Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tibet - Liberation or Invasion?

With the current crisis in Tibet, John Powers’ book, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism – Revised Edition offers a timely chronicle of Tibetan history, geography, culture, religion, politics and Buddhist Orders. Powers admits in the preface “the scope of this book is broad … it still only scratches the surface of this ancient and rich culture.” Yes, its hefty 591 pages encompass a broad scope, including beautiful descriptions and details on the uniqueness of the Tibetan people with four appendices and indexes.

Not solely a religious discourse, Powers explains how Tibetan’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has also served as their political leader in a “priest-patron” relationship ongoing since the fifth Dalai Lama united the country in the 17th century. Although rich in peaceful traditions, the Tibetans lacked defensive arms and strategy against the superior weaponry that the post-World War II Chinese brought to their borders in 1949. “On January 1, 1950, the New Year’s broadcast from Beijing announced that in the coming year the People’s Liberation Army would liberate Tibet from foreign imperialists and reintegrate it with the motherland,” even though it had never been “integrated” in the past.

According to Powers, “It soon became clear that the foreign invaders and their ideology were incompatible with Tibetan culture.” The Dalai Lama tried negotiation with the Chinese but “[b]y 1955, the process of collectivization was underway…Chinese troops began confiscating arms, property, livestock, and possessions, and then they created communes. The people who were being forced into the new system resisted these moves. The Chinese answer was to use violence to force Tibetans into the golden age that awaited them….By 1959 the situation in Tibet was grim….At four o’clock on March 17, the Chinese began lobbing mortar shells in the area around [the Dalai Lama’s summer palace] with the stated purpose of ‘freeing’ the Dalai Lama” from the people surrounding his residence who were trying to protect him. “Late that night he and his party … slipped out undetected and began the long journey in exile to India.”

But before relating these tragic events, Powers provides well-documented research showing why Tibetans exemplify values of nonviolence, peace, compassion, and love for their enemies based on their religious and cultural traditions. Much like the black South Africans, these gentle people suffer at the hands of invaders, and much like boycotts of companies doing business in South Africa, this reader plans to boycott companies doing business in China and lobby Congress to disinvest in Chinese businesses until China agrees to cease its aggressive actions toward Tibet.

John Powers received an M.A. in Indian Philosophy from McMaster University and a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Virginia. A specialist in Indo-Tibetan philosophy and meditation theory, he has published widely on Buddhist thought and practice. He teaches at the Center for Asian Societies and Histories at the Australian National University.

Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism – Revised edition
by John Powers
Snow Lion Publications
PO Box 6483
Ithaca, NY 14851
ISBN-13: 978-1-55939-282-2

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