The violence in Tibet is only getting worse. The Dalai Lama has announced that if the violence (by Tibetan protesters) continues, he will step down as leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile. When I first saw the headline this morning, it appeared that the Dalai Lama was saying he would step down from everything which I was hoping didn't mean from his spiritual post as well. Subsequent press releases have clarified that it would only mean that he steps down from his political leadership post.
I don't proclaim to be an expert on Tibet, Buddhism, or politics, but I do recognize the Dalai Lama as one of the foremost leaders on the peace movement. He is a kind, gentle, learned man who, like Ganhdi, wants to guide people to attaining their rights through peaceful methods. I recently watched the movie "Gandhi" with my son, and it is hard not to draw strong parallels betweent the two leaders. If you remember, Gandhi began a very long hunger strike to convince his followers to stop using violence in their efforts to enact political and cultural change in India. Eventually, the violence stopped, because no one wanted to lose their de facto leader. I believe that this announcement from the Dalai Lama is a similar move. He needs to take a strong stand and some kind of action to convince his followers to stop their violence - but not their resistance.
China invaded Tibet in 1959, claiming the country as its own. It's a region that has often been the subject of conflict and control issues. Mao Zedong took his communist army into China to reclaim the region, driving the Dalai Lama to take his government into exile in Dharmsala, India. The complete and utter disregard for sovereignty and human rights in Tibet is the subject of many scholarly and political debates and fueled efforts by many people - including the musicians who participated in the Tibetan Freedom concerts - to drive China out of Tibet. Our own government refuses to get involved and, yesterday, said that boycotting this year's Olympics in Beijing is out of the question.
It was in 1998, when my family and I went to the Tibetan Freedom concert in Washington, D.C., that I became interested in the conflict. We went, of course, to see bands such as Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Radiohead, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. What we got was a whole lot more. I witnessed the chanting of Tibetan monks for the first time, as they took the stage and sat amongst the microphones in their burgundy and gold robes. Many people took this as a time to hit the restrooms and porta-johns around the R.F.K. Stadium. I sat and listened. It was mesmerizing. I bought a couple of t-shirts on the way out from the Students for a Free Tibet organization that said "Bodhisattva Boot-Camp" on the back. I had no idea what that even meant at the time, but bodhisattvas are beings who put off their own nirvana/enlightenment in order to help others reach theirs. It's the ultimate sacrifice and is full of merit.
Since then, I have dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism. I sporadically visit the local Tibetan Meditation Center and have attended introduction to Buddhism classes there. It's hard for me to understand it all, because the cosmology is very different from what I'm used to. The language is difficult. The concepts are foreign. And yet, it speaks to me. I recognize the Dalai Lama as one of the greatest leaders of our time. He has done far more for peace than most other religious leaders. We can only hope that his efforts to stem the violence are successful. Tibet has long had a culture of peace and non-violence, but when people are backed into a corner, with their rights and property stolen and their very culture stamped out, eventually they do act and sometimes in ways that are just as violent as the ways in which they were treated. The frustration they feel has helped to fuel this. The incarceration, torture, rape, and murder of Buddhist monks and nuns since 1959 has been abhorrent. This isn't just about land; it's about one culture/ideology's (Chinese Communism) attempt to stamp out another by any means necessary.
How can you help? Pray for peace in whatever language you use, in whatever religion you subscribe to. It is the only answer.
Peace - D