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Dalai Lama: Savior, or Selfish Jerk?

by Brian Dunning

May 14, 2012

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Donate So this week, the London bureau of CNN reported:
The Dalai Lama refused to answer a question Monday about whether Tibetan monks should stop setting themselves on fire to protest China's occupation of Tibet.

"No answer," he said, saying it was a sensitive political question and that he had retired from politics.
What's going on is that Tibetan Buddhist monks have been killing themselves via self-imolation, setting themselves on fire. It's about the most horrific way to die imaginable.

The Dalai Lama -- who has maintained his headquarters in India ever since the 1959 escape from Chinese forces in Tibet -- is today basically a fundraiser. He is, in fact, probably the most successful individual fundraiser in the world. His is the rallying cry of freeing Tibet from Chinese occupation... so westerners seem to think.

All of the infrastructure that exists in Tibet was built by the Chinese. Every paved road, every hospital, every school, and every power plant (without exception) was built by the Chinese. Every single paying job that exists in Tibet (without exception) was created by the Chinese. Every literate native Tibetan (without exception) was educated by the Chinese. The Chinese certainly have their faults, no argument there; but the fact remains that Tibet exists as a nation of free, working people only because of Chinese influence.

The Dalai Lama is keenly aware of that. His call is not for a "free Tibet" as many westerners believe; it is for Tibet to be converted from a Chinese Autonomous Region to a Chinese Special Administrative Region, similar to Hong Kong. This difference would make not a single practical difference to Tibetans; the only effect it would have would be to allow the Dalai Lama and other exiled members of the ruling monk class to return to their palace in Potala. It would ensure the continued free flow of money from China to Tibet, and Tibet would remain a part of China. There's not a thing wrong with the monks returning to their palace, in my opinion. If ordinary Tibetans want their traditional oppressors back in the palace as figureheads, great, I'm all for it.

There's not a thing wrong with what the Dalai Lama campaigns for, or with his fundraising -- and here's where I want to be clear -- so long as he's honest about how the funds are going to be used. None of the Dalai Lama's raised hundreds of millions of dollars benefit Tibetan citizens in the slightest. He gives most of it to unrelated charities, and that's a fine thing; but his only prerogative in Tibet is to get himself back to Potala. The Chinese already do everything for the Tibetan citizenry; there is no work for the Dalai Lama to do in that vein.

The rest of the money he raises go to his pet project: metaphysical spirituality. In many ways, he's no different from Deepak Chopra; except that instead of misstating quantum physics, he allows his donors to misperceive his mission. The Dalai Lama is a highly successful self-help and metaphysical author. He's writtenThe Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living,How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life,How to See Yourself As You Really Are,The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings,The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (the most Deepak Chopra-like of his books),Becoming Enlightened,Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective,An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, and dozens of others. He does not need your money.

There's nothing wrong with writing nonsensical metaphysical self-help books, if that's what people want to buy. In fact, this week's news is the only time I've had a real problem with the guy. And to me, it's a big problem.

His followers are brutally killing themselves on his behalf, and his only reaction is "No comment," followed by a lame excuse that he's retired.

Why does he have no comment? Obviously, because his entire marketing machine is driven by the perception that China's involvement in Tibet is an atrocity. Every time a monk lights himself on fire, I guarantee you that somewhere, the Dalai Lama's cash register's bell rings.

If asked for my comment on the deaths, 30 of them in the last year alone, I'd say it's horrific and I wish they wouldn't do it, and whoever is condoning it should be arrested. If I had influence over them the way the Dalai Lama does, I'd have used the media opportunity to appeal to all of them to stop doing that. Please. My return to Potala is not worth your life.

Apparently, the Dalai Lama doesn't see it the way I do. For a metaphysical self-help guru who wants you to find your inner peace and happiness, his who-gives-a-shit reaction to his followers killing themselves is pretty fucked up. Pardon my language, but swear words are not nearly as atrocious as the Dalai Lama's "no comment". He might as well have answered "Send me more money, and maybe they won't have to keep doing that."

I've attached this infographic. No, I do not believe that Hollywood celebrities and all the "Free Tibet" demonstrators want poverty and oppression in Tibet; but if China's support was all suddenly pulled, and every single Tibetan became unemployed and was forced to return to serfdom, that's exactly what would happen, by necessity. Tibet has no natural resources, no industries, and no economy whatsoever beyond what China has imported. A free Tibet is a penniless Tibet, which is why only those who know far less about the situation than the Dalai Lama are demanding it.
For a far more detailed look into Tibet's complex history with China, see my full Skeptoid episode about it here.

by Brian Dunning

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