I can remember a sermon nearly 30 years ago at Oakdale Baptist Church in my home town of Rock Hill, S.C. In it, the minister, Rev. Raymond Thompson, talked about how the crucifixion of Christ affected the disciples. On that day, which is now observed as Good Friday, some of Jesus’ closest friends hid in fear. No doubt others were racked with confusion, angst, sadness and guilt.
The pain and grief caused by their teacher’s death was a life-defining moment, the pastor said all those years ago. For me as a boy, it seemed the entire planet wept with Christ’s disciples: the sky went dark, the ground shook, and Heaven sank to Earth. For those men, and indeed all of Jesus’ followers at the time, it must have seemed as if their world was coming to an end.
Some 2,000 years later, I imagine the loss of Tibet and the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 must have been just as intense for the millions of people who spent a millennium living in relative peace and isolation. While it’s true that Tibet was not a model civilization in the modern context, it was probably as pure as a theocracy could be: every aspect of life revolved around faith; a deep belief in karma and Dharma drove every decision, from the rural farmer to the Potala establishment. Respect for every form of life was at the core of the society (even the lowly earthworm was shown the same respect one would for his or her mother).
The situation today in Tibet and its environs challenges Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhists to closely examine their beliefs, for Buddha’s first teaching spelled out a universal truth that attachment to the status quo – be it a nation, a leader, a temple or anything else temporal – is the sole reason we suffer. Still, it must be incredibly difficult to reconcile the loss of one’s country and the resulting ethnic and cultural genocide with something as ironically simple as the Second Noble Truth (the origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof).
It’s almost absurd in my mind to even try to think of the Tibetan issue from the perspective of the Second Noble Truth. I feel anger at what the Chinese have done, and disgust at how most of the world, including my own country, has stood by while atrocities like Rwanda, Darfur, the Congo, East Turkestan/ Xīnjiāng, Inner Mongolia and Tibet have unfold before our eyes. But, and it’s an important but, I know enough to honestly recognize afflictive emotions like anger and disgust do nothing to improve the world around me, and if anything, only serve as spiritual roadblocks.
So where does that leave me? If anything, the lesson of Good Friday and Easter, especially from the disciples’ perspective, is that nothing is ever as it seems (how’s that for understatement, especially for those who have studied the Two Truths in Buddhism?). The spirit and practices of the Tibetan people, including Vajrayana Buddhism, will live on for as long as they are supposed to.
And for my part, well, I guess I know exactly what I need to do.