Monday, March 17, 2008

The Bodhisattva ideal, idealised: A Buddhist thought on the Tibet riots.

As many may have heard, riots in Tibet have been happening for a week now, since March the 10th, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibet riots. For those unaware of the proceedings, and to illustrate my upcoming point, here’s a timeline of news headlines:

Tibetans launch historic movement ahead of Beijing Olympics.
"We are calling on Tibetans worldwide to join us at this critical moment when China is trying to spread its Olympics propaganda," B. Tsering, President of the Tibetan Women's Association. "Together, we will seize this unprecedented opportunity to voice Tibetan resistance and reinvigorate our freedom struggle."

Tibetans march despite police ban

Tibetan exiles go on hunger strike
More than 100 Tibetan exiles began a hunger strike Thursday after police in northern India dragged them away from a six-month march to their homeland to protest China's hosting of the Olympic Games.

China pulls plug on YouTube after Tibet riots
Crisis? What crisis?

China warns Tibet of crackdown
Reports: At least 40 dead in clashes,1,1414679.story

Beijing says Olympic torch plans unaffected by Tibet killings

Deadline looms for Tibetans to surrender

Tibet protester deadline passes
The deadline for Tibetan protesters to surrender to the police has passed, after a quiet day in the city of Lhasa.

When I first heard of this through the YouTube video I commented thus: "I very much support a free Tibet, but this movement is making me uneasy. Tibetans marching home. I wonder, how many hundreds or thousands of people will be killed. What's more frightening is that no-one's mentioning this. I wonder what the Dalai Lama has to say about it. It will certainly work, however. It will be remembered in all time as the moment when the antelope walked straight into the lion's jaws." Now, looking back on the events I feared so much, I'm not relieved that my "hundreds and thousands" of deaths have receded to around 40-100. In fact, the events of the past few days have only confirmed that this whole thing was a bad idea. First of all, I do not see how any protest which has an ultimate aim of martyrdom can be called "peaceful". It's like lying under a tank, or even standing in front of a bullet: these types of actions are NOT peaceful. It is merely altruistic violence. Rather than be violent to them, be violent to me. This doesn't stop the fact that someone is killed or injured, you do not prevent anything. Oh but you say, it's better I die than someone innocent, without even thinking about it. This is not a noble thought, because it does nothing. Maybe, the most needed death is theirs. Maybe, if they died, and not you, the media wold see it differently and hence the world. Maybe, if you lived on, more people could hear of your cause because of you, whereas through that innocent you saved they'd here nothing.
Do not get me wrong, I agree with none of these "maybe"s. My main focus here is this: Buddhist monks and leaders were involved in, and lead, this revolt. Many Tibetan exiles and citizens rioted not just for cultural but for religious reasons. Altruism is regarded highly in Mahayana Buddhism, as seen in the ideal of the Bodhisattva. A person who has achieved enlightenment, yet rather than moving on to Nirvana, chooses to stay present in this world of suffering purely through altruism: The will to lead all other beings to Enlightenment. For instance, the Dalai Lama is the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. Now, it is this very same ideal that gets butchered in protests like this. It is good to be altruistic, so let us go and become martyrs to free our country and raise an awareness of the injustices there. Anyone who has read Shantideva will see a contradiction here. Altruism is good, but why to only so few? Why are Tibet's problems any less than those of Kashmir, Sudan, Iraq? Shantideva states: "People honour someone who gives alms to a few people, saying, "He does good", because he contemptuously supports their life for half a day with a moment's gift of mere food." This sentence underlines the main reasons why I do not directly support the Free Tibet campaign, or the actions of the protesters. Why should I class one country as better than another? How could I, when all beings are universally equal and worthy? It feels selfish. In all things, suffering is equal. Yet to some, a shot fired in Tibet resounds a hundred of times greater than a shot in Pakistan.
Altruism isn't selective, and those monks and laity who have staged or been involved in these protests have done nothing worth merit, they have only succeeded in death.
It hurts me that there is such unrest in Tibet, and if the situation ever arose where a person might be shot and I could take the bullet for them, I probably would. This entire journal is just an ad hoc response to the events I'd been trying in vain to stop for months. I have stated that this blog is non-political, and maybe this one-off entry has shown you why.
Upcoming entries:
Deity File 1# - Vajrayogini: Queen of the Dakini
The teachings of Milarepa
Book Review: Monk, householder and Tantric priest: Newar Buddhism and it's hierarchy of ritual. (Nepal special!)
The mystery of Guge Kingdom.