Monday, March 09, 2009

fifty years

tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the lhasa uprising, a day when tibetans' efforts to protect his holiness the dalai lama from perceived threats to his life by chinese communist army officials rapidly turned to bloodshed. the dalai lama had been summoned invitation to a 'theatrical performance' at the headquarters of the chinese army encamped outside lhasa, a performance to which his bodyguards and other escorts were specifically not invited. perceiving this as a thinly veiled attempt to imprison their beloved spiritual leaders. thousands of tibetans (by some accounts as many as 300,000) began camping around the grounds of his residence, offering their physical presence as a sort of human wall to encircle and protect him. chinese soldiers swiftly moved into position, with artillery placed in range of the dalai lama's residence. the bloodshed began soon thereafter. although he himself had escaped for the long and perilous trek into exile in india at night, 800 shells struck the dalai lama's residence. within a week, some 86,000 tibetans lost their life, and all tibetans had lost their country, their self-determination and their spiritual, moral and political leader.

this is why there was no new year this year. and it is why, after 50 years of occupation, some tibetans have taken drastic steps that move far beyond the main path of non-violent resistance, including an instance of self-immolation that has shocked all the tibetans i have heard speak of it (always in hushed tones). [technically, the attempt at self-immolation failed because chinese soldiers shot and killed him before the flames could end his life.]

it is also why this morning, at the temple of his holiness the dalai lama here in dharamsala, many many people gathered to pray for the long life of his holiness the dalai lama, and it is also why, at the same event, the oracle who is consulted on crucial moments on matters of import to the entire tibetan people was called out and entered trance in public. at a highly charged public event, his holiness the dalai lama held the oracle's medium by one arm while his holiness the karmapa held the other, as the oracle pronounced on the future of tibet at this critical juncture. the prognosis and advice indicated by the oracle were not made public.

but what was very much on public display was the intimate connection between these two leaders of tibetan buddhism, his holiness the dalai lama and his holiness the karmapa. to indicate the extra-ordinary trance state in which the oracle's medium has entered, a massively heavy hat is placed on his head. although while in trance he is able to bear the weight, once the trance ends, his head must be sustained lest his neck break. the sight of the two 'his holinesses' literally sharing the burden of the future of tibet serves as a vivid indication of the role that lies ahead for his holiness the karmapa.

equally clear is this video, in which his holiness the dalai lama tells his holiness the karmapa that he expects him to carry on his responsibilities once he is gone. hh karmapa's response makes it clear he has an idea just what that might mean.

a great deal could be said about the complexities involved in a spiritual leader's accepting a basically political role as leader of a people. but tibetans look to those they consider their moral authorities to set the course for them, and tibetan buddhist leaders consider it their responsibility to offer any guidance and assistance they can to those who ask.

in any case, it seems separation of church and state may be a luxury that those without a state can ill afford.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

news flash

Doctoral Candidates Anticipate Hard Times.

that is literally the headline of this ny times article.

oh dear.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

raising the world

listening this morning again to teachings that were given by his holiness the karmapa in bodhgaya... this series of teachings was given specifically for western students this past january while i was in bodhgaya, and i was swept up in a rather strange confluence of conditions - not least of which was the presence of 60 poles hungry for dharma teachings but quite a few lacking enough english language to follow the teachings. anyway somehow i ended up co-translating the teachings into polish with my friend and dharma sister beata stepień. although i had been quite fluent when living in poland in the mid-80s, polish is not exactly a language i use daily. after a year of living with spanish as a daily language, sharing as home as i do with two mexicans, attempting to translate simultaneously from tibetan - a language i am struggling to become fluent in, into a language that was struggling to arise from the murky depths of my linguistic memory made for a very disorienting cognitive experience. as i translated the words seemed to be skipping over the english part of my brain - the part where most actual thought takes place, and much of the meaning also seemed to have leapt over with the words. so there was much new to be heard when listening now a second time.

one bit of advice that his holiness offered for parents with a commitment to a spiritual practice struck me as potentially useful to … well, to people with children. in a style that i am coming to recognizing as vintage hh karmapa, the advice he gave is deeply buddhist in one sense, but potentially relevant to virtually any spiritual practitioner.

in short, his advice is to raise your children in a loving way, with the thought that you are doing so in order that they come to be of benefit to the world.

simple, right? in fact, it may sound so simple that one fails to see how much effort it will take to really live by - or how transformative it might really be if one is able to do so.

actually, his holiness cautioned, to do so as a spiritual practice, one will have to make a deliberate point of bringing this wider purpose to mind, again and again. the objective has to be made clear, as if one were setting a policy for oneself. otherwise one can end up being vague and inconsistent about what exactly one is doing in one's child-rearing. so when parents are engaged in any activity to care for and raise their children, they can intentionally cultivate the thought that they are seeking to give their child a good upbringing with the aim of making a contribution to the well-being of the larger society, and ultimately of all the world.

although he did not say so, it seems to me that this attitude shifts the emphasis from simply one's own offspring (or one's nieces and nephews, in my own experience), whom we can often end up treating as extensions of our own egos, to a vast and inclusive wish to contribute to well-being and goodness in the world at large. for most parents, it may not materially change their external behavior, but internally, it seems to me cultivating this vast intention could shift something subtle but important.

not having children, it is hard to say how this might work, and i would be extremely interested to hear from anyone who experiments with this practice. but i will say, i have found his holiness' advice to be devastatingly powerful, if put into practice.

anyway, for those parents inclined to read advice on child-rearing posted on a nun's blog, there you go! is taken during those teachings. beata is the one looking happy to my right, i'm the one beside her straining to hold her brain's language centers together.