One of the most hotly debated issues in Norway the last couple of weeks have been Dalai Lama’s visit to Norway 7th – 9th May. The controversy has been the government’s refusal to meet with the Nobel Peace winner from 1989. They do so, like most countries today, because they want to do business with China. The criticism has been the strongest from the two socialist parties, The Labour Party and The Socialist Left Party. There’s been a massive, united front against what they claim is a weak government that won’t stand up to China. One of the most popular statements was “cowardly capitulation to dictatorship.”
But what if we are wrong about Dalai Lama? Buddhism has had a position among the other world religions as the religion of peace. The doctrine of the faith says that every human being is a result of good and evil actions in previous lives. If you have been born that means you have been guilty of desire and ignorance in a previous life. Your purpose in life is therefore to always strive to become a better person.
Here in the West we believe that Buddhism is the one peaceful world religion, and I suppose that’s the main reason we have borrowed from it in our new mumbo-jumbo religions. The discussion we’ve had about the Dalai Lama recently may have altered this image slightly. The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet ran a story about the Shugden buddhists. Monks and nuns from the Shugden-monastery outside Oslo plan to protest the Dalai Lama when he comes to Norway. They call the Peace Prize winner a hypocrite. This branch within Buddhism worships the spirit Dorje Shugden, but the Dalai Lama will not recognize them because he believes that this spirit is evil. According to the nun being interviewed by the Norwegian paper Dalai Lama won’t even talk to them. This means that the 4 million who belong to Shugden buddhism worldwide have been isolated.
They call the Dalai Lama a hypocrite because he acts as a defender of human rights, while he doesn’t tolerate freedom of religion. Maybe modern Buddhism isn’t as peaceful as we in the West have thought? Buddhism is a major religion in Thailand (95 % of the population), Cambodia (95 %), Burma (89 %) , Sri Lanka (89 %). There are also many buddhists in Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.
Buddhism has followed the path of other world religions, close ties to the government, for example in Thailand. In countries where Buddhism has had its own power base, outside state control, it has often encountered strong conflicts.
Buddhists have a tradition of conflicts in Asia, even in recent times. First they fought against Al Qaeda and then they used Bin Laden-style attacks themselves against innocent Muslims. We see this particularly in Burma, for example in Rakhine State and Shan State. In Sri Lanka, 9% of the population is Muslim. This significant minority has been the victim of a Buddhist nationalist group that arose after the government defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009. There are also examples of Buddhist monks going into the military, which occurred on the North Vietnamese side in the Vietnam War and in Japan during World War 2.
You might say that discrimination and war forced Buddhists to put away their non-violent side, but I’m not convinced that this is the whole explanation. The Dalai Lama is currently only a religious leader of a branch of Buddhism that is mostly found in Tibet, Mongolia, Tuva, Bhutan, Kalmykia, northern Nepal and some parts of India. He was also a political leader before Tibet became a part of China. It seems that everyone thinks of Buddhism as the only peaceful state religion, and that the Dalai Lama would have been a good ruler in the country where the entire population is Buddhist. I’m probably not as firm in my belief.
The Labour and Socialist Left Party, however, have a strong faith. I remember, by the way, that Gro Harlem Brundtland went on a trip to China when she was prime minister in the 90s. Jens Stoltenberg (who left office after two periods as prime minister in october last year, and is the new “head” of NATO) was trade minister in the 90s and accompanied Brundtland to China. This trip was not about human rights, but about acquiring Norwegian business contracts. In fact, a large industry delegation joined the government for this trip. Jens Stoltenberg tried, in a desperate attempt, to use Gro Harlem Brundtland as mediator a couple of years ago. She was going to China for an event celebrating a collaboration between a Norwegian business college and a Chinese university. The socialist government that left office about 7 months ago, wanted Brundtland to try to fix the damage caused when the Nobel Prize was awarded to a Chinese dissident. That’s how consistent they are.
Isn’t it wonderful how convenient selective memory and opposition can be, Labour and Socialist Left? Dalai Lama is so easygoing that we don’t really think of him as religious and certainly not as a man that would limit other peoples freedom of religion. What is it about this man that makes us give him abilities no one else has managed to live up to?
It made me think. What did the government do when the Nobel Committee gave the prize to a man I admire more, Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964? A strong support to him might have strained our relationship with the United States. You would think that he was an important enough political figure to have talks with the government. I don’t know if he did, but I didn’t find any information about it. I know Martin Luther King Jr. met with the king, but he doesn’t exactly count as a political leader. That makes sense because Norway has always had a tendency to express the opinions the United States says we should have.
According to the schedule from the King Center the trip seems to have been more eventful before they came to Norway. I couldn’t embed it, but here is what the news showed in 1964. It’s in Norwegian, but I recommend a link to the right, where Erik Bye interviews the Nobel Peace Winner:
I agree that our government should grow a spine, but is it really that unpresedented?
http://www.dagbladet.no/2014/05/01/nyheter/innenriks/dalai_lama/dalai_lama_oslo/buddhisme/33070619/ (the Dagbladet-story I referred to in my post)