A week is a long time in politics
There has been a torrent of words since last week’s UK Referendum vote to leave the EU. Changes upon changes to unstabilised political parties. Our newspapers and TV screens are filled with news of behind the scenes plotting, uncovering of mendacity, stabbings in the back, Machiavellian tactics, changing moment to moment - almost as if one had walked onto the set of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy. Seven days since the result was announced - yes, only seven days.
One of the most alarming, distressing, concerning aspects has been the rise, on the back of the ‘Leave’ result, of incidents of racism and xenophobia. The rhetoric of some of the campaigners, which demonised immigrants, seems to have legitimised previously held views and encouraged others to hold them. There has been a five-fold increase in reports of racial abuse, and this estimation is only of the incidents reported. It’s easy to blame others, having been told that they threaten one’s way of life and that floods of immigrants are responsible for one’s current woes. The ultra-right are having a field day.
We are all immigrants
Let’s face it, we are all immigrants - my own genetic line, through my father, is from the earliest Scottish inhabitants, hunter-gatherers who spread northwards to the Scottish Highlands ten or eleven thousand years ago, as the massive ice caps of the last Ice Age retreated. They were following the herds. Palaeolithic ‘economic migrants’, as it were, attempting to survive and feed their offspring. Every one of us is part of a bloodline that stretches back some millions of years ago to Africa. Wherever we are now, our ancestors were originally from somewhere else.
We are all immigrants, and we all live on the back of those who have travelled and endured great hardship for the continuation of our species. And we are all, somewhere far, far back, kin.
An outpouring of positivity, too
I’m glad to say that, amongst the negative news reports there are also stories of the many people who are looking for ways to support and offer comfort to members of our community who are afraid. To put themselves in the place of others, to show compassions, to have the courage to speak up for, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Constructiveness is the human way
“From one point of view we can say that we have human bodies and are practicing the Buddha's teachings and are thus much better than insects. But we can also say that insects are innocent and free from guile, where as we often lie and misrepresent ourselves in devious ways in order to achieve our ends or better ourselves. From this perspective, we are much worse than insects.
When the days become longer and there is more sunshine, the grass becomes fresh and, consequently, we feel very happy. On the other hand, in autumn, one leaf falls down and another leaf falls down. The beautiful plants become as if dead and we do not feel very happy. Why? I think it is because deep down our human nature likes construction, and does not like destruction. Naturally, every action which is destructive is against human nature. Constructiveness is the human way. Therefore, I think that in terms of basic human feeling, violence is not good. Non-violence is the only way.
We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are "news"; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and, therefore, largely ignored.”
~ H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama, from 'Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection'
Namo Amida Bu
Today, like a huge number of people, I am reeling from the result of the referendum whereby the UK will leave the EU. This will have huge repercussions far beyond the shores of the island on which I live. Millions of people will be affected, including, of course, some of our Order. some of the effects are to come during the next weeks and months, although we have seen resignations and financial institutions moving their staff, the stock market hit already. There will be much uncertainty in the future, including the possible breaking up of the UK itself.
I have been dismayed, during the last few weeks, over the quality and content of the rhetoric used. Lies, half-truths, blaming, finger pointing, promises without substance, threats.
What did the Buddha say about speech?
"And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.”
— SN 45.8
Five keys to right speech
"Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?
"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”
— AN 5.198
The danger in lying
"For the person who transgresses in one thing, I tell you, there is one evil deed that is not to be done. Which one thing? This: telling a deliberate lie."
The person who lies,
who transgress in this one thing,
transcending concern for the world beyond:
there's no evil
he might not do.
— Iti 25
Speak only words that do no harm
"One should speak only that word by which one would not torment oneself nor harm others. That word is indeed well spoken.
"One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant."
— Thag 21
Self-purification through well-chosen speech
"And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?
"There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, 'Come & tell, good man, what you know': If he doesn't know, he says, 'I don't know.' If he does know, he says, 'I know.' If he hasn't seen, he says, 'I haven't seen.' If he has seen, he says, 'I have seen.' Thus he doesn't consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world."
So much of what we have heard and read about during the campaign has been divisive, abusive, bigoted and against all of the principles the Buddha taught. Was it, as it was portrayed, to educate and benefit the electorate? How much of it was manipulative? How much of it was to divert attention from the real sources of dissatisfaction? How much of it was to serve the aspirations of the politicians in question? I cannot see into their hearts, it’s true.
Words have led us into this uncertain situation. And words, slogans, aped by others, have led to the death of a young woman of principle. It was following the shooting and stabbing of Jo Cox, herself a fearless defender of the defenceless, in the face of threats she was receiving, that we saw a different rhetoric.
As Dharmavidya wrote in The Feeling Buddha:
“Buddha saw the potential of communication…..The purpose was to convey the message of peace in the world through peace in the heart.”
The reaction, as Jo was celebrated in cities around the world on what would have been her 42nd birthday, showed how people were inspired by her words, her fearless championing of those who needed such support, with positivity and joy and determination. She was someone with a firm and positive purpose in life. And her words lit up and inspired so many.
So, on a day that has come from much darkness, let us not lose sight of the light that words can engender.
I expect that the following fictitious speculation will prove completely unfounded, but it is interesting to consider how impermanence can play out....
History Regarded from 2050
"Looking back on the early part of the 21st century, one can see that it was 2016 that was the turning point that has brought us to the position that we are in now at mid-century, when, rather as happened in the 20th century, everything that was taken for granted about the political order in the first decade or so of the century had been completely over turned by 1950.
Yes, 2016 was the year that Britain voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president in the USA. Prior to these events, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, one of the most experienced statesmen on the planet at that time, had played his cards very close to his chest, but he had been, perhaps, one of the very few who saw the real possibilities in the unfolding drama.
The departure of English speaking influence from the EU left a situation where the complementarity between the technologically sophisticated and industrial Western part of Europe and the resource rich domains of the former Soviet empire became much more obvious. The election of a president intent on cutting back American military involvement was also leading to a fundamental rethink of NATO. An accommodation between Mr Putin and Mrs Merkel soon made it apparent that the balance of forces in the world had decisively shifted.
The American pull back was further accelerated by the emerging, yet predictable, difficulties with Mexico. The insistence by the new American regime that Mexico pay for the wall along the southern border of the USA was not ruinous to the Mexican exchequer, but it was felt as unbearably humiliating and pride can count for a lot more than money. Almost overnight, attitudes across Latin America hardened. For some decades, the Latin countries had been trying to detach themselves from their northern neighbour. Now the matter had a new earnestness. If they could not look to America for aid, then where? Mr Putin's phone lines were open.
These two parallel processes of rapprochement brought Russia into the centre of things as never before. The English (for we cannot really include the Scots in this) had voted for independence out of pride and xenophobia, little imagining that what used to be called the Iron Curtain would soon arrive at the English Channel. America too, had elected the Republican candidate on similar considerations and similarly soon found themselves in a parallel plight. The wall that was supposed to keep the Mexicans out, became the symbol of the new world division in which America now found itself very much on the back foot having lost most of its allies and being too much in debt to sustain dominance purely from its own resources. When, in 2022, the world stopped using dollars as the main support currency for international trade, the American economy suffered a massive cutback that made the financial crises of the beginning of the century seem trivial by comparison. England no longer had worries about an excess of immigrants - the country was now too poor to be a magnet any more.
England - Scotland having severed itself and rejoined the EU - soon found that it had, in effect, become an appendage of a declining USA which was not a happy situation, especially since America was increasingly concerned with its own 'enemy within' in the form of the millions of Latinos who had been needlessly alienated.
In a strange irony of history, the English speaking world now found itself as much surrounded by enemies as the soviets had done in the second half of the 20th century. When so surrounded one can hardly afford such luxuries as 'civil liberties' and soon the Greater European Alliance, that now reached from Vladivostok to Cape Horn, taking in Berlin and Paris on the way, felt itself increasingly to be the defender of all true human values in contrast to the repressive 'patriot' rump of the English speaking lands.
Eventually, the struggle of America to maintain its identity collapsed. The dominant language of the country was rapidly coming to be Spanish. The real political game had, in any case, by now become the tension between the GEA and the powers of East Asia. England was an irrelevance, about as significant as Austria (also once centre of a great empire) had been after 1918.
What a fantasy! Of course, none of this will ever happen. History is not predictable. I am, however, somewhat surprised that the debate over the EU referendum has contained virtually no reference to such geo-political considerations. After all, this is not really about money and immigrants, it is about the 'Great Game' as it used to be called.
There seems to be a naive assumption that all can be relied upon to go on just as before, rather as, in the second half of the 20th century, the 'Cold War' was taken for granted as the inevitable and perennial backdrop to all world events - until, suddenly, it wasn't. The referendum vote is being taken as though it does not really make much difference to the balance of power in the world, but this is surely a great mistake.
Is it inevitable that in a democracy the public cannot be made aware of the really big consequences of the actions they contemplate? Perhaps so. Politics is a game of cat and mouse and to tell the public is to also inform the mouse that one is trying to catch and so make success impossible. Democratic parties, therefore, must, for the most part, keep the public focussed on short term irrelevancies and not let them ever see the bigger picture until it is too late.
David McNew / Getty Images
To countless Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and a head of state in absentia. But to people around the world, Tenzin Gyatso is not only the greatest and most public advocate for Tibetan rights and the virtues of Tibetan Buddhism, but for interfaith tolerance and peace as well. For decades — and from exile since 1959 — he has worked to resolve tensions between Tibet and the People's Republic of China. And like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. before him, the Dalai Lama done so in a manner defined by nonviolence and tolerance. In 1989, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The Dalai Lama's humility has endeared him to presidents and religious leaders of several countries, affording him the opportunity to raise awareness and drum up support for Tibet on a global scale.::continue reading here
The Dalai Lama praised American democracy and said he thinks President Obama is realistic and open, in an exclusive interview with FOX News during his five-city tour of the United States.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, in addition to discussing the value of kindness and compassion, spoke of his admiration for the United States.
"I think basically America is a champion of freedom, democracy, liberty," he said before a series of lectures at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Occasionally the administration neglects these principles, but overall, I think these principles are very much alive in this country."
It still is unclear whether he will have an opportunity to meet with President Obama this fall when he visits Washington D.C.
"He seems, I think, very realistic, very open," the Dalai Lama said, "and he always reaches out to other people, even though some people create some problems. He always reaches out. That's, I think, wonderful. Very good."
The attitude of the authorities in the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetans is reminiscent of the response of Joseph Stalin when the Soviet dictator was advised to avoid conflict with the Catholic church: "How many divisions does the pope have?"
Beijing's routine contempt is echoed in Unhappy China, a bestselling work by a group of self-styled spokespersons for Chinese nationalism. One of the authors says that China has no need to argue with the west about whether Tibet was part of China historically or is part of present-day China legitimately: China just needs to make the fact clear that China occupied Tibet in 1959. What can the west do? The case for brutal realism and "hard power", in which actual control matters more than any moral or historical justifications, reveals a significant current of thought in contemporary China (see Song Xiaojun, Wang Xiaodong, Huang Jisu, Song Qiang & Liu Yang, Unhappy China [Jiangsu, People's Press, 2009]). Temtsel H! ao is a journalist based in London
The answer to the updated version of Joseph Stalin's question is clear from a visit to Dharamsala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile have been based since their flight from Tibet fifty years ago. Tibet's spiritual leader has not a single division, except for some (unarmed) bodyguards in his residence. Along the mountain road leading to Dharamsala, a visitor can see many soldiers - but they are Gurkha, and belong to Indian army garrisons stationed nearby. Indeed, many come here precisely because Dharamsala represents the values preached by the Dalai Lama and embodied by the Tibetan exile communities: the harmony of Tibetan and Indian cultures, the quiet inspiration of the spirit, "soft power".
On April 8th, China sentenced two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, to death for their alleged involvement in last year's protests in Lhasa. Two others, Phuntsok and Kangtsuk, were also sentenced to death but with a two year reprieve, and Dawa Sangpo was sentenced to life imprisonment.::continue reading here
These harsh sentences signal an alarming escalation in the Chinese government's campaign to punish and intimidate Tibetans who dare to speak out against Chinese rule.
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