What the bloody hell is up with the BBC? Reader Steve (with the side comment “fookin idjits!”) called my attention to a discussion on the BBC News site in which four people debate whether and where the present Dalai Lama will reincarnate. That’s like the Beeb having a serious debate on whether Xenu stored preserved humans in volcanoes before blowing them up with hydrogen bombs, and whether Paul Haggis is still afflicted with thetans.
This is all because the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso—in exile in India—has affirmed that he will refuse to reincarnate in Tibet, and therefore may be the last Dalai Lama. In response, the Chinese government has insisted that the 15th and next Dalai Lama will indeed reincarnate in Tibet.
This is all hilarious stuff, but also shows that the common assertion that Gyatso is down with science is completely bogus. He believes in reincarnation, for crying out loud!
Anyway, here are a few inadvertently rib-tickling excerpts from the BBC debate.
Chonpen Tsering: Reincarnation process must not be manipulated
Chonpen Tsering is the Dalai Lama’s representative in northern Europe.
“The lamas – the senior religious figures – are able to determine firstly whether they are reborn, and if they are going to be reborn, where they’ll be reborn.
“The present carnation, the present Dalai Lama, can decide. The rebirth is his choice.
Jia Xiudong: Dalai Lama is playing a political game
Jia Xiudong is senior research fellow at the China Institute of international studies in Beijing.
“I believe that the tradition will be maintained [and] the Dalai Lama will be reincarnated.
“There’s a role for the current Dalai Lama to play for the reincarnation, but I believe he should not exaggerate that role.
“For example, he just cannot stop the tradition individually.
“It is tradition passed from centuries ago.
Robert Barnett: China wants a ‘tame’ lama
Robert Barnett is director of the Modern Tibet Studies Programme at Columbia University in New York.
“I think we have to look at all of this as negotiating moves on both sides. So the Dalai Lama is making these speculative, philosophical statements about, ‘I might be coming back, I might not. I might come back as a woman.’
“This is his normal method as a Buddhist teacher of the kind that he is to make people think. But it’s also a negotiating move with the Chinese to expose them to the kind of ridicule that they’ve put themselves in now by claiming to be able to arbitrate on matters like religion and reincarnation.
“This Dalai Lama has been so effective as a religious leader, even more so than as a political leader, that there’s going to be huge force among his followers for him to come back. So it’s quite likely that it’s going to happen.”
Jamyang Norbu: Dalai Lama must reincarnate for the sake of Tibet’s future
Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu fell out of favour with the present Dalai Lama when he criticised his “softly softly” approach to China.
“He doesn’t have much of a choice. The lama’s reincarnating is a political institution.
“It’ll have to be the choice of the Tibetan government in exile and of the people.
“China will have their candidate up and running, and you can be 100% sure that they will.
“They’ll just pick some Tibetan kid who looks cute enough and they’ll put him up there and they’ll say, ‘This is the Dalai Lama.’
“If we don’t have our own candidate from the general Tibetan Buddhist world, then they win by proxy.
And my own addition:
Professor Ceiling Cat: This is all insane.
I’ve been to Tibet, and it’s sad to see the systematic dismantling of Tibetan culture by the Han Chinese. When I visited monasteries, monks would furtively ask me if I could give them a picture of the Dalai Lama (Gyatso), as those pictures are forbidden.
That said, if you know about the old Buddhist theocracy in Tibet, it was by no means a paradise. Further, Tibetan Buddhism is just as rife with superstition and delusion as any other faith. It is romanticized in the West, but that’s largely because the religion is being suppressed by the Chinese government.
One of those superstitions is reincarnation, and here it’s being used in a political chess game between Tibetan Buddists, the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government. There is, of course, no way to prove that any child born, whether he be in Tibet, India, or elsewhere, is a reincarnated Dalai Lama, though Buddhists do have some “tests” (seeing, for instance, if a kid recognize objects belonging to the last Dalai Lama).
I can’t resolve this problem, but I can add two things. First, the Dalai Lama is given undue respect. He’s the Pope of Buddhism, and though he’s pretty friendly to science, still believes in superstitions like reincarnation and karma. But in general he does follow the physician’s dictum: “First do no harm.” Second, the BBC is crazy to host a debate like this. They can write an article about the fracas, and give the different opinions, but they needn’t have people taking reincarnation seriously. If they do, they could at least write a disclaimer: “Note: There is no reliable evidence for a human soul, nor for the fact that it can leave the body of a dead person and install itself into a child.”