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Friday, February 12, 2010

China to U.S.: Don't Meet with Dalai Lama.

China is one of the places that I want to visit before I die. I have long been attracted to Chinese culture. The traditional architecture of temples, monasteries, neighborhoods and other historic buildings is stunning. The designs are classic yet are still some of the most unique in the world and the public gardens appear tranquil, relaxing and invigorating. Their written language is one of the most beautiful I have seen and with some of the oldest history in the world; China is a must for a historian like myself. They have produced some of the greatest thinkers of the human race and I adore Chinese traditional music. I honor it as being the birthplace of my tradition of Zen Buddhism. Yet, sadly this great country has fallen far from the days of celebrating Buddhism. Actually its government has fallen in that regard, not the people who I think would investigate Buddhism if allowed. As we all know, the government has been actively working to eradicate it from the culture for decades. The most obvious example being Tibet.

The irony with China blocking Buddhism is that Buddhism has much in common with the socialist mindset. It teaches interdependence, oneness and reliance upon each other. In fact, most monasteries seem to act as small communes!! The difference is that Buddhism is also inline with democracy. It values human rights, individual freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc. So in many ways Buddhism represents the middle-path in politics--a little bit of socialism mixed with a little bit of democracy. This is a political mindset that is found in practice in Europe. Buddhism, however, also encourages a healthy dose of skepticism of the political system in general. In the end politics can and does cause a lot of suffering. It can easily lead to greed as people seek power to control and manipulate the masses for their own selfish gains. Too much politics is just as dangerous as ignoring it. So, in some ways I hesitate even bringing up politics in the same conversation as Buddhism. However, to not participate in voting and maintaining good government can easily lead to losing ones freedom to practice the relatively non-political religion of Buddhism in the first place.

I know that there are some Buddhists who think politics should be avoided altogether but with all due respect I think that's potentially, dangerously naive. In some ways it's ignoring reality and ignoring a big part of our daily lives to be mindful of how our leaders affect our daily decisions that we might not think much about otherwise. Like the freedom to just walk out your door and sit with your sangha, read a Buddhist themed book or visit a monastery for a retreat or other services. Or the freedom to write online about your beliefs to share with others without censorship. Yes, politics can be ugly and cause a lot of harm. That said, however, to retreat from it completely is veering off the middle-path to the point where such denial can literally jeopardize the very basic freedom of religion that you enjoy and center your life around. It's not about protecting Buddhism because it too is impermanent but rather it's about protecting each others right to basic human dignity, decency and free will.

So, I couldn't be happier that U.S. President Barack Obama will be meeting with the Dalai Lama. It is a powerful symbol to the world and to oppressed peoples everywhere that someone, somewhere is standing for freedom. That there are still places in the world that celebrate diversity and encourage religious expression. The light is on shining in the darkness to guide and give hope to those without freedom. I know that the United States has interests with China that might be hurt a bit with this visit but as an American I would rather upset China than abandon those suffering unnecessarily in political oppression.

~Peace to all beings~

UPDATE: China has asked the U.S. to rescind the offer to meet with the Dalai Lama but thankfully the Obama administration said the meeting will go forward as planned.

PHOTO CREDIT: His Holiness the Dalai Lama taken by Manish Swarup for AP News.

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6 comments:

Jacob Duchaine said...

China really needs to drop this campaign against the Dali Lama. A whole lot of people who might otherwise really like China are likely being quite put off when told China not just exiled the Dali Lama, but is trying to force other countries away from him to. If they want to banish him, I don't agree, but that's their business. But calling around the world to harass him is really petty and is likely to get a lot of people mad.

If you wont let him come home, at least leave him in peace!

They call him James Ure said...

Well said Jacob. It does make China less appealing and I'm totally with you that they should just leave him alone.

Yep, when you act like a bully people will push away from you more than come around to your way of thinking.

China needs to realize that if they want respect for themselves then they can't tell other countries what to do.

Jeremy said...

I don't even see why china sees the Dali Lama as a threat, his message is peaceful. China just likes to bully people around.
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The Atheist Perspective

They call him James Ure said...

Well said Jeremy.

Vajramate said...

In 2007 I travelled with Tibetan monks to WutaiShan, the centre of Manjushri worship south of Beijing, and then to their Kyegu monastery in Jyekundo/Yushu in Kham. In Beijing and WutaiShan (Which is run as a discrete tourist region, entry US$16) we were approached (very discretely) by many ordinary Chinese who were both curious (20 Aussies with half a dozen Tibetan monks in robes) and very keen to talk about Buddhism. 95% of all vistors to Buddhist sites in China are local Chinese - they were even building an airport at Jyekundo to facilitatae tourism. As you say, there is a groundswell of interest in Buddhism generally in China. I believe the next issue will be the promotion by the Chinese of the proxy Panchen Lama and their appointment of the next Dalai Lama in a bid to hijack the temporal and also the spiritual leadership of Mahayana Buddhism. We in the west must stay vigilant and true to the traditional teachings and eschew the politics.

And we should visit China. It is amazing.

Yours in Dharma, Vajramate

They call him James Ure said...

Vajramate:

Thanks for adding that information. Chinese society right now really intrigues me.

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