The Dalai Lama has said that he may not reincarnate again, and if he does, it will not be in Tibet. He isn’t referring to illumination however. Bodhisattvas reincarnate; illumined beings incarnate.
The Dalai Lama is saying he may reincarnate in another country because the Chinese have corrupted the selection process of Lamas in Tibet. As a prominent American Buddhist put it, the Chinese government is perpetrating “a slow and deliberate asphyxiation of the Buddhist faith in its own home.”
I’m not a Buddhist, but I respect the Dalai Lama, and feel he’s a great human being. I don’t think he’s illumined however, and he’s said as much.
A great sage once said, “Reincarnation is a fact, but not the truth.” Withholding reincarnation for humanity’s sake may be the essence of a bodhisattva. Is that ever valid?
Beginning in the 17th century until the current Dalai Lama fled the Chinese government in 1959, the Dalai Lamas were both the spiritual and political leaders of Tibet.
Tibet represents one of the few places where the fusion of the spiritual and political (as opposed to Church and State) worked quite well in the past. But I don’t think even the Dalai Lama would recommend a return to the status quo ante if, in the unlikely event, he was allowed to return to an autonomous Tibet.
As things stand, the Chinese government is so insecure that it won’t allow even a semblance of autonomy in Tibet. Besides, the Dalai Lama has eschewed a political role in recent years. Even that hasn’t satisfied the Chinese government.
The second highest figure in the Tibetan hierarchy is the Panchen Lama. When the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was forced to leave China as a young man in 1959, the Panchen Lama, Chökyi Gyaltsen, stayed behind and tried to work within the framework of China.
For his efforts at peaceful coexistence with the Chinese Communists, the Panchen Lama was tortured and confined to solitary confinement for ten years. After his supposed rehabilitation, he mildly criticized the Chinese government at a meeting in 1989.
Within days of his speech, he suddenly and mysteriously died. His supporters are certain the Chinese government poisoned him. To the insecure Chinese authorities, sovereignty means the extinguishment of Tibetan spiritual and political autonomy.
After the Panchen Lama’s death, the Dalai Lama, following the Tibetan tradition, directed the search for his reincarnated successor. Through the inscrutable means of Tibetan rebirth, the Dalai Lama pinpointed the place where the new Panchen Lama, a young boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, would be found.
The boy promptly disappeared, with Chinese authorities later saying he had been taken into “protective custody.” The Chinese government then installed its own Panchen Lama, one who would follow their party line. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima became the world’s youngest political prisoner.
Why does the most populous nation on Earth, an economic superpower, a nation with a long and venerated history, fear tiny Tibet so?
As the actions of the authoritarian Chinese government attest, the communist party’s power is precarious, and its stature is small. Despite the West’s awe of China’s demographic and economic scale, political stability in the country is ephemeral, maintained by a shaky social compact with the people, along the lines of ‘you stay out of politics, and we’ll provide prosperity’.
The social compact in China is under increasing strain. Not only externally, from the economic downturn in the West, but also internally, in Hong Kong for example, due to enormous social pressures and contradictions.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese people feel an immense spiritual emptiness in their lives. Many, ironically, are flocking to Tibet to find substance and meaning.
Despite all the atrocities the Chinese government has committed, the Dalai Lama has not abandoned his “Middle Way Approach.” On one hand this reflects tremendous tenacity of spirit, as well as unswerving faith in human nature and the eventual prevailing of what is right and just and good. On the other hand, it reflects a failure to understand the nature of evil, and to develop a more workable political strategy in accordance with the realities of unbridled power, ruthless oppression and repeated betrayal.
The Chinese government, as long as it retains power, will not accept the premise that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile seek autonomy within and not independence from China.
Since the Chinese government holds all the cards, and is completely ruthless, the Dalai Lama’s “approach that offers mutual benefits to China as well as to Tibet” has always been a non-starter.
There is no “mutual benefit” as far as tyrants are concerned. There is only acquiescence. That does not mean they should be opposed with violence however. The Chinese government is a lot shakier than people think, and things can change without violence, if decent people don’t accept the dictum of dictators regarding “the internal affairs of China.”
There is an old Tibetan prophecy: “When the iron bird flies, the dharma will go to the West.” Perhaps it will, if by dharma we mean the perennial teachings. They certainly haven’t gotten any traction to this point however.
Even if Westerners do awaken, “May Tibet never be forgotten or forsaken.”