Power of the Man on the Moon in Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Although NASA or any other space organizations have not announced any fresh attempt to send another human being to the moon, there is a man on the moon, and this has become an issue for China. Yes, China has lunar ambitions, but that is not the reason why it sees this report of a man on the moon as a problem. The issue is literally something beyond our world; power of faith over which China’s space research laboratories (or the politburo) do not have any control.
I am referring to the report from Tibet that an individual has sighted an image resembling that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the moon. According to the Central Tibetan Administration’s website, www.tibet.net, the individual – 20 year old Phurbu Namgyal—residing near Lhasa reportedly told his friends “that if someone gazes at the night sky one can see His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the moon.”
Now, the moon is not just a beautiful object to behold on a clear bright night, but for someone with a bit of imagination it can also be a source of fascination. The rabbit on the moon is a universally accepted image, but there are those who see images of other things or people. As a child I used to partake in a harmless ritual where we children would stand and stare intensely at our shadows on a moonlit night. Then if we look up to the sky suddenly we would even “see” the form of a human being there.
More to the point, we Tibetans are from a cultural environment in which we can see visions in lakes or locate spirits in trees. Therefore, the idea of someone seeing an image on the moon did not come as a surprise to me. In fact, it seemed logical that given the Tibetan people’s faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the lack of opportunity for them to see him in person (or even in portraits), his is the image that people will project on the moon, a virtual presence, if you will.
Of course, those who do not believe in religion will see such things as superstition and even objectionable. One might conclude from this that since the Chinese Communists do not believe in religion, it is from this angle that they have the problem with ‘backward” Tibetans seeing stuffs on the moon. But of course that is not the reason. I have no hesitation in saying that the Chinese authorities would not have cared a wee bit if this same Tibetan reported seeing a Yak, Steve Jobs or even the Apple logo on a waxing or a waning moon (or a partially-eclipsed moon). I think they would even have welcomed if this person had reported seeing the four leaders of modern China, the same people whose portraits have been made obligatory decoration in Tibetan monasteries.
But the issue of course is that it is none of these images that the Tibetan reported seeing. It was the image of the Dalai Lama and therein lay the problem. Seeing an image on the moon could be ordinarily ascribed to eye fatigue and blurred vision that could be corrected by a good night’s rest. But the Comrade who reportedly detained the individual seeing the image knew that for a Tibetan to see the image of the Dalai Lama on a heavenly body has much greater significance.
The crux of the matter is this: China has been trying for so many decades to win over the Tibetan people through economic incentives and political coercion. In the process they have been making the case that the Communist Party is the Tibetan people’s new deity. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” sort of commandment. Unfortunately for China, what they could not achieve, the power of faith of the Tibetan people, combined (I think) with some atmospheric disturbance on the surface of the moon, made it possible for the Dalai Lama to land on the moon. I guess that just as the Chinese people had to “Learn from Lei Feng” at one time, now they should “Learn from the Man on the Moon.”
On April 6, 2012, a prominent Chinese democracy advocate and noted thinker, Fang Lizhi, passed away in Tucson, AZ. He was forced to flee to the United States in 1989 in the wake of the Chinese authorities’ clampdown on the democracy movement in China.
In addition to his well-known effort on democracy and freedom for China, he was also a Chinese intellectual who had a good grasp of the nature of the Tibetan problem. One of his ways of indicating his concern for the plight of the Tibetan people was by serving on the international council of advisors of the International Campaign for Tibet.
In 1991, a few years after he came to the United States, Fang addressed a conference, most probably the first-ever dialogue between Chinese and Tibetans, on the issue of Tibet in New York. What he said then holds true even now.
There are some Chinese people who tend to hold the view that Tibetans may have suffered under the present regime, but so have the Chinese people. Fang had this to say on the issue. “Tibet has suffered much during the years of Chinese Communist Party rule, as has all of the People’s Republic of China. But Tibet’s cultural and religious life has been more severely attacked by the Communist Party than the traditions of the Han culture. Still, Tibetan culture has managed to survive; it seems to have great resilience.”
On the question whether a democratic China may be better off for the people of Tibet, Fang said, “We all want democracy. But will democracy make interaction among various social groups more harmonious, or less? A change toward genuine democratization is a necessary condition for such harmony, but it is not a sufficient condition in itself. In other words, we need both democracy and human rights if we are to find a way to live together peacefully, but something more is needed.”
He went on the expand on this “something more” that was needed by talking about the Chinese authorities’ discriminatory policies against non-Chinese people. Fang said, “The Chinese Communist Party has always suppressed nationalistic feelings among the ethnic groups that make the People’s Republic of China. Han nationalism is considered to be fine, but minority nationalism is labeled “splittism” and “counterrevolutionary.” Just as in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union in past decades, communism has driven nationalisms underground. The Communist Party’s solution to the problem of the various minorities is to cover up their sense of uniqueness, to forbid any expression of nationalism. This, in the long term, is no solution at all. As long as the one-party rule of the Communist Party lasts, ethnic conflict will continue.”
If we look at the Chinese authorities repressive policies on Tibetans, we can see that what Fang mentions is something that has not merely happened, but continues to happen, to the Tibetan people today.
Fang, nevertheless, promotes dialogue as a way to resolve conflicts. In a way of encouraging both Tibetans and Chinese to understand each other better and to create trust and confidence, he said, “I think we must not retreat into our separate corners and stare at each other suspiciously from a distance. We must create an environment in which we can continue to talk through the problems that come up and find solutions to them, rather than allowing them to fester. We must find universal standards that bring us together in agreement and fellowship.”
I have never met Prof. Fang Lizhi, but just as those many Chinese people who have been inspired by his words and action, I believe that his position on the issue of Tibet is something that is increasingly felt by Chinese intellectuals who truly care about the future of China. As such, he is also an inspiration for me.
Just before the weekend, we had the good news of the award of the 2012 Templeton Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Announcing the award, Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation and son of the late Prize founder, said, “The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being.”
The nine Prize judges, “who represent a wide range of disciplines, cultures and religious traditions” have recognized the Dalai Lama’s “remarkable record of intellectual, moral and spiritual innovations.” According to the Templeton Prize authorities, “the judges evaluate – independently of each other – typically 15 to 20 nominated candidates each year and then individually submit separate ballots – from which a tally then determines the selection of each year’s Laureate.”
They have announced that the Prize will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on May 14, 2012. A news conference with the Dalai Lama will precede the ceremony. Both events will be webcast live at www.templetonprize.org
In a video message to the Prize authorities, the Dalai Lama responded “in the humble style that has become his signature.” He said, “When I heard today your decision to give me this quite famous award, I really felt this is another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.”
There is a statement by The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the Templeton Prize website welcoming the prize to the Dalai Lama. He says, “A non-violent voice of peace and reason in a calamitous world, the Dalai Lama represents core values cherished by many different faiths. The award of the Templeton Prize to the Dalai Lama under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral will be a reminder that working towards peace and harmony is a practical and spiritual challenge to all faith communities.”
Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.7 million or €1.3 million), the prize is the world’s largest annual monetary award given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.
One can read about the award and watch video recordings related to it on http://www.templetonprize.org. I guess some times the best response to a baseless allegation is recognition by the international community. You know what I mean, eh?