The hosting of the Dalai Lama by Bush raised hackles in China, as expected. The Dalai Lama was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour. China is upset because it sees the Buddhism as a threat to state unity. It seems as if it is fighting a rearguard action though, because in August China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs issued Order No. 5, a law covering “the management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism” which basically prohibits Buddhist monks from returning from the dead without government permission: no one outside China can influence the reincarnation process; only monasteries in China can apply for permission. (An almost medieval policy in itself.) Then in September the Dalai Lama met Angela Merkel and now he has been feted by the US president, the first time a sitting US president appeared with the Dalai Lama at a public event.
The Congressional Gold Medal is being awarded to the Dalai Lama to recognize what Congress called “his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights and religious understanding.” The medal’s past recipients include Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. The Dalai Lama has been living in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 during a failed revolt against Chinese rule. China has long accused him of being a separatist, seeking to split Tibet from China, though the Dalai Lama dismisses such claims, saying he wants autonomy not independence for the region.
While the virtues of freedom motivate our abhorrence of China’s occupation of Tibet, if we step back and put ourselves in China’s shoes (or pretend China is the US and Tibet is, mmm, somewhere else …) it is more difficult to condemn outright. As Slavoj Zizek (points out in the NYT: “Perhaps we find China’s reincarnation laws so outrageous not because they are alien to our sensibility, but because they spill the secret of what we have done for so long: respectfully tolerating what we don’t take quite seriously, and trying to contain its political consequences through the law.”
Hopefully the Dalai Lama’s consistently peaceful and positive behaviour and words will continue to help China (and us all) to move to a more federal approach to politics, a more local approach to community management and a more peaceful approach to managing different perspectives. Humanity is bound to become more spiritual and less religious as more people choose their values for themselves and behave accordingly, without a set of “rules” from “church” or “state”.