Friday, August 20, 2010

The Weave of Buddhism and Politics

Many of us in the West grew up disillusioned with religion. Because we were raised in an environment where compassion and love for one's neighbor was espoused but rarely practiced, it was often the case that we sought salvation in secular, scientific principles. As it is today, for many Westerners at least, a wedge is planted between religious and scientific values. We often prefer the latter as the approach for social and political action.

But this is certainly not the case for Tibetan culture. It is almost unanimous that the cause for a Free Tibet ought to be quilted within the tapestry of Buddhist logic. When asked if Buddhism has been helpful for this particular goal, one confidently responded, "It teaches good things. It brings a lot of kindness to other people because it teaches one to be a good person. It teaches compassion, kindness, and tolerance." But this is not all, as one suggested as well, "Contentment is a very important thing. Tibetan Buddhism helps to keep inner-peace." However, this seems to only speak of how it is useful within an individual context. So what about the Tibetan agenda for a free, independent Tibet? How are Buddhist values employed within this project?

Aside from the personal benefits of Tibetan Buddhist values, many further this credo by saying these particular values are useful insofar as advancing the goal of a Free Tibet is concerned because Buddhism has encouraged them to not only be hopeful and dedicated to the cause, but it also teaches them to maintain a non-violent posture in the face of relentless oppression. The student I worked with was incredibly helpful in clearing up this obscurity: he mentioned that Tibetan Buddhism has brought international attention to the cause precisely because of its commitment to universal values, values that anyone can identify with--namely compassion and altruism. True. Why has the West so freely romanticize the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism? Perhaps it is what my student said, "It's because every notices the Dalai Lama's smiley face." And who wouldn't want that? ...or at least appreciate or respect that?

I don't want to paint the landscape as entirely homogeneous. Though Buddhist values frame the approach towards a Free Tibet, not all think it is a panacea. Some worry that if we spend too much time on Buddhism, the country will not improve because little would be left toward edifying education and political relationships. Fair enough: Buddhism may not necessarily be harmful but it may hinder the momentum that thrusts the agenda into action. Like one student once told me, "In the past, the Lamas closed the lay people off from having modern education and it created bad things for the people. I think it's important to have a modern education." With that said, I think we might as well conclude that many think that although Buddhism holds the seeds for inclusive political engagements, it cannot be relied upon, in entirety, because without dialogue, and without modernization, the risks can be stifling.

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