The Dalai Lama and practical politics
Commentary by DICK DORWORTH
Last month I attended a talk given by His
Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader in exile, winner
of the Nobel Peace Prize, and in my opinion one of the finest (and wisest) human
beings on the planet.
He was on one of his infrequent speaking
tours of the U.S. and his presence filled the Louise Davies Auditorium in San
Francisco. It had been more than 10 years since I had last seen him, and the
weight of those years was evident. The plight of the Tibetan people under their
Chinese liberators has not improved, the Dalai Lama has not been allowed to see
his home in nearly 50 years and the state of the world is not encouraging for
one who espouses peace and understanding. Because of the quality of his person,
the depth of his thoughts and the wisdom of his insights, all of his appearances
are sold out. He addresses a deep need in the human heart and the human mind
that other world leaders avoid or, at best, pay lip service to. In the
tumultuous history of the past hundred years, Martin Luther King and Mahatma
Gandhi among world political leaders are most reminiscent of the message the
Dalai Lama brings to the people who will (or will not) solve today’s problems.
Like King and Gandhi, the Dalai Lama promotes non-violence and dialogue as a
more practical solution to conflict than going to war, compassion instead of
hatred toward your enemy as a state of sanity, knowledge of the spiritual ground
of the material world as understanding reality, and selflessness instead of
self-aggrandizement as the source of true power.
What the Dalai Lama proposes as practical
politics is completely at odds with the realpolitik ethics (perhaps an
oxymoronic phrase) of the real geopolitical world in which we really live. This
does not mean that he is out of touch with the real world of humanity, its real
problems or, most importantly, real solutions to those problems.
It means that the Dalai Lama is a true
radical. As such, he is threatening and quite dangerous to many of the existing
power structures of the world and to the men and women who will do anything to
gain and maintain control of those structures, whether they are economic,
military or political.
The Dalai Lama is a dangerous man.
As such, as the fates of both King and
Gandhi testify, he is in danger.
Though he has been embraced by many in the
world outside Tibet, particularly in America, as a sort of warm fuzzy feel-good
happy happy peace and love spiritual Teddy Bear of compassion and tolerance, he
is the most practical of politicians who has been playing hard ball politics for
half a century with one of the most brutal, repressive realpolitik governments
in the world. I refer, of course, to China. That he has a great sense of humor,
smiles a lot, is truly compassionate towards his enemies and honestly believes
that non-violence is both the proper conduct for individuals and practical
politics for nations should not obscure the reality that he is more a (snow)
lion than a teddy bear. Whether the Dalai Lama’s efforts with China have been
successful is an interesting question, but at the very least I would argue that
the only reason Tibet is still an uncomfortable (embarrassing even)
international issue in the realpolitik world, the only reason the Tibetan people
and their culture are surviving (albeit in exile) is because of the Dalai Lama.
He is a dangerous and radical man because,
like Gandhi and King, he asks the people of the world to change the way the
world works, starting with each individual person. That is, the state of the
world is a cumulative consequence of the state of its human populace, and, one
would hope, we can do better.
The subject of his talk in San Francisco
was "world peace," a dangerous and radical concept because it is something the
world has never tried and because there can be no peace without justice. People
and nations that have all too often abused their power cannot always afford to
embrace justice as it tends to change the balance of power and to empower the
powerless, and vice-versa. He said that all people are exactly the same--same
mind, same heart, same physical body, and same desire for happiness. He said his
mind was just like all of ours (in the audience), but maybe his was just a bit
calmer. That was undoubtedly true and it drew a good laugh. The basic impediment
to world peace, he said, is that people tend to use their minds without
consulting their hearts. Mind without heart no good, he said. Its correlation,
heart without mind is also no good. We need them both, in conjunction, at all
times. Hearts and minds working together is the way to world peace, according to
the Dalai Lama. That, on the surface and at first thought, is a warm fuzzy good
happy happy peace and love solution to personal and world problems. An argument
can easily be made that there is nothing to lose by trying the practical
politics of the Dalai Lama. Such an approach couldn’t possibly be worse than
those of today’s realpolitik, but the practical politics of incorporating the
heart into personal and world issues is hard work, requiring deep thought, deep
feeling and a deep commitment to preferring a heartfelt dialogue of peace to the
mind numbing brutality of the violence of war.
If history and the present are any
indication, world peace is an idea beyond the capacity of mankind. War is the
ultimate breakdown of human affairs, and, according to the Dalai Lama, its root
cause is individual people using their minds without consulting their hearts.
The Dalai Lama is a radical and dangerous man because he believes that humanity
is more and better than the record would indicate, that world peace is not
beyond the capacity of mankind, that people are capable of using their minds in
conjunction with their hearts, of giving peace a chance.
The Dalai Lama is a dangerous and radical
man to those invested in the status quo.