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For the week of October 15 - 21, 2003

Opinion Columns

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.



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