Home / Culture and Society / Capitol Idea: For Tibet’s Sake, Please Be Serious, Mr. President

Capitol Idea: For Tibet’s Sake, Please Be Serious, Mr. President

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"… this president is not interested in symbolism or photo ops but in deliverables. He wants something to come out of his efforts over Tibet, rather than just checking a box."  — Asian diplomat

In eight years, I was hard-pressed ever to compliment, never mind agree with, practically anything George W. Bush did as president, whether in foreign policy or otherwise.

Yet, I was genuinely pleased, no, actually grateful, as an American Buddhist practicing in the Tibetan tradition when in 2007 Bush not only met publicly with the Dalai Lama, but actually bestowed upon him one of our nation's highest honors — apparently without giving a second thought as to the anger that would stir within the Chinese government.

So you can imagine my dismay at the news that President Obama apparently is so concerned about irritating the Chinese now that he will become the first American president in nearly 20 years to skip meeting with the Dalai Lama when His Holiness returns to Washington this week.

And yet, even in the midst of my disappointment, the quote I have above above caught my eye and captured my thinking.

That's because as absolutely joyful as I am whenever a president or other high official lauds the Dalai Lama, or delivers some sternly worded talk about the need for China to seriously engage on the issue of Tibet's future — that's all it is, just talk.

The Tibetans have been waiting more than 50 years for something more than talk — literally. When the Chinese first invaded Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama telegrammed the world's powers seeking assistance. None of them, the United States included, even bothered to reply.

For a thousand years, the "Land of Snows" had been one of the world's greatest contemplative societies, equal to ancient Greece, as Tibet valued spirtual enlightenment above all pursuits.

No more. The Tibetans have endured extraordinary cruelty at the hands of the Chinese in the decades since the Red Army first seized their mountainous kingdom. The Chinese burned most of the ancient Tibetan monasteries, imprisoning and tortturing many of Tibet's Buddhist teachers, out of spite against the religion. Even today, that the ability of Tibetans to practice Buddhism has been dramatically curtailed is just one of the grave injustices they face.

If the American leaders who preach about the spread of human rights and democracy actually meant a word of it, Tibet would rise to the top of their agendas. Yet the issue of Tibet usually has been treated as little more than an inconvenience. Their voices are seldom heard, which is why a photo-op between the Dalai Lama and an American president sustains such hope.

The truth is, however that even these encounters have accomplished little. Indeed, they may even have been counter-productive from the standpoint that they allow Americans to assuage what concern they have without having to show much actual progress.

Which brings us once more to that quote hanging at the top of the page, and the possibility that an American president could be interested in delivering progress for the Tibetan people.

One hopes President Obama is serious about applying his gifts to solving the Tibetan issue.

If that's true, then His Holiness and the Tibetan people would wait. They are patient people, given that demonstrating patience is one of the hallmarks of Buddhist practice.

If it's not, then putting off the Dalai Lama by only raising false hopes will be just the latest cruelty Tibetans will have to suffer.


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About Scott Nance

  • Scott,

    I won’t comment on the Dalai Lama – but the fact that Obama is afraid to piss off the Chinese should tell you something important. Not only did the Chinese invent cash – now they are the ones with the cash. Sleazebags from Chicago never miss out on who has the scratch, and trim their sails accordingly.

  • Baronius

    Scott, this goes back to the whole Carter/Reagan thing. Carter would talk about human rights in the abstract, but then he’d go hang out with Ceausescu. Reagan named names. He called out the Soviets for their refusal to let Jews emigrate to Israel. He met with dissidents. Just words, but words that delegitimized Soviet claims.

    Bush was spotty on China. I’d give him much higher marks if he hadn’t attended the Olympics. Bush was great in support of the Cuban dissidents.

    Which brings us to Obama. It’s great that he doesn’t want to meet without making progress. It’s also great when a gal doesn’t want to go out with me because she doesn’t want to ruin our friendship. But let’s be honest: no one who says that, means that. Obama’s foreign policy demeanor and agenda is based on nonjudgementalism. The only times he’s held anyone’s feet to the fire (Israel, Honduras), the entire international community has been in agreement – and even then, he hasn’t followed through on anything. There’s simply no reason to believe that he intends to be a world leader.

  • “The Tibetans have endured extraordinary cruelty at the hands of the Chinese in the decades since the Red Army first seized their mountainous kingdom.”

    Not anymore cruelty than they suffered under Tibetan warlords who virtually enslaved Tibetan serfs. They practiced torture and taxed the peasants to death. Why are we Westerners so in love with that theocracy that once was? Because China scares us so much that we turn a blind eye to history. That does not mean we should condone China’s current practices. I’m just saying “enough!” with the myths already.

  • I support freedom from oppression for Tibetan people. In addition to granting a murderous imperialist the highest honor, the Dalai Lama is reprehensible for other reasons: His ‘Material’ Highness.

  • “That does not mean we should condone China’s current practices. I’m just saying ‘enough!’ with the myths already.”

    So what ARE you saying, Rey? That the situation is tolerable because it’s no worse than what it had been?

  • Doug Hunter

    Tibet is to oppression what breast cancer is to cancer.

  • Roger,

    I meant what I said. It’s fine to argue for Tibetan independence and condemn China’s current practices–just spare me the romanticism and argumenta ad misericordiam. From the first page:

    “For a thousand years, the “Land of Snows” had been one of the world’s greatest contemplative societies, equal to ancient Greece, as Tibet valued spirtual enlightenment above all pursuits.”

  • I see your point. It does read like a fairy tale.

    In fact, that’s how I would start it, and then lead the reader by the nose.

  • The myths of the dominant culture are reinforced by every average face.

  • CQpinion

    The Dalai Lama is given too much importance in this country. China supports this country’s economy..like it or not. We owe them around a trillion dollars. So trying to please our creditor with a little cold shoulder to Dalai Lama..especially on the heels of agreements to sell fighter jets to taiwan and imposing tarrifs on tires.
    This is one thing I agree with Obama on.

  • Cindy,

    Scott Nance, the author, is a Tibetan Buddhist. I did not want to insult him by pointing out the Dalai Lama’s continuing links to the (now aged) Nazis who trainied him up as a teenager, amongst other things. So, I restricted my comments to Obama’s material acts. A German writer I know has found (Tibetan) Buddhist texts that talk about the Sons of Moses being enemies, so it is no surprise that the Nazis saw in the Tibetan Buddhists, their ancestral roots.

  • It never surprises me to find that when a few beautiful human beings try to pass along some wonderful messages, the non-comprehending usurp those messages and warp them into their own selfish service, as if such messages could actually fit into their dominator patterns of being.

  • I have been hesitant to get drawn into these comments but Ruvy, I must ask what evidence you have that link either the Dalai Lama, or Tibetan Buddhism generally, to Nazis. It seems odd as it is a basic tenet of Buddhism that all sentient beings are essentially the same (all hold Buddhanature) and therefore, there is no putting one above another. That is the basis for all-encompassing, non-discriminating compassion for all beings.

  • Ruvy


    I posted an answer to comment #13 at your blog site because Aksimet rejected my comment. After having done an hour’s research to dig up the information, I was more than a little pissed.