Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai’s superpower dharma

November 9, 2007

A hate-on for George Bush is bad for the brain, says the globe’s most
devotional navigator of diplomacy politics


As a player on the world stage, the Dalai Lama has had a banner year.
People in high places are now officially taking his calls like never
before. I'm wondering, though, if I'm friends with the Dalai Lama and
he's friends with George Bush and Stephen Harper, does that make me
friends with Harper and Bush?

I'm glad the Dalai Lama came to Toronto last week, because I need help
to sort this out.

In the last six months, the Tibetan leader has scored a U.S.
Congressional Medal and unprecedented official state meetings with major
neo-con world leaders. In addition to Bush and Harper, add Australian
Prime Minister John Howard and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It's
been a real step up the agenda ladder for the Tibetan cause. That's a
good thing, I tell myself. But there's an upsetting side, too. Not just
for China, but let's start there.

Until now, A-list leaders have tiptoed around hurting China's sensitive
"feelings" about Tibet. Now they've thrown caution to the wind. What's
going on?

I smell a larger political agenda. Naturally, it's got very little to do
with human rights. My money says that Bush was craftily delivering an
important political message to an emerging superpower. As your customer,
the U.S. is saying, we have more power than we had as your enemy.

Old-school Chinese officials can mouth the politburo doublespeak all
they want, but as a global exporter, China can't really win with the
same old political hand it's been playing without trumping its own
economic strength. That's why Bush, with his war-wounded dollar that's
drowning in trade deficit, was smiling on October 17. He got to rein in
a new world-class competitor and wrangle himself some human rights cred
at the same time.

This is the deep and treacherous water of superpower politics that the
Dalai Lama has been treading for more than 50 years.

"Many of the world's problems are ultimately rooted in inequality and
injustice, whether economic, political or social," he told Congress on
October 17. "I would like to appeal to you to take a leadership role in
an effective international action in addressing this huge economic

Having the moral authority to say these words to the world's most
powerful is impressive. Being the one leader out of probably hundreds of
oppressed minority cultures on this colonized and embattled planet who
almost everyone the world over knows and admires – that's actually
astounding. But maybe not so much when you think he's had 13 previous
lifetimes to prepare for the job.

China was miffed, of course. But in the long term, who's to say what
impact its new global relationships will have on human rights? For now,
though, by a familial twist of fate, I got to see an official Sino hissy
fit up close and personal.

My American cousin Charley happened to be in Hong Kong trying to enter
China on the very day of Bush's interview and photo op with the Dalai
Lama. Apparently, when all else fails, there's always the option of a
petty gesture against stray civilians. The Chinese government stopped
processing U.S. passports at the frontier, and my cousin was herded from
office to office, his passport confiscated as he waited in line –
stateless – until officials finally sold him a costly return visa back
into Hong Kong.

Back in Toronto at the Rogers Centre, the Dalai Lama is trying to
explain that the bond of affection humans are born into, hard-wired
between mother and child, is the biological seed of the unbiased
compassion he suggests we cultivate, no matter what circumstances we
find ourselves in.

To bring the point home, he wants to evoke the nursing infant, but he
can't find the word for nipple. So unselfconsciously, he points to his
own monk's breast, his finger circling and circling the spot, and then
he puckers up as he puts the same finger to his mouth. It's pretty
funny, but maybe you had to be there.

I get the impression that the Dalai Lama really enjoys lingering on this
affection-and-motherhood topic. As I listen, I'm reminded that, in
addition to losing his liberty at 16 and his country at 24, he was only
four when he was separated from own mother to begin his training at the
monastery for the life and teaching he is giving today. Who in the room
isn't touched in some way?

But there's a lot more bite to his simple message of compassion than
meets the sentimental eye. Listen up if you are a lama-lover like me who
has had mixed feelings about seeing the Dalai sharing his love with the
likes of Bush and Harper.

Here's a success story His Holiness tells with pride to an earlier press
gathering at the Royal York Hotel:

"An American who came to one of my talks in Dharmasala (his hometown in
India) told me that before my talk he had very negative feelings toward
President Bush. But after my talk he told me he was still against his
policies but no longer had negative feelings personally against Bush.

"That's very important. If he keeps negative feelings toward Bush as a
human being, that's wrong. As far as actions, he is very right to
oppose. But we must keep respect and compassion. That reduces the
agitation of the mind."

The same day the Dalai Lama got his Congressional Medal and my cousin
got his butt kicked at the Chinese border, the Canadian Tibetan
Association of Ontario (CTAO) got the keys to its soon-to-open new
community centre in Etobicoke. The process had begun with a $150,000
donation from the Dalai Lama himself during his last visit.

By "soon-to-open" I mean really soon. In less than two weeks, the CTAO
plans to have this 50,000-square-foot window-manufacturing warehouse
decked out and ready to host the Dalai Lama and 3,000 of his closest
Tibetan friends.

When I get there just four days in, the gigantic space is a riot of
debris and demolition. What has to be done by volunteer work crews in
the time frame available is almost inconceivable. But the giant space
swallows hundreds of family members, all working away, and frankly, they
do seem to be practising the art of happiness. Despite the challenge,
the lack of tension is palpable.

Amidst everything, troupes of kids and teenage dancers find a spot clear
of rubble to practise the traditional Tibetan song and dance numbers
they'll perform. There's just one weekend before the big show.

CTAO president Norbu Tsering Baro, who's in charge of pulling off the
whole plan, is too young to have ever seen Tibet. He was born in India
and benefited from the first program the Dalai Lama got going in exile:
free education for Tibetan kids all the way through high school.

"That's why I speak Tibetan and know everything about my own culture,"
he says. Baro feels it's time for his generation to give back.

By the time His Holiness arrives at the new centre to offer his
blessings and share the salty Tibetan tea and sweet rice of celebration,
the place is totally transformed.

In my own last moments up close with Tibet's great teacher, I ask how he
feels about how the Tibetan way has been embraced by people all over the
world. He is far less enthusiastic than I expect.

"Where is the Tibetan experience?" he asks. "Even if you open my brain
you won't find it." This man who spends so much of his life sharing
himself with others extends his hand and gently cups my cheek.

"Don't worry," he says, with his sweet gaze full on me. "My experience
will always be my experience."

When it comes to the Dalai Lama, there's always more to think about.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank