Dalai Lama enlightens Vancouver

``There is no such thing as fame in reality. It's what's called a projection.'' So said Van Morrison on CBC's morning radio show Q on the same day I began writing this piece. It struck me as poignant, somehow resonant with the theme of the Dalai Lama Peace Summit that happened last week. In particular, it reminded me of the old monks' statement about the problem that humanity has with language and concepts: ``Some people call me God-King; some call me living Buddha; some call me demon... Of course these are all nonsense.'' While reporting on the summit, I couldn't help but notice how the panellists, speakers and spectators were all struggling with their own conceptual frameworks, trying hard to re-brand and redefine words like compassion, kindness and peace. The focus of the summit was to unpack our own language-bound, cultural paradigm and reorient our sense of identity towards a unity with the whole human family. For most participants of the event, that reconciliation will remain an isolated ideal.

On philosophy...

Thematically, the summit could be summed up by the Dalai Lama's following statement: ``The national boundary is meaningless... so therefore we really need a concept of the whole world considered as a we, part of my, part of me...'' He went on to mention that sometimes the leaders of the world must teach this, but sometimes they must also be taught by the common people. It is ironic that the ``common people'' were largely prohibited from this event, as ticket prices went as high as $200.
Regardless, concepts were cracked. Matthieu Ricard, a PhD cell geneticist turned monk, examined how the idea of inner peace interacted with creating an outer change in the world. ``We need outer peace, but if it doesn't start with ourselves, where do we go?'' He asked. ``War starts with a thought of hate ... People think inner peace, non-violence [are] sweet ideas, sort of weak and passive; I think it takes more courage for a Burmese monk, barefoot, to stand in front of the Burmese army than it is for someone to cowardly put a bomb in a car... '' Indeed, the focus of this portion of the dialogue refuted the possibility of outward change without a focused inner address on the thoughts which prompt activity.

While the speakers emphasized the need for outward action, they carefully steered the conversation to conceptual issues. Eckhart Tolle, author of the bestselling The Power of Now, said: ``There is a potential goodness and sanity in every human being... there is also an overlaying of madness, a dysfunction in the human mind... which prevents us from recognizing... other human beings and nature as part of who we are.'' Tolle went on to describe how this dysfunction gives rise to an illusion of separation, because when one person relates to another, we do it through a ``screen of conceptualization.'' On the level of thoughts, he pointed out that ``thinking, if you can observe it in yourself, that there is a voice in your head that never stops speaking... most people are so trapped in the thinking voice that that's their identity, that's the false self... you get an entire sense of identity that's mind-made. '' For Tolle, outward change is not truly possible unless it follows an intellectual examination of the thought processes, and more importantly, ``a dimension within myself where I am not thinking, where I am just present, spacious... here.'' He pointed out that without this examination and reconciliation we will necessarily perpetuate old conditioning, like cycles of child-abuse that flourish through generations of families.

The Dalai Lama took the point, recognized it as a particularly Buddhist way of thinking, and made a Yoda-esque amendment: ``Your explanation, more like philosophy.'' Referring to Tolle's description, he added ``thoughtlessness, I think, only for few people. Now we are talking about six billion human beings so thought also important! ... Investigation itself is kind of thought... The investigation is a unique thing...'' He refuted Tolle's idea of thought as a dysfunction, but said ``intelligence, whether it becomes constructive or destructive depends on... intention... [when] these two things combine, then our intelligence becomes constructive.'' He stated that, if the investigation process is instigated by feelings of anger or hatred, then what follows will be destructive. Going on, he described the basic oneness of the human condition and pointed out that our lives begin as babies, before thinking processes arise, and we know the affection and compassion of our mothers, first and foremost, as the ground of human experience. Therefore, it is better to focus on that common ground, rather than on the permutations that arise from conditioned mental states which manifest as competition, then anger, then war.

On the media...

The media waited outside the Chan Center, politely queued but impatiently fingering their shutter-buttons, lens covers, tripods and iPhones. A rare photo op was promised. Mark Leiren-Young, a columnist for The Tyee, would later criticize the event, saying that without offering journalists a chance to interview the speakers there was little opportunity for true reporting. Joseph Roberts, senior editor of Common Ground magazine, also had disparaging comments to make, stating that the summit label, dialogues, was a misnomer. ``There is no dialogue going on here,'' he said, noting that each speaker had their position and the aim was not to find commonalities. He pointed to the fact that Eckhart Tolle had very clearly articulated a key point about the mental causes of physical suffering, but that the Dalai Lama had the last word. He speculated on the level of orchestration, and on the intention of the event.

The CBC featured an article by the Canadian Press entitled ``Dalai Lama sees technology as peace threat''. This line referred to the quote: "I think technology may have some benefits for a smart brain but no capacity to produce compassion''. He stated that technology was a neutral force that could be made constructive or destructive depending on the intention behind it. To be specific, ``the machine has no ability to respond to that compassion.'' In this case, the Canadian Press spun the content to a sensationalist headline, prompting readers to respond with confusion. ``What is this man but a human fortune cookie?'' commented Zubov56 on the CBC website. In fact, this purposely controversial headline prompted some intelligent debate, but nowhere did I find anyone criticising the media's egregious manipulation of what appeared to be a straightforward message. When I asked a member of the Canadian Press team why they chose to spin the statement, he summarily dismissed my inquiry and kept walking. No comment.

The irony is that the article followed the Dalai Lamas address to the media, which offered two main considerations, focusing on social responsibility. ``The media... should have long nose, like elephant nose, then they should smell in front and often behind... media people should investigate everything... tell the truth, make clear what [is the] reality...'' In the case of the CBC article, clarity was dismissed in favour of fostering the attentive annoyance a reader would feel over having their favourite cell phone or iPod downplayed by their favourite celebrity. He further stated that sensationalism was also very important, but added that too much can lead to the impression that humanity is something negative. He warned that it could lead people to believe that the ``human future is doomed.'' He pointed out that media people overlook those who help others through compassion and kindness, and that these events don't often become news. All in all, the Dalai Lama reminded the reporters of their role and emphasized an overview – social responsibility, regardless of sensationalist headlines.

On the youth...

Standing resolute and determined, Tenzin Lobsang Wangkhang leaned intently over the display table; a group of red-robed Gelugpa monks smiled and laughed just a few feet away. She was calm, seemingly impervious to the joyful atmosphere provoked by the monks as they tracked their Lamas' progress from the Chan centre to the lunch room, herded by stone-faced security guards and scurrying camera operators (``Keep moving! Keep backing up! Don't make me move you!''). She is Tibetan but was born in India because her parents fled in '59, along with 100,000 other residents. She is now National Director of Students for a Free Tibet (SFA).

She explained that the SFA's methods are different from those of the Dalai Lama. Instead, they focus on Tibetans as oppressed indigenous people under colonial tyranny. In particular, they don't adhere to the Buddhist `middle way' approach, which is primarily a religious concept, emphasizing always choosing the middle path between polar oppositions; in Tibet's case, this manifests as choosing autonomy under Chinese rule rather than full separate independence. The Dalai Lama chose this route to protect the Tibetans from outright genocide, but Tenzin points out that ``there have been 1.2 million Tibetans killed since the Chinese took over and 6000 monasteries destroyed'' since the beginning of the occupation. ``The `middle way' approach means we would have control over Tibet but under a Chinese banner... SFT doesn't think that [approach] is best for Tibetans. It's difficult for us to fathom living under the Chinese flags when Tibetans have been oppressed for so long...''

She is particularly concerned over Canadian mining interests in Tibet. It is an issue that echoes around the conference from the corners of rooms or in hushed crowds, far from the carefully orchestrated carnival onstage. Mining companies like Hunter Dickinson's Continental Minerals are accused of exploiting the situation in Tibet for profit, capitalizing on the Chinese push to displace the Tibetans into refugee camps and to introduce ethnic Han Chinese people to the region via the recently built Tibet Sky railway. To complicate matters, news is strictly censored throughout China and Tibet, making it difficult to determine how bad the situation has become. The SFA has a hope, however, one they share with the Canada/Tibet Committee (CTC) who are on post at a nearby information booth: Bill C-300. The Parliament of Canada website describes it as: ``An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries.''I asked a spokesperson from the CTC how this initiative fits in with the inner-change peace dialogues of the summit.

``[The Dalai Lama] can't be the hardcore political activist that a student can be... he's a monk... his duty... is to help all sentient beings be free from suffering... So the people here, they don't need to free themselves in a political struggle; they're looking for inner peace... Whereas groups like Students for a Free Tibet, groups like the Canada /Tibet Committee can discuss and raise concerns on a different level. They say, `Yup, inner peace is important piece of the puzzle, and it's absolutely critical' but right now, while a whole lot of people have not reached enlightenment, Tibetans are being killed. So we have to deal with those issues right now...''

I watched a new friend from the media scrum, Karen Chan, reporter from the Ubyssey, carry a small Tibetan nun doll in her backpack for most of the conference and I listened to her impressions. She carried a book about finding God in unlikely places and claimed, yes, she was Christian, but she had an open mind. The doll had been blessed by monks, and it was important to her. Her Chinese parents claimed that the Dalai Lama was a sly old fox, but she had an open mind... she wasn't sure yet what to believe. Her thoughts were not yet concrete...

On the Tuesday section of the dialogues, dubbed ``We'' day, the Dalai Lama gave some important advice to the youth.He spoke to 16,000 young people on the importance of creating change in their lives. ``You are the seeds of a better future,'' he advised. ``The 20th century had the most bloodshed ever. More than 200 million human beings killed through violent action. All were people just like us.''

And finally, ``Read and listen. Then, make your investigation. If you just accept everything, then your brain is wasted.''

//Kevin Murray

1935 – 14th Dalai Lama is born
1949 – Mao Zedong threatens Tibet with `independence'
1950 – Dalai Lama, 15 years old, becomes head of state
1951 – Tibet is forced to sign treaty ensuring Chinese occupation
and Tibetan freedom
1954 – China reneges on treaty
1959 – Tibetan uprising, thousands killed. International Commission of Jurists claim genocide
1960 – First famine reported in Tibetan history due to agricultural destabilization
1963 – Foreigners banned from Tibet
1965 – Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) established
1970's – End of cultural revolution; Han Chinese injected into Tibet; 430,000 Tibetans killed
1987 – Dalai Lama calls for peace
1988 – China declares martial law
1989 – Dalai Lama awarded Nobel peace Prize; Torture of prisoners reaches national attention
1992 – 10,000 Tibetan children in Chinese residential schools
1995 – China kidnaps Panchen Lama (a reincarnate leader) and replaces him with their own version
2006 – The Tibet Sky Railway is built. Han Chinese increase in Tibet
2008 – 5 months before Olympics, Tibet sees worst violence in 20 years
2008 – Britain recognizes China's sovereignty over Tibet
2008 – Dalai Lama accepts failure in negotiations with China
2009 – China appoints their Panchen Lama as spokesperson for China/Tibet relations
2009 – Chinese outnumber Tibetans in many border provinces
2009 – Approximately 1.2 million Tibetans killed to date

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