Monday, April 6, 2009

Dalai Lama -- Overexposed?

The 14th Dalai Lama (head of the red hat sect of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism and government of Tibet in exile) alongside the 265th pope and 16th Benedict (head of the Roman Catholic religion and king of Vatican City State).

Why does the current Dalai Lama get so much attention on Wisdom Quarterly? First of all, he does not represent Buddhism, but rather only a fraction of a small subsection (Vajrayana). Second, Chinese officials are furious with him. Third, he is uncomfortably like the pope (in superficial ways).

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures during a news conference in New Delhi on 3/31/09. China has kept Tibetan areas under lockdown this month, which is not only the anniversary of last year's riots but also marks 50 years since the failed uprising against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India (Reuters/B. Mathur).

However, his constant backing by celebrities (and his own celebrity behavior) frequently puts him in the news. That's the first thing; WQ covers him because his PR machine puts him in a position to be covered. Second, Chinese officials are furious with him -- instigating a massive propaganda campaign to discredit him, a computer spy ring to subvert his sophisticated worldwide operations, and unrelenting attacks on Tibet to forget him complete with a dictator-approved replacement (Panchen) Lama.
If a brutal dictatorship is against you, WQ is for you. Third, behind his celebrity status, Tenzin Gyatso is regarded as a charismatic and moral leader.

Dalai Lama visually corroborates, with his hands as horns, as he speculates that the Chinese government probably thinks of him as the devil at a press conference in New Delhi, 3/31/09 (AP/Saurabh Das).

He is the inspiration for the famous Star Wars character Yoda. He is a riveting speaker and author (albeit they're likely to be ghostwritten). While by his own admission he's neither enlightened nor a very good meditator (Barbara Walters interview), he is beloved by countless American sympathizers and Buddhists. He is a non-violent hero akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the public face of Buddhism largely because China invaded Tibet. There are other candidates for the post.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese Theravada)
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Zen/Mahayana)
  • Goenka (Indian/Burmese Theravada)
  • Bhikkhu Bodhi (American/Sri Lankan Theravada)
  • Lisa Simpson (prominent Buddhist cartoon figure)

But currently none is as compelling or as facile with the media. Perhaps when circumstances repeatedly thrust one of the alternates into the spotlight... One is often brought to fame kicking and screaming because holocausts have both villains and sympathetic characters.

In the end, the world needs a heroine. In the absence of that, a compassionately heroic figure will do.

Exile Tibetan traditional dancers prepare to perform next to a photograph of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, at an event commemorating 50 years of struggle for Tibet's independence, in Bangalore, India, 3/31/09. On this day, 50 years ago, Lama set foot in India as an exile (AP/Aijaz Rahi).

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