In 1968, hours before his death in Bangkok, Thomas Merton
gave his last address to an audience of Christian and
Buddhist monastics. Titled "Marxism and Monastic
Perspectives," Merton analyzed the relationship between
monastic and communist philosophies and used the Chinese
takeover of Tibet as his touchstone.
Merton told the story of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, a
Tibetan lama who was forced to flee for his life in 1959 when
the Chinese massacred thousands of Tibetans. Away from his
monastery at the time, Trungpa Rimpoche sent a note to a
nearby abbot asking what he should do. The reply was,
"From now on, its each monk on his own." And
so Trungpa Rimpoche fled to India (where the Dalai Lama
established the Tibetan government-in-exile) with nothing but
his yak. Merton concluded, "You cannot rely on
structures; they will ultimately be taken away. We can only
be about the business of total personal transformation, which
leads to purity of heart."
For 37 years, Tibetans have been living without the
structures of self-governance, without the presence of the
Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader (possessing his photo is
grounds for arrest), and without access to basic human rights
under the dictates of Chinese communism. Since the Chinese
invasion in 1949, Beijing has enacted a policy of
"population transfer," moving millions of Han
Chinese into Tibet until today Tibetans are a minority in
their own country. There are 70 times more Tibetan political
prisoners than Chinese, and 30 percent of them are women.
Approximately 20 million people are held in slave labor
camps in China and Tibet, earning China hundreds of millions
of dollars each year. Infant mortality is 88 percent among
Tibetans, as opposed to 31 percent among Chinese. China has
devastated Tibets natural resources by exporting almost
all its precious minerals, half of its forests (providing
China with $50 billion worth of timber), and using Tibet as a
dumping site for Chinese nuclear and chemical waste.
After nearly 40 years of primarily nonviolent resistance,
the Tibetan people are on the verge of extinction. And yet
they hold on to the simple Buddhist precept the Dalai Lama
lays out for them: Follow the middle way of compassion.
Compassion is not a word that gets bandied about in GATT or
WTO circles or on the floor of Congress when Chinas
most-favored-nation status is up for review. It is not a word
associated with the politically astutebut with its
connotation of interdependence, perhaps it should be.
THE DALAI LAMA has proposed a five-point peace plan that
prioritizes Tibetan self-government and yet engages the need
for a balance of political power in the region. His
initiative calls for withdrawal of Chinese troops; an end to
Chinas population-transfer policy; respect for
Tibetans human and democratic rights; restoration and
protection of Tibets natural resources; and immediate
negotiations on the future status of relations between Tibet
and the Chinese.
This proposal would move Tibet toward a self-governing
democracy while it remains part of China, with Beijing
responsible for Tibets foreign policy. With Tibet as a
self-governing "zone of peace" between China and
India, not only do the remaining six million Tibetans benefit
but so do the Chinese and Indians.
Though the Dalai Lama gets criticized harshly by those who
favor independence at any cost, his compassionate middle way
offers a means for China to save face in exiting Tibet and
begins a process of political independence that is grounded
in peace, hopefully preventing a civil war such as those we
see now in many African states. Any hopes of progress on this
plan are absolutely dependent on the international
communitys pressure on China to negotiate with Tibet.
How can the United States take up the vocabulary of
compassion in our relations with China and Tibet? First, we
should learn the lesson of South Africa and dismantle
Clintons policy of "constructive engagement."
It is "constructive" only for privately owned
transnational corporations that reap billions in profits, and
does nothing to provide for basic human needs.
Second, we should re-examine the most-favored-nation
status principle by which the World Trade Organization keeps
a balance of power among various market economies. Non-market
based economies, like China, cannot be members of the WTO but
can apply for MFN status, which the WTO then reviews
annually. From 1974 to 1993 renewal of Chinas MFN
status was linked to human rights and arms proliferation
issues. While Presidents Reagan and Bush used loopholes to
renew Chinas MFN status even when China egregiously
violated the requirements, President Clinton has completely
"delinked" human rights issues from MFN renewal.
The United States must relink these issues with MFN status.
Third, we should give full support to the Dalai
Lamas five-point initiative on China and Tibet. In
addition to benefiting Tibet, advancing this process could
perhaps provide leaven for the growth of justice and human
rights in China proper.
In many ways, since his exile the Dalai Lama has been
simply a monk with his yak seeking total personal
transformationwhich is his most fundamental vow as a
Buddhist. However, he also knows that the conversion of one
heart can lead to the conversion of an entire nation.
Read other articles by:
Berger, Rose Marie
Subscribe to Sojourners today at a special introductory price and save $10 off the basic rate! Click here for details.
WE WANT TO HEAR from you! Click here to share your views. Or write to "Letters," Sojourners, 3333 14th St. NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20010; fax (202) 328-8757. Please include your name, address, and daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for space and clarity.
Read other articles by:
Berger, Rose Marie