Friday, January 25, 2008

Chewing on the Cannibals

Chinese ostentation is not something we usually think about. It hides in our consciousness behind the gauze screen of quaint visage. We summon up images of a million imperial drones attending the Forbidden City easily enough, and for some strange reason we think it harmless: an artifact of the past. Yet, we somehow miss entirely the ten million commune-capitalist drones making poison toys, quivering in expectation of yet another fat fish dinner. Anyone who spends any time whatsoever in the "new" China will walk away impressed by the sheer weight of swaggering Chinese arrogance.

The latest example is of course China's new "tulku law." We have previously posted the complete, authoritative text of this regulation in translation. You can read it for your own interpretation of what it actually means. According to the Reuters item we reprinted yesterday, "The new rules, which went into force on Sept. 1, bar any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation for himself or recognising a 'living Buddha'."

We thought it would be entertaining to collect the reactions of Western tulkus to this assertion. First, we interviewed Alyce Zeoli:

DTBA: What can you say about western tulkus, just from your own perspective, and in light of the new Chinese regulations?

ALYCE: One can only state the patently obvious: That the boundless compassionate intention of the Bodhisattvas cannot be contained by man-made borders, by time or by space. Nor can Bodhicitta be limited in it's capacity by ignorant opinions. Beyond that, what can one say to such fixed ideation?

DTBA: Should we even enter into a dialogue about this?

ALYCE: [W]e just jump in the viper pit with them. Why should we do that? It is just more war.

Next, we visited an interview Tenpa Rinpoche gave on the subject late last year, with a broadcast journalist from Great Britain:

INT: How do the Chinese regulations touch you personally?

TENPA: I already have Chinese documentation that acknowledges whatever arbitrary status it is that some people may believe I have, and some other people may believe I don't have, and I myself could care less about, and I received this in advance of the new regulations. I telephoned the Chinese Consulate and asked them what obligations, if any, I have under the new regulations and they told me that they didn't know; they had no instructions on how to implement these. Other than that, these regulations don't have any bearing on me as a person. They may impact my travel in the region, that sort of thing, but I never really have any problems in that regard.

INT: Do the Chinese make you sign the "promise not to preach" the way they typically do? And have you ever been asked to make a statement against His Holiness?

TENPA: I have never been asked to sign that, but I know many people who have. Neither has anyone ever asked me to say or sign anything against His Holiness. My activities on the Mainland are completely apolitical, and this to the extent that I have personal friends who are well-placed government officials. They visit me to get away from politics, I visit them to talk about hobbies, that sort of thing, and they clearly understand I do not involve myself in China's internal politics. I have opinions, like everybody else, but there is no law against having opinions. The thing to remember is that there is public diplomacy and then there is the reality of what people actually believe. The issue of Tibetan Buddhism in China is far, far different from that which is portrayed in the West by activists and so forth.

INT: How is that?

TENPA: Nobody in China believes for five seconds that the government can control how or where a tulku chooses to manifest. They understand that the government can show up with tanks, but they harbor no illusions the government can do anything else. So, it is a non-issue. Really, it is something like a joke the government played on itself. People all over the world are just laughing.

So here are two not entirely dissimilar opinions that seem to dismiss the issue out of hand. The Dalai Lama's spokesmen, in contrast, meet the issue directly and isn't that what gives it velocity? They state it is directed squarely at His Holiness, in a ham-fisted attempt to control who will be the Fifteenth Dalai Lama, as if this were possible. The identity of the Fifteenth Dalai Lama is decided by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and this is something extraordinary that the entire world will get to witness. Can you imagine the impact on the countless beings of this world when the Fifteenth Dalai Lama gives unmistakable evidence that yes, indeed, he is back again in a new envelope? I hope you will not think me silly, but the issue of recognizing the 15th is moot: what would it be like if you met the 14th, and then you met the 15th, and he recognized you?

Clearly, the impact of the new regulations goes far beyond His Holiness, because it reaches into the lives of all other tulkus. It will be most keenly felt in Tibet, of course, but in the West -- in the new home of the Dharma in the 21st century -- it would seem that China's bluster will have absolutely no impact at all.

Isn't that why there are Western tulkus?

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1 reader comments:

Don said...

Trinh: Great post. Keep up the good work.