When the announcement was made that President Obama would not meet the Dalai Lama on the latter’s trip to the USA last month, the disappointment in the Tibetan world was palpable. I felt a little better after seeing this AFP headline “West Appeasing China on Tibet, says PM-in-exile”[Wednesday, September 16, 2009 17:43]. The report also did not disappoint:
DHARAMSHALA, India — Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche on Tuesday accused the United States and other Western nations of appeasing China in regard to the mountain territory. The charge came after aides to The Dalai Lama said the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader would not meet President Barack Obama on a planned visit to Washington next month.” “A lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement,” Rinpoche told a group of journalists late Tuesday… “Even the US government is doing some kind of appeasement,” Rinpoche said. “Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests,” Rinpoche went on to say.
The novelty of a tough, or at least not submissive, statement coming from Dharamshala was a pleasant surprise for many. This comment appeared on Phayul.com: “Finally, after 50 years in exile, a statement from the TGIE that has a little backbone, calculation and heart! Speaking our true feelings…” and “Well done Rinpoche.” and “…I hope Dharamsala will start a new era of being forthright in it’s diplomatic communication.”
Then I saw this UNI report dated 15 September (a day earlier than the AFP report). “Obama should first meet Hu Jintao then Dalai Lama: Rinpoche”. Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, Sep 15: Tibetan Prime Minister in exile Samdhong Rinpoche today said US President Barack Obama should first meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and then the Dalai Lama as cordial relations between the US and China is very important… President Obama should not irritate Chinese leadership. China’s most irritation is with His Holiness wherever he goes. So, this I think is common sense. Obama should have good relations with the Chinese leadership,’’ Prof Rinpoche told a team of visiting media persons here.
It struck me that if Rinpoche was so concerned about not irritating the Chinese leadership, and this concern was just “common sense”, wouldn’t it make even more common sense for Obama not meet The Dalai Lama at all, which should make the Chinese feel calm and serene?
To perhaps demonstrate that he, Samdhong Rinpoche was doing his personal best not to irritate China he remarked towards the end of the interview that “Tibet will always remain an internal issue of Peoples Republic of China.’’
What on earth was going on in Dharamshala in mid-September? Did Rinpoche give different interviews to different journalists, or did he somehow manage to make absolutely contradictory statements at the same press conference without any of the journalists present noticing? Schizophrenia is sometimes defined as the capacity of a person to hold conflicting points of view at the same time, but I think in this case we may have something more symptomatic of a moral than a psychological failing.
Quite a few Tibetans (especially some dharma centre lamas) affect a fashionable pseudo-sophistication to demonstrate how they are above old-fashioned nation-state politics. It also probably helps to ingratiate themselves with their New Age sponsors and followers. It goes something like this. Freedom for Tibetans is all well and good but there are greater global concerns such as world peace, the environment, and even providing “spiritual guidance” to the Chinese people. Samdhong Rinpoche, in an interview in The New York Times, said that the last concern was more important than Tibetan independence, or “political separation from China” as he put it.
Rinpoche’s New Age leftist outlook is fairly discernible in his interviews and talks. Still, I was somewhat taken aback by Rinpoche’s attack on the American military-industrial complex (I am not kidding) in his opening statement at the panel discussion on Kalon Tripa Elections in Dharamshala on June 21 this year, that I mentioned in two of my previous postings. It didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows among the audience, but I suppose his followers accept this in the sense that Rinpoche being a “rinpoche” has a vision of the ultimate big picture, which us “grey” (kyau) folks don’t. Hence one didn’t question such utterances, no matter how weird. Even a statement as damaging to the survival of the Tibetan people, as Rinpoche’s declaration that the new Chinese railroad would benefit the Tibetan people and their economic welfare, should not be questioned.
In the interview with UNI, Rinpoche made this claim (which I think is absolutely untrue) that even for the Dalai Lama the Tibetan issue was not a primary concern. Rinpoche said that during any meeting with any president or world leader “…the Dalai Lama would first focus on human values, second on religious harmony and then Tibetan Issue which is his third priority with whomsoever he meets in the world be it President Obama, a small child or a beggar in street.”
I suppose for someone who considers the destruction of Tibetan civilization, the murder and oppression of its people and the ecocidal exploitation of its land a third priority in his scheme of things, it probably explains why Rinpoche has regularly objected to Tibetan activists demonstrating against China. It also explains why Rinpoche was seen on European TV, in 2006, as one of the leaders of a major demonstration against the Swiss company SYNGENTA in India, a major agri-business company that Indian environmentalists oppose.