Sunday, March 23, 2008

Today's Tibet Update - It's All the Dalai Lama's Fault

I have to confess that I am not sure why I feel so strongly about the Tibet situation. I have been fascinated with the people, the culture, the land, and the religion since I was quite young. My first exposure came from a book that had only one chapter about Tibet, but I was immediately intrigued.

Some might say I was once a Tibetan in a previous life, and as a Buddhist, I probably should believe that something of that nature is possible. I don't disbelieve, but I hold a hopeful skepticism. I won't know until I know, then it will be too late to tell anyone.

OK, on with today's news.

MSNBC has posted a Q&A article (a repost?) explaining some background about the Dalai Lama, his beliefs, and the relationship between him, the Tibetans, and China. A good introduction for those who aren't up to speed on the issues.

The Guardian UK has an article called Inside the court of the Tibetan god-king. The only problem with that headline is that the Dalai Lama does not think of himself as a God -- that's a magical belief of the tribal Tibetans.

Although he describes himself as a 'simple Buddhist monk', last week's events in the Tibetan plateau have underlined the Dalai Lama's importance as a symbol of peaceful protests and a struggle for cultural freedom. For Tibetans, he is the Ocean of Wisdom, a god-king who engenders intense devotion - his name was chanted repeatedly by protesters across the roof of the world.

Chinese officials have a different view, one rooted in the feeling that the Dalai Lama has used his moral and religious authority to destabilise Tibet. In an extraordinarily vituperative attack, state-run media said that the Chinese leadership is engaged in a 'life and death struggle' with the Dalai Lama, who is 'a wolf in a monk's robe, a monster with a human face but the heart of a beast'.

To anyone standing in McLeod Ganj, a British Raj hill station above Dharamsala last week, where he has lived in exile since 1959, the rhetoric seems faintly absurd - a Chinese dragon scared by a mouse that prayed.

Read more

The LA Times is reporting that witnesses saw brutality on both sides, not just the Chinese -- but only the Chinese soldiers had and fired their guns into the crowds.

China has barred Western journalists from entering Tibet and ethnic Tibetan areas. But interviews with foreign witnesses and Chinese residents, as well as blog postings by Tibetans too frightened to be interviewed, show that during three crucial hours on March 14, woefully unprepared police fled, allowing rioters to burn and smash much of Lhasa's commercial center.

Tibetans randomly beat and killed Chinese solely on the basis of their ethnicity: a young motorcyclist bludgeoned in the head with paving stones and probably killed; a teenage boy in school uniform being dragged by a mob. When authorities did regroup, paramilitary troops fired live ammunition into the crowds. Witnesses did not see protesters armed with anything other than stones, bottles of gasoline or a few traditional Tibetan knives.

Despite a massive deployment of Chinese forces, the protests show no signs of abating. In New Delhi on Friday, Tibetan exiles stormed the Chinese Embassy. And China posted a "most wanted" list of 21 alleged rioters, featuring grainy photographs taken from video shot by a hidden camera.

The death toll of Tibetans had risen to 99 as of Friday, with a 16-year-old girl being shot by police in China's Sichuan County, the Tibetan government in exile said.

Chinese authorities say 19 Chinese have been killed in Lhasa: one police officer and the rest civilians.

Read more. The LA Times also reports on protests in the United States in support of the Tibetans, most among expatriate Tibetans.

Reuters is reporting on China blaming the Dalai Lama for trying to take the Olympics "hostage."

China accuses Dalai Lama of taking Olympics "hostage"

BEIJING (Reuters) - China accused the Dalai Lama on Sunday of using unrest in Tibet to back demands for Tibetan independence ahead of the August Olympic Games in Beijing.

The verbal attack on the exiled Tibetan leader, accused on Saturday of colluding with Muslim Uighur separatists in China's western Xinjiang region, was part of an intense propaganda and security drive to stifle anti-Chinese unrest before the Games.

Unrest in Tibet began when Buddhist monks demonstrated in the capital, Lhasa, on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and on subsequent days.

Five days later anti-Chinese rioting shook the city. Chinese authorities said one policeman and 18 civilians were killed.

Anti-government protests then flared in nearby provinces with large ethnic Tibetan populations, leading to violence in which several people were killed and many injured.

In Sichuan, Gansu and other troubled provinces troops continued conspicuously patrolling the streets of Tibetan towns, and kept schools and Buddhist monasteries under tight guard.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday that 94 people had been injured in Tibetan areas in Gansu, almost all of them police.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has in recent days criticized the violence and said he wants talks with China to negotiate autonomy, but not independence, for his homeland.

Read more.

MSNBC focuses a little more closely on the efforts of the Chinese to blame the Dalai Lama for all of the unrest, and his response to the accusations. They focus, again, on the damned Olympics, as if the Tibetan people care more about stopping the Olympics than they do about a post-industrial nation imposing its government, economy, and people on the traditionally tribal Tibetan culture.

"The evil motive of the Dalai clique is to stir up troubles at a sensitive time and deliberately make it bigger and even cause bloodshed so as to damage the Beijing Olympics," said the Tibet Daily, calling it "a life-and-death struggle between ourselves and the enemy."

The attack on the Dalai Lama — who advocates nonviolence and denies being behind the March 14 riots in Lhasa — is an attempt to further demonize him in the eyes of the Chinese public, which is strongly supportive of the Olympics.

"The Dalai clique is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence," said the People's Daily, the main mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

Dalai Lama supports Olympics

On Sunday, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader called the accusation "baseless," asserting he has supported China's hosting of the summer Games.

"I always support (that) the Olympics should ... take place in Beijing ... so that more than 1 billion human beings, that means Chinese, they feel proud of it," said the Dalai Lama on the sidelines of a Buddhist prayer session in New Delhi.

Read more.

On Friday, the Germans warned China that their actions in Tibet are putting the Olympics at risk.

Finally, last Wednesday Time posted an article by Pico Iyer, called A Monk's Struggle, that looks at the dilemma the Dalai Lama faces in trying to advocate a peaceful resolution to the current situation.

As soon as you start talking to the Dalai Lama, as I have been doing for 33 years, you notice that his favorite adjectives are logical and realistic and the verbs he returns to are investigate, analyze and explore. The Buddha was a "scientist," he said the last time I saw him, which means that a true Buddhist should follow the course of reason (recalling, perhaps, that anger most harms the person who feels it). Contact and communication are the methods he always stresses—to this day, he encourages every possibility for dialogue with China and in places even urges Tibetans to study Buddhism under Chinese leaders whom he knows to be capable.

This determination to be completely empirical—as if he were a doctor of the mind pledged to examine things only as they are, to come up with a clear diagnosis and then to suggest a practical response—is one of the things that have made the current Dalai Lama such a startling and tonic figure on the world stage. There are few monks in any tradition who speak so rarely about faith while rejecting anything that has been disproved by scientific inquiry; on his desk at home, he keeps a plastic model of the brain with detachable parts so that he can take it apart, put it together again and see how it works. And there are even fewer political leaders who work from the selfless positions and long-term vision of a monk (and doctor of philosophy). It's easy to forget that the Dalai Lama is by now the most seasoned ruler on the planet, having led his people for 68 years—longer than Queen Elizabeth II, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand or even Fidel Castro.

This all has deep and wide implications for a world that seems as religiously polarized now as it has ever been. Always stressing that the Buddha's own words should be thrown out if they are shown by scientific inquiry to be flawed, the Dalai Lama is the rare religious figure who tells people not to get needlessly confused or distracted by religion ("Even without a religion, we can become a good human being"). No believer in absolute truth—he eagerly seeks out Catholics, neuroscientists, even regular travelers to Tibet who can instruct him—he is also the rare Tibetan who will suggest that old Tibet may have contributed in part to its current predicament, the rare Buddhist to tell foreigners not to take up Buddhism but to study within their own traditions, where their roots are deepest.

This is a great article by a man who has spent a lot of time with the Dalai Lama -- go read the rest of it.

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