Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tibet is not Hollywood's Shangri-la

In the absence of knowledge our minds fill with mere images and impressions. We pick up our assumptions the way children pick up measles: they are just in the air. Distortion of reality and presumptuous claims of knowledge are guaranteed by our enormous entertainment, advertising and marketing industries all calculated to create impressions and misimpressions. These industries exist for persuasion and attitude adjustment rather than for truthtelling. They generally deal with image rather than reality.

So, for instance, Foreign Policy magazine asks "How much do Westerners really know about the Dalai Lama? His advocacy of an ethos of compassion and environmental protection are popular among his largely left-leaning Western admirers, while his more socially conservative views tend to be either unknown, or selectively ignored...He is basically anti-abortion (except in rare circumstances) and ambivalent about homosexuality; his 1996 book, Beyond Dogma, was strikingly explicit in its sexual prohibitions: "A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else." In recent years, his remarks on the subject have somewhat softened: he told an audience in San Francisco that while Buddhist teachings historically discourage gay relationships, such prohibitions only apply to Buddhists. (He has also written, rather confusingly, "Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.")

I never want to belittle the earnest spiritual impulses that arise in any human beart. But has Richard Gere- who periodically retreats to Tibet in pursuit of Nirvana- dealt with the Dalai Lama's views on abortion and sexual expression? How does a religious leader with such views capture the imagination of the most socially liberal and permissive strata of our society? While it's not hard to think of alleged Buddhists Tina Turner, Goldie Hawn, Uma Thurman or Jackie Chan in a lotus position, it is difficult to imagine their agreement with the Dalai Lama's moral theology. Perhaps they reject the Dalai Lama as a spiritual master and look to less dominant Buddhist teachers. But my guess is that whatever brand of Buddhism they practice, they are sympathetic to the Dalai Lama's religio-political message: Free Tibet!

Here's the rub: Hollywood celebrities who complain that socially conservative Christians are a threat to the separation of Church and state, offer no such resistance to a spiritual leader who is also the political figurehead of his occupied country. Elite Hollywood Buddhism has made the liberation of Tibet a cause celebre. Americans who can't locate Tibet on the map tell pollsters that the Dalai Lama and his Tibet are being oppressed by the Chinese.  Foreign Policy is concerned about the politics of it all and questions what Tibetans are really calling for. Read it and you will rub off some of the fuzziness in the eye of your imagination.

Kresta Point of Theology: In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II, who met with the Dalai Lama a few times and regarded him as the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, said " is necessary to pay special attention to Buddhism, which from a certain point of view, like Christianity, is a religion of salvation... [I]t needs to be said right away that the doctrines of salvation in Buddhism and Christianity are opposed... The 'enlightenment' experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free onself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us  to external reality- ties existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies. The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil that has its source in the world."

Christians, in contrast, affirm the goodness of the space/time world. Sin disorders our hearts and twists our will. Our problem is moral not metaphysical.

Turning back to the Buddhist rejection of the world,  JPII asks: "Do we draw near to God in this way?...The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world...."

John Paul II then briefly discusses classic texts in Saint John of the Cross. "But this doctor of the Church does not merely propose detachment from the world. He proposes detachment from the world in order to unite oneself to that which is outside of the world- by this I do not mean nirvana, but a personal God. union with Him comes about not only through purification but through love. Carmelite mysticism begins at the point where the reflections of Buddha end.."


  1. Mr. Gere,

    There's a way you can stop this withering belittlement from Al Kresta. Repent, convert to the Church, and just to be safe, become just like Al.


  2. "How does a religious leader with such views capture the imagination of the most socially liberal and permissive strata of our society?"

    Simple, He's not Catholic.
    Western media has a funny way of circumcising the catholic teaching from the catholic church. Secularists want catholic schools but without the nuns. They want our hospitals but without the crucifixes and chapels. They want our churches but without the pope.

    I think you put it perfectly when you said that "These industries exist for persuasion and attitude adjustment rather than for truthtelling."

    When was the last time the media glowed at the numbers of kids turning out at World Youth Day events? The Dalai Lama brings out lesser numbers and still gets greater press. It's because he is not the pope.

    This is just more proof that the New Testament speaks the truth when it says "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places . . . Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth"
    -Ephesians 6