Tibet Lite

I want to conclude for the moment my discussion of non-violence and pacifism in relation to Buddhism.  I’ll come back to it at some point, despite the fact that I’m noticing  that it’s killed the little traffic I had on this blog.  Not that traffic was ever the point of this exercise.

Anyway, I’m very happy to see that this wonderful article, Inventing Tibet by Lydia Aran, has shed its “subscription only” shackles.  It’s not very long, so there’s not much supporting detail.  However it manages to deal with the recent efforts to re-brand Tibet as, among other things, a pacifist Shangri-La.  Two brief quotes to give a taste (but, please, read the whole thing):

Even a cursory look at history reveals that nonviolence has never been a traditional Tibetan practice, or a societal norm, or, for that matter, a teaching of Tibetan Buddhism. Before the present Dalai Lama’s encounter with the Gandhian concept of ahimsa, no Dalai Lama had ever invoked nonviolence as a virtue. Nor does ahimsa—meaning the abstinence from causing injury to any living creature—have any equivalent in Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

True, compassion (Tibetan snying rje, Sanskrit karuna) is an important religious and philosophical tenet, but it denotes above all the wish to save others from suffering by imparting to them Buddhist wisdom. In any case, it is not known ever to have been applied to political life in the way that, for instance, Gandhi took ahimsa as mandating a strategy of passive resistance to evil.

Aran also explains the historical chos-yon relationship which Tibet cultivated with first the Mongols and then the Manchus.  Chos-yon is commonly translated as “patron-lama.”  Basically Tibet, rich in spirituality and poor in everything else, traded esoteric knowledge for protection.  Find a patron, that’s what you do if you’re weak.  Or, if through an embrace of philosophic pacifism, you choose weakness.  The word patron derives of course from pater, meaning father.  By adopting non-violence, whether by choice or necessity, effectively you become a child who requires a protector parent. 

I’m not condemning non-violence out-of-hand and in every case but, when contemplating its use, we probably need to ask ourselves a now familiar question.  Are we setting aside childish things?  Or picking them up?


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