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?

3 Responses to “Traditions”

  1. Ria says:

    I’ve been interested in what’s been happening in Tibet for quite a while. The Chinese continue to torture Buddhist monks and nuns 1950’s style. A Rolling Stone reporter actually got in there and out with horrible stories to tell. The young boy that was destined to be the next Dalai Lama disappeared long ago. No one knows his whereabouts. The Chinese replaced him with one of their own, much like many of the monks. Talk about surrogates of the Great Deceiver. We should have nothing to do with China, but find ourselves indebted to them.

    As far as your article about scope, I’ve often see the correlation between a person’s views based on their scope of the world. Most of our scopes are so tiny that it’s a wonder we don’t succumb to our own personal pity parties. Because to broaden our scope, and have empathy for others relieves us from most of our woes. For instance, most Americans are really feeling the pinch from our economy and have lost their homes. It’s a sad situation. But broaden that scope to encompass the entire world, and the pity party becomes a celebration for not being born in a hut in Africa somewhere with flies all over us from birth until death at the ripe age of 3 or 4.

    Another timely scenario about scope is relative to Americans and voting for a candidate based on one issue relative to our own personal needs like “I don’t want my guns taken away.” Never mind that over 4,000 soldiers have died in Iraq, the economy is down the tubes, and we are in debt in the trillions, that person will vote for his/her gun. Thanks for thinking of the rest of us. We need to broaden our scopes in America to at least include our fellow Americans. As Christians we must include everyone and everything in our world when we contemplate anything at all. It puts things into perspective as they should be so that we never become too self absorbed or self righteous. If everyone would just think about the other guy for a change, we would all have someone to cover for us like a chain reaction.

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:


    Always a pleasure to read your thoughtful comments.

    I agree that we tend to look at the world through our own context and miss much of human misery which we sometimes cause. We don’t understand why there is resistence to our occupation in Iraq. Our President lectures leaders in the Arab world on the moral superiority of democracy and then uses and solemn opportunity in Israel for a political dirty trick.

    It is a tangled web that we are currently weaving.

    Hopefully we will have new leadership in November that can actually walk the talk of loving our neighbor as ourselves.


  3. keith says:

    To Ria,

    Your scope of referance seems to be smaller then most.
    You said, “Most Americans are really feeling the pinch from our economy and have lost their homes.” This just isn’t so. In fact it is completely false and not even close to being in touch with reality. Some have lost their homes and that is never good but that certianlyisn’t new. 97% of Americans who have mortages are paying them on time. Somewhere around 33% of all homes in the U.S. are owned out right, no debt what so ever. Your comments/view appear to be take through the leans of a telescope observing the most limited area. Michigan has had it’s guts ripped out but that horse left the barn in the 80″s and 90’s and will never return home. Thank you weak management and strong unions…

    The economy in the U.S. is struggling and the high price of gas does sting but that just means one part of our economy is doing well, the energy industry. When oil was $10 – $25 per barrel all through the nineties, that sector was getting killed, not record profites but record losses. The commodities sector was getting killed. Every steel company was either in chapter 11 or very nearly there. Today they are all making record profits. The farmers are making tremendous profits as all commodity guys are.

    Five years ago we couldn’t compete with the world as their manufacturing costs, due to labor and raw materials, was much lower then ours, remember? We today we are exporting commodities and manufactured goods as we have become the low cost producer. This is due to the weakness in our dollar. The flip side of that is the weak $ makes things we purchase over seas more costly, like oil. Oil is traded in u.s. dollars per barrel. Today a barrel goes for $133 per. The dollar is trading at $1.55 eruo’s or something close to that. Five years ago or so the Euro was .9 or so, that’s a reduction of 72% for the dollar against the Euro. That mean the price of a barrel of oil is 72% higher just base on the Euro currency exchange. The $133 barrel of oil today in 2003 dollars is about $72 per barrel. That would be $2.00 gas or something like that. That explaination is very crude and simplistic but in the ball park.

    So I’d ask you, which do you want the stronger dollar or the weaker one?

    Back to my origanal point it seems you need to widen your leans as difficult as that may be. Reading between the lines, Iraq isn’t the root of all our problems and neither is the poor job the Bush admisitration did in some areas, including the management of the war.

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