Sunday, March 29, 2009

Your Enemy Is Your Friend

Above: HH Dalai Lama makes his now-famous
"hell on earth" speech, earlier this month.

I have been thinking about writing this for a very long time -- years, in fact, and even though it won't make many friends for me, I'm going to go ahead and write it anyway.

Certainly, what the Cult of Mao did in Tibet is utterly indefensible. In 1960, the International Commission of Jurists found evidence to suggest that genocide was committed. The word "genocide" is sufficient condemnation, so we don't need to add anything. This was less than a decade following the Nuremburg trials, yet here humankind failed itself once again. You can look at this as a Chinese crime if you wish, but it really belongs to all of us.

Fifty years have passed, and while the world has developed a flicker of conscience -- largely because the world once again did nothing while a group of madmen took a peaceful nation by force of arms -- it really is too little, too late.

Tibet is Chinese property now.

Like it or not, that isn't going to change.

So, we need to learn how to look at these things in terms of people, not governments.

What I have wanted to write for so long is about people, and comes to me in vignettes.

Like the time I took my girlfriend, a former officer in the People's Liberation Army (she was in fact a colonel in the medical corps), down to the Monterey Park Public Library. There was a really marvelous book there. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot remember the title or author. It was a "coffee table" book of "before and after" pictures of Tibet. You saw what the monasteries and so forth looked like before the Chinese came, and then you saw what was done to them.

We looked at every page of this book together, and when we were finished, her eyes were wet with tears. "I had no idea," she said.

I told her to try again, but she was in earnest.

"You have to understand that we saw only what the government wanted us to see," she said. "Until I saw these pictures, I thought what we did in Tibet was glorious. Now I understand that we were wrong."

The thing is, she wasn't kidding. If you were an 18 year old PLA conscript in 1959, you'll be 68 now. Indeed, most of the senior commanders responsible for the atrocities in Tibet are long dead.

I think the vast majority of Chinese, who are decent enough folk, would be apalled if they knew the real story. But information in China is a strange thing. You can buy books in Hong Kong that are considered subversive in Kunming. If you are one sort of person, you can possess them anyway. If you are another sort of person, they might be enough to get you in trouble. People say the 'net is censored there, and to a certain extent it is -- at one level -- but in the highrise offices that do business with the world, I can promise you that nothing is censored.

Another vignette comes to mind. My companion and I were visiting a temple in Southern China when suddenly we heard a commotion. We saw a group of men dressed as Tibetan monks, arguing with a security guard. The security guard was in the process of ejecting them from the temple grounds, and the idea offended me so much that I rather stupidly decided to leave with them. I reasoned that if the police came, they would be so busy with me that the monks could get off with a reprimand.

The thing is, they weren't Tibetans. They were Chinese down from the border, dressed as Tibetan monks, working a hustle.

The third vignette is more recent. I wandered into a shop to purchase some clothing. During the fitting, I gazed absently across the street. A woman was struggling to carry a huge statue of Padmasambhava into a ground floor shop. I dismissed the tailor and crossed the street to help. Her shop was in fact a "Tibetan" shop. She was a girl from Guandong province, who had been a military interpreter in Lhasa.

We spent the rest of the afternoon discussing her practice. She told me she had done 500,000 prostrations and 5 million vajra guru mantras. Since leaving the military, she spent her time translating Tibetan dharma books into Chinese.

You know... there is a great deal of interest in Guandong province. The faithful there raised the millions necessary to cast and erect the huge, new statue of Padmasambhava for Samye... the one that the military promptly took down.

Do you see that there is a difference between what the people think is right, and what the government thinks is right?

If you go around China today, you meet many, many people who are attracted to Tibetan Buddhism. It is a bit like America in the 1960s, in that regard. The Chinese hippies -- they call themselves the avant garde -- have taken to Tibetan Buddhism the way Western hippies did in the 'sixties. Except, instead of taking themselves off to Kathmandu, to the Blue Tibetan, in order to smoke some weed, they take themselves off to East Tibet, to a monastery, in order to do their ngondro.

There are tulkus in today's Tibet who hold government positions. There is government money being invested in the renovation of temples, libraries, and monasteries. There is a great deal of new construction. If anyone doubts that there is a mini-renaissance -- of sorts -- taking place, then we will have to bring in the evidence.

That evidence can be had easily enough.

So, the thought that has formed in result of these vignettes is that it doesn't do anyone any good whatsoever to go struggling against the Chinese government. Instead of alienating the Chinese people by hammering away at their government, I believe we should befriend them, and let them do their own hammering. Think about it... if the Chinese government wants to spend money to fix up the temples they once destroyed, isn't that a good thing? Did we, overseas, force that to happen? No, we did not. That is strictly an internal development.

I believe we should go to China in droves, and make friends there. Personal involvement... not politics as usual... is going to bring benefit. If we don't accept things as they are, and go to the region with an open mind and an honest heart, then how are we to save what is left of Tibet? What exists of Tibet in India is not Tibet, anymore than Chinatown, U.S.A. is China. What exists of Tibet in Tibet is Tibet.

Contrary to popular belief, hell is not for demons. Demons like things simple, so they stick to temples, where the pickings are easy. Or maybe Las Vegas, if they are very lucky demons.

So, if we go to hell, we really don't need to think about struggling with demons.

What we'll really be doing is struggling with ourselves.

Hell is where angels go if they are truly angels, don't you think so?

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1 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Good ideas. The Chinese government really has to stay in touch with what intelligent people in China think. No discourse no resolution - just oppression.