Tibet And Buddhism To Stay Liberated
    By Sascha Vongehr | January 30th 2012 04:15 AM | 62 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    The news of the world are filled again with anti-Chinese propaganda. I am appalled these days at how simplistic anti-Chinese bickering is allowed to be. China has done much if not the most of all nations for secularism and science-informed politics. I hold it fitting to defend China especially on a science column.

    While portraying every unwelcome Middle Eastern movement as extremist religious terrorism, Western double-moral wants to tell us that such issues are absent in China. But self-immolations, just as much as suicide attacks, and attacking other, of suffering capable beings is not peaceful islam and most certainly not peaceful Buddhism that desires enlightenment by meditating about loving kindness cross-legged on mountain tops. Not only is there a slight conflict with the “peaceful” part, it is also opposed to everything that Buddhism stands for as far as the famous guy sitting 40 days under the pipal (Bodhi) tree is concerned.

    Tenzin Gyatso, also called "Dalai Lama", is according to Western media the nice peace loving guy who has nothing to do with politics at all, which is why he gets all kinds of politically motivated Prizes, now 1.7 million dollars from Templeton. If Tenzin had even just a tiny fraction of the loving kindness he pretends to be all about in front of the simpletons who lap it up around the world, he would order his followers in China to stop doing the kind of crap they are engaging in. He would perhaps tape a little video saying “Hi guys, me here, please when burning yourselves, could you just stop screaming my name as if I endorse such idiocy, thanks a bundle.

    But this is not what the Dullai Lamo is doing, although the Chinese would welcome any message that could help the situation; they would spread a message of peace immediately. But mister religious/political leader does not care for peace, because he wants the autonomous region of Xizang (Tibet) back in the Middle Ages, worshipping his feet. Granola munching new age hippies around the world need to understand that Tibetan “Buddhism” under DL is to Zen Buddhism what the catholic church under the pope is to poor baby Jesus.

    Buddhism is about the realization of fundamental emptiness and about addressing suffering at the source, namely our craving for pleasurable existence. It is a slow path, one that involves doubt and analytic meditation. The original Buddha found his two master’s teachings insufficient. Eventually, he came to so called “enlightenment” all by himself. Buddhism is at the core anti-authoritarian, anti-religious.

    The face of enlightened Buddhism: Muho Noelke, German physics and philosophy student turned Japanese Zen Master overseeing Antai-ji, a Buddhist monastery. No kissing of the Dull Lama’s feet here.

    Much of Indian Buddhism is of course no more than a religion for the stupid masses. It is the usual sell-out, the perversion of a wise person’s teachings into bribing priests for a shortcut to heaven. But Tibetan “Buddhism” is perhaps the worst in terms of negating the core of the original message. Tibetan Buddhism distinguishes itself by claiming to have methods for achieving Buddhahood quickly! Alarm bells ringing yet? They call it the Vajrayāna path. Out the window goes skeptical analytical meditation. Here come ritual and doctrine sold as a shortcut to fortune. Vajrayāna holds utmost sustained effort in guru devotion essential. Bye autonomy and skepticism, welcome mein Fuehrer. And surprise surprise, Tibetan “Buddhism” stresses esotericism. “Tantric practice” is secret practice to avoid “misinformed people from harmfully misusing the practices”. Only problem: Buddhism that deserves to be called Buddhism does not have any practices that could possibly harm anybody!

    Hu Jintao, the world’s most influential leader, has a scientific background and worked as an engineer building hydroelectric power stations. He studied Buddhism in order to facilitate the dialogue with those still infected by primitive religion in the underdeveloped west of his large and populous, multiethnic country (and the rest of the world).

    The recent unrest in the Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Sichuan may involve mistakes on all sides, but mostly it involves a mix of ethnic racism/nationalism and religious fanaticism that has no place in modern society and it does certainly not reflect the opinions of the Tibetan people, Buddhists in China, or much anything in China, which shines with its peaceful coexistence of 56 different ethnic groups, only two of which have sizable minorities that are strongly infected by religious extremism.

    The second World Buddhist Forum was held in Wuxi (Jiangsu Province) in March 2009. The State Administration for Religious Affairs and organizations like the China Religious Culture Communication Association(CRCCA) work tirelessly to allow for a peaceful coexistence of religions in China, for their cultural exchange, and thus real religious freedom. The Buddhist Association of China (BAC) and the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture (APDTC) also work on these issues. If you want the light of Buddhism to reach further into Xizang, help to stop the Dalai Lama and his Western backers from stirring up religious fanaticism and ethnic tensions.

    As long as Western media supply only nonsense fed to them by anti-China groups mostly based in the US and its little sidekick UK, we should go with the account given to us by those living in the region, the Chinese, who after all know most about Tibet, who have liberated Xizang from serfdom (slavery), and who keep supporting the region with enormous efforts and patience ever since, as most Tibetans will happily testify.

    People in the west of China are thankful for the sustained efforts that help them not resembling their next door neighbors (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan) which are "helped" by Western and Russian forces, to whom "Liberation" means to simply smash a place like say Iraq, then watch how the known ethnic and religious tensions ensure the people there kill each other for years to come, then leave to smash the next place.


    More from Sascha Vongehr sorted Topic for Topic


    There is a lot to say on this subject, but it’s gettin’ late, this side of the Pond.  So for now I’ll give you something cheerful in relation to Chinese Buddhism.  This has many superficial similarities to medieval Roman Catholicism, a result, so I think, of convergent evolution.  As G.K.Chesterton wrote in A Drama of Dolls:

    if you cannot at once laugh at a thing and believe in it, you have no business in the Middle Ages. Or in the world, for that matter.

    What I am referring to here is the hilarious Chinese classical novel Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng'en in the 16th century.  It was popularized in England in an abridged translation by Arthur Waley known simply as Monkey.

    One of the most amusing incidents is when the heroes enter a Daoist temple, in order to foil the plans of the local villains.

    ‘I noticed a small door on the right as we came in,’ said Monkey. ‘Judging from the smell that came from it, I should think it must be a place of metabolic transmigration. You had better take them there.’ That fool Pigsy was uncommonly strong. He hoisted the three images on to his back and carried them off. When he reached the door, he kicked it open, and sure enough it was a privy. ‘That chap Monkey finds some wonderful expressions,’ he said laughing. ‘He contrives to find a grand Taoist title even for a closet!’

    This term “metabolic transmigration” has caught on among cognoscenti in the English-speaking world.

    Now it’s time to wash dishes, followed by a TV programme on African art, then to bed.  My dishwashing will be accompanied by our musical radio station Classic FM.  As Martin Luther wrote to Lewis Senfel in 1530:

    „Denn wir wissen, daß die Musik auch den Teufeln zuwider und unerträglich sei. Und ich sage es gleich heraus und schäme mich nicht, zu behaupten, daß nach derTheologie keine Kunst sei, die mit der Musik könne verglichen werden, weil allein dieselbe nach der Theologie solches vermag, was nur die Theologie sonstverschafft, nämlich die Ruhe und ein fröhliches Gemüte.  Dafür ist ein klarer Beweis, dass der Teufel, der Vater der traurigen Sorgen und des unruhigen Umtreibens,bei der Stimme der Musik ebenso flieht wie beim Wort der Theologie.“

    Or in English:

    “We know that music is hateful and intolerable to devils.  I really believe, and am not ashamed to assert, that next to theology there is no art equal to music, for it is the only one, except theology, which can give a quiet and happy mind, a manifest proof that the devil, the author of racking care and perturbation, flees from the sound of music as he does from the exhortation of religion.”
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I am appalled these days at how simplistic anti-Chinese bickering is allowed to be.

    It is sad, I suppose. I often encounter overly simple positions and memes propagating even through scientists and other people who are at times extremely intelligent. For example, people who are "anti-war" and think that somehow cutting the entire U.S. DoD budget will attain that goal.
    Your comment is cryptic again. I likely missed the deeper message once more. Let me nevertheless explain something that was perhaps missed. "is allowed to be" means that propaganda is usually crafted with some fake balance, you know, because of the "media savvy audience". In case of China however, the media do not even care to pretend balance - tibet, one-child, consensus-democracy, regardless. Only media reports on child molesters are similarly one sided. I do not think this phenomenon has much to do with some scientist's crazy idea but at least somewhat with that even fake balance is not necessary. The yellow murderous commie is still so pervasive in Westerners' minds, any balance is perceived as treason, much like many will spit at you if you hold pedophiles sick rather than evil. While other topics have attained the status of political issues that one can have opinions on, China is together with child molesters squarely in the "disgusting" section. Western propaganda has been very successful in this respect.
    My comment was not meant to be cryptic. I meant that I also see the ridiculous oversimplification of important topics happening.

    As far as China goes, I am not sure if Western propaganda has recently convinced anybody of anything as I don't input much from the mainstream except Hollywood movies. The most recent thing I have had thrown at me about China is some organization asking me to sign a petition to convince Apple to improve the working conditions at their Chinese factories. In that case, it's actually anti-Western and pro-China.
    I am not sure if Western propaganda has recently convinced anybody of anything
    Agreed - little recent convincing, but still a huge amount of being already convinced left over from times past. The media go with the usual until it is too obviously biased in the eyes of too many readers and a more sophisticated approach becomes necessary. China's rise makes facing reality inevitable, leaving little recent success by propaganda, but it still rests securely on the deep brain wash of past propaganda. You do not need to explain yourself if mentioning in an article that whatever is bad is still not as bad as in China. Such is more acceptable to a Western audience than taking certain scientific facts for granted.
    Many years ago I read a number of books by the Irish author Dervla Murphy, including her first two:

    • Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, 1965.
    • Tibetan Foothold, 1966.
    The second of these contains an incident which will amuse you.  When you refer to
    Granola munching new age hippies around the world
    this reminds me of how Ms Murphy talked of some of the white visitors to Dharamshala, whom she referred to as Mebs and Mabs, Febs and Fabs (Male/Female European/American Buddhists).
    A group of these were going round the Tibetan children there, doing tests to find out if one of them was the next incarnation of a particular lama.  Ms Murphy was there when they had just found a child who had responded positively to all the tests.
    “You do know, don’t you”, she asked them, “that this child is a girl?”
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    To Olley

    And why would the child being a girl be a problem? This would not hinder her from being a reincarnation of a lama as I understand it.

    Thanks for pulling my comment! It's nice to see how willing you are to engage in a discussion of facts, with a tone similar to the drivel you've spouted already. I don't know whom you're trying to impress with your pro-China blather, but only cowards censor.

    China 'liberated' Tibet in precisely the same way that the US 'liberated' Iraq. Stuff that in your Little Red Book and see how it fits.

    Warren, "discussion of facts" differs from repeating others' nonsense and racism, which I will delete, period. If you want to discuss on a platform like this here, being taken serious by serious people, you need to first learn to read at least the article properly. Let me give you a little hint: It isn't about some distorted history on what happened 60 years ago. Alpha Meme is about today and especially the future.

    Whatever parallels you draw to US wars all over the world, 'Liberation' does certainly not mean to smash a place and then watch how the known ethnic and religious tensions make sure the people there kill each other for years to come, then leaving to smash the next place. If you see any parallels, you obviously have no idea about China in general, let alone Xizang.
    I repeated no racism, and resent the insinuation that I did. I'm not the one suggesting that China has somehow been responsible for modernizing the poor, deluded, backward people of Tibet. They were invaded. This is a fact. China is an occupying force. That is also a fact.

    It remains my contention that you've whitewashed China's occupation of Tibet; and that you know little to nothing of Buddhism; and that the best way to keep Tibetans from setting themselves on fire is to get China to remove itself from that country.

    Given the tone of your article, by the way, you are in no position whatsoever to lecture others on 'being taken serious[ly] by serious people'. And you know, I did read the article you wrote; perhaps, if you feel I've misunderstood you, you could try presenting your points more lucidly next time.

    You do not grasp the basics. Han Chinese are "an occupying force" in Xizang today as much as black and white US Americans are an occupying force in north America today. If you want to send all those US Americans back to Italy and Germany and wherever they came from and additionally want to force all native Americans in the US today to stop working with white and black US Americans, divorce the mixed marriages and kill their children, do not expect to be taken seriously.

    The difference between US history and wars now on one hand and China's peaceful diplomacy on the other is that China actually helps. People in the west of China are thankful for the great sustained efforts that help them not resembling their next door neighbors (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan) which are "helped" by Western forces. So, visit China and look at reality.
    'Han Chinese are "an occupying force" in Xizang today as much as black and white US Americans are an occupying force in north America today.'

    So ... you're saying that China did not in fact invade Tibet in the 1950s?

    Gerhard Adam
    Consider that the point is how they are viewed "today".  In the same way that you wouldn't want to be characterized as an invader of Native American Indians, you would argue that such a view of people living in North America today is incorrect. 

    The fact that the Europeans invaded North America during the 15th and 16th century is indisputable, but we would use that to characterize everyone living there today.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Tibet was a sovereign nation from the 7th century until the middle of the 20th century (CE). It was then invaded by China. Since the Chinese 'anschluss', only some 50 years have elapsed. That's not centuries - that's decades. That's less than a human lifetime.

    To compare the current Chinese occupation of Tibet with a history that's older by an order of magnitude - and then to suggest that those histories are precisely isomorphic - is, to put it mildly, disingenuous.

    Gerhard Adam
    Tibet was a sovereign nation from the 7th century until the middle of the 20th century (CE).
    So are you arguing that we should ignore the Mongol invasion (1236-1354)?

    It is equally interesting that it wasn't until the 5th Dalai Lama that that line exercised political power over Tibet (17th century).
    The relationship between Tibet and (Qing) China was that of patron and priest and was not based on the subordination of one to the other, according to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

    The defeat of the 1791 Nepalese invasion increased the Qing's [China's] control over Tibet. From that moment, all important matters were to be submitted to the ambans.

    In 1792, the emperor issued a 29-point decree which appeared to tighten Qing [China] control over Tibet. It strengthened the powers of the ambans. The ambans were elevated above the Kashag and the Dalai Lama in responsibility for Tibetan political affairs. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas were no longer allowed to petition the Chinese Emperor directly but could only do so through the ambans.

    To forestall the Russians, in 1904, a British expedition led by Colonel Francis Younghusband was sent to Lhasa to force a trading agreement and to prevent Tibetans from establishing a relationship with the Russians. In response, the Chinese foreign ministry asserted that China was sovereign over Tibet, the first clear statement of such a claim.  Before the British troops arrived in Lhasa, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Outer Mongolia, and then went to Beijing in 1908.

    In 1907, Britain and Russia agreed that in "conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet" both nations "engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government."

    The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet from India in July 1912 (after the fall of the Qing dynasty), and expelled the amban and all Chinese troops.

    In 1951, Tibetan representatives participated in negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese government. This resulted in a Seventeen Point Agreement which formalised China's sovereignty over Tibet.[
    I'm sorry ... where exactly was this sovereignty of which you speak?

    BTW ... in case you missed it, before China invaded Tibet, it was invaded by the British (1904-1911). 
    Mundus vult decipi
    '[W]here exactly was this sovereignty of which you speak?'

    You mean apart from the 600 years prior to the Mongol invasion and the 300 years after that?

    Or are you suggesting that because Tibet has been invaded before, it should tolerate it now?

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm saying that your position is nonsense.  Unless you're prepared to give California back to the Spanish, it's a ridiculous stance to take.

    Tibet has not been sovereign as you claim.  While Nepal has had and retains that status, the relationship of Tibet and China is much more convoluted and complex, but it certainly doesn't qualify as some long-term historic independent nation.

    I see that you deliberately ignored the British invasion and all the others that occurred, and only acknowledged the Mongol invasion.  Good selective reading practice.
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...and now it's my fault that I wasn't alive 100 years ago to protest the British invasion of Tibet.

    I don't think I ignored 'all the other' invasions; I did mention the 300 years that followed the Mongol hordes. A bit of subtraction shows that I was referring to history up to the 18th century - 600 years of Tibet as (more or less) Tibet, followed by another 300 years after the Mongols left - up to the series of events beginning in the 1700s. Who is selectively reading whom?

    How far back do you believe I need to go for my beliefs about current world politics to be valid? Am I under constraint to consider current events in the full context of half a mollennium or more of history, and decry every depradation that's occurred everywhere over the last 500 years? And you say my argument is nonsensical...

    As for California, that didn't originally belong to the Spanish, you know.

    Gerhard Adam
    As for California, that didn't originally belong to the Spanish, you know.
    Well, I'm glad to see that you're recognizing the absurdity of using territorial claims.
    ...and now it's my fault that I wasn't alive 100 years ago to protest the British invasion of Tibet.
    Certainly not.  What is your fault is originally posting a comment that suggested that Tibet was a sovereign autonomous nation for nearly 1300-1400 years when that clearly has never been true.

    Let's be clear that you made the claim that the comparisons regarding various invasions were "orders of magnitude" different.
    To compare the current Chinese occupation of Tibet with a history that's older by an order of magnitude - and then to suggest that those histories are precisely isomorphic - is, to put it mildly, disingenuous.
    What is always interesting is to try to figure out how a theocracy got in bed with the CIA to train "freedom fighters" as part of the Cold war effort against the Chinese Communist government.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Sigh. All right, for most of its 1400-year history, Tibet has been Tibetan. However obsessively one wishes to deconstruct it, though, the fact remains that China did invade Tibet in the 1950s. That can't be handwaved away.

    'What is always interesting is to try to figure out how a theocracy got in bed with the CIA to train "freedom fighters" as part of the Cold war effort against the Chinese Communist government.'

    Part of a long tradition, really - after all, imperial-minded forces have been doing the same in the Middle East for over a century now. That doesn't invalidate my complaint as regards to China's behavior with Tibet.

    In some ways, it's almost as though the argument is that China has been a civilizing force in a nation of backward savages. That wasn't a valid justification for the way Britain treated India, nor the way the US treated the millions it took as slaves - and it's not a valid justification today for the continuing Chinese occupation of Tibet. The Chinese seem to feel they have a right to be there. At least some Tibetans disagree. Pointing to imperialist tradition in other nations doesn't change that, and you know as well a I do that it's an attempt to distract from the issue.

    "Chinese seem to feel they have a right to be there. At least some Tibetans disagree"
    You still don't get it. The ethnic Tibetans in the PRC are Chinese and the ethnic Han living in Xizang are Tibetans, just like white US Americans in LA are Californians, however much some of them pretend to be Irish. Everything else is warmongering that I will not tolerate in my comment section.
    Well, you're right - I am having a hard time seeing it the way you describe it. Partly the reason is that the analogy doesn't carry, for me - if LA had been an 'Irish' city for quite a long time, and California decided, fifty years ago, to declare that everyone in LA was a 'Californian' instead of an 'Irishman', I think I'd have a better grasp of what you seem to be saying here.

    Gerhard Adam
    The Mexican–American War, also known as the First American Intervention, the Mexican War, or the U.S.–Mexican War, was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually the problem here is that you're trying to make out a special case for something that is a quite ordinary case.  Specifically if the history has been a perpetual "back and forth" between China and Tibet, then it is hardly a major issue if a political shift has occurred in any particular direction.  Therefore to claim a centuries old precedent of autonomy isn't just wrong, but it paints a distorted picture of the actual relationship between these countries.

    How does one argue about any particular group's "right" to be anywhere? 

    Normally this would be hair-splitting, but the undercurrent of your comments seeks to reinforce a propagandist belief that somehow China invaded Tibet for no apparent reason than Communist aggression.  In addition, it assumes that Tibet was a peaceful country, full of meditative monks, before it was brutalized by the Chinese.  Both of these are fanciful tales that paint Tibet as an unrecognizable caricature of the nation it actually was; a theocratic feudal society where serf's rights were essentially non-existent.

    In my view, these types of things happen all over the world and the distinguishing element is always whether the people are ultimately better or worse off after the event.  After all, this is what serves as the rationalization for intervention.  From what I've been able to glean from Tibetan history and its people, a return to the "old ways" would be an especially hard step backwards.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Okay - I think I'm beginning to see where you're coming from, particularly with this:

    '[I]f the history has been a perpetual "back and forth" between China and Tibet, then it is hardly a major issue if a political shift has occurred in any particular direction.'

    That's a good point, and something I'll have to ruminate.

    It's worth mentioning that I'm surrounded by a society which has been devoted to painting China (and, before them, the Soviet Union) as a big old bully for decades.

    That I know I can't trust this society to be honest about its own motives (or place in the world as a big old bully itself) doesn't mean I can always parse every other claim it makes with equal skepticism. I've known for years that the US defines itself, at least in part, by pointing to other nations or ideologies and declaring them to be its enemy, and I know that's a hollow and self-defeating way for a society to define itself, but it can still be hard to see past.

    .. sorry to butt in to a probably private argument .. but, isn't Texas a little bit of "anschluss", too?

    Archytas of Tarentum, mathematician, statesman and philosopher, is said to have been the model for Plato’s ideal philosopher king.  Now it may well be that President Hu Jintao is the nearest approximation to an ideal philosopher king we have seen anywhere on this planet since the time of Archytas.  However, one stubborn fact remains, which is that the roughly 140 crore people over whom he presides happen to be human beings.

    Now human beings are the most ornery critters that have arisen on Earth since the beginning of life on this planet.  Thus, there are bound to arise problems greater in number and more intractable than even the most enlightened ruler can keep a hold on.  For example in China, as in Britain, there is bound to be trouble when an unscrupulous property developer gets his eyes on a piece of land which is lived on or used by “locals”.

    For this reason, Sascha, I think you are being unduly optimistic.  However, the general observation about human nature was expressed much more elegantly by G.K.Chesterton around 1930, in an essay entitled About Loving Germans:
    In short, we all know that the real pleasures of the tripper are those that are not supposed to be part of the trip; the small, touching, humanizing sights that really do tell us that all human beings are parts of one humanity; such as the domestic scene I beheld in the most Moslem part of Palestine, the episode of a Moslem woman shouting and yelling abuse of her husband across the breadth of a small lake, while the husband stood helpless and evidently unable to think of any repartee. This made me feel, with a warm touch of sentiment, that home is home everywhere, and is not so very much altered even where a home may be a harem. 
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Robert, Hu is not like a king, that is the whole point, he is "first among equals", meaning that on his level all important decisions are made by consensus (not even just 5 against 4) between the nine members of the Standing Committee of the politburo. That the 140 crore people are not all that clever and cannot handle consensus democracy is moreover the whole damn point of why the Chinese model is able to support secular scientist leaders instead of religious nutjobs like everywhere else!

    BTW: Your obsession with this Chesterton guy is developing a little into the pathological territory, no? I think mister Olley may be old enough to have his own opinion and does not need to hide behind some famous dead guy.
    These 'China is so great" posts of Sascha remind me of Dear Leader (read: Dear Penthouse) letters. Do they have the suicide nets around your building? Maybe just the net censorship/monorting that keeps you in line? BS!

    Gerhard Adam
    Do they have the suicide nets around your building?
    What an interesting juxtaposition of ideas?  So you're arguing that the suicide nets are the fault of China?  or are you also considering that Apple is a U.S. company [as well as other IT companies that are culpable; Intel, Sony, etc.] and perhaps should be considered the primary blame for this?

    I have a tough time blaming another country's government for activities that we not only encourage, but take advantage of for our own selfish ends.  One can't take the high moral ground when you're up to your eyeballs in the same crap. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard, don't let yourself be used. I rather delete such posts as they add nothing to this comment thread. If you answer these idiotic comments in this way, you help spread the misconception about that China is so bad that Chinese want to kill themselves. It is media hype, propaganda. People are pretty happy here on average and the suicide rate is nowhere as large as say in India. I do not know the actual rates, but I doubt it is larger than in other Asian countries like Japan.  The rate in the US may be lower for the same reason the divorce rate of Catholics is low. None of this has anything to do with how much suffering exists, and having lived 11 years in the USA, I know people are not happy bunnies there at all, actually, they are the more miserable the more they force themselves to this now as professionalism counting idiotic permanent display of happiness.
    Buddhism is about the realization of fundamental emptiness and about addressing suffering at the source, namely our craving for pleasurable existence.

    When Bodhidharma came from the East(AD520 is the stated date) he burnt all the scriptures. One reason I like Zen Buddhism is because it is a religion that teaches us to laugh at ourselves and it or IT. Nietzsche has a wonderful quote: And when I saw the devil he was full of gravity, through which all things fall."(Thus Spake ... ). Most religions are appalling sombre and serious. At least the Dalai laughs but under his feudal reign who was laughing?The DL is the antithesis of what Buddhism should be about. He is a fraud.

    When DT Suzuki via Alan Watts brought Zen to the west it was immediately bastardized by people who sought to be spiritual when Zen laughs at spirituality.

    BTW, if you want to catch some great movies try Chinese movies. Some of that stuff is great.

    'Buddhism is about the realization of fundamental emptiness' the sense that there are no actual 'nouns'. What I mean by that is that nothing exists permanently. The coffee mug on my desk used to be sand. Before that it was interstellar dust. Before that it was hydrogen. After it stops being a coffee mug and become shards, it will eventually turn back into sand (probably) and (probably) end up subsumed back into terrestrial magma. At some point in the distant future, after the sun goes nova, it might once again be interstellar dust.

    The notion of 'emptiness' as presented in Buddhism is a fairly complex one to grasp, if one clings to the notion that anything is permanent, eternal, or unchanging. That's a mistaken belief, of course; nothing is eternal, permanent, or unchanging - and to no small degree, our experience of things is an experience of them as we perceive them, not as they actually 'are'. So the meaning we attach to many aspects of our world is 'empty' of independent existence.

    The notion of 'emptiness' helps us to see that, to realize that everything is impermanent, ephemeral, and subject to change - and it also helps us come to terms with that realization.

    I don't think G. K. Chesterton (e.g.) understood that.

    '...and about addressing suffering at the source, namely our craving for pleasurable existence.'

    Our craving, full stop. Attachment itself - whether attachment to the notion of pleasurable existence, or to the notion of G. K. Chesterton, or to the notion of 'emptiness', is the source of suffering (or, at least, dissatisfaction).

    Craving for pleasurable existence is the most readily-identifiable source of dissatisfaction - after all, it leads to an unending cycle of yearning, grasping, possessing, and realization that the thing possessed is not as great as we thought it was; but there are many, many other attachments that lead to dissatisfaction as well. As I recall, it was said by Gautama that attachment is suffering, not attachment leads to suffering.

    Under ideal conditions, Buddhism is not strapped to any religion or belief system; at its heart, it is a nontheistic philosophy. Unfortunately every major branch of Buddhism has been at least partly encumbered by the trappings of religion; modern heretics such as Stephen Batchelor are trying to free it from that, and are met with general disdain for their efforts.

    I would not focus on some apparent flow of time (a delusion after all) in relation to Zen-realized-emptiness but rather on the fundamental (positivist) meaninglessness of ontology in general and on the kind of "nihilist/existentialist" realization that there are no absolute reasons and all our wishes/decisions/cravings are feelings, interpretations, delusions that are fundamentally based on nothing but themselves (neither ontological basis nor absolute justification).

    By craving for existence I meant something very general and describable as forced on us by evolution (if supposing a direct reality in which things happen as a background). In this description, attachment itself is something secondary and derived from the craving for existence, for example, we humans are evolved to feel attached to all kinds of stuff while a snake (also a system evolved to "crave existence") is not bothered by attachment, yet does have forms of suffering.

    When I wrote the article, I fought actually for five minutes at least whether to write the word "pleasurable" (yes, I actually think a lot about what I write), as I feared misinterpretation. I wanted to succinctly include that suffering also stems from the very attempts to avoid suffering (~ "pleasure") in a profound way and on many levels, be it the personal one or in politics/society (take for example the suffering that "helping" often leads to, for example feeding the hungry in some region that without tyrannical levels of forced help (interfering in religions that demand as many children as possible, demanding children go to school) cannot support many people, then one or two generations later having subsequently a much worse crisis afflicting ten times as large a population using our helpful technology to kill each other and making sure that there is no way left to help the worst ones off this time around).
    Thank you for this in-depth reply. I'll retract my comments before about your depth of understanding of Buddhism; it seems I was mistaken there.

    I'll agree that focusing on the temporal as the only explanation of 'emptiness' is insufficient, and that a better approach is to take on the concept of conceptualization itself as being, ultimately, 'empty' - the reason I use the coffee mug example is because it's readily accessible as a thought experiment to almost anyone. Ideally, further reflection will lead those unfamiliar with the concept to deeper realizations.

    I like your expression of the biological drive to seek pleasure as a ground condition for all life, and the implicit recognition that it takes different forms in different organisms. It's easy to forget that.

    The deeper notion that suffering is found in attempts to avoid suffering - the 'suffering of suffering' - is also often overlooked. So is the way we often seek anshort-term good while ignoring the wider implications of our actions. Suffering is a deep and self-referential concept, every bit as much as 'emptiness' is.

    the 'suffering of suffering' - is also often overlooked ... Suffering is a deep and self-referential concept
    I agree this is a very important point which I lately thought a lot about in connection with suffering Boltzmann 'freak brains'. Much like regress errors (flow of time = time of time, space of space, fair randomness, self-consciousness as conscious awareness, ...) are the single biggest hurdle to the advancement of fundamental science, similar holds ethics back down in moralizing. In a sense, admittedly a dangerously autistic psychopathic sense, there would be no suffering if we just stopped to suffer from suffering. What else but evolved avoidance behavior is fundamentally the difference between pain and joy?
    'What else but evolved avoidance behavior is fundamentally the difference between pain and joy?'

    Attraction versus avoidance, as in the way a microorganism will respond to a chemical gradient in its environment by moving toward or away from it? Heh. Yeah. It's fun to drop that idea on people who think there's a special place for human-type consciousness. You find out really quickly who's still clinging to old religious notions.

    With this:

    'Much like regress errors (flow of time = time of time, space of space, fair randomness, self-consciousness as conscious awareness, ...) are the single biggest hurdle to the advancement of fundamental science'

    you pointed to another article that I find intriguing. If my understanding of many-worlds models is correct, the dominant formulation holds that there are separate universes which decohere at each 'decision' point - to use your example, a coin toss. The problem I see with that is obvious, and if I'm reading the other article correctly, you see the same kind of problem: That's a hell of a lot of universes - but the perception of universal branching is a fundamental error in thinking, if I'm reading you properly - yes?

    I realize that visual models when talking about physics are rather severely limited, but for a while now I've had this vision in my head of a Pachinko game board. There are all those little steel pegs, off of which the balls bounce when you drop them, and when they fall the balls' motion always makes me think of water, in a way. They're all individual things, but they seem to flow down over the pegs as a contiguous sheet.

    Well, that got me thinking. If you were to drop just one ball over and over and over again, at some point or another it will have followed every possible path down the board - so in one sense, the steel pegs act as 'decision' points where the ball's direction has changed in some stochastic (that is, contingent, not random) fashion.

    By being deflected, the ball takes a particular path and doesn't take any others - but the other paths remains there, and have always remained there, even though the ball didn't go that direction. If we were to drop another ball, it would take a different path - but it would be mad to assert that the different path it took resulted in the creation of a whole new Pachinko board just to accommodate the ball.

    What I'm wondering is whether this is applicable to the cosmos itself. Whether every possible decision, every possible permutation, already exists and has, in one sense, already been chosen; it's only our limited perspective that keeps us from seeing the whole Pachinko board as our particular steel ball bounces along from peg to peg.

    As far as I can tell, this is consistent with many-worlds models, with the important distinction that it doesn't require branching off into other universes at each decision, because it's all already 'out there', even though we might not be able to see it. (Integrating with your comments about time, maybe it's this motion along that cosmic Pachinko board which we're perceiving as time - motion that we can't control, for whatever reason.)

    What I'm wondering is whether any of the above makes any sense at all. The reason I bring it up is because it does seem sensible to me, but it's pretty bloody difficult to engage physicists in this sort of discussion. I think it comes off as new-agey or crackpot or mystical, but I don't actually know whether it is or not.

    I'm reading the other article correctly, you see the same kind of problem: That's a hell of a lot of universes
    No, this is not at all my position - I never had a problem with the number of "existing" "universes" being infinite in certain descriptions ("" meaning that the definition of these words is the deciding fact, not "nature as such"). It is a topic that should however be discussed in the appropriate comment section.
    Gotcha - I'll take it over to the other thread, then. Thanks!

    Thor Russell
    If you are embracing nothingness, why would you reject moral nihilism? After all the universe doesn't "care" about our conscious experiences.
    Thor Russell
    A fair question, and one I encounter as an atheist as well. As I see it there are a couple approaches I can take to answer it.

    The universe doesn't care what I do; you're correct. However, I care what I do, and others on whom I act also care what I do to them. Ultimately, there's nothing coming from nothing and going nowhere, but the moment-to-moment experience certainly seem to be real enough.

    The analogous question atheists get is, 'Well, if there's no god, what's keeping you from robbing, pillaging, raping, murdering, and so on?' The analogous answer is empathy. I would not want to be robbed, pillaged, raped, murdered, etc., so why would I want to put anyone else through that hardship? If fear of divine retribution is the only thing keeping religious people under control, well, that's a scary thought.

    Strictly speaking, we can say that the human construct of ethics is just that - a construct, a game. In the 'grand scheme' it's meaningless. But for each player in the game, it is not - and I don't relate to stars or cosmic radiation in the same way that I relate to my next-door neighbor.

    Does that help, or have I muddied the issue?

    Thor Russell
    Yes it makes sense, and it is the answer I would give. However my point was that you just have to start with something and that is your experiences that are just evolved responses. 
    Thor Russell
    I don't understand what you're driving at here. Can you elaborate?

    Thor Russell
    Not sure I have much to elaborate about. It just the point that every rational system of constructs etc has to start with something that can't be defined in terms of other things. Maths starts with the concept of the set I think, a moral system has to start with something like empathy or avoiding suffering. You have to start with a concept that isn't defined, and go from there deriving other things from it.
    Thor Russell
    Ah, okay, I think I understand now. Thanks!


    In May of 2009, I traveled through Eastern Tibet with just my family, a Chinese driver and a Tibetan guide/translator (whose family's original home in front of the Potala Palace was dismantled along with others so that the Chinese could create one of there trademark squares (rectangles)).

    The driver and guide (shown below) were of the same age and maintained an animated and friendly conversation for four days over the present and future of Tibet / Xizang Autonomous Region.

    Snowballs were hurled.

    Diplomacy over noodles ....

    "He studied Buddhism in order to facilitate the dialogue with those still infected by primitive religion in the underdeveloped west of his large and populous, multiethnic country (and the rest of the world)."

    It's interesting that you call out supposed propaganda (I guess the massacres, tortue, and whatnot haven't happened in the TAR? probably just like the holocaust never happened) when this is undeniable hagiography and bigotry. Also, your knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism is largely unqualified especially when it totally ignores the rich historical preservation of Indo-Tibetan scholarship and launches into ad hominem caricatures. It's one thing to have an invalid argument--it's another to be obstinate about your total ignorance. It's rather, well, Western.

    "it totally ignores the rich historical preservation of Indo-Tibetan scholarship"
    yes, indeed, because it is completely irrelevant to the topic.
    Entirely relevant as you put the scare quotes around Buddhism when prefacing it with Tibetan.

    "Tibetan Buddhism distinguishes itself by claiming to have methods for achieving Buddhahood quickly! Out the window goes skeptical analytical meditation."

    Wow, ignorant, especially since vipassana is pretty much taught by all Tibetan traditions. And again this is caricature rather than informed critique of vajrayana. This reads like flimsy sectarianism.

    I guess you'll be saying that there is neither a sudden path nor esotericism in Chan, which there clearly is? It's not like Chan developed in a vacuum, they use similar sutra and had much interaction. (It's true that Tibet had famously expelled Chan folks from debates. Too bad.) There's also non-dual traditions within vajrayana similar in every way to Zen. Mahamudra, Dzogchen are pretty much the same as Zen. What I'm finding though is that likely doesn't matter since you have a sectarian predilection conflated with some weird need to propagate Chinese state propaganda.

    I put square quotes as it is my (as it is everybody's) personal decision to accept or not accept certain things as "true scotsmen". I explained my here temporarily employed terminology via reference to the source (Jesus and Buddha and what I find acceptable to label in their names, thus catholic "Christianity" and so on). What you quote reads "distinguishes itself" rather than claiming that it is purely one extreme.

    I consciously refuse to be dragged any further down into the swamp of whether "true islam" is a religion of peace or condoning killing non-believers, as it is all beside the point. The question is: How do we deal with religious extremism hurting the harmonious together between people today? I got to Buddhism all on my own via thoughts that Kant and Wittgenstein similarly had and via subjects like quantum physics and modern psychology (read: science), therefore, if your "rich historical preservation of Indo-Tibetan scholarship" means that people hate each other, then for all I care the whole lot can be flushed down the toilet!
    Look if your dharma door is science and philosophy that's great. Clearly I don't understand where the hate is other than from your words. I brought up history because you seem bent on impeaching the belief of others not as fortunate and as privileged as yourself. You can blame the immolated and those who aren't Han (because to you the Han are nothing but angels and bodhisattvas), but then how is that equananimous? How is speaking ill of a tradition or the DL helping to foster compassion, btw?

    Anonymous, I had it with your comments, so I deleted them down there. You repeat anti-Chinese propaganda about that Chinese are supposedly imperialist killers and my comments supposedly full of hate and racism favoring the Han. The Chinese have not had a single war anywhere for many years, in spite of plenty of capability and opportunity, they are compared to the US today basically pacifist hippies, and my comments are consistently about looking at today and how we can assure harmony between all people today. You are a prime case study for how obsession with history/tradition does not make people learn from history but plainly provides justification for racism and wars. I do not tolerate this! If you want to make positive comments about how to create harmony today, you are welcome to comment. And this is another reason for why the topic belongs to a science column at Science2.0, as the religious extremism in West China needs to be countered by proper science/psychology/sociology/anthropology education. Both support Buddhism, but only the first makes people irrationally kill each other. Does this mean that I want to suppress traditions? YES!!! I have absolutely zero problems with oppressing any and all traditions that make people kill each other over bullshit. If that equals "hate" in your eyes, you need start thinking harder.

    LOL. I don't find your claims very science like or even commonsense rational especially with such silly reverential bullshit of a political regime. You're a prime example of western hubris mixed with Chinese state dogma. Good luck with that. I do wish you well however in whatever way you can accept that.

    Here's a koan for you experts:  The Old is New.

    Logic ends when you begin with fallacious, invalid arguments to begin with. It is censoring (with an "o" rather than a "u"--you've been arguably "censuring" since the original posting), especially since the points I raised were entirely valid criticisms of your reverence for the idealistic civilizing of Benevolent China and dismissal of any Buddhist adherents whom you call "radical." Engaging you is basically pointless because you've bought into this rhetoric and when people call you out on it you get so defensive and critical, you lose all credibility. You also lose credibility when you start using tu quoque attacks against the West/US. Of course they censor the same. It doesn't excuse Chinese acts of repression (you know like, disappearing of dissidents and human rights activists or mowing over somebody's house to make room for the Olympics).

    Gerhard Adam
    It doesn't excuse Chinese acts of repression (you know like, disappearing of dissidents and human rights activists or mowing over somebody's house to make room for the Olympics).
    I think I understand.  You just want to support the double-standard, so that any criticism for the group you happen to support is brushed aside so that you can level criticism at others that do the same thing.

    I find your comment about "mowing over somebody's house" to be interesting, but it makes me wonder whether you're familiar with the legal concept of eminent domain?
    Eminent domain refers to the power possessed by the state over all property within the state, specifically its power to appropriate property for a public use.
    ... or is this another case of a double standard?
    Mundus vult decipi
    dismissal of any Buddhist adherents whom you call "radical."
    I am basically a Buddhist myself you moron, and all your complete BS disqualifies you from any reasonable discourse. You are plainly not able to read an objective article on China without your political hatred boiling over.
    This is, I hope, my last comment on this particular article.  I am not going to take sides in this issue, but certainly I do not like the way the BBC sometimes treats civilizations other than our own.
    Some years ago, a BBC interviewer was hassling a Chinese ivory trader, along the lines of “do you think it is really moral to carry on, with the elephants being threatened?”

    What I did not like was the complete lack of respect shown to the trader. The Chinese ivory business involved (past tense?) a tradition of very skilled craftsmanship, and to talk to someone like a schoolmaster putting down a schoolboy is most unwarranted. It is no small matter that such a craft is being lost through no fault of their own, and the people having to find new means of livelihood.

    When they behave like this, the BBC really do deserve the sarcastic reply of Job to his comforters:

    Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Wow, Sascha you surely do not hesitate to make some strong statements.

    Personally I would shift away the emphasis a bit from the person of the Dalai Lama to the institution Dalai Lama. I mean Institution in a rather broad sense as an entity which is an organization (the Dalai Lama with his entourage, ministers, acolytes etc. as a system functioning in such and such a way) and as an ,gestalt‘ which is formed by western consumerism (the Dalai Lama as a product to by sold to the consumer). This is simplistic but it might by a good heuristic to look at the situation from another angle.

    My point would be that in both cases the Dalai Lama is a pawn which is moved around without noticing it. As a product of consumerism and marketing he is not aware of how deep he is formed himself by the culture he as a buddhist wants to transcend. As an institution he is 1) the focal point of both, the western pursuit of happiness, for which buddhism in his guise seems perfect for, and for the chinese to project unto him a strong aversion as a means to establish a different self-understanding as an emerging superpower in contrast to the west; and 2) as an enlightenment product he seems to promise simple solutions in a complex world.

    So in both cases I would say he is used as a simplistic portrayal of complex situations – and in this sense I deem him a pawn on the geopolitical and consumer-capitalistic chess-game.

    As for the question of the annexation of Tibet during the 1950s by the chinese discussed above: It is an anachronism to label Tibet as an independent state in the sense that Tibet until the 1950s never was a national state in the modern sense of the word. Large portions of what is called ,Tibet‘ today where autonomous regions in the sense that the central government in Lhasa had no means to enforce its will there if it would have been necessary. That, by the way, is one reason why the 14th Dalai Lama was chosen from the far north-eastern region of the Tibetan ethnic region, namely Kumbum near Xining. The Kumbum monastery was a stronghold of the ruling sect in Lhasa, the Gelugpa. Kumbum is some 1200 kilometers from Lhasa, a three months journey in the 1930s. The older brother of the Dalai Lama was the designated abbot of the monastery of Kumbum and with his younger brother Dalai Lama in Lhasa, family ties would have ensured cooperation between the far separated regions. So the place of birth of the Dalai Lama was a political decision. But as for law enforcement of the government in Lhasa in Kumbum: The search party who wanted to take the new ,found‘ Dalai Lama home could not leave the region, in 1935 if I remember right, because the 3-year old Dalai Lama was taken hostage by the local warlord and was not sooner able to leave for Lhasa, then when the government there payed a huge ransom for him. So much for the autonomy and strength of the Gelugs in Lhasa.

    When Mao occupied the region he simply filled a power vacuum and this was at the time a logical geopolitical move for the young communist chinese nation.

    One sees the story is a complex one. And I would say, more complex than both sides would want us to think. When I hear the statements of both sides – western tibetan buddhists and official chinese statements – I am reminded of the time when I was living in Berlin in the 1980: I could here the News in the radio in two versions, neither was true and neither was false but both where part of a propaganda game.

    Kind regards, Matthias

    Matthias, thank you very much for your interest and comments.

    I am in agreement with that the DL is a product of outside forces that use him, but so is anything popular - no system is successful without the environment around it having advantages from allowing it to be - that is just evolution - even a successful scientist today is something that is primarily useful not to science as such, in fact, those ideal scientists are weeded out early on just like in any religious/political structure.

    However, I do not really care, because another general remark I feel seems necessary: You somewhat imply that I focus on the DL ("I would shift away the emphasis a bit from the person of the Dalai Lama") and you talk a lot about history. The DL (person or institution) is a small part of my article and I refuse to look at the history. The problem is how humans today, for example in Sichuan (which isn't even Xizang), can live harmoniously together partially pursuing Buddhism and whatever they want and is acceptable. History and DL cause problems, so maybe science education and Muho and you together teaching Buddhism are better.

    In order to get to future oriented solutions, no doubt, it needs Beijing to stop focusing on DL and the past, too. It is their idiocy to make everything a nationalistic issue instead of one about the future of humans.
    Hallo Sascha,

    the history part of my posting was directed to the discussion above, opened by Warren, about the question if Tibet/Xizang was an „sovereign“ state before 1951/59. I should have mentioned this.

    Regarding the Dalai Lama I only wanted to say that ,he‘ is a social entity and to me it is not at all clear what motivations move ,him‘ and what forces might propel ,him‘. Certainly so called enlightenment is only part of the game.

    I am a friend of polemical language too but it might be the case that your polemics direct onto the „Dullai Lamo“ overshoot here if your goal is to help uninstalling this ,software‘. From a western perspective most people simply will regard your critic and speech as pro-chinese propaganda. But there is a growing number of people not any longer buying naïvely into the story of the blissful people on the top of the world. These could be very interested in a more balanced information about buddhism in China. Information like yours about buddhist movements in China could add to this. I think to help for a more balanced view, simple straight forward information about what is happening in China with Buddhism would help most.

    Personally I am not very well informed about China. I don‘t know whom to believe and how to weight the news I hear here in europe. Our chancellor Merkel has been in China two days ago and all I remember from the news is that some human-rights lawyer was not allowed to come to an invitation by chancellor Merkel. Such a thing is always big news. On the other side I hear that the Chinese leadership is very heterogeneous with a lot of diverging forces. So we here in europe have a lot to do, I think, to learn about China.

    I will take a look at the organizations you mentioned, the Buddhist Association of China for example, to update my picture. So your post is a good beginning.

    One last thing. You mention things like „the original Buddha“ and „buddhism is at the core“ etc. My blog you visited and the one of Glenn Wallis, Speculative Non-Buddhism, which you probably know also, is about the question what will remain of Buddhism if it is shorn of all transcendental representations – so something like an „original buddha“ makes me shudder, the „original“ being a transcendental dream projected on or coupled with the immanent. The implicit thought being that there could be unearthed an original source and a true buddhism. My view is, that this is simply impossible. I have not written a lot about this in my blog yet but you might find a document at Glenn‘s site which will be very informative about the case (if you not already read it): Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism (

    Let‘s keep in touch. It will be of great interest to hear more from you and whats going on at your place.


    From a western perspective most people simply will regard your critic and speech as pro-chinese propaganda.
    Oh, just saying "Today it was sunny in Beijing" without at least adding "But the weather lady refused to give her full name, as it is usual for those bastards" is propaganda in the eyes of most Westerners.
    something like an „original buddha“
    Well, yes, this was just meant as similar to the original Jesus - after all, there was one, and he would be pretty upset about what the Pope is talking about in his name. I do not mean that I let my behavior be guided by some guy who lived 2000 years ago. Sorry if it came across like this, but my message is not "back to the roots of buddhism". I came to Zen-like insights (in as far as I know Zen, which may be faulty) via modern science, so for all I care, the traditional roots can be flushed down the toilet.

    Thank you for the links. I have not read those. Sadly, the Chinese make it difficult to read good stuff about these topics; also your blog can only be read via jumping through proxy hoops here! They let in all anti-Chinese news, but the good stuff is filtered. Further proof of that they are not communists, but plainly a second world country with too many idiotic, chain-smoking bully type dickheads in the middle levels of power, like everywhere else in the world.