Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama: Is he becoming a 'peace mascot?'

November 9, 2009

By Douglas Todd
The Vancouver Sun
November 4, 2009

The Vancouver Peace Summit was a bit of a love-in
for most people. That has long-time Dalai Lama
admirer Douglas Heselgrave worrying that some
hard political truths might have been lost in the feel-good atmosphere.

Almost everybody loves the Dalai Lama, and
Heselgrave may know and respect him more than
most. That's why he felt compelled to write a
tough-minded message as the Dalai Lama Center for
Peace and Education continues to pursue its
goals. In short, Heselgrave is concerned the
Center may be "de-politicizing" the work and
mission of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Writes Heselgrave:

Dear Douglas:

I have always enjoyed your writing and over the
years I have always found you to be reasonable,
and able to balance passion with objectivity. Not many can do that.

I have been very frustrated, though, with your
recent coverage. Don't worry -- I'm not one of
the Chinese apologists, racists, or whackos that
have been writing fanatical retorts to your articles.

Rather, I'm someone who has been very involved
with Tibetan refugees since I first saw the Dalai Lama in Vancouver in 1980.

Since then, I've gone to Dharamsala seven times
to teach at a monastery, The Tibetan Transit
School (I wrote a Sun article about it in Feb
1995), write curriculum and shoot a CIDA-funded
film about refugee education. I support two
refugees and regularly do all I can to draw
attention to the plight of Tibetans.

I have met HHDL (His Holiness the Dalai Lama) on
a few occasions and have a good relationship with
him and the members of the refugee welcome centre
and the department of education. I'm not meaning
to blow my own horn, just give a little context....

I really don't want to offend anyone and as I
said have immense respect for Victor Chan, the
organizer of the Vancouver Peace Summit, but I do
feel things have veered off course a bit from the original vision.

... While I have supported the Dalai Lama Center,
I have been distressed by how the whole focus of
HHDL's visits and the forum he has been given to
speak in have changed. What distresses me most is
how the Dalai Lama Center has de-politicized
everything and has robbed the whole issue of its
context. I remember meetings at which board
members passionately argued to 'not mention Tibet' and to focus on 'peace.'

That's a convenient -- and grossly irresponsible
-- position for one not suffering oppression if
not genocide to take.  I have seen first hand the
suffering of people under the present regime and
have lost many Tibetan friends over the last 20
years to Chinese torture and violence.  Many
others have died too young or taken their own lives.

I don't need to tell you that it's a devastating,
heart breaking situation and needs fixing. The
Dalai Lama center and its wealthy patrons are not
the ones to fix it. It's not that peace is a bad thing - believe me.

But, to rob HHDL of his context -- he is so great
because of what he's been through - reduces him
to a kind of 'peace mascot'  -- and he is so much more.

As someone who has attended his teachings in
India and listened to him speak for ten days on a
single text or idea, I can tell you he is a great
scholar and his practice is ferocious, deep and
challenging.  He is a great man with a great mind.

We don't see that when he comes here.  At least,
in the past, he would give at least one
'religious talk' and one could hear and
experience the depth of his intellect, his love
of puzzles, enigmas and challenges. Times
change.  I understand that. But I long for the
days when HHDL spoke for free -- or for under $20
by 2006 -- and everyone could go.

The bejeweled socialites with 'deep pockets' that
make up the audience now haven't got their hands
dirty as I - and dozens of other Vancouverites --
have, to show our support. The $300 tickets were
a disgrace. None of us old activists were there
as we know that $300 can build a library, a
computer lab, provide a clean water system --
lots of my Tibetan students nearly died from
dirty water at the Transit school -- or any number of other things.

You get my drift. You are a good writer with a
good heart. I simply think you didn't report the
story behind the story. All the feel-good peace
summits in the world won't improve the life of
the average Tibetan refugee one little bit.

Yours in faith,
Douglas Heselgrave
Writeous Word Co.
Vancouver, B.C.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank