2014 in L'Alpe di Siusi, fresh from the US and Australia.
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OK, we have all heard about or seen the video of the Dalai Lama with the Indian boy, or at least most of us have. If you haven’t seen it or don’t know about it you are probably better off, but it has been all over the internet. The furore over it had appeared to have died down, but outlets like the BBC keep bringing it up. The video has drawn strong reactions of condemnation from many Western viewers, not so much from Asian sources and strong reactions of support for the Dalai Lama from the Tibetan government in exile in India. Since I have often written about Buddhism in my monthly letters, a few times about Tibet and a couple of times about the Dalai Lama – and especially since I have been asked for comment – I am obliged to say a few words about that video, about the Dalai Lama and Tibet, and China in general. It is all interrelated. So, as we go along here, certain points will be addressed:
People have asked what my position is on the video. I am sitting, investigating and contemplating. I am not being flippant here, but instead I am doing what any spiritual mentor would advise one to do in such an instance. In what is about to be outlined, most readers will find some area of disagreement or even perhaps strong reactions. But what is emerging from it is of value, which will also be outlined as to why as we go along. I will state from the outset I have zero interest in debating any of it. I almost chose not to comment on it at all.
To begin then, the true purpose of the video is propaganda, meant to smear the Dalai Lama – end of story, as far as the purpose of the video goes. Object if you like, but if we want to be honest here we need to look at all sides of this event. The video can also be seen as an attack on Buddhism in general and on monastic life in particular. The reason I say it is propaganda is the context and the target audience. What is shown in the Dalai Lama video is an example of Tibetan culture (video), instead of child abuse as so many Western comments have claimed. The target audience is the English-speaking world, the West in the large, where norms of behaviour are often quite different from those in the East. If you have seen the video it is worth noting it is entirely in English, it is only a short snippet, a small edited part of a much longer gathering, and the posting I saw of it (perhaps there are others) had the VOA noted in a caption of the video. If one does an acronym search on ‘VOA’, the Voice of America stands out front and center. I doubt seriously ‘VOA’ stands for ‘Virginia Oncology Associates’ in this case. The Voice of America is a state-funded media organization and is often used as a propaganda arm of the US State Department. The State Department is not exactly happy with the Dalai Lama at the moment, which we will address a little later here. What would be the value of the video for propaganda, then, and why now? There are several groups who would benefit (they think) from such an effort:
At this point it may be of value to the reader for me to relate some personal experience here. When I was living in Adelaide I had close interactions with a group of the Tibetan expat community and a few Tibetan monks for a few years, especially in relation to the Buddhist centre that was being set up there. I was involved in the renovations on the building itself. The head of the centre was a Tibetan lama, a higher-up in the Gelugpa tradition, to which the Dalai Lama belongs and is the head. I am relating experience here, not making claims. This lama, a Rinpoche then, set up the current curriculum for the Gelugpa tradition, revising the old system, bringing it to a very high standard of scholastic achievement for monastic study. He fled Tibet in 1959 when the Chinese suppressed the Tibetan uprising (We’ll get to that) and found himself along with a large group of monks in southern India, where they had to set up the present Sera Jey monastery in Bylakuppe. He has since passed, but his reincarnation has thereafter been found and enthroned at the monastery in India he helped establish. Our lives are a constant stream of reconnecting with people with whom we have shared past lives, and this centre in Adelaide was a case in point for me.
Long-time readers of these letters might recall my recounting of a lucid dream I had in 2005 (letter not yet up on the site) of the Dalai Lama coaxing me to follow him in bungee jumping off the Empire State building. I didn’t do so in the dream, though I gave it serious thought then. A couple of years later I did take a deep dive – into Buddhism, which led me to this Rinpoche, the experience of Tibetan culture and Buddhist practices. It was a re-connection and was needed at the time. It was my first experience with the Dalai Lama that led me to finally meet Rinpoche.
The first experience I had with the Dalai Lama was at a large public meeting in Melbourne I attended with a friend of mine in 2007. Public talks like that with Buddhist dignitaries are always introductory in nature and one gets the basics of Buddhism – practising compassion, the necessity for mind training, meditation, etc. There is a popular blogger who commented on such meetings given by the Dalai Lama after attending one such public talk and after ‘that video’ appeared, bemoaning the fact that she only got the ‘pablum of Buddhism’ (my words, not hers) at the talk she attended and that she didn’t think His Holiness the Dalai Lama was all he was cracked up to be. She was a little coarser in her comments than that, but it displays the general misunderstanding people have about the Dalai Lama and public talks. One doesn’t get handed ‘the keys to the fast car’ (i.e., direct experience enlightenment) at such talks. Such instruction is given only privately once one is at an advanced stage in the practices. In other words, one doesn’t get to drive the fast car until one has shown enough proficiency in their ‘driving’ skills. In fact, though, the keys to enlightenment are given at such talks – live a virtuous life, practise compassion for all living beings and so forth. That is the fundamental prerequisite for spiritual advancement for our humanity, i.e. living a life of service and meditating. That said, at the end of that talk the Dalai Lama gave the Orange Manjushri empowerment.
Orange Manjushri is the prime practice for invocation of wisdom and is engaged in Buddhist practice for clarification of the mental field, for learning and memorizing teachings. He is a manifestation of buddhi (intuition, wisdom). Well, I went home after the weekend and took on the practice, seeing what it had in store. There was something familiar in it. The results were immediate, in that I experienced a clarity of mind I had not known before. I knew I was on to something and sought out the Buddhist centres there in Adelaide, leading my friend and me eventually to Rinpoche and what I would call a journey of rediscovery.
I recall at the time I was accused of ‘going back to the old Geshes’ by a few members of the esoteric community, which showed a certain bias, as in they thought it was a step backwards in ‘The Path’. I might add, because of my experiences there at the center, those only added depth to my understanding of the Western esoteric tradition of Blavatsky, Bailey, Roerich, Steiner, et al. Blavatsky herself received initiation in Tibet, being recognized as a tulku. As we say in the South, the acorn never falls far from the tree. The Roerichs, too, had their pilgrimage to Tibet and met many of the old Masters there. Even Alice Bailey claims she received her transmission from a Tibetan Lama. There is a point to mentioning all this, to which we will come back. But I will simply add here that the three sources of our present Western esoteric tradition – Blavatsky, Roerich and Bailey – all had their sojourns with Tibetan culture, Buddhism and teachers. I recall also at the time of encountering Rinpoche and Buddhist practice being told by a mentor – which has always stuck with me – to take the essence of anything presented and to leave the rest. That is the gist of what the people just mentioned transmitted in their works, not Tibetan culture. This brings us to ‘that video’.
Here we go, then: To start, what we have with the Dalai Lama is as follows – there is Buddhism (the essence) and there is Tibetan culture. The two are intertwined in Tibetan Buddhism and have been over many centuries. We have the same in any religion, Christianity being no exception. Jesus never meant for there to be an organized religion, for instance. He didn’t go around calling for groups to be set up in his name. He earnestly admonished anyone he encountered to follow certain principles, like the Golden Rule for instance, and to live a good life thereby. This is individual responsibility. The human tendency is to form groups around those principles. Religion is largely cultural. What is called Tibetan Buddhism is heavily imbued with an ancient culture, and it is practised as a religion. There are many people who call themselves Christians, for instance, who religiously go to church yet who do not practice Christian principles in their everyday life. It is the same in Buddhism, as in any religion. I have seen ordained monks who could hardly be called Buddhist in essence or practice.
In its essence, Buddhism is not a religion. Reduced to its essence, Buddhism is a pathway to enlightenment – mind training – and is self-engaged and self-taught. It is the very basis of the path to enlightenment in that it describes and teaches the phases of meditative practice. It can be (and should be) practised in the context of any field of endeavour, even religious. That is not taught in what is called ‘Tibetan Buddhism’. In Tibetan Buddhism, reliance on the guru is the pathway to enlightenment. In Christianity, the priest or pastor is the doorway to heaven. Yet, for all the culture, Rinpoche’s admonition to his students was always that practice is the key to enlightenment. That meant taking the practices as they were given and going away and actually practising – making individual effort – instead of going to the gompa religiously and attending pujas. I took his advice on board and have never looked back.
Why bring all this up? It goes to one of the values of the video in question. Like it or not, a cult of personality has been built up for years around the Dalai Lama. It has been done by the Tibetan community, his followers, the media, even governments. He has never promoted himself as some great being, never asked for groups to be formed around him. In fact, he has always said he is just a simple monk. It is his followers and Tibetan tradition that put him forward as a living Buddha, a supremely enlightened Being. He could be. I am not in a state of awareness to see that sort of thing, though his actions up until now have only been those of a great and beloved bodhisattva, as far as I know. He is also a human being, though, having a personality and is thus subject to all the flaws of a human being. He has been known to make a few gaffes in his day. The old saying that nobody is perfect is literally true. We live in an imperfect and evolving reality. And here is another point: Has he ever done the sort of thing shown in the video in front of a Western audience? No. It was an Indian audience. He also apologized to the boy and his family for any hurt his actions may have caused. But now, for many across the West, the mystique around the man has been shattered. Hallelujah! Now we can begin to have honest and open conversations about a great many issues related to practices, Tibet, China, cultures, monastic life, issues around sexuality and celibacy and so on. His Holiness the Dalai Lama would welcome such investigations. I do know that much about him. And just remember, the man is 87 years old now, is not in the best of health and is coming to the end of his work here, at least for this life – if he chooses to come back. Personally (also my considered opinion) he will be the last Dalai Lama. We’ll come back to why a little later.
Repeating, then, we see in the video is largely cultural. It has been quite interesting and informative to look at all the responses and reactions to it in social media and across media. Western sources are apoplectic in many cases (video), entirely judgemental and throw out the baby with the bathwater, to use the phrase, seeing Buddhism as yet another method used to control the populace. I did a concerted search through foreign media and social media to judge reaction around the world. In that, there was relative silence outside the West compared to Western media. Oriental cultures for the largest part just shrugged it off.
Tibetan Buddhism, also called ‘Lamaism’, was used in part to control the populace of Tibet, the same as the Catholic Church and Christianity of the time was used to control the European populace. The Gelugpa tradition at one time was as much a political organization as it was a religious one. But there was also a secular Tibetan elite, what we might call ‘the Tibetan 1%’ who pulled the real strings of power in old Tibet. They owned most of the land, controlled the finances and so forth, much like our own Western 1%. Europe prior to the Reformation was a feudal theocracy mixed with governments and ruled with an iron hand. The Catholic Church was an empire, when we come down to it. But such was our European history. Tibetan Buddhism has been called by some sources ‘the Catholicism of the East’:
“Lassa, in Thibet, is the Rome of the Buddhists; and the temple they have erected there ranks above other temples in grandeur, as St. Peter’s does above other Catholic churches…Borri, a Jesuit missionary to Cochin China [the bottom third of present-day Vietnam], says: “It looks as if the Devil had endeavored to represent among the Gentiles the beauty and variety of religious orders in the Catholic Church. The priests have chaplets and strings of beads about their necks. There are among them persons resembling bishops, abbots, and archbishops; and they use gilt staves, not unlike our crosiers. If any man came newly into that country, he might easily be persuaded there had been Christians there in former times, so nearly has the Devil attempted to imitate us.”
That quote is from an article in The Atlantic from 1870. It is an article well worth reading today to compare the Europe from which we evolved to the Tibet that was found in 1950. An abbot from one of the monasteries in Tibet at the time of the article was once asked if he would convert to Catholicism, upon which he replied, “Your religion is the same as ours.”
Regarding the content of the video in question being largely cultural, in my opinion the behaviour exhibited in the video is wholly unacceptable in the setting of a Western audience. I found it off-putting myself when I saw it. Had the audience been Western there would have been gasps of horror followed by loud protestations denouncing the Dalai Lama’s behaviour. Instead what we hear in the video is applause by the audience for the interaction. Tibetan culture can be quite different from ours, as I found out on several occasions (nothing untoward, mind you) in my experiences at the Buddhist centre in Adelaide. I also heard a lot of anecdotal stories from Tibetans and from Western monastics. Monastic rules, some of which would seem very bizarre by our standards, are different in Tibet and India than in Western monasteries. We in the West have no idea (another article well worth reading). Yet, similar behaviour used to go on in Western monasteries. It has to do with the vows. It doesn’t justify the behaviour to someone looking from the outside, and any harm done needs to be soundly denounced. But therein is an argument for not going into monastic life unless one’s practice is very deeply inclined toward a natural instead of enforced celibacy. I would also add that children should not be allowed anywhere near a monastery, in my considered opinion, except maybe in organized tour groups. In Chinese territories one has to be 18 years of age to enter a monastery, so we were told by a Jonangpa tulku in a tour of Tibet in 2009. He himself entered the monastic life at 18 years of age. With all this background, then, let’s get to the nitty gritty.
So, here is the question: Is the Dalai Lama a paedo, as offensive as the question will be to some readers? In my own experience I have never seen, read, heard or sensed anything about the Dalai Lama that would lead me to assume any hint of paedophilia or child abuse. To me such a question is just absurd, based on my own experience. In fact, all I have ever experienced and seen from him is kindness, and I have been in small rooms with him with groups of people on several occasions for various reasons. A two-minute video of the nature of this one is not proof of anything. I will not post a link to the video. One can find it easily enough. But if you choose to see it and have sensitivities to certain matters, be warned – it is something you cannot un-see if you have been brought up in Western culture. That brings us to who would post such a thing and what do they hope to gain from it?
The video is a hit piece on the Dalai Lama, as stated above. People claim it is from the Chinese, as is the fashion these days. We don’t know who posted it. It brings up many questions, but it also has value. Why I call it a hit piece has to do with our present trajectory in world events. So here are a few questions: Why has it come out now? Is it real, and if so, why just the short snippet instead of showing the entire presentation at the gathering, uncut? And at whom was the audience aimed? Why there and what possible use would it be except to arouse the outrage and prurient curiosity of the Western audience? Personally, one is well advised to be suspect of any short piece of video that evokes a strong reaction, taken out of the context of the event from which it comes. Such video snippets are a primary tool of propagandists. Am I being conspiratorial? Much has been made of the Dalai Lama in social media having once been under the pay of the CIA, calling him a CIA asset, which is utter nonsense. The CIA thought he was, though, and they sent money to him. Just try to wrap your head around the Dalai Lama as a CIA operative, if you know anything about him. He would probably have a good laugh about it. A recent BBC article points out the Dalai Lama led the rebellion in 1959 to which the Chinese responded. Imagine the Dalai Lama leading a rebellion. It is a false or mistaken view. Well, most of that money that was allegedly given directly to the Dalai Lama was passed on to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGE) for administrative costs and training insurgents.
The TGE is comprised today of the descendants of the Tibetan elites and monastics who staged an uprising in 1959 seeking to separate Tibet off from China – under the direction of the CIA. The Dalai Lama does not strike one as the Che Guevara type. Like so many other things we have been told regarding other nations, we have been lied to about what really happened in Tibet in the ‘50s and why the monastics and elites fled Tibet in 1959 (video, must watch). Seems an agreement was struck between those elites and the CPC (which we like to call the CCP) in 1951 that would leave the monastic/elitist system in Tibet in place in exchange for autonomy within Chinese rule. Water and a buffer from India, along with centuries of coexistence with China, sometimes friendly, sometimes inimical, were China’s main interests in having Tibet in their orbit. But there was a caveat – in exchange for autonomy the monasteries and the elites had to dismantle the feudal system that had existed in Tibet for centuries, thus freeing the populace of Tibet from servitude. That also meant giving up a large part of their wealth and lands and giving it to the people. Under CIA supervision the result was a fore-gone conclusion, which was an attempt at a color revolution to break the agreement. The Chinese intervened and crushed the rebellion, driving many of the monastics and most of the elites out of Tibet and into India for the most part. And many of the monastics, like Rinpoche, who fled were afraid Buddhism would be lost to Tibet, which as it turns out was an unfounded fear, looking at Tibet today.
We aren’t told any of the preceding in Western recounting of Tibet. Positive views of China in English are few and far between, as well as often being quite negative. The algorithms in Western media sites are geared toward numbers of clicks and are politically skewed, reflecting the biases of and agendas of Western establishments. We are told the Chinese invaded to seize Tibet and subjugate the people, whereas what really happened was the vast majority of the Tibetan people, in fact, were liberated from their lot as serfs. If you think this is Chinese propaganda there are a few films you can watch that may open your eyes to what Tibet was really like before Chinese intervention. The fact is, we have been sold a mystique about Tibet (video), largely by American and British sources in order to maintain a negative view of the Chinese, as well as to (they hope) destabilize China. To that end the TGE is used as part of that campaign by Western sources. Thus, the ‘Free Tibet’ movement was promoted across the West. Everyone, meaning various groups with an interest in China and Tibet have their story line, Chinese, American, Tibetans still in Tibet, Tibetans in exile and so on. But the Dalai Lama himself has openly stated we need to forget about the past regarding Tibet and move forward. The Tibetans remaining in Tibet want development and to stay with China. And it is also not publicised that prior to the Chinese invasion in 1950 and intervention in 1959 – call the latter an invasion if you like – there were factions in Tibetan society who actually wanted the Chinese to intervene leading up to 1950, because they wanted Tibetan society to modernize. For myself, I am still in the process of seeking out all the facts on these matters. But from my few years in Adelaide with Tibetans, having travelled even briefly to China and Tibet, I can say with confidence what we are told in Western media about Tibet and China, especially regarding the relations between the two, is largely rubbish. The only advice I can give to doubters is to actually travel to China and Tibet and see for themselves.
Most of you know my views on spiritual matters anyway. But there is one thing to keep in mind as we explore these topics as the years pass: When it comes to one’s spirituality, it is the essence of a practice that is important instead of personalities and culture, and in that everyone is ultimately self-responsible, because when we pass from this existence to our next incarnation, we are not faced with our teachers. We face only our own actions and where those lead us into the future, regardless of the actions of leaders or culture. And when teachers like the Dalai Lama or any other teacher or mentor passes, we are always left to our own devices.
The Dalai Lama is not much longer for this physical existence, as he is 87 now. The legacy he will leave behind is that of being instrumental in spreading the Buddha-dharma throughout the world. He has given the Kalachakra empowerment to millions of people. Buddhist centers can now be found in most major cities, due in no small part to Tibetan lamas leaving Tibet. Maybe the Chinese have been instrumental in that, too. Every event presents us with unanticipated possibilities. As long ago as 1973 he was saying,
“It is my dream to have the perfect economic development of Tibet, the perfect organization, the efficiency that we find in Communism, but all this based upon, founded upon the Buddhistic qualities of Compassion and Love, so that the people in power do not degenerate into corruption…”
That’s not a bad dream. Is it even possible? It could be, but it would take time and the abandonment of the anti-communist sentiment amounting to a mania in factions of the capitalist West. The development desired for Tibet is already taking place. The Tibet of 20 years ago bears no semblance to the Tibet of today (video). Poverty of the worst sort has been largely eliminated. The people are happy. The monasteries are open and functioning, but the feudal system is gone. The infrastructure is sound and improving all the time. The Dalai Lama has said recently the Tibetans want development, and they are getting it. Go and see for yourselves. I saw it in 2009 and already the improvements were in evidence. The Dalai Lama is not there in body, but the Tibetan people carry his spirit with them always, as do millions of Chinese, by the way. So, the Western powers can bash China all they want, but they no longer have any influence inside Tibet. As for myself, I will continue the practices I have received from the Dalai Lama and Rinpoche, along with other spiritual practices of various types, keeping to their essence and abandoning a culture that is not appropriate to Western life until my last breath, and onwards after my ashes are scattered to the winds. Spirituality does not cease at death. In fact, there is every possibility of accelerating one’s practices after the body no longer presents a hindrance.
The best advice I could give to anyone who has concerns about the allegedly scandalous video of the Dalai Lama is to ignore it. See it for what it is – an attempt to set back the work of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in particular and to hinder people from approaching those meditative practices, from which they otherwise might greatly benefit. They have certainly benefitted me and many other people I know. Thankfully the furore over the video has died down considerably. And as to China and its influence, just remember the United States in particular wants to see us go to war with China, which would be an utter disaster for everyone, the point being every effort is going to be made to cast China and the Chinese in the worst light possible in Western media. But seeing is believing, as the saying goes. Go to China, including Tibet and see for yourselves what all the fuss is about if you really want to get a better idea of the truth. Otherwise, study, read and watch widely from sources across the board, hopefully with an open mind. The entire region of East Asia is undergoing extraordinary change. There are many people these days who denounce nations and peoples for human rights abuses who have never even set foot in the nations they condemn. Who are we going to believe, then? As to His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, long may he live and may the dharma flourish for as long as humanity lives.
4 May 2023