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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

The real Tibet

July 20, 2010

Rod Dreher
July 15, 2010

Some time ago, I read something, can't remember
where, about Tibetan Buddhism. The author may
have been a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism; I just
don't recall. Anyway, the writer said that in the
West, we have a completely romanticized view of
Tibetan Buddhism, one that ignores the dark and
violent side of the tradition. If memory serves,
this writer wasn't putting Tibetan Buddhism down,
only saying that there's a lot more to it than
people in the West think, and that if they saw
the entire thing, instead of only what they
wanted to see, they'd be a lot more troubled by
it. I'm in no position to say whether this person
was right or wrong, but I do know that all of us
have a tendency toward confirmation bias, and
toward filtering out information that challenges
narratives we prefer to believe. That's human nature.

Anyway, Brendan O'Neill is traveling in Tibet,
and says the real thing is rather different from
the SWPL Disneyland the West imagines. Excerpt:

Yet in central Lhasa, the only culture shock I
experience is how similar Tibetans are to other
Asians and to us Westerners, too. Tsering Shakya,
a Tibetan historian who grew up in England, was
once told by an academic colleague who saw him
arrive at work by car: 'I can never get used to
the idea of a Tibetan driving a car.' That
academic should brace himself if he ever visits
Lhasa: here they drive cars, drink beer, smoke,
dance, wear leather, sit in parks, play cards,
flirt, chat, talk rubbish, and do all the other
things that the rest of us do. It is testament to
the influence of the Western Tibetophilic lobby,
all those actors, princes and middle-class
healing nutjobs who have spread such a severely
distorted image of Tibet as a land of childlike
monks and nuns who smile softly all day long,
that even I find myself surprised by the reality.


What connects the old imperialists with the new
Tibetophiles is their desire to have Tibet as a
'buffer state' - only where the imperialists
wanted to use Tibet to protect their material
interests against China and Russia, the new lot
want to use it to protect their emotional
interests, to preserve an idea of innocent,
childlike humanity so far uncorrupted by modernity.

Both sides have indulged in borderline racist
fantasies that are all about themselves rather
than reality. Arriving in Lhasa I'm delighted to
find that it is not mystical at all. Beautiful
and buzzing? Yes. Paranormal and utterly unlike
the rest of humanity? No. I'm in a real place
populated by real people, with all the fun and
flaws and tensions that involves, not an
otherworldly kingdom or a posh person's buffer state.
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