I went to the Peter Wege lecture today at the University of Michigan Crisler Arena today. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was the guest speaker. At first, I was underwhelmed. In the end, he came across to me as a decent human being judging from what he said in the two hours.
It got me thinking, how has this old Tibetan monk, with his incoherent English with no "grammar rules" as he admitted, become such a spiritual figure to so many people? The mystery of Tibetan Buddhism is part of it. His simplified messages about Buddhism and human nature are the other and larger part. His talks present him as a human that a lay person can easily accept, more so than any propaganda from the Chinese leaders or the lies and media spins from the American leaders. At the very least, he obviously has learned the happenings in the modern world. Today, He talked about global warming, overpopulation, over consumption, Christianity, even the poor in Washington D.C.
There were a large number of Chinese protesting outside the arena. I admit being on that side, agreeing the Beijing Olympics should not be taken hostage by any political group, and Tibet should remain an integral part of China. So my thoughts may be considered biased.
Thought one: Media in the west just don't get it. Not to mention the right wing extremists, even NPR does not quite get it. It may be hard to understand how a nation can get so emotional when others threaten to take the moment away from its people. But it is not impossible. One just need to go to the country and observe with an open mind how much effort ordinary people have put into the preparation for the games. Many may disagree with the government about hosting the Olympics. Many would rant and express their strong disagreement because the hardship of hosting the games bring to the people. But all that changes when others try to take the Olympics away from them. That is different. Call it nationalism or whatever, taking something away from a people that they believe (rightfully) is theirs can only meet with resentment. The gentleman in blue shirt was telling someone, "Most of these people (the protesters) don't even know why there are here." He didn't know how wrong he was. Most of the passers-by probably don't care much about right or wrong either in this matter.
Thought two: China needs to open up more. Be tolerant of political dissent. There is really no benefit for the government to shut people up. There is no shame in letting the world know about the problems in the country. When the outside world learn about China, they don't just see the dark side, they will learn the bright side, too. I think that is also part of why China is hosting the Olympics this year.
Thought three: The western media really need to clean up their act. I guess it may be difficult for them to get to Tibet. But has any media outlet made a serious effort to get there? Why would they rather rely on what the Tibetans outside the country told them what happened there? It is obvious to me that Tibet is not important enough for most of them to get the facts right. The person in this picture repeatedly screamed, "Open the door!" There were foreigners in Lhasa at the time of the riots, including jornalists, just not enough of those who can stand on their own to tell what truly happened.
Thought four: The 14th Dalai Lama is a capable and smart politician, maybe even more so than he is a spiritual person. I admire him for that. I think I can understand his frustrations: He is getting old, old enough for him to see death coming. He has been in exile for almost half a century. As a human being, he wants to go home. I believe he also sees reality. I am guessing it's probably those surrounding him that can not let go of the past and dream to go back to Tibet one day to rule over the people like they did in the past. The Dalai Lama talked much about "sustainability" -- although he admitted he could not pronounce that word, -- I don't believe the Tibetan society can sustain the monastery ruling structure. Tibetans may have changed enough that the monks will no longer be able to put much of the population under serfdom/slavery. On one hand, if the Dalai Lama dies in exile, the whole Tibetan exile community will face a huge dilemma. On the other hand, it is in the interest of China to find a political solution to the Tibet Question given the fact that many Tibetans do take the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader.
Last thought: Tibetans are humans. They should be treated as humans with all their good, bad and ugly qualities. I don't buy the claim that any particular ethnicity is born peaceful, cruel, honest or untrustworthy. This person in Tibetan clothing in the center of this picture told me, in fluent English, that he was born in Tibet to a very poor peasant family, that he had been in exile for five years and he learned English in India and here in the US. I don't want to judge him in anyway. But I must say he is a lot smarter than I am. He must be super lucky to have such radiant skin tone after at least 15 years of harsh life in Tibet.