is one that has managed to put a priority on Buddhist education and practice over the centuries. I can't find an exact quote about this right now, but his views are well-publicized. See:, and Why Tibet Matters So Much.

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche composed a new prayer in 2011 called Remembering the Kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan People, in which he says:

. . . And the numberless Holy Beings
Who preserved and spread the Buddha Dharma in Tibet;
And the Tibetan people who practiced
And served Buddhism so faithfully for a thousand years,
As well as those who, along with many others,
Died sacrificing their lives for Tibet and His Holiness―
May all their positive wishes be fulfilled immediately. . .

So I seemed to have argued that the Tibet situation is important for Buddhists, but I still can't decide whether it's more important than so many other ethical issues in the world today. I would like people to feel free to practice Buddhism without automatically being expected to get involved in foreign policy or Tibetan independence.

What do you think?
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