A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture by the Dali Lama in Ann Arbor.
One of the more interesting aspects of the lecture was the Dali Lama’s suggestion that Tibetan Buddhism was not for everyone. He said that our beliefs are the product of our traditions. So, in his opinion, if you aren’t Tibetan it’s going to be difficult to completely understand everything about Tibetan Buddhism. Most non-Tibetans simply don’t have the cultural context.
In the same vein, he went on to say that he doesn’t mean to imply that Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhism is beyond the grasp of non-Tibetans. He suggested that it would likely be just as difficult for most Tibetans to understand and fully grasp everything about western Christianity.
Why I found this interesting is because right outside the Crisler Arena, there were about 100 Chinese quietly protesting the Dali Lama’s speech. They felt that he is responsible for the political unrest in Tibet. I found out later that at least some of the protesters, including one of their spokespeople, are naturalized US citizens. So the passion they felt for this particular subject was, as far as I could tell, genuine and not the result of overt coercion.
Given the Dali Lama’s insight, I started to think more deeply about what might move these Chinese to take the position that they did.
On the surface, there are just a lot of contradictions.
Here they are in a fairly free and open society where they are able to demonstrate and express their opinion. They are using that freedom to protest the fact that Tibetans are trying to do the same thing in an area of the world controlled by the Chinese.
They are supporting a government that prevents open access to the internet and press, but they are protesting what they see as a media bias against the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has spent decades attempting to discredit the Dali Lama as an untrustworthy political troublemaker and these protestors are supporting that line. The Dali Lama, as far as anyone in the west can tell, is doing his best to follow the teachings of Buddha and harm no living thing.
It has to come down to what the Dali Lama said. We simply don’t understand the nationalism that motivates the Chinese people these days. Their cultural context is beyond the grasp of most of us, and so we struggle when we see such bias and pride. The Olympics are a big deal for them and any attempt to move the spotlight away from what they see as their coming out party, is viewed as a overt attempt to discredit their nation AND them. They aren’t ready to look at themselves honestly because they have been changing so quickly and want credit for where they are going rather than where they current are.
If you put this in the context of history, I’m sure that Europeans have had the same reaction to Americans for at least the last 100 years.
Keep that in mind the next time a politician suggests that the rest of world really wants to be like us. Just as we don’t really understand them, it is very difficult for them to really understand us. Yet, we wage wars, overthrow sovereign governments, and pick sides in conflicts based on our view of the world. Just like the Dali Lama, we must seek understanding first before we can make statements like, “They hate our freedom”. If we really seek to love our neighbor as ourselves, isn’t that the least we can do?