The Null Device

Peace & Love, Inc.

The Dalai Lama: cuddly, celebrity-endorsed embodiment of Peace'n'Love and self-help and feeling good about yourself and universal acceptance, or bigoted reactionary snake-oil peddler, whose mediæval views are modulated by a hypocritical pandering to gullible, moneyed westerners?
In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium," for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.
I remember a public talk he gave at his headquarters in Dharamsala in northern India in 1990, after conflict between Tibetans and Indians there. He spoke in Tibetan, and his delivery was stern and admonitory, like a forbidding, old-fashioned father reprimanding his children. The crowd listened respectfully, and went away chastened.

All this reminds me of claims about various parties in the Middle East (on both sides) saying one thing in English for the benefit of gullible western liberals and another, considerably more warlike, thing in their people's own language. The moral of the story: the dumb Yanqui (and that includes Americans, Britons, Australians, Canadians and such) are mugs to be played as such.

But yes, back to the subject at hand. I once got a book "by" the Dalai Lama as a present from a new-age relative. Little surprise that it consisted of the most vapidly insipid pabulum, a lowest-common-denominator collection of self-help aphorisms with the Dalai Lama brand slapped on it. It's highly unlikely that its wisdom came from any tradition older then 1960s California. The Dalai Lama appears to have become the leading brand of guilt-assuagement for affluent Westerners whose TV doesn't quite drown out the awareness that they're living high off the hog amidst massive injustice and thus need to be reassured that they're good people and their positive thoughts cancel out any contribution their lifestyle makes to global suffering. Either that or he's just an incredibly successful conman. Or both.

And here's an article on rampant brutality in feudal Tibet; not quite the happy valley of bliss Richard Gere would have you believe. Mind you, it seems a bit pro-Chinese in places. And here's Hitchens' opinion on the Dalai Lama. (via MeFi)

There are 10 comments on "Peace & Love, Inc.":

Posted by: Graham Wed Sep 24 08:51:55 2003

Some of these Buddhist orders seem to have developed a real ediface complex, take for instance that big one they're planning to build outside Bendigo.

The Dalai Lama also says masturbation is bad.

Posted by: mark Wed Sep 24 09:37:34 2003

"The Dalai Lama also says masturbation is bad."

He's not all *that* interested in self-help, then, eh? [cough]

How many people does that make the Christopher Hitchens has brought down now? (Kissinger/Nixon don't count. Those of us who aren't morons new they were evil before we'd even /heard/ of Hitchens...)

Posted by: gjw Thu Sep 25 22:48:31 2003

And then there's the issue that Tibetan Buddhism has traditionally been a completely classist society, with the general population acting as serfs, working to provide the monks with food and income. The teachers at the christian high-school I attended always liked to make a point that Westerners flock to Buddhism as an "easy way out" religion. I have no doubt this view was inspired mostly by inter-religion bigotry and bitterness, but there's more than an ounce of truth in it.

Posted by: dj Fri Sep 26 01:03:12 2003

But Monkey was Funky and never stopped.

Posted by: acb Fri Sep 26 01:55:05 2003

Hollywood Buddhism isn't Buddhism, any more than Hollywood Scientology is what you get when you (being a non-celebrity) join the Clams. It's the old bait-and-switch.

Posted by: Paulo http:// Fri Sep 26 08:51:24 2003

I think it's a fact that the western buddhism fashion begun in the 70's is nowadays nose-diving, maybe replaced by fortune-tellers.

Posted by: Graham Fri Sep 26 09:04:13 2003

Maybe at the point when they realised that there _are_ strings attached to Buddhism. But I don't know. At least Buddhism doesn't give you fairy stories about eternal life.

Posted by: gjw Fri Sep 26 09:19:21 2003

No, just about coming back as a pig or a rabbit.

Posted by: Tory Ben http:// Sun Sep 5 14:40:50 2004

I think a big element of what we see of Eastern religions comes largely via the fruit-loops here who adopt them. Anyone who goes and joins a real buddhist monastery will find much of it involves children being gotten out of bed at 4 in the morning and beaten to work all day. While most, if not all, religious traditions have deeply intellectual and spiritual learnings and Truth to dispense, the vast majority of the idiots who flock to them couldn't appreciate it if they tried. Roman Catholicism is a perfect example of this.

Posted by: Tory Ben http:// Sun Sep 5 14:41:05 2004

PS The Chinese are right.