Dalai Lama receives human rights award from Amnesty International

By Xeni Jardin

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[iPhone snapshot above: Xeni Jardin; illustration inset, Shepard Fairey.]

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His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a "Shine a Light on Human Rights" award from Amnesty International. My notes from the event follow.

He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."

Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.

The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.

Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."

"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."

Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime.

"If you start a noble effort and encounter problems, and just stop— it is wrong," he said. "You must persist. If you believe that the goal of your work must materialize in your lifetime, it is wrong. It's still worthwhile, even if you never live to see it materialize."

The internet's enabling of increased access to information, and the increasing velocity of information, he said, is a good thing. "Because of new media, the news [of human rights violations] reaches us immediately."

Censorship and seemingly ever-tightening restrictions on internet flow are a predictable response from the Chinese government, he continued, but they are fundamentally unsustainable. "More soldiers, more [surveillance] cameras, they build mistrust and fear. Harmony is based on trust... so this is totally the wrong method. Censorship should not be there; there should be free information, a free press, and then an independent judiciary and gradual government change can follow. That will develop trust and harmony within China, and with the outside world. A closed society with no transparency creates suspicion."

"The lifespan of a totalitarian regime is generally longer than that of an elected government," he continued. "But China belongs to the Chinese people, and not the government. 1.3 billion Chinese people have the right to know reality, and to judge what is right and what is wrong for themselves."

Asked by a young student LGBT activist what advice he might give gay and trans teens who are bullied for their sexual or gender orientation, the Dalai Lama suggested that apart from pursuing legal protection, greater understanding and more education in "moral ethics and concern for others" may help.

But "sometimes the system to solve the problem turns into a problem itself," he added; "The court can turn into a demon, the 'medicine' can become a poison, and people who do not have access to knowledge and education can be more easily manipulated."

He then paused and added "If someone bullies you based on discrimination, you should fight back."

No questions were posed about the recent killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan, but the Los Angeles Times noted his response on that issue yesterday at a "Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society" event, before an audience of 3,000 at University of Southern California.

Did bin Laden deserve forgiveness?

As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. ... If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

This, from a peaceful monk who avoids killing mosquitoes. "When my mood is good and there is no danger of malaria," he said at the USC event, he refrains from swatting even these pests.

While the Dalai Lama's thoughts on the specifics of the bin Laden assassination may remain an engima, Amnesty International's stated position is clear: the organization has long opposed extrajudicial execution, regardless of the subject involved.

This week, the group raised concerns that "US forces should have attempted to capture Osama bin Laden alive in order to bring him to trial if he was unarmed and posing no immediate threat," because perpetrators of terrorism and crimes against humanity "must be brought to justice in a manner consistent with international law."

In response to a question today in Long Beach by an Arab-American Amnesty International member about anti-Muslim hostility in America, the Dalai Lama described discrimination based on faith or culture as "backwards" and "outdated."

He pointed to the Hindu caste system in India (where he resides in exile) as the same, and said it too "must change."

"People should not say that Muslims as a whole are bad. I have many Muslim friends, and they tell me genuine followers of the Koran do not take bloodshed. If you do, you are not a genuine practitioner of Islam. The real meaning of 'jihad' is not fighting, but a kind of internal struggle. In Tibetan Buddhism, we also have a terminology of engaging in combat with our inner afflictions, fighting for internal spiritual freedom. This is the real meaning of jihad."

(special thanks to Kalaya'an Mendoza)

Published 2:17 pm Wed, May 4, 2011

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About the Author

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: xeni@boingboing.net.

36 Responses to “Dalai Lama receives human rights award from Amnesty International”

  1. aquathug says:

    Xeni, I’m pretty sure the quote was “I’m just a simple monk”, but who knows maybe he chose the Amnesty event as a forum to update his status.

  2. gwailo_joe says:

    I don’t agree with everything espoused by Mr. Lama; but he’s the titular head of a religious group, right? Sure, Buddhists seem more relaxed than their monotheistic brethren, but dogma is your price for entering, so don’t act so shocked. . .

    Still, he IS a pretty great DL; I’d like to hope that his next reincarnation will be equally able to rally support for Tibet as a culture if not an autonomous region. . .who knows?

    I mean, look at the Vatican: compared with Ratzinger, Pope John Paul 2 really WAS a saint!

  3. haineux says:

    (First of all, I’m a big fan of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Second, I’ll use the acronym HHDL as a referent, because it’s short and also respectful.)

    There’s a bunch of anti-HHDL stuff going on here, which divides into two categories, which I will address.

    1) “How dare HHDL not be 1000% in agreement with my views on feminism, sexuality, etc?”

    Not that your particular opinions are wrong — they aren’t. Buddhism needs some fixing, but as HHDL has said, it’s not just up to him. He’s the leader of ONE sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but there are several others in Tibet, and still more in more or less every country in Asia.

    I also don’t expect any political or religious leader to be perfect — except, perhaps, Buddha or Jesus. HHDL has specifically said he is not a buddha, and will cop to many faults.

    2) A bunch of stuff about how he’s secretly a despot or used to own slaves.

    This is technically true. When he officially assumed power, at age 15, it did include “royal” trappings — palaces, riches, servants. For the next 9 years, he was more-or-less the King/Pope of Tibet, and he spent those 9 years trying to fix Tibet’s relationship with China. And when that blew up, he ran for his life into India.

    In exile, for the last sixty-plus years, he’s worked constantly to establish (for want of the better term) a healthy relationship between Tibet and China — one that integrates Tibet into China, but allows Tibetans to practice Buddhism. (He will point out that he does not want Tibet to be separate/”Free” from China, because, frankly, Tibet is a very poor country. It needs China’s help.)

    Yeah, that’s definitely the behavior of an exiled despot — one who, as Penn says, is “desperate to return to power.”

    In retrospect, and with considerable sarcasm, I can send a big Thank You to China for saving Tibet from HHDL. He was undoubtedly just about to start killing and enslaving his own people. I am especially thankful to China because they were forced — forced I say! — to kill and imprison Tibetans so that they can be free of the horrible despot that they only think they love.

    Obviously, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had brainwashed everyone, and only the friendly, humanitarian Chinese government could have saved the Tibetans from a terrible fate.

    How does HHDL brainwash people? With, as Penn says, “a trite, greeting-card philosophy” — which also happens to be a core principle of Buddhism, and also “The Golden Rule,” something that Penn, an atheist, claims to believe in. But I digress.

    What has HHDL done in exile? Other than, you know, trying to fix the Tibet/China situation? Why, he’s been trying to build bridges between Buddhism and other major religions, and science and religion. And writing dozens of books about kindness and compassion. Of course, this is all part of his EVIL PLAN. As soon as he can get back to Tibet, he’ll start killing and enslaving people.

    Yeah, right.

    I’m amazed that someone as smart as Penn ended up with such a fucked up view of things.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Just look at that aspect ratio. Just look at it.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      That will make no sense to anyone who comes straight to this page without seeing the Dalai Lama Diet photo on the front page.

      • Kimmo says:

        I like how he’ll take countermeasures against malaria-free mozzies when he’s not in a good mood. There’s a lovely aspect to Zen that basically considers all rules guidelines.

        And just say for the sake of argument, that SEAL team had orders to take him alive. What fraction do you figure of that team wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to scratch that itchy trigger finger, when they’re faced with a guy who’s been held up as Public Enemy #1, a veritable antiChrist, for ten years?

        That will make no sense to anyone who comes straight to this page without seeing the Dalai Lama Diet photo on the front page.

        I’d say it’s primarily intended as a heads-up to the Mods, no?

        I mean, +1 just look at that aspect ratio.

  5. Kwolfbrooks says:

    But violent execution is fine under some circumstances he says… such as Osama’s. I think the Lama was quoted yesterday as approving of “countermeasures” when dealing with Osama. I find his position hard to reconcile.

    • n1gh75h4d3 says:

      I believe he means he wishes they hadn’t killed him, but taken him into custody, and even though they didn’t, he understands why.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      He said:

      Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures.

      You said:

      But violent execution is fine under some circumstances he says… such as Osama’s.

      He’s just stated a middle-of-the-road principle of non-violence, which is that you’re not required to let yourself be harmed. You’ve embellished that a bit.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dear Kwolfbrooks,
    If you are going to make claims like this please post the quote as evidence.

    The media have put a spin on his words and have misrepresented his message. Please do not mistake their words for his.

  7. Lobster says:

    It’s easy to be a champion of human rights when you’re an ousted dictator.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Supposedly, he’s a *really* good break dancer.

  9. Kwolfbrooks says:

    Well, here’s the quote in the LA Times:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0504-dalai-lama-20110504,0,7229481.story

    I just think the Lama is tiptoeing around US policy – not to offend. It’s frustrating.

    • Anonymous says:

      This shotty journalism misinformation regarding what the Dalai Lama actually said is spreading like wildfire. Please help put the fire out by reposting the official statement from dalailama.com:

      “His Holiness then answered questions, some of which were submitted through the Internet. The first question was on His Holiness’ emphasis on compassion as a basis of ethics. It asked whether in some situation ensuring justice is more important than being compassionate to the perpetrator of a crime. It referred to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebrations of it by some, and asked where compassion fit in with this and ethics. In his response, His Holiness emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practice of forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done.”

  10. osmo says:

    Meh Amnesty is a severely politicized organisation serving up no-brainer feel-good bs. It does good but it tends to swing more easily to causes it feels serves an easier path.

    About Dalai-lama if your a Buddhist, then fine, me I’m not a buddhist and don’t get the thing. He is probably a great speaker, cook and break dancer but to be honest… its just “meh” across the board for me. Its like debating whether or not the Pope is a great philosopher or something.

  11. max says:

    People love giving accolades to the Dalai Lama, but he’s still just a monarch who accidentally inherited a post in a very bizarre ritual of power transfer. What exactly has he done? I don’t really get it, he doesn’t actually achieve anything, he just espouses impotent platitudes about kindness and peace.

    • slk says:

      Yep, this position before the Chinese took over was one of a king while those under him lived in poverty. So not hard to see why he’d be “humble” and hoping to “free” his country in order to resume power again.

      And at @DeWynken.. with that line of logic it’s not hard to see how liars, thieves, and despots get into power.

  12. DeWynken says:

    Platitudes or not, this guy should be President of the World.

  13. 6iogenes says:

    Yeah.. Give the the theocrat the human rights award… Just one more example how much religion keeps on getting the “good guys knee jerk reflex”.

    Last time, I read a interview from “his holyness” he stated he did not aprove homosexuality, as it was inherently anti-natural and LGBT’s should consider abstinence as a way to diminish suffering…

    Quoting a LGBT as posing a “persecution” question is a shrewd diversion tactics… I wonder if the original question was placed as an indirect ironic reference to “his holyness” medieval theologies.

    Just ask yourself and around: How are LGBT’s treated in Butan, Nepal and Tibet…

    • max says:

      GASP! How can you not just love that cute little bald man!? He’s so friendly and smiley. Who’s a future Nobel laureate? Yes you are! Yes yoooou are!

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      How are LGBT’s treated in Butan, Nepal and Tibet…

      Illegal in Bhutan. Nepal’s new constitution is expected to legalize same-sex marriage and protect gay rights. Tibet is run by China.

      How are we treated in the rest of East, South, Central and Western Asia, the Middle East, Africa and most of Latin America?

  14. elondaits says:

    Penn & Teller on this theocrat ass:

    http://www.myspace.com/video/chris/penn-and-teller-explain-why-the-dalai-lama-sucks-ass/4328870

    I was hoping for Boing Boing to surprise me with a more critical take on “his holiness”, but I see he got the Disneyland treatment.

    • travtastic says:

      Penn & Teller? No thanks.

    • Anonymous says:

      Is there any convenient expose on Penn’s & Teller’s libertarian asses yet, or is it still something you have to explain?

  15. naomi says:

    The Dalai Lama says oral sex is a sin! Even the Catholic Church says oral sex is OK as long as it ends in a procreative act. He’s also a blatant homophobe and should be outed as such.

    • haineux says:

      In my opinion, “Oral sex is a sin” is very much analogous to “Monks and nuns should be celibate/chaste,” or, perhaps, “getting drunk is a sin.”

      What is a major sin for, say, a Buddhist monk who has taken bodhisattva vows, is a trivial sin, at most, for a “householder.” HHDL also said something like, “If the sex is between two consenting adults and harms no one, it’s OK.”

      Most people do not take bodhisattva vows. Most people take “Lay Vows” which usually say something like:
      1) No killing
      2) No stealing
      3) No sexual misconduct
      4) No lying (especially about your religious attainments)
      5) No being intoxicated (or, more severely, no using any intoxicants)

      However, vows are optional. They’re like “conducts” in nethack — they make things harder, but you score more points.

  16. travtastic says:

    The issue of homosexuality is just a little more complicated than some of the others here would have you believe.

    LGBT topics and Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism

    In this discussion, it should be understood that the controversial topic is inappropriate sexual conduct for a Buddhist practitioner, as the Dalai Lama has repeatedly “voiced his support for the full recognition of human rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.”

    Now, clearly, I can’t get behind that opinion, insofar as the “inappropriate” aspect goes. But this is not a black and white issue, so let’s try to avoid painting it as such.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, that horrible fascist. He only stepped out of political power without being asked and instituted democratic reforms amongst the Tibetans-in-exile:

    http://inthearena.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/03/lobsang-sangay-new-prime-minister-of-tibets-government-in-exile-attended-harvard-law-school-and-has-never-been-to-tibet/

    Anti-Religion Fundamentalists are every bit as bad as the other kinds. They prejudge reality based upon a priori assumptions and become horribly agitated when you don’t follow along. Their theology is as frail and brittle as a Southern’s Baptist’s, and just as annoying.

  18. aquathug says:

    He was a kid when he assumed a role he held for less than 10 years before Tibet was annexed by China and it’s people killed, jailed, tortured, and enslaved or made refugees by it’s ‘liberators’. As an adult he has worked tirelessly to promote kindness and compassion. He has been very clear about the difficulties for many Tibetans prior to 59. He has devoted his life to peace, tolerance, and the advancement of compassion as a secular practice. As a political leader he has worked to improve relations with China while attempting to preserve and modernize the political and cultural institutions of Tibet. This seems like the proper way to begin a cycle of change. Have you done nearly as much to amend the transgressions of your own family tree, let alone your country?

  19. benher says:

    Here here.

    Sure HHDL isn’t perfect, but I’d adhere to his edicts before the despots in the PRC any day of the week.

    Out of morbid (sheerly morbid) curiosity, did any Chinese protesters in Long Beach show up to support/oppose the Dalai Lama?