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Dalai lama, non-violence, some thoughts

March 31st, 2008 · 2 Comments

The recent protests in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama’s response have been compelling, and somewhat disturbing, for more than one reason. Some voices are whispering that something is awry with the Dalai Lama’s tactics, here’s one: …crowns are now turning into thorns.
I don’t wish to offend anyone, nor do I endorse anyone suddenly changing his mind on this question (changing your mind is often a thoughtless act) of non-violence. Further I support non-violence myself, and did so as a conscious objector in the Vietnam war.
But I sense that many feel something is not right in the Dalai Lama’s tactics. I am suspicious he has washed his hands of the question. He won’t even endorse a boycott, that staple of Gandhian tactics. I come to, here. What’s with this fellow?
The first obvious problem is that, in fact, he has no tactics at all, it seems. Note the difference between tactics and principle. Gandhi was an enigmatic and cunning juggler of these two poles, in the devious way that tactics can seem like principle. Tactics can never easily sit with principle. Thus Gandhi’s mysterious ‘success’. The Dalai Lama, however, is far purer of heart, and seems all principle, and no tactics, apart from feckless hand-wringing. He is a monk in a cave sticking to principle, very commendable, at no cost to himself, with no tactics to liberate his people, or so it seems. I can’t presume to understand such a complex figure. But here is a monk in his cave meditating who is the de facto head of state for Tibet.

Let us simply consider the principle of non-violence. First, isn’t this hypocritical? Buddhists have embraced non-violence (in imitation of the far more rigorous ancient Jains), but they have not always lived it. And this always leaves the question of ‘occult aggression’ like a corruption of the outer front of non-violent. If occult aggression is violent then Buddhists are not non-violent. Buddhists, in fact, have been scrappy fighters, I am puzzled by this sudden drama of non-violence at the crucial juncture given the potential of Buddhists to have long since left the Chinese running down the mountain screaming in terror. In fact, it may be that the hidden Buddhist guides have written off Tibet, and have planted the Dalai Lama in place as a cloak for their other schemes. And those are transparent: the sudden globalization of buddhism. There we see the Dalai Lama in his element. He has been a great success as a spokesman in the travelling circus of the New Age movements of the world, an important task, but what of the Tibetan people?

I think therefore Tibetans are justified, without losing their reverence for the Dalai Lama, in taking the issue of Tibet in their own hands, a moment of peril since to do so will ask, by what principle!

Review the history of warfare in light of non-violence. And study the real history of non-violence which has surely not been told. Gandhi’s toting of the Bhagavad Gita into his non-violent broils is misleading. The Gita, it has been said, is the last swan song of the old warrior caste warning the future against peaceniks. Gandhi’s finesse here was a tour de force, a species of slyness that is inimitable.

We should set the record straight. Violence is historically embedded in multiple achievements of human freedom. Shall we agree with the Dalai Lama and nullify the War for American Independence, a violent struggle? The sans-culottes stormed the Bastille, as a symbol of repression, and also to seize the kegs of powder for their muskets. The Terror, however, foretold an ominous future.
The again, the abolition of slavery finally took an immense struggle. We cannot out of false respect for a pious monk in his cave agree that violence should nullify such an immense shedding of blood for the liberation of men.

The point is clear, or is it? The problem is that the violence of liberation fed on itself, and was amplified by the hidden statistical violence of the new economic systems the left protested against. The Bolsheviks, thus, took political violence to a whole new level, an extraordinary and pathologically demonic level. There were provoked. Lenin could not forget the massacres of 1848, the Commune, the street slaughters of the Tsars. But still, Lenin made violence a tactic of such malevolence that it finally snapped and broke.
It seems hardly an accident that Gandhi appeared with Lenin, at the same time. One way had gone to extremes, to extremis. He pioneered a new approach. I don’t know. His tactics were unprecedented, and often criticized, even by several Indian sages. But he did it, and India achieved its independence.

The same seems unlikely with Tibet. Non-violence won’t work with Leninists. They will exterminate the non-violent and reeducate their children to forever forget non-violence. So your non-violence will produce very violent offspring to forget you.
There’s the contradiction: non-violence is itself going to produce a great violence against the Tibetans, in the name of saving them. It is very violent to piously preach non-violence to Leninst thugs, who will take the opportunity offered for a greater violence.

I think the question is certainly not for me to decide, save as the reflections of a global onlooker, musings on the sidelines. But Tibetans, if it is not to late, might consider the American War of Independence and what they have to do, reflecting very carefully on the dangers of the cobra of violence, and its twin, non-violence.
And consider that if non-violence is not principle, but tactics, then it is false virtue.

Tags: Tibet

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pug // Apr 12, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Thanks for your point of view but I have to disagree with it. China is using the exact same view of Ghandism in the recent protests in Lhasa last month. They practice restraint, let the Tibetan protestors burn, loot, and kill (at least according to the Chinese Media anyways) Chinese and Chinese own stores. To the Chinese, they seem to be the victim here. This situation was made worse by the Western Media which doesn’t express Chinese point of view, instead paraded Dalai Lama’s talks and ‘Free Tibet’ protests in front of their faces. In the recent Olympic runs in San Francisco and Argentina, there are alot more Chinese Supporters than Free-Tibet protestors (3:1 in the San Francisco.) However, the Western Media gives the Free-Tibet protestors more talk time, which infurates Chinese abroad and fuels Chinese Nationalism.

    I watch a recent article on why the US has failed the war on Vietnam was because was the use of Nationalism. 80% of the people at that time were communists when the French and then the Americans attacked. The North Vietnamese sees the American as invaders, sees their cause as just and they are willing to give up their lives for it. Whereas most of the Soldiers in the US are mostly draftees and asking ‘why am I here anyways?’

    While I see there was reason why the American Revoltion was won thru Nationalism, I don’t see getting rid of the Chinese from Tibet is going to be won. Before China had invaded Tibet in 1949, it was a society of about 5% Priest elitists controlling about 95% of the serfs and slaves. When China occupied (or liberated in Chinese terms) they told the serf and slave population that they are free. While most of the Priests, including the Dalai Lama lived in Exile in India. The Dalai Lama got help from the CIA for support to overthrow Tibet from China. This was a large failure from the start because they couldn’t get the support from the Tibetans probably because most Tibetans don’t want to go back to their old way of live of serfdom and slavery (with the use of Chinese propaganda.) The only thing that they can do is to use Tibetan guerellas to attack the Chinese, which made this message more clear to the Tibetans who live under Communist China. This is apparantly true even today.

    The Dalai Lama’s request for Tibet to be an autotomy state under his leadership sounds nice, but the Chinese will probably never grant it. China, and especially a communist one know the dangers integrating church and state, and they certainly don’t want the church to have alot of influence over the state. The Chinese offers tightly controlled Christanity and Buddhism.

    I saw an interview from Ann Curry from msnbc interviewing the Dalai Lama about Violence and when asked about it he said; “You can say in (using violence) certain– under certain circumstances. Provided your motivation is good. Your goal is larger interest for larger people and a just cause. Theoretically, a violent method can be permissible, but in practical level, I feel always better avoid using violence.” It is essentially similar when President Bush says we will achieve peace in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam. The problem with that statement is if the Iraqis want to to be free from Saddam and be ruled by the US instead? Unfortunately, Tibetans are so dependent on the Chinese that they don’t want to be separate.

    One thing I have to note is that I do feel sorry for Tibetans living in China who simply want to see the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans who live in exile because they want to go to Lhasa but couldn’t because of disagreements between Hu and the Dalai Lama. I saw an BBC article on some of the Exiles in Dharamsala include chants like “Long live the Dalai Lama, Death to Hu Jintao… Tibet is for Tibetans. We want justice. We want freedom.” and the Free Tibet movement is not helping in the situation. The Chinese know that they have the upper hand and Tibet will be part of China, with or without the Dalai Lama.

    If the Dalai Lama really wants to achieve his goal of autotomy in Tibet, he really has to get away from the political issues of Tibet. The Dalai Lama preaches compassion yet some of his followers breeds alot of resentment and hate toward the Chinese. To me, the Dalai Lama started to look more like a figurehead rather than a Spiritual leader of Buddhism.

  • 2 nemo // Apr 12, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I can’t resolve the issue of non-violence very easily, but the issue of autonomy/independence is quite clear: China’s claim on Tibet is bogus, as bogus as England’s claim on the American colonies.

    When in the course of human events…

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