Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two separate worlds

We lived in a strange world.
On one side, we have ‘great leaders’ taking ‘vital’ decisions for our future at the G20 Summit in Cannes on the French Riviera, while on the other side ordinary people (known as the ‘common man’ in Indian political parlance) struggle with their miseries and their aspirations. In today’s world, there is no connection between the two.
While the ordinary man cannot really understand the ins and outs of the famous economic ‘crisis’ (except for the fact that the bankers never lose ‘their’ money), the 20 most powerful persons of the planet promise that everything will be solved for our good.
What is this crisis about? For dummies, it can be simplified thus: Europe is broke, the US are deeply indebted, while China is rich and does not know what to do with its Yuans (it is also true of India, but in a much smaller measure).
As a result, Sarkozy and his colleagues have been courting China.
A few thousands kilometers away, Tibetan monks and nuns are immolating themselves. The latest on the list (the eleventh) was Palden Choesang, a 35 years old nun from Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. She set herself afire in protest against the Chinese government’s suppression of religious freedom. Before dying near a Buddhist stupa, she shouted, ‘Freedom for Tibet’, ‘Long live H.H the Dalai Lama’ and ‘Let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet’. Immediately after her death, heavy contingents of police arrived and placed further restrictions on the clergy’s practices.
What is the connection between the two events? There is none. For a simple reason: as poor, sinking Europe had to beg from China, the West must remain silent while China is asked to ‘help’ by investing some of its $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves in the bailout fund. But China is not even responsive. Hu told Sarkozy that the European debt problem should be mainly solved by Europe: “We hope that the implementation of the plan will address current difficulties in Europe and boost European economic development”.
It is not difficult to understand why everybody keeps mum about the tragic events happening in Tibet.
This series of self-immolations began on March 16 when Phuntsog, a 21-year old monk of Kirti Monastery set himself on fire in Ngaba. It continued on 15 August with Tsewang Norbu of Tawu Nyatso Monastery. On 17 October, Tenzin Wangmo a 20-year old nun was the first nun to immolate herself.
In the meantime, the Chinese propaganda says that the Tibetans have never been so well off. Xinhua reported: “Low-income families in Tibet whose per capital net income in a year is lower than 1450 yuan could get minimum living funds. …It’s said that Tibet has increased the minimum living fund standard by 4 times since 2007.”
So where is the problem?
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) which follows closely the human right situation in Tibet, gave a rationale for the extreme step taken by these monks and nuns: “Movement is controlled and religious practices are either limited or completely forbidden. Several laws and policies are specifically aimed to control Tibet’s Buddhist institutions.”
TCHRD remarked: “Such acts not only violate the very principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the Constitution of China. Article 33 of the Chinese constitution provides for the safeguard and protection of Human Rights.”
But who is to tell this to Hu Jintao who could tomorrow be Europe’s ‘savior’?
The Dalai Lama on tour in Japan affirmed: “these incidents of self-immolation are very very sad. The leadership in Beijing should look into the ultimate cause of these tragic incidents. These Tibetans have faced a tremendously desperate situation, otherwise nobody will commit such drastic acts”.
He would like the Chinese leadership to pay serious attention to their minority policies: “Relying on force is counter-productive. Force can never bring unity and stability.”
But Beijing’s leadership is not ready to listen.
The renown dissident and poetess Tsering Woeser recalled on her blog that in 1948, Quang Duc Thich, a Vietnamese monk burnt himself in Saigon. Woeser said that the 67-year-old monk’s last words were, “before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to the [Vietnamese] President to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality …I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.” Woeser believes that the same aspirations and feelings pushed Tibetan monks and nuns to set themselves on fire.
Do not conclude prematurely that the Communist regime in Beijing does not like Buddhism. On the contrary, these days Beijing seems to love the philosophy taught by Gautam Buddha.
On October 14, 2011, Nobel Prize Laureate Amartya Sen met Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun; Sen was heading a delegation of the Nalanda University Mentor Group. According to the Chinese press: “The two sides exchanged opinions on the rebuilding of Nalanda University and China-India cultural and educational exchanges and cooperation …Nalanda University was known in ancient times as Nalanda Temple where Monk Xuanzang of Tang Dynasty fetched Buddhist scriptures.”
The Chinese are said to have pledged 1 billion dollars for the project. It means that Beijing ‘loves’ Buddhism, does it not? So, why the Tibetan monks and nuns continue to immolate themselves?
Unfortunately, today Buddhism is just a propaganda tool in Beijing’s agenda which dreams to spread its ‘soft power’.
The Economist recently reported that China plans to invest $3 billion in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. The Economist explained: “After Prachanda, the leader of Nepal’s Maoists, stepped down as prime minister in 2009, he several times met representatives of The Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation (APECF). In July Chinese media reported that the Hong-Kong-based foundation—which is widely thought to have China’s backing—had signed an agreement with UNIDO, the UN’s industrial-development organisation, to invest $3 billion in Lumbini.” The objective is to make a ‘Mecca for Buddhists’.
The Economist said that the news caused an uproar in Nepal as neither the central government nor the local authorities responsible for Lumbini were consulted. Later the Nepalese government refused to entertain the deal. “If this was an exercise in Chinese ‘soft power; it was a disaster’, The Economist commented.
Today’s China seems to have a different definition of ‘culture’ or ‘religion’ than the rest of the world.
In an official Chinese publication Outlook Weekly, a Chinese professor of the Party School explained what Beijing means by ‘culture’: “The socialist core value system is the soul rejuvenating the country and the essence of the socialist advanced culture. …The core value of socialism is to liberate mankind. The four basic elements that make up the socialist core value system are the guiding principles of Marxism, the common ideals of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the national spirit and the spirit of the times, and socialist morality.”
One cannot expect the Tibetan monks and nuns who continue to immolate themselves, to understand these doctrinal niceties, they just want to practice the Dharma.
It is all the more indecent that a renowned person like Amartya Sen who pretends to revive the Nalanda Tradition of compassion and openness, not only remains quiet about the immolations, but continues to go begging to Chinese authorities for a purely Indian cultural project.
The world is indeed upside-down.

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