By Phuntsok Wangdu
If you read Mr. Jamyang Norbu’s Feb 1, 2011 article on Phayul website, titled, Not the Buddha’s Middle Way, he went into great lengths to prove that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not following the Buddha’s Middle Way, and is disingenuous, misleading Tibetans by misusing Buddha’s teaching. His second sentence is directed at Prof Samdhong Rinpoche. He is faulted for being the main salesperson of His Holiness’ policy.
I have respected Jamyang Norbu as a patriot and a scholar. He has written many good books and articles relating to Tibet. I have read some of his writings too. Most of them are quite informative. Some of his writings show that, not only he is opposed to China, he is deeply critical of His Holiness on many issues, particularly, the Middle Way policy on Tibet. For him, it is surrendering of Tibet’s independence. He is also critical of the role of religion in politics.
In some of his writings, he has employed Buddhist and Gandhi’s ideas to advance some of his arguments. I found on many occasions, his arguments laughable, to put it mildly. I have had doubts about his Buddhist knowledge. He is not alone on this score. There are many modern educated Tibetans, who seem unable to value this Nalanda originated Buddhism as their number one cultural asset. I refrained from being critical, for it would be unfair to single him out.
Now, after reading his-Not the Buddha’s Middle Way, it not only confirmed my doubt, I was shocked by his arrogance! I was horrified at his audacity to pit Buddha against his followers like HH the Dalai Lama and Prof Samdhong Rinpoche! He is accusing His Holiness and Rinpoche of abusing Buddhism and misleading people! When he said that His Holiness and Rinpoche are not following the Buddha, he is basically saying that they are not good Buddhists! When the best amongst us are not Buddhist, it should directly imply that we Tibetans too, are not good Buddhists. I don’t know if he himself is not committing sacrilege of the highest order! His accusation is outrageous! It is reckless accusation. He was always eager to discredit His Holiness. This line of argument to discredit Him, will be the biggest blunder of his life. Without a shadow of doubt, he has over-crossed the bounds of reasonableness and Tibetan-ness! This is sheer character assassination on his part!
We should be very vigilant against such pushers in our society. I find his audacity totally hollow! Above all, his reasons are based on fundamentally flawed understanding of Buddhism! Now in my mind, he has crossed from a seemingly responsible writer to a desperate and reckless writer. Because there are quite a sizable number of people, particularly among educated Tibetans, who buy into his train of thoughts, I felt it is necessary to sound caution here. Somebody needs to stand up to this nonsense! For these reasons, I had to write this piece, however poor it may be.
Mr. Norbu, has found “contradiction” between the Buddha and the His Holiness. Though I am nowhere close to understanding Buddha’s profound teachings, I will humbly attempt a brief interpretation to show that there is absolutely no contradiction between them. The Buddha’s greatest teaching was-Theory of Emptiness. To the wise, this is an earthshaking, all pervading philosophy. One must understand the direct relation between the theory of emptiness and the Middle Way. The Profundity of this Buddhist theory has been well-established by innumerable scholar-practitioners. A short writing, entitled, In praise of Dependent-Origination, Je Tsongkhapa, one of the greatest scholar-practitioners of Tibet said, “Emptiness is the main essence of Buddhism.” To quote from a different Buddhist text, “Whoever sees emptiness, will see Dharma. Whoever sees Dharma, will see the Enlightened One.” Emptiness is the ultimate key to understand Buddhist philosophy. Also to quote from Diamond Sutra, “All the Buddhas obtained their complete compassion from emptiness. Even the Buddhas themselves came from emptiness.” So, what more could we add?
My own view is: This is one of THE GREATEST THEORY, if not the greatest, in the universe. It pervades EVERYTHING in the universe. All other forms of knowledge pales in comparison. Because of its PROFOUNDNESS and SOPHISTICATION, even followers of Buddha have struggled to understand it. Based on individual perspective and depth of understanding of this theory, four main schools of thought developed amongst the followers. The highest school of thought was the Madhyamaka or the Middle Way. This school’s understanding of emptiness was either the closest or exact as the Buddha’s own view of reality. His view was free from the following two extremes: If you believe that the source of everything in the universe, must ultimately originate from a definite, precise, tangible, point-able entity or a Creator, this is one false and extreme notion, called eternalism or permanance. If you believe, after having some vague notion of the theory of emptiness, that there exist nothing after all, this is the other false and extreme notion, called nihilism or nothingness. Buddha discovered that everything, whether physical or emotional, exists interdependently or relatively. Everything is inter-related, and no absolute independent entity exists.
Now, even science is just beginning to wake up, in unlocking the mystery of existence. Through the modern quantum physics, it established the ‘fluidity’ of everything at its subatomical level. That means scientists’ inability to pin a precise, tangible, point-able entity. It must have shocked those scientists, because it went against their preconceived notion-the notion of things as tangible in the ultimate analysis. This is the what Buddha discovered some 2500 years ago. This is where science and Buddha’s emptiness converge! Everything exists as an aggregate of parts. Each parts is again an aggregate of other parts and so on. Even the labels like part or aggregate are also inter-related.or inter-dependent on each other. So, this is the Middle Way. Anything that appears random or magical to our conventional perspective, in reality has causes and conditions. This is the ultimate reality of existence. In other words, Buddha showed us the paramount importance of pragmatism and understanding reality.
According to Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattvas, all of the Buddha’s teachings are meant to lead us to this ultimate emptiness. Simply put, this is the key to connect everything in the universe, be it political, national, life, religion, ecology, economy and what not! It dispels all notions of contradictions. True followers of Buddha like Nagarjuna, Shantideva and other masters lived, breathed and ‘passed on’ with this. As for His Holiness and Samdhong Rinpoche, the impeccability of their moral ethics (based on Buddha‘s teachings,) is like an open book to the world. To be a smart, constructive critic, one should always aspire towards the highest wisdom. His Holiness has clearly mentioned in his book-Mind in Comfort and Ease, the three stages: wisdom born of study (gathering), wisdom born of reflection (confidence) and wisdom born of meditation (familiarization.) Mr. Jamyang Norbu and I are barely at the study/reading level. We have not understood, let alone realization of emptiness. Let us seek the truth from true masters and not just by reading.
In context of religion v. politics, the two greatest achievers of our time- Mr. Gandhi and Albert Einstein, both had very high esteem for Buddhism. Albert Einstein once said that of all the religions, Buddhism has the best chance to stand with science. On June 12, 2006, The Hindustan paper, ran an article-Gandhi proclaimed himself a Buddhist. This piece, very forcefully articulated Mr. Gandhi’s deep, unqualified respect for Buddha and his teachings. He believed that Buddhism is the cleansed form of Hinduism. He said, “He (Buddha) was saturated with the best that was in Hinduism….Gautama (Buddha) was himself a Hindu of Hindus.” This, in one way, was no ordinary praise from a highly devoted Hindu. When such accomplished men hold Buddhism in such high esteem, why ordinary mortals like us, be so critical? It only reveals our own foolishness.
So, whatever His Holiness and Samdhong Rinpoche do for Tibet, will always be based on realism and pragmatism. That’s the Middle Way in both spirit and action! Any call that falls short of concrete plan, means, low risk, high assuredness of success is nothing but extreme, dishonest and suicidal. Some think our Tibet policy is a total compromise. Some like Mr. Norbu, say it is sell out to the enemy. We need to wake up to reality. Nearly half of Tibet was gobbled up by China, when the desperate Tibetan government hastily transferred political powers to His Holiness. He was only sixteen years old. When China launched a full frontal attack on Tibet in 1959, His Holiness was only about 24. Tibet’s crisis still continues to this day. He had almost nothing except truth on his side. Unlike what Mr.Gandhi had, His Holiness has: no teeming millions of population, no financial resources, stuck in foreign land, a ruthless superpower nation as enemy, UN enslaved itself by veto wielders, etc,. This 14th Dalai Lama has endured a life of crisis after crisis. Under such mountain of pressures and crises, He did the best He could. For that matter alone, His Holiness deserves our highest admiration and the deepest gratitude from us all. The world rightly acknowledges Him with awards and love, even though the spineless, visionless politicians dare not.
Let me ask some of my fellow Tibetans like, Mr. Norbu and Mr. Lhasang Tsering, how could you even dream of criticizing Him? Unless you’re stubbornly enclosed, you owe to this Apostle of Peace, your sincerest apologies and a billion prostrations. You have abused your rights under the guise of freedom of speech! Please criticize me and the other billions of us, who virtually do nothing for Tibet! Survival of Tibet’s CULTURE is in STATE of EMERGENCY! THIS IS THE REALITY UNDER WHICH OUR LEADERS BASE THEIR POLICY. If you have better, success-oriented plan, please get it out in detail for the public. Otherwise, drumming around a single word-Independence alone, will hardly accomplish anything positive for Tibet.
As for the present Tibet policy under His Holiness and Samdhong Rinpoche, there isn’t the slightest contradiction or dishonesty or sacrilegious about that. Every single approach is invariably interconnected. Every single deed is spiritual, pragmatic and holistic to them. For them, as in Webster’s Encyclopedia, politic means, ‘art of government or administration of public affairs.’ This dirty, misconstrued meaning of politic arose from our own misdeeds. Look at all the previous Dalai Lamas, the current Dalai Lama and Gandhi. To these GREAT BEINGS, every word or deed has been spiritual. For them, there is no need for imaginary, discriminatory lines or boundaries amongst sentient beings. Everything is seen in the light of Middle Way. This great light becomes the foundation of true peace. The peace that we see in the present world is, fake peace-just like ceasefire. It will unravel at the slightest provocation. The Middle Way is the only way for ushering in real peace-in individual, family, society, country and the world.
One of the most important lessons from Buddha’s emptiness is, the emphasis on total relationship between causes/conditions and the resultant. That means EVERY GOAL/AIM must have corresponding METHOD/MEAN. In Buddhism, THE METHOD IS PARAMOUNT over THE GOAL. IT MUST BE REALISTIC and COMPREHENSIVE. THEN THE GOAL FOLLOWS NATURALLY. The two are RELATED INSEPARABLY. The seed must correspond to the flower you want. To grow a sunflower, one needs a sunflower seed. Any seed other than sunflower seed will not produce sunflower, however hard one works or prays. The seed itself to be called a sunflower seed, it must originate from a sunflower. It shows total interdependence or inter-relatedness. The relation between the two should have sameness of qualities and conditions. For any choice of careers, one must have totally appropriate line of studies. Any extreme method or path, will be recipe for totally inappropriate and undesirable outcome. This was what Buddha learnt after six years of rigorous Hindu practices. That almost caused His death. Couldn’t we say the same about out ’independence’ call? The means to achieve that call are miniscule. You may say I am unpatriotic, but I can just say: I’m being realistic.
To prove wholeness of His Holiness and Gandhi, let me cite some instances. On Jan 13, 2011, His Holiness addressed a gathering of people from the Himalayan regions at Sarnath, India. He said, “The cause of Tibet is directly related with Buddhism…I am a monk. Had it been just politics, I wouldn’t be involved in it.” So, it was very clear -Tibet’s cause was His spiritual calling. Similarly, Mr. Gandhi, in his autobiography-The Story of My Experiments with Truth, he wrote, “To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that CANNOT AFFORD TO KEEP OUT OF ANY FIELD OF LIFE. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that THOSE WHO SAY THAT RELIGION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS DO NOT KNOW WHAT RELIGION MEANS.” I love this passage for couple of reasons. Firstly, it shows what religion or spirituality actually mean. Secondly, it is a tremendous counterpoint against those who hold a view that religion and politics cannot or meant to coexist. There have been many, even some Tibetans, who call for separation of religion and politics. I strongly urge you to remember now, we Tibetans are blessed to have such Great and Wise Beings to lead us! Fools like us will see their true greatness only after their passing away. Then it might be too late for any redemption.
I think it would be quite appropriate, if I inject the following into our discussion. Some critics, including Mr. Norbu, have had opined superiority of Gandhi over His Holiness. I wish to offer my own views. Gandhi believed Buddhism as cleansed form of Hinduism. He viewed Buddhism as nothing but Hinduism. In my humble opinion, he was unable to see the true greatness of Buddhism. It is true that there are many common approaches between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddha himself was a Hindu in the beginning. What makes Buddhism a complete stand out is, its take on ultimate emptiness. This difference is huge, a matter of enormous implication, like whether you have the potential to be liberated as Buddha yourself or not! I have never read or heard a word on Buddha’s emptiness from Mr. Gandhi. Had he understood emptiness, he would not be boxing Buddhism into Hinduism completely. I have one other important point to air out.
Gandhi’s prized political movement was Satyagraha. The two ideas that drove his movement was Truth and Ahimsa (non-violence.) The concept of non-violence do appear in Hinduism, but Gandhi’s non-violence concept went beyond what appear in Hinduism. He was deeply moved by Buddha’s concept of non-violence- which extends nonviolence to all sentient beings and above all, the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others. Buddhism treats all sentient beings as equal and precious. What I’m getting at is, the ACTUAL inspiration for both these great-men, regarding Ahimsa, sprang from the Buddha, and not Gandhi to the Dalai Lama. By extending this logic, we can attribute Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela’s nonviolence concept to Buddha too. I’ve seen many people, including Mr.Norbu, failing to trace the true source of this inspiration. Please note my words like, actual and true. That’s why Gandhi was proud to proclaim himself a Buddhist at heart. This is a triumph of Buddhism. One should get the facts right before judging others. My question would be: who has followed Buddha in totality, Gandhi or His Holiness?
Dear readers, please accept my apologies for this long piece. I had to, because in almost every paragraph of his article, is jammed with fallacy. I still have strong views on some of his other points like, ‘conditioned to accept,’ ‘dentsig monlam,’ ‘dimekunden,’ etc,. I prefer to spare my readers the drag. So, Mr. Norbu , please never ever say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Prof Samdhong Rinpoche’s works have “nothing to do with the Buddha’s or Nagarjuna’s philosophy.” They have everything to do with the Buddha and his great disciples! The lesson is, never ever pick your fight with the FINEST BEINGS. It will only expose ones hollowness.
Just as the majority of the Buddhists are unable to grasp the Buddha’s emptiness, so too, the majority of scientists do not grasp this quantum physics. No wonder it seems almost total impossibility to achieve liberation from this mundane life.
I have done thorough study and reflection on the Middle Way policy. Now, I’ve firm and unshakable confidence in the middle way. I don’t call this a compromise. Compromise implies, getting less than total. When nations in Europe and former Soviet Union joined European Union, is it a compromise? When the new states of America joined to form a union, is it a compromise? If Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Sri Lanka join India, would that be a compromise? What comes out of this Middle Way-Tibet policy will be astonishingly better than a piece of land, with profoundly beautiful and positive repercussions throughout the world for generations. Like Buddha, the Dalai Lama is one of the most skillful teacher, shepherding us mortals. If I don’t fall under your spell, please do not insult me with words like, ‘conditioned to accept,’ ‘deluded,’ or ‘irredeemably dishonest.’ I have a fairly reasonable mind of my own, and I have done my homework.
One last thing to ask Mr. Norbu, What does His Holiness follow if not the Buddha? I’m sure His Holiness follows somebody/something great. After writing this piece passionately, I will still love Jamyang Norbu as my own brother with all sincerity.