Friday, June 15, 2007

Hitch on His Holiness

Here's Christopher Hitchens on Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama (my emphasis):

The Dalai Lama claims to be a hereditary god and a hereditary king. I don't think any decent person can assent to that proposition. You should take a look at what Tibet was like when it was run by the lamas. Buddhism has some of the same problems as Western religion. Zen was the official ideology of Hirohito's fascism that was used to conquer and reduce the rest of Asia to subservience. The current dictatorship in Burma is officially Buddhist. The Buddhist forces in Sri Lanka are the ones who began the horrific civil war there with their pogroms against the Tamils in the 1950s and 1960s. Lon Nol's army in Cambodia was officially Buddhist.

In all fairness to Hitchens, the inertial imperative he creates in his book God is Not Great simply sweeps him into a reckless indictment of Buddhism. Certainly Buddhism is a religion to the monastics who practice and live its rituals. But for everyone else, it's a way of life, a perspective on reality that clearly distinguishes it from the classic world religions. It's existence isn't invested in some dogma that it must protect at all costs. In fact, it is quite willing to discard any teachings if shown to be clearly in error. A case in point is its cosmology. The Dalai Lama has said many times it doesn't hold up in the face of modern discoveries. Further, what some dictatorships do in the name of Buddhism shouldn't reflect on Buddhism itself. If someone were to murder another in my name, I shouldn't be held accountable for that.

Worse though, Hitchens here simply misstates what the Dalai Lama claims. He does not claim to be a hereditary god or a hereditary king. His only claim is to be a humble Buddhist monk. True, he is also the Dalai Lama and the de facto head of state for the people of Tibet. It is a role he had to accept as a young child, and one that has been a huge burden on him his whole life. Certainly, millions of Buddhists treat him as a god or as a king, but he has never claimed to be either. That they do so is more a recognition of what a truly remarkable human being he is. Anyone who has spent time with His Holiness knows that there is no more humble person on the planet. He is a world treasure.

Pittsburgh Airport

Trying to pull from life.
Still trying to sketch in lines
Seeing glass holding air;
Will I know I was there?