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Buddhism in the News

Showing posts with label engaged buddhism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label engaged buddhism. Show all posts

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Notes from Tibet by Haven Tobias.

James: I'd like to introduce you all to my dear friend Haven Tobias who will be guest posting today. Haven has been a wonderful friend to myself, and The Buddhist Blog, so I was thrilled to read about her recent visit to Tibet. Especially given the recent turmoil. I believe that the best sources of history and news come from first person accounts. Her first hand experience of details on the ground in Tibet riveting. May you all find Haven's travel post as insightful as I did:

I arrived in Lhasa, after 44 hours on the train from Beijing, on May 2, 2012. I knew not many tour groups had been granted the special visa needed to travel to Tibet since the crack-down after what the Chinese had identified as “unrest,” but still I was unprepared for our “welcome.” Unbeknownst to us, the railroad station was cordoned off, and our guide was being kept a block away. So, there was no one to assist us when we were swarmed by several members of a SWAT team (so their helmets and jackets read), who seized not only our Tibet-entry papers, but also our passports.

Either none of them spoke English, or they preferred not to speak English. There were only six of us, and our average age was about 70, and it is hard for me to believe we posed any particular threat to warrant the gruff treatment. We seemed to be at an impasse as to what would happen next. Our leader was brave enough to just walk off to find our tour guide. He told her he could not accompany her back to us, but that she need not worry. Our passports would be returned to us and he had an extra copy of our entry papers. After a while, our passports were returned to us, and we were allowed to leave the railroad station and meetup with our guide.

Even that “welcoming” did not prepare me for what I was to see in Tibet. I gradually became aware that there were military everywhere. They were posted on the rooftops; they were at every intersection in several-man formations, looking in all directions. They were at the entrance to monasteries, and they were handling the security at the Potala Palace,(the former Winter Palace of the Dalai Lama), including again taking possession of all passports. They were driving convoys of military vehicles on the roads, bearing bumper stickers that read: “Listen to what your government says. Do what your government tells you.”

I am not a China expert, and I am not a Tibet expert. I am commenting only on what I saw, but not interpreting the policy implications. (I am not a fool, however, and I am very aware of the environmental and geographical reasons why China would assert control over Tibet at whatever cost.)

The reason why I think my experience is an appropriate topic for The Buddhist Blog is different from the political and social ramifications. There is a tender and delicate balance between Thay’s call to Engaged Buddhism and Thay’s exhortation: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

I practiced law for 4 decades. I tend to want to solve problems. I ask: ok, what can I do about this problem? I ran through the whole list of practical solutions. Organize a debate over whether to boycott tourism in Tibet or to encourage tourism in Tibet. (This, by the way, is no longer up for discussion. After two more people immolated themselves in early June, China closed the doors to Tibet again.) Petition our government to impose economic sanctions on China. (Ok, I’m waiting for the laughter to subside…) Flood China with social media comments about what’s going on in Tibet. (Perhaps they couldn’t all be blocked.)

But it wasn’t because I couldn’t come up with a practical plan that I had a lightening change of focus. I just suddenly realized how very right Gandhi was when he said “Be the change you want to see” and how very right Thay is when he says “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.”

I didn’t suddenly realize this as an intellectual premise, or as a last resort. I realized in a visceral manner to my very core that what I could do for the Tibetans was to hold them in the heart of my meditation, and what I had also to do was to hold the Chinese soldiers, so young, and probably so scared, in the heart of my mediation. Both “sides” are held hostage to greed and hate and delusion.

I am not saying that there are no situations, in Tibet, or elsewhere in the world, where there aren’t real victims. But I am saying what Thay said a long time ago in his brilliant poem “Please Call Me By My True Names”:
-- if we look deeply we see that the “victimizers” are also victims, and
that we ourselves are both victims and victimizers. We have no more
worthy deed to do for this world, no greater gift to give, than to cultivate a
heart that is open to peace and understanding and compassion, without
May all beings find refuge in a heart that has grown big enough to hold all who suffer.

-Haven Tobias

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Buddhist Bhutan Bans Monastics from Voting.

In the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan monks have been allowed to vote in political elections, but that is about to change. The government says it's to maintain a distinct space between religion and politics. Yet, one has to wonder if they've gone too far in that pursuit since Buddhist clergy have been beneficial over the years in effecting political change that helps create a fertile field for less suffering for a vast, diverse number of people.

Two obvious examples being the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh who both have advocated for political freedoms of all people but especially in their homelands of Tibet and Vietnam.

In fact, Zen master Hanh has developed a form of socially active Buddhism called, "Engaged Buddhism" which teaches Dharma practitioners on how to apply Dharma lessons to real world challenges such as social, political and economic realities. His aim, however, isn't necessarily to favor one political side over another. In fact, during the Vietnam War his group focused on the innocent community caught in between the armies of the Communist and Democratic sides. Engaged Buddhist inspires us to practice the Dharma in ways that aid us in helping our communities become better stewards of the people and its resources (nature and otherwise) so that the collective suffering can be lessened. Hanh embraced this way of engaging the world as a form of following the natural conclusions of compassion combined with the reality of interconnection. In other words, monks and the layity can't practice compassion as called for by the reality of interdependence without being apart of the community.

Engaged was partly inspired by the Chinese monk Taixu. Taixu was concerned about monastics and laity alike in Pure Land Buddhism being distracted and obsessed with working to escape Earth for the otherworldly and supernatural Pure Land. He felt that the awareness of the suffering of others, which engenders compassion to help transform this current life--in this current moment into a happier reality was being lost out of a personal desire for transcendental bliss. It wasn't the belief in an end to suffering via Amida in the Pure Land itself that he was concerned about. It was with his perceived obsession that many had with it, which he felt was disconnecting people from each other, turning people into selfish beings and ultimately preventing the betterment of the society he lived in. It certainly inhibits one from fulfilling the Bodhisattva Vow taught by many Buddhist traditions.

At it's core, the Bodhisattva Vow is a commitment one makes to take action toward helping others within one's community receive the same respect, happiness and betterment that we might have and wish for our own family. This then is a wonderful code for politicians and other leaders today to guide their service for citizens. It goes to show that Buddhist principles aren't simply for spiritual pursuits but can also be beneficial in the public service arena. Still, I think it's important to find the middle ground between politics and spirituality. However, I feel that this decision to outright prevent monks and nuns in Bhutan from voting to be veering off the Buddha's compass of the middle path of finding a healthy balance between politics and spirituality.

Some believe that politicians are incapable of ruling in a just way as politics is driven by desire. Yet, take the example of Emperor Ashoka who used the Dharma as his guide when ruling his people. He was initially a brutal and greedy leader until he was changed by the Dharma, which led him to change many of his ways; including turning toward a vegetarian diet out of compassion for animals. His later rule was motivated by kindness, egalitarianism and philanthropy.

In Bhutan, the monks and nuns may personally decide to avoid politics altogether to dedicate all of their efforts toward spiritual endeavors. However, to prevent them from voting, (if they are so inclined) means taking away peoples' personal freedom, which isn't just antithetical to good government but also to the Dharma's message to not spread suffering and discord. It makes me wonder what the Dalai Lama would think of Bhutan's actions given his views on politics. As well as the reality that Bhutan predominately follows the Tibetan version of Buddhism. Preventing monks and nuns from voting means taking away from communities the many voices of moderation, peace, compassion and happiness that the monastics represent. If we feel that hearing their opinions helps improve life then we'd be silly to prevent those opinions from being registered in the political process.

At the same time, there does need to be a clear line drawn to prevent religion from getting involved in the actual crafting of policy in government. This also goes for preventing government from sanctioning and propagating one religion over another, which raises another question in Bhutan. The Bhutanese constitution that was drafted in 2008 still heavily favors Buddhism, which seems to contradict the government's policy of keeping religion and government separate.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, March 14, 2008

China Off America's List of Worst Human Rights Abusers.

In an almost unnoticed and sad development, the United States of America has removed China from its list of the world's worst human rights abusers. This is particularly troubling given that China just recently broke up a second day of peaceful protest marching by 500-600 monks in Tibet with tear gas and arrests. Today saw a third day of growing protests and in response the Chinese military has sealed off monasteries, reports say that these have been the largest protests in nearly two decades. These protests marked the 49th anniversary of an uprising of against Chinese rule. Some reports say that gunfire could be heard.The heart beat of Tibet is the heart beat of all peace loving people. I have such admiration and respect for these monks and lay people who have mastered their fears and risen peacefully to stand up to the powerful waves of suffering battering them day after day. One molecule of water is no watch in breaking and wearing down a wall but hundreds, thousands and millions of molecules linked together in Oneness of concentration have the power to bit by bit erode away the strongest barriers to freedom. May we be apart of that wave. This is what Gandhi understood as talked about in my previous post.

Let us stand tall and show Tibetans everywhere that we stand firm together with them to peacefully affect change in their beautiful and sacred land. Let us take a few moments in our meditations to contemplate how we can not only free the Tibetans but also free the Chinese military and government from their anger as well as resistance toward change. We must stand up in solidarity with our Tibetan brothers and sisters in order to show the Chinese dictatorship that the practices of violence and force are not effective in realizing true unity and oneness.

They must understand that you can not force people to agree with your opinions and policies because you believe that you know what is best for them--such actions only create more suffering for the very people that you sought to free. That being said, may we also have love toward the Chinese government officials because they are caught up in the shackles of suffering from fear, frustration and anger. Speaking of anger, may we not allow anger toward the Chinese government overtake our minds to prevent resorting to violence ourselves.
The removing of China from the worst human rights abusers list is also disturbing given China's support of the Burmese dictatorship which killed and illegally jailed citizens (many of them monks) for peacefully protesting their brutal regime last year. As well as China's support of the Sudanese government in Africa which has been linked to the genocide in Darfur.China should not be removed from this list of the worst human rights abusers until (at the very least) they grant Tibet independence and grant full freedom to the Chinese people. As well as the political freedom of the Chinese people themselves. They must be constantly reminded that oppressing the Tibetan people and violating human rights within China proper is not acceptable. Maintaining this position as well as not rewarding them with the Olympics are forms of peaceful protests that convey opposition and disagreement without anger and using violence. The Great Bodhisattva Gandhi showed that this kind of campaign is indeed effective in over-coming even the most powerful and oppressive systems of government.The Dalai Lama has urged peaceful protests during the Beijing Olympics. Many Tibetans feel that the decision to award the games to China is at odds with the goal of the Olympic movement, which is to build a peaceful and better world. Campaigners fear Beijing will use the Olympics to inaccurately present China as a free and open society to the outside world.I fear that many Buddhists take pacifism too far. I hear from some folks who say that being involved in political protests just upset ones peacefulness. Yet how can we enjoy our peacefulness and freedom to worship as we desire when not all in this world have that same chance? Is not the Engaged Buddhism that Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of part of practicing the Bodhisattva vows to not rest until all people achieve freedom and liberation from suffering? This is not simply some mystical, other worldly ability limited to the somewhat mythical being Avalokiteshvara. It is my belief that the essence of the Avalokiteshvara story is a tool to teach us that our peace is everyones' peace and that our suffering is everyones' suffering.

I agree that it is not wise to worry night and day about politics, violence, hatred and fear but neither is isolating ourselves. Isolation and inaction is ignoring to a degree the suffering of others and is in my opinion less skillful action. If we earnestly believe in inter-being then we must not remain silent on political issues such as these. This is partly the symbolism of the Tibetan endless knot picture above and to the left--The mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs.

It is not less skillful to be involved in Democratic politics, it is an imperfect tool at times but the best that we have to do our best to bring the greatest peace and freedom possible to as many sentient beings as possible.

UPDATE: Philip Ryan over at the excellent Tricycle Editor's Blog is reporting that Chinese media has confirmed 10 dead during new protests in Tibet. However, supporters of the protests and of the Dalai Lama put the number at 80.

~Peace to all beings~

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