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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibet Isn't a Buddhist Litmus Test

April 22, 2008

By Deepak Chopra - April 01, 2008

As the violence in Tibet has continued, the Dalai Lama issued a stern
statement that he could not align himself with insurrection in his home
country. Buddhism rests on several pillars, one of which is nonviolence.
Tibet quickly became a kind of Buddhist litmus test. How much pain and
oppression can you stand and still exhibit loving kindness and
compassion? I wonder if that's really fair. The Tibetans face a
political crisis that should be met with political action. Whatever that
action turns out to be, nobody should be seen as a good or bad Buddhist,
anymore than defending your house from an intruder tests whether a
Christian is living by the precepts of Jesus.

In India, where Gandhi preached nonviolence, or Ahimsa, he confronted a
decaying British empire that was forced to give up its vast holdings.
Historical luck was on his side, and as a result of Gandhi's pacifism,
India gained its independence. The Dalai Lama, however, has had
historical misfortune to contend with. The Chinese are an expanding
empire, and their ingrained racism allows them to overrun the "inferior"
native Tibetans without any moral qualms. Will pacifism work in this
situation? A better question might be, Would anything work? It's not as
though the Beijing regime can be defeated by force, either. One recalls
that Gandhi combined pacifism with resistance, whereas the Tibetans up
to now have sunk into an inert pacifism that could lead to their
cultural extinction.

No doubt the entire conflict, now half a century old, is entangled in
religion and other interwoven ingredients: Communist ideology, fantasies
of restoring Chinese glory days, and much else. But Buddha, like Jesus,
didn't start a religion. He was concerned with how to live in the world,
and being entangled in the world's pain and confusion is an eternal
dilemma. It didn't need ruthless bureaucrats in China. Over the
centuries, failed crops, endemic disease, and poverty have been quite
capable of bringing suffering. It would be superficial to say that
Buddha and Jesus arrived at the same remedy -- to be in the world but
not of it -- yet nobody needs to pass that test, either.

What Buddha and Jesus undoubtedly had in common was a sense that another
realm of existence transcends the material world. Buddhists are asked to
consider how to reach that realm. There are no dictates (as far as my
limited knowledge goes) to engage the world and solve its tortured
dilemmas. Indeed, Buddha is famous for teaching that such solutions
don't exist. It is futile to apply Buddhism to a political crisis -- or
to the subprime mortgage debacle, for that matter -- because wrestling
with the material world never leads to freedom, fulfillment, or peace.

Someone may protest that the Dalai Lama is being an exemplary Buddhist
in maintaining such perfect equanimity, and I completely agree. But he
has achieved his level of consciousness for himself. This is a case
where virtue must be its own reward. The world looks on and admires the
Dalai Lama; it doesn't change for him. My intention isn't to give any
Tibetan Buddhist advice, or to adopt a position superior to anyone
else's. It just strikes me that Tibet shouldn't be a litmus test for
religious purity while an entire people are slowly ground to dust. Nor
should the peaceful countenance of the Dalai Lama become an excuse for
the rest of us to stand by and do nothing, as if that proves how
virtuous we are.

As the violence in Tibet has continued, the Dalai Lama issued a stern
statement that he could not align himself with insurrection in his home
country. Buddhism rests on several pillars, one of which is nonviolence.
Tibet quickly became a kind of Buddhist litmus test. How much pain and
oppression can you stand and still exhibit loving kindness and
compassion? I wonder if that's really fair. The Tibetans face a
political crisis that should be met with political action. Whatever that
action turns out to be, nobody should be seen as a good or bad Buddhist,
anymore than defending your house from an intruder tests whether a
Christian is living by the precepts of Jesus.

In India, where Gandhi preached nonviolence, or Ahimsa, he confronted a
decaying British empire that was forced to give up its vast holdings.
Historical luck was on his side, and as a result of Gandhi's pacifism,
India gained its independence. The Dalai Lama, however, has had
historical misfortune to contend with. The Chinese are an expanding
empire, and their ingrained racism allows them to overrun the "inferior"
native Tibetans without any moral qualms. Will pacifism work in this
situation? A better question might be, Would anything work? It's not as
though the Beijing regime can be defeated by force, either. One recalls
that Gandhi combined pacifism with resistance, whereas the Tibetans up
to now have sunk into an inert pacifism that could lead to their
cultural extinction.

No doubt the entire conflict, now half a century old, is entangled in
religion and other interwoven ingredients: Communist ideology, fantasies
of restoring Chinese glory days, and much else. But Buddha, like Jesus,
didn't start a religion. He was concerned with how to live in the world,
and being entangled in the world's pain and confusion is an eternal
dilemma. It didn't need ruthless bureaucrats in China. Over the
centuries, failed crops, endemic disease, and poverty have been quite
capable of bringing suffering. It would be superficial to say that
Buddha and Jesus arrived at the same remedy -- to be in the world but
not of it -- yet nobody needs to pass that test, either.

What Buddha and Jesus undoubtedly had in common was a sense that another
realm of existence transcends the material world. Buddhists are asked to
consider how to reach that realm. There are no dictates (as far as my
limited knowledge goes) to engage the world and solve its tortured
dilemmas. Indeed, Buddha is famous for teaching that such solutions
don't exist. It is futile to apply Buddhism to a political crisis -- or
to the subprime mortgage debacle, for that matter -- because wrestling
with the material world never leads to freedom, fulfillment, or peace.

Someone may protest that the Dalai Lama is being an exemplary Buddhist
in maintaining such perfect equanimity, and I completely agree. But he
has achieved his level of consciousness for himself. This is a case
where virtue must be its own reward. The world looks on and admires the
Dalai Lama; it doesn't change for him. My intention isn't to give any
Tibetan Buddhist advice, or to adopt a position superior to anyone
else's. It just strikes me that Tibet shouldn't be a litmus test for
religious purity while an entire people are slowly ground to dust. Nor
should the peaceful countenance of the Dalai Lama become an excuse for
the rest of us to stand by and do nothing, as if that proves how
virtuous we are.
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