Here’s an article that was sent to me by two people, both John Wendel and, about an hour later, by Mer. It’s about how the cuddly feelgood New Age version of the Dalai Lama is our fantasy creation. The “us” to whom I ascribe this “our” being, of course, the New Age feelgood-addicted West.
I know John and Mer both very likely know that my own thinking on the issue of Tibet and the Tibetan government-in-exile (ie. the theocracy that was desposed by Chinese soldiers) is far from blind sympathy, but I did realize that perhaps many of the people who know I plan on spending time this winter in Dharamsala don’t know this.
The image we have to the Dalai Lama is certainly curious:
The Dalai Lama has become whoever we want him to be, a cuddly projection of our hopes and dreams. This enthusiasm, though, has not translated into any tangible political benefit for Tibetans. He has been seen on advertisements for Apple computers and SalesForce.com software; significantly, he was not paid for either of these uses of his image. Some books purportedly written by the Dalai Lama are scarcely by him at all, but have his face on the cover to increase sales.
In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, he condemns homosexuality, and all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers prefer to ignore. His US publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, Ethics for the New Millennium, for fear they would offend US readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.
I’m not quite so harsh as the author, Patrick French. I wouldn’t say, as French implies, that the Dalai Lama should abandon “his main demands: a democratic, demilitarised, enlarged and genuinely autonomous state.” I do agree that the influence of his religion and popularity may not do much good for people inside Tibet, however. I wonder how much cultural change has happened between the two groups; whether it’s as much as happened between North and South Koreans, for example. I wonder what kind of community would return to Tibet if the Dalai Lama returned under conditions other than those he is demanding these days. I wonder if Tibet would continue to have support from the West if it were made autonomous.
I have other wild speculations, and I typed them out here but then I cut them. I’m pasting them into my writing notes, because those ideas are too good to waste here. They can go into my novel. :)