I think I have read one of the silliest blog article ever and it has some stiff competition. It is by Brendan O’Neill on Comment is Free, an attack piece on the Dalai Lama with about as much coherence as a typical Beijing press release on the subject. O’Neil is clearly one of these Troll bloggers using the Malkin/Coulther business model; Stephen Bainbridge (by way of Andrew Sullivan):
Malkin and Johnson seem to have internalized what I call the “Ann Coulter Business Model.” It’s a familiar concept, based on a couple of simple propositions. First, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Second, as the sage Charles Barley Barkley observed, the meek may inherit the earth, but they don’t get the ball. To stand out from a crowd, you’ve got to be provocative. You’ve got to make your friends—and, almost as important, if not more so, your enemies—keep tuning in to see what you’re going to say next.
So the reader will understand my reluctance to feed these kind of trolls with links.
It isn’t as if it is impossible to criticise the Dalai Lama. As well as a spiritual leader he is a political leader and it has become fashionable to judge him on results: the number of Tibetans liberated from the heal of the political wing of the People’s Liberation Army (i.e., zero). The narrative runs that he missed some fabled window to cut a deal with the Chinese and his do-goody peace-rhetoric is great for cultivating street cred among the hippies that turn up at Dharmsala but not so effective in the real world that adults live in.
I don’t buy a word of it of course. The Dalai Lama had no choice but to take the non-violent approach once the highly corrupt people that ran the government between his predecessor’s passing and his own majority left the country entirely defenceless. Once the nature of the Chinese leadership became clear, and the complete contempt with which they held Tibetan culture, there was really no choice but for the Tibetans to flee into exile (almost all the masters had predicted the catastrophe and were waiting for the signs to appear) and try and preserve their culture as much as they could while wait for the Chinese to become reasonable. The Dalai Lama quickly stopped all the violent resistance because, quite apart from the any ethical considerations, it was simply futile in the narrowest sense. Anyone who actually spends some time listening to the leader of the Tibetan people will realise that he is nothing if not practical.
Most of the points O’Neil makes are as vacuous as interstellar space (e.g., that the Dalai Lama guest-edited Vogue) but he gets in a few tropes too.
- The CIA funded the Dalai Lama. Big deal. I have not the slightest idea of the veracity of some of these claims but it is clearly stated in his memoirs that his brother, somewhat independently, made contact with the Americans with a view to gaining their assistance for resisting the Chinese.
If they managed to wring as much cash as some have been claiming they did out of the CIA then good luck to them but, as noted above, the Dalai Lama regarded any guerrilla as futile and prohibited it. Should any evidence come to light that the Dalai Lama had actually sanctioned guerrilla operations then this would be interesting but I am not aware of any of such allegations. The Chinese seem to be fond of this accusation as it fits their narrative of the Dalai Lama being a foreign agent all along, and the thinking of people like O’Neil runs in a pretty similar two-dimensional track.
- The Dalai Lama is accused of nepotism in placing members of his family in areas of responsibility. Well that is the way the Tibetan system worked–as O’Neil points out it was until exile a feudal system and though his family were peasants, once the Dalai Lama became enthroned the whole family became elevated. This kind of thing is by no means restricted to feudal societies if one thinks of certain prominent industrial nations where manifestly un-academic sons of presidents end up gaining entrance to elite academic institutions and going on to claim the presidency, and wives of former presidents inherit a vast panoply of party electoral machinery from their husband. There comes a point where people grow up and realise that this is simply how power works, even in one of the most democratic nations on earth. The penny will take a little longer to drop for others.
- The Dalai Lama crushes religious freedom in getting the practice of Dorje Shugden shut down. Firstly this practice is seriously hair-raising stuff. Wrathful mundane protectors are truly the nuclear power of tantric Buddhism and this stuff needs to be carefully regulated. There is no point in having a head of religious tradition if that head can’t determine what is in and what is out. He has determined that this practice was highly dangerous and a multiple-murder of the head of the school of dialectics and his attendants has been linked to the practice. The reader has to bear in mind that practices like this can be highly malevolent, that tantric Buddhism can be effective in cutting through delusion provided the practice is motivated by compassion but will seriously compound those delusions otherwise, with tragic results. Check out the excellent repository of independent articles.
- It is also not at all improbable that the drive to expel the practice from the monasteries has seen excesses. The way the Dalai Lama has moved against the practice is by demanding that any student of his must give up the practice and expressing his opposition to the practice and his reasons. This is quite enough given the position of that the Dalai Lama holds to exert severe pressure on the practice, but it could only truly succeed if a very large number of people agreed with him. To accuse the Dalai Lama of ordering up every such excess is simply incredible. Bearing in mind the intensity of feelings on this issue, and the people exploiting it, it would be well to thoroughly vet the sources of any such claims.
- The stalest trope of them all is that the Dalai Lama is the product of a feudal system that exploited its peasants, and indeed this is true (but that was by no means the whole story). More particularly the Tibetan government in Lhasa seems to have been inept, corrupt and decadent, so bad that they prematurely terminated the regency and put 15 year-old Dalai Lama in charge, who was quite quickly having to deal with PLA tanks parked on his lawn and traveling to Beijing to try and negotiate a deal for his country–no the easiest circumstances in which to turn a feudal government into a modern democracy. But the thing is that as soon as he went into exile the you Dalai Lama was in an excellent poition to do that and this is precisely what he did. it is well know that he wanted to establish a fully democratic arrangement and do away with the office of the Dalai Lama as a poltical office but the Tibetans (naturally) wouldn’t have any of it. The Dalai Lama as declared the following on his website.
His Holiness is a Tibetan and carries the name of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans place their trust in him. Therefore, his third commitment is to the Tibetan issue. His Holiness has a responsibility to act as the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice. As far as this third commitment is concerned, it will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and Chinese.
In his recent teachings in Nottingham the Dalai Lama, when asked for his response to his critics–such as some noisy Chinese nationalist and Shugden demonstrations, and the younger Tibetans that reject his non-violent realist Chinese policy–he answered with humour and reiterated how healthy it is that people have the freedom to express themselves and, especially in the case of the young Tibetans, he welcomed and valued their input, even if he reserved the right to exercise his judgment and voice his own understanding.
It is very sad to see people abuse their talent with such pointless and empty polemics. I would almost hope that it is cynically done as otherwise it can only be sign of a highly confused individual.