China Needs the Dalai Lama
From Washington Post by Robert Thurman – We are at a moment of great significance for humanity, at the beginning of this new century, which could be either a horrendous time of natural and man-made mega-disasters or the greatest century yet of environmental restoration and peaceful global community. Of all world leaders at this time, the Dalai Lama most convincingly provides spiritual, intellectual, and ethical leadership, exemplifying and elucidating the most reasonable path to peace and happiness. This is the secret of his worldwide popularity. His person and teaching really do matter, to the Tibetans, to the Chinese, and to all of us and our future generations.
If there ever was a social and political movement based on faith, on spirituality, it is the 50-year campaign of the Dalai Lama for the freedom of his people, and the present spontaneous uprising of the Tibetan people who want to be free to restore their spiritual life, in the closer presence of their spiritual and political leader. These acts of truth—the Dalai Lama’s long insistence on nonviolence and dialogue in responding to the genocidal acts of one of the world’s largest military powers, and the Tibetan people’s resistance in the face of overwhelming odds—may yet produce miraculous results, as one of the world’s greatest “lost causes” becomes a possible success.
The promise of the present moment has been precipitated first by the innovative leaders of China, gingerly stepping out into the glare of world publicity and opinion by hosting the Olympic Games and second, just now, by the brave people of Tibet stepping out on their own past the plans of their leader and, against great odds, standing up for the truth of their existence as Tibetans. Risking their very lives, they protest the total destruction of their culture, environment, and way of life. They have done this in the spirit of nonviolent resistance, although decades of bitterness and the extremity of their present situation did cause some of them to lose sight of this foundational principle of their struggle and commit some acts of violence. They stood up to the firing of armed Chinese troops, they raised their flag of freedom, and they remain standing in spite of the massive loss of life and liberty they knew would come.
The Dalai Lama didn’t ask them to sacrifice themselves in this way. He tells them he will resign if they commit more violent acts, even exceptionally, and he agonizes over the vengeance the hard-line authorities can be expected to exact. At the same time, he and the rest of the world stands in awe of the extraordinary depth of faith being exhibited by his brave people, an echo of similar courageous acts witnessed in the last century during the Civil Rights struggles in the U.S. and South Africa.
The opportunity the Chinese leaders now have is nothing less than earth-shaking. For sixty years they have sought to dominate and control, in the futile effort to transform Tibet and its Tibetans into China and Chinese, a project the Dalai Lama has called cultural genocide. They have clearly failed. The “Dalai Lama clique” they blame and vow to destroy turns out to be all Tibetans. They now have the chance to look carefully at the facts, seek the truth, and accept that failure by trying something new. They have unnecessarily been trying to make an enemy of their best friend in all the world, the Dalai Lama, not only believed by Buddhists to be the incarnation of the god of compassion but beloved by people of all religions and humanisms as an inspiring thinker, teacher, and spiritual example – the Nobel Laureate, the living Gandhi, and the apostle of nonviolence, intelligent dialogue, and unbending hope. He has all along continued to offer them the open hand of friendship, aiming to find a solution that will be satisfying for China as well as for Tibet. It’s time, now, for President Hu Jintao to reach out and welcome his help.
Robert Thurman is professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University and President of Tibet House US. His upcoming book, “Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet and the World” (Atria Books/Beyond Words) will be out in June.