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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Why Tibet Matters So Much

February 19, 2010

Robert Thurman
The Huffington Post
February 17, 2010

At times like these, I often wonder what normal
people might think about the strange behavior of
the Chinese government when the Dalai Lama looms
on the horizon. President Obama meets all manner
of heads of state, even small states, business
people, ministers, celebrities, religious
leaders, and no one pays that much attention. He
already met the Dalai Lama when he was a senator,
and now he looks forward to a pleasant chat with
one of the most engaging, wise, friendly, and
good humored people on their planet. People
wouldn't pay that much attention to it if it
wasn't that the Chinese government didn't go
berserk in public, like it was the end of the world or something!

Isn't it an amazing spectacle, the "rising power"
China, largest population, surging economy
[supposedly], big military, millions of talented
people [just won gold and silver in elegant
couples ice dancing], and so on, freaking out
because a nice Buddhist monk with a shaved head
and only a couple of maroon robes to his name, a
stateless man without a country, a Nobel Peace
Prize Laureate [who they claim to be a "Tibetan
Chinese"], who wants nothing more than friendly,
cooperative, peaceful relations with everyone,
including the Chinese overlords and occupants of
his beloved Tibet, is going to have a cup of hot
water [in lieu of tea] and a chat with President
Barack Obama, and hopefully extend a hello to
Michelle and the girls, if she's free from her
excellent organic gardening and they're home from school in time!

What is their problem? Against the feelings and
warnings of many of his countrymen, the Dalai
Lama wants Tibet to be a fully contributing part
of China, achieving economic success and enjoying
the genuine autonomy promised to all "minority
nationalities" under the Chinese constitution --
but the Chinese insist against all evidence to
the contrary that he wants to split Tibet away
from them! The Dalai Lama wants to use his
legendary reconciliatory skills to help China
achieve the "harmonious society" they yearn for
-- and the Chinese Communist party officials call
him a dangerous reactionary, even a wolf in
monk's clothing! The Dalai Lama wants not only to
preserve and restore Tibetans' spiritually
satisfying Buddhist culture, he wants to help
re-kindle the spiritual contentment of the
hundreds of millions of traditionally Buddhist
Chinese people, helping them to be more patient
with the inevitable shortcomings of governments
and bureaucracies, and giving them the inner
peace that guarantees a better level of social
peace. Yet the Chinese openly admit they fear his
calming influence over the hearts of his own
people and millions of religious Chinese people as well!

The Dalai Lama wants to see Tibet's environment
restored, brought back from the brink of
devastation due to extinguished wildlife,
de-forested valleys, desertified grassland,
overpopulated towns, and swiftly melting glaciers
that 60 years of Chinese military occupation,
extractive industrialization, and unregulated
colonization have caused, according to China's
own environmental scientists. And Chinese
officials warn of terrible dangers if anyone
talks to him! And, in case they don't want people
to know that world leaders meet and like the
Dalai Lama, the Chinese serve as unpaid PR
activists, insuring that his every meeting gets
world-wide publicity because of their immoderate
threats and protests! It is miraculous!

It would even be humorous, if it were not so
tragic. All Tibet -- not only the Tibet
Autonomous Region [TAR] but also the eleven Tibet
Autonomous Prefectures [TAP] of other Chinese
provinces that are twice as large and are home to
twice as many Tibetans as the TAR -- is under
military lock-down, with thousands of Tibetans
dead in the last two years, imprisoned for
peaceful protests and tortured to break their
spirits. Some just "disappeared," and the Chinese
cultural genocide program against Tibetan
spirituality and even cultural lifestyle is in a
terminally intensified mode. One of the worst
programs is the forced migration of more than a
million Tibetan nomads off their vast grasslands
which they have kept green and beautiful for
thousands of years [on the pretext that the
Tibetans are causing the desertification, which
is actually caused by Chinese commercial wool,
meat and hide businesses], confiscation of their
prosperous herds, and re-settlement in concrete
slum housing in city suburbs and put on some sort
of dole -- their children schooled in Chinese language and so on.

China has been a great nation during much of the
last two millennia, and will undoubtedly be one
again. When its leaders recover from their
imitation of modern military-industrial
dictatorship and re-awaken to the ancient
Confucian principle of "the mandate of heaven,"
they will come to the recognition on Chinese
terms to the fact that they are the absolute
servants of the Chinese people, not their
absolute masters as they currently consider
themselves [ the rich dictatorship of the poor
proletariat]. Totally false is the claim that
Chinese people like autocracy and are happily
obedient to dictatorial power, which is used as
an excuse for denying them democratic freedoms.
Confucius and his followers and generations of
Chinese Buddhist leaders all taught respect for
individuals, golden rule ethics and compassion in
the treatment of people, the centrality of
education in training a competent and honorable
managerial class, And all the social skills that
are required to make a democracy work. And today
the world needs the Chinese people to find their
own way to their own principled democracy, free
of either nominally communist/socialist or
overtly capitalist/fascist dictatorship propped
up by multi-national corporations in search of
cheap labor and docile consumers. If China
continues on its present course of trying to
outdo 19th century industrialist imperialism and
20th century military-industrial complex
supported economic hegemony, it will inevitably
clash violently with its biggest neighbors,
Russia, Japan, and India, on its way to
attempting to overwhelm its global competitor America.

We all need China to return to being itself,
recover its own past glories of art and culture
and spirituality. Just as the great Han dynasty
awoke Chinese liberal individualism and popular
creativity after the nightmare of the autocracy
of the short-lived because intolerable Chin
dynasty of "great wall" notoriety, the globally
conscious locally responsible new free China can
awaken from the nightmare of the short-lived
because intolerable Mao dynasty and come up with
a distinctively Chinese form of democratic
modernity. If the current leadership wants to
benefit from the inevitable transition and become
globally popular like Gorbachev, they must act
now. If they want to hang on with all their might
and try to hold the volcano of the Chinese
people's thirst for liberty, they will not get to
enjoy the new society that is being born.

The Tibetan people are inveterate high-altitude,
semi-nomadic, spiritually fortified
individualists, who will always breathe the air
of freedom, no matter what is done to them. They
are the canaries in the mine shaft of Chinese
neo-colonialism, and they are secretly admired by
thoughtful Chinese who come to know them [not
seduced by simplistic propaganda stereotypes]
precisely for their inspiring the freedom-loving
Chinese heart. The communist party oligarchy is
afraid of them just because their determined
insistence on their rights and freedoms is
contagious for the Chinese individuals [remember
the Beijing University student who cried out at
Tiananmen square before the communist party
ordered the massacre, "I am an individual!"]
Therefore, the Tibetan people need to be
supported with all we've got to help turn China's
leaders away from unrealistic dreams of
world-domination toward the more satisfying
responsible creativity of allowing the unfoldment
of their peoples' spiritual potential and
cultural genius for the good life. Then mighty
China will become just in time the friendly
partner we need in the formation of our peaceful world community.

The Tibetan plateau is the water-tower of all
Asia. The Yellow River, the Yangtse, the Mekong,
the Salween, the Iriwaddy, the Brahmaputra, the
Ganga and Yamuna, the Indus complex -- all these
rivers rise in environmental Tibet, and the
cleanness and fertility and glacial cool of the
plateau are critical to the health of these nine
alluvia thaty sustain the lives of over three
billion people, in the most populated swathe of
peoples on earth, from the Chinese, through the
Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Thai, Burmese,
Bangladeshis, Indians, up to the Pakistanis. The
de-forestation, dessication, pollution, and
overheating due to colonization of the headwater
regions of all these rivers will be a global disaster of epic proportions.

So President Barack and Your Holiness, as you two
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates meet tomorrow on the
fifth day of the lunar New Year of the Iron
Tiger, celebrated inTibetan culture as the
fortnight of the Buddha miracles, may Jesus and
Buddha both shower their blessings upon you both!
May you share your visions of a world in harmony
of peace and justice! May the POTUS, mythically
the most powerful man on earth, and the Dalai
Lama, the powerless true man of no rank, enjoy
your natural heartfelt friendship quietly, for a
moment without pressure of agendas! And from your
meeting may the realistic and loving energy of
determined freedom and universal responsibility
radiate outward and finally inspire your friends
in leadership of Great China to quiet down their
rabid party functionaries who think their iron
rice bowl depends on the strenuous feat of
turning a potential best friend into a deadly
enemy - and may those leaders themselves step up
to the responsibility of changing their policy
from stubborn domination to realistic cooperation!

After all, the leaders of China bear many of the
horrendous pressures shouldered by the POTUS, and
does, and they are probably the only "world
leaders" who have never personally met the Dalai
Lama and enjoyed his friendship and the kind of
realistic reflection a powerful person can only
get from the transcendentally powerless! May
their curiosity and adventurousness get the
better of their fearful caution and may they
personally meet soon, for the sake of all life on
this earth, unto at least the seventh generation
of our great great great great great grandchildren!

Robert A. F. Thurman is Jay Tsong Khapa Professor
of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University,
President of Tibet House US, and author of Why the Dalai Lama Matters.
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