Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Himalayan Journey, part 2


For part 1, see the poem here.

At 13, Yeshi journeyed with his older brother secretly across the Himalayas. Their father, a monk, had had the whole family listen to broadcasts of the Dalai Lama who gives wonderful talks on compassion and other matters. Their father would have been frightened had they told him they were going. So they went one day to another village and never came back.

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The family gave them up for dead. It was 6 years before they could get in touch again...

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They were in a group of 47, crossing the mountains in winter. The group divided in two so the Chinese soldiers would find them less easy to spot and shoot, They might also have been imprisoned. Ama Adhe who also spoke to us is the lone survivor of 300 prisoners, all women…See here.

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The guide from his village did not know the way. He sort of knew. It was snowing and cold. They journeyed far into the mountains, but he had to go back to find the path, come back and lead them out. The wind was so cold it made it impossible to breathe. They buried their heads in the snow, separated by a little cloth, where the breathing was frozen but possible.

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They could hear the wolves howl. They were the last prey up on the mountains in the winter…

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It got so cold Yeshi lost awareness for 24 hours. The time is just gone.

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A young woman lost some of her fingers – they turned green – in the cold. But having listened to an old man who did divining, they went down to a clearer place to wait. The guide came back. He got them on a better path (it was not as long once he knew the way through, though hard). And they all made it alive.

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Yeshi could go to school for the first time in Dharmasala. That, too, was hard (the Chinese say they do much for the Tibetans economically and they do provide some affirmative action scholarships for a few, but this was quite a while after the Revolution and even after Mao; nothing reached Yeshi and many others). That first day, he sat when others stood, was lifted to stand when others sat, a thoroughly embarrassing and confusing experience. But he loved learning and has come far (he has very good English and a fine spirit of compassion).

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I have heard such stories, archetypical ones, about the flight from slavery in America, the journey following the North Star, bare feet torn and bleeding (See my Black Patriots and Loyalists…)

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I have heard such stories about great indigenous leaders like Sitting Bull, refusing to speak with the predatory American army after the starvation and killing and hanging of the Santee Sioux in Minnesota as well as the John Evans administration/US army massacre at Sand Creek. Sitting Bull eventually took his followers to Canada. After much heroism – his warriors having taken out the man of massacres, George Armstrong Custer (he who murdered Black Kettle and his wife, still seeking to make peace 4 years after Sand Creek, in yet another winter massacre along the Washita River in today’s Oklahoma in 1868) – Sitting Bull, too, was not supported by the “grandmother’s government” (Queen Victoria) and had to come in finally in South Dakota.

His was a powerful story of resistance, however, with enormous courage. Sitting Bull was murdered by the US army at Wounded Knee in 1890.

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Tibetan Buddhism is alive in Dharmasala (there are many monks here and many others who listen to the Dalai Lama) and Ladakh and other places in India as well as in far settings like the United States. The seeds are spreading. Read Donald Siegel, a leading neuropsychologist, on neuroplasticity and how the brain works, recommending learning to meditate – Mindsight - and you will realize how far Buddhism has gone into science. The Dalai Lama is, of course, an enthusiast for the thought that science and Buddhism go together – some scientists may have to become more psychological to see, but Siegel’s 25 year pioneering work on the physical brain and healing is a startling example, and this thought is, in this interesting and surprising way, being borne out.

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Marxists historically have had little interest in psychology/psychotherapy, Marcuse and some others excepted. But the Dalai Lama is in this respect a contrast. For Buddhism is hardly consumed with the endless striving for wealth that makes hungry ghosts like Paul Ryan crave even the food stamps of poor children.

In addition, the Dalai Lama was also an enthusiast initially of the Chinese Revolution – read his autobiography Freedom in Exile – and still an egalitarian.So the Chinese saying that they are the modernizers and Buddhism backward is false.

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The Chinese constitution both promises fair and autonomous treatment to minorities and demonizes the “slave system” in Tibet. But after 60 years, that the policy toward Tibetans is ethnic cleansing by force and little more is clear.

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The Chinese Constitution (as recounted in a recent government White Paper) says:

“In China, equality among ethnic groups means that, regardless of their population size, their level of economic and social development, the difference of their folkways, customs and religious beliefs, every ethnic group is a part of the Chinese nation, having equal status, enjoying the same rights and performing the same duties in every aspect of political and social life according to law, and ethnic oppression or discrimination of any form is firmly opposed. Unity among ethnic groups means a relationship of harmony, friendship, mutual assistance and alliance among ethnic groups in social life and mutual contacts. To achieve such unity, the various ethnic groups are required to, on the basis of opposition to ethnic oppression and discrimination, safeguard and promote unity among themselves and within every particular ethnic group and the people of all ethnic groups should, jointly and with one heart and one mind, promote the development and prosperity of the nation, oppose ethnic splits and safeguard the unification of the country. The Chinese government has always maintained that equality among ethnic groups is the precondition and basis for unity among ethnic groups, that the latter cannot be achieved without the former, that the latter is the logical outcome of the former and a guarantee for promoting ethnic equality in its true sense.

…Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited."

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But this promise has been erased by the vision of “feudalism,” never true of the Dalai Lama, and licensing Chinese greed for minerals, settling Han Chinese into Tibet (now perhaps 8 million to 6 million Tibetans) and ethnic cleansing

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The Dalai Lama was Vice-President of the National People’s Congress until 1959. It is Mao and his successors' depravity on this issue which has prevented China from seeing the wisdom of a a different course – a genuine Middle Way – and removing this bleeding wound (they treat other minorities in a similar way) to China’s standing in the world.

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The Constitution, as reiterated in a 2011 Government White Paper, continues, in a partly true at the time (though with some awful phrasing about a supposed primitive system], but fundamentally self-undermining vein:

“Some areas were in society under the serf system, some under the slave system and some even in the later period of the primitive system. The mass of the minority people in these areas were vassals of big feudal lords, nobles, temples or slave owners; they had no personal freedom and could be sold or bought or given as gifts by their owners at will. In Tibet the Thirteen-Point Law and Sixteen-Point Law formulated in the 17th century and used for more than 300 years, divided the people strictly into three classes and nine grades: the people of the upper class were big nobles, Grand Living Buddhas and high officials, the people of the intermediate class were ordinary clerical and secular officials, junior officers and stewards of upper class people, and the people of the lower class were serfs and slaves. According to these Laws the value of the life of a top-grade person of the upper class was measured by the weight of his body in gold, while the life of a lowest-grade person of the lower class was as cheap as a straw rope. However, the people of the lower class exceeded 95 percent of the total population of Tibet. It is obvious that without the reform of the backward social and political system in minority areas the various equal rights of minority peoples stipulated in the Constitution and the law could not be realized.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese government adopted different measures to institute democratic reform successively in the minority areas at the will of the minority of the people in these areas, and completed the reform in the late 1950s. This reform abolished all the privileges of the privileged few--feudal lords, nobles and tribal chiefs--and the old system of exploitation and oppression of man by man. As a result, tens of thousands of the minority people won emancipation and personal freedom and became masters of their homelands and their own destinies. The democratic reform which took place in Tibet in 1959 eradicated the feudal serf system marked by the combination of government and religion and the dictatorship of nobles and monks, thus tens of thousands of serfs and slaves under the old system got their personal freedom and became masters of the new society.” See here.

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If the Chinese had actually carried out such policies (their views are a self-satire at this point), why would 124 people have burned themselves for the restoration of Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama? Why would there have been a big revolt in 2008 and continuing forms of resistance from Lhakar (“White Wednesdays”) to tearing down the flag poles in Amdo when the authorities ordered Tibetan families, as part of a supposed Patriotic Education Campaign,to display Chinese flags? See here, here and here.

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The soldiers are ordered to shoot the “dangerous” monks and nomads protesting nonviolently (non-cooperating…). They have the image of the Imperial Tibetans of old, springing out, brandishing swords…

But even this phantasm would be no match for Chinese weaponry. And the racist orders, hallucinations, defy the evidence of the eyes.

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If this story were remotely true, why would the Chinese government have to rule fragilely through brute force (violence in Hannah Arendt’s sense) and torture? Why would children like Yeshi have crossed the mountains along with many even younger to be raised in Dharmasala collectively (when under 5) and with adoptive parents through the wonderful Tibetan Children’s Village (the TCV is raising some 17,000 children)?

The whys are many, the answers silence…

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The Dalai Lama is perhaps to the left of Chinese policy which has facilitated considerable inequalities though not ones that yet dominate the government. Intelligent Keynsian anti-cyclical policies are still possible in China, as opposed to the permanent American depression as Larry Summers has now rightly named it – see Paul Krugman here and here and Summers here) and with regard to the science of the brain and psychotherapy (in America, fancy psychiatrists use drugs some of which probably make people literally out of their minds – I suspect this is a factor in some of the mass shootings. The big pharma companies are not anxious to have the story investigated, the government not appropriately regulating them but they possessing the government.

Siegel’s work as a therapist and the horror of drug therapy is quite a contrast. Science too, ironically, is with Buddhism and not its violent persecutors.

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China is lucky compared to the Soviet Union and the United States that it is not collapsing from imperial competition, bases abroad, and militarism (the US military with 1280 bases in 177 countries just beat back cutbacks in its trillion dollar budget…)

In the next twenty years, the Chinese Communist party might lead a successful economic development with an emphasis on green energy and outcompete the decadent United States (the Republican blowhards who don’t believe in global warming – what hurricane in New Jersey? What unheard of storm in the Philippines? What polar ice caps - and the high Himalayas - melting? Getting Koch brother shekels for turning in the human species have made science and knowing anything the opposite of American “politics”.

The Chinese cannot breathe without making their cities green as I saw in Liaoning and Beijing this summer. Beijing has an electrified bus system. Over 25 years, the Chinese could conquer economically and break out of their isolation to the good of humanity. They might make Germany wake up economically – they have strangled Europe in this new depression – and America ecologically (Barack knows better and has done some good things, though look out about the Keystone XL pipeline where only protest holds him back from evil).

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Their one child policy – I taught 25 wonderful students in Liaoning last summer – has led to each family, in a Confucian culture, devoting themselves to their single child. Patriotic yes and with reason – the American imperialists are, to this moment, actively belligerent (with arms and threats) against the Chinese. It is not the Chinese who have waged war in Mexico and Canada or have military bases on Staten Island, for example (as the US in Korea and over the Chinese border at the Broken Bridge at Amdong and Vietnam, or in Taiwan).

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But no parents want to lose a child, let alone an only child. Here is a policy that makes the Chinese, including leaders, less willing to take aggressive action. Even in the Korean war, China drove the US back and restored North Korea, but then stopped; similarly, in their border war with India, they conquered up to their claims about the border and stopped. Chinese policy outside China is hardly fearsome…

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One may believe the mainstream American account or use one’s eyes.

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But the Chinese government's ferocious ethnic cleansing of Tibet is the single thing that makes them now a pariah in the world and obstructs this vision. And the assertion within China that "we can do anything just as the US did in Manifest Destiny, the wave of genocides, toward indigenous people across the country" – is a powerful and foul example of how the Communist Party can both do evil and destroy itself and the Chinese people. Militarism in China and burning coal could go a long way to finishing off the human species in this century – the world will not sustain 7 billion people with that Chinese and, of course, American contribution.

The Chinese rulers are like the Israeli government doing ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories (Israel was begun in ethnic cleansing, too, as Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, shows). But the age of mass exterminations and imprisoning others on bad lands or in exile, while taking the land for “settlers” and forcibly achieving a Founding Amnesia (my friend Doug Vaughan has written to me that these are, more aptly, Founding Lies and of course, they are, and yet as Nietzsche tells us in Beyond Good and Evil, my mind tells me one thing, my pride tells me another – and before you know it, even some powerful people, those or their minions in charge of specific acts of evil have memories that don't work – see here, here, and here). China will never be a great power while stories of the journey to freedom like Yeshi’s are ordinary, while people burn themselves in protest.

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I also met John Gaudette, an international human rights lawyer and my former student here; he is working on a case where a woman burned herself in public, shouting Free Tibet as she died, and the Chinese authorities demanded the family say she had committed suicide from a private despair. They have now tried her husband for murder for a mere three hours and sentenced him to death.

The Tibetan Committee on Human Rights and Democracy is working on this case, internationally….

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One other way in which communism was and is viciously anti-modern in China is in the widespread use of torture and murder in prisons, the eschewing of any decent system of law. Please remember: lynch law was characteristic of the American south, 49% of the people on death row today are black, and the U.S. held 25% of the world’s prisoners very recently – see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow - before any one gets too high on the American system of injustice. But the aspiration is often better.

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The Dalai Lama has held out a Middle Way to the Chinese Communists. There is a possibility for them, still, to take it. But that would require creativity and learning of a sort, which while not impossible, is harmed by intense, gut racism. Tibetan resistors, though not the Dalai Lama, were supported against the Chinese regime by the CIA until 1971 – Nixon's rapprochement with Mao. Independence from Chinese brutality has been hard for Tibetans to find friends for except among the ordinary people who hear these stories.

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Yeshi’s story is an archetype. He and others have gained gifts of compassion from immense suffering. May they bring to the world – they are already doing so – the healing it so requires…

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