The great thing about the internet is that you can find in-depth, thoughtful articles that tell you thing that you didn’t know before. The bad thing is that you have to go through a lot of trouble to find them. Anyway here are two articles.
Trying to understand what is going on is like putting together pieces of the puzzle. The reason I like these two articles is that they “fit” into pieces of the puzzles that I already know about. I don’t know that much about Tibetan exile politics, however I do have first hand knowledge of Han Chinese exile politics, and what it’s like on in the inside of a Buddhist temple. I’ve also met people from the National Endowment for Democracy (and been highly unimpressed). A few comments:
- happy people do not become Buddhist monks or nuns. People who are content with their life and satisfied with their material standard of living, just don’t become Buddhist monks. People who do become Buddhist monks and nuns tend to do so because of some huge trauma. I’m guessing that as a result Tibetan monasteries are filled with angry young youths.
- I’ve also seen how devoted people can be to their Lamas. I’m pretty sure that any efforts by the Tibetan regional government to try to reduce the connections between monasteries and the high Lamas are going have a rather bad counterreaction.
- Finally, one of the interesting parallels is between religion and language. I’m pretty sure that in a generation or two, most of the Tibetan exiles in India would have melted into the general population, but religion is one area were you can keep a culture alive. The reason this matters to me is that one reason I’m trying to make sure that my kids are Buddhist is so that they maintain knowledge of Chinese growing up in the United States, so naturally I’m sympathetic to a Tibetan parent who is trying to keep their kids interested in Buddhism so that they keep the culture in either China or India. One group of people that I’ve studied where this has been successful are the Amish, who have managed to keep alive Pennsylvania Dutch since this the language they use to separate themselves from the outside world, which they call “English.”
- I’m also fascinated with “priesthoods” and the point that you just don’t become a high lama by reading books makes sense to me. The reason why is that physicists form a “priesthood” and you have the same sort of dynamics among scientists and mathematicians that you have among high lamas. When you get a Ph.D., you don’t merely learn a skill, you become in a very real sense part of a “priesthood.”
One piece of the puzzle that I’m missing is interviews with people from within the Tibetan regional government. Particularly ethnic Tibetan officials. There are two assumptions that people seem to be making with regard to Tibet. One is that the ethnic Tibetan officials in Tibet are “puppets” of the central government, and second that the anti-Dalai Lama impulse is coming from Beijing. Based on similar situations, I suspect that the actual reality might be much more complex. One thing that was the case with Soviet officials is that it turned out that the regional officials actually did have quite a bit of power, and second that non-Russian officials in the Soviet Union tended to try to be “redder than red” and “more Russian than Russians.” This also seems to be the case with African-American Republicans, and looking at Tibet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “Clarence Thomas effect” among ethnic Tibetan officials in the Communist Party. Again, this is all guesswork, but part of the purpose of making up these hypothesis is so that you can see where your preconceptions are wrong if you do manage to get some new hard evidence.
One other thing to point out that people have missed. There is this idea that Chinese have been brainwashed by the Communist Party and those outpouring of nationalism is an example of people mindlessly repeating government propaganda. The trouble with this explanation is that I haven’t really seen any Han Chinese who hate the Dalai Lama and think that he really is this evil demon that the People’s Daily makes him out to be. The hatred and anger has been directed at the Western media (particularly CNN), the anti-Olympic demonstrations, but not so much at the Dalai Lama. The worst thing that I’ve heard anyone say about the Dalai Lama is that he is a puppet of American intelligence agencies, but even there, the anger is directed at the CIA.
Also, you have to approach politics with a sense of humor and irony if you aren’t going to go insane. One thing that amused me when I read the article on Tibetan exiles was the degree to which the monasteries in India have been funded by overseas Chinese. This is funny to me, since I’ve given not a small amount of money to Buddhist charities, and I’m amused by the thought that I may have given more help and money to the Tibetan independence struggle than the CIA has.