It was two years ago, with ocassion of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Flame Shit Parade, that I first wrote of the the Dalai Lama’s soft power and how it was rising to counter the Chinese giant’s hard power. The tragic earthquake in the Tibetan ethnic county of Yushu has provided the world with an even clearer example of what this soft power is and why it conquers hearts and minds, as opposed to the hard power that conquers bodies by force.
After several days joining forces to help the survivors and work in rescue efforts, first on their own, and later side by side with Han army effectives (80% of which were disabled by altitude sickness), the Party has announced that only “official” rescue works will be allowed to stay in the devastated area, evidently not including monks of any persuasion.
Beijing is less than thrilled at the dramatic footage coming out of Yushu, especially the organized monk brigades, which were erased Stalin-style from all Chinese media. Fear of further unrest among the 98% Tibetan population if the monks are punished for their actions has led President Hu Jintao to Yushu to rally the troops, salute the locals, promise money and say some nice words about Han and Tibetan brothership, while the monks pack up and take off. Or at least that’s what the Party hopes. There remains, however, one problem: the dead.
The rituals for the dead are of transcendental importance in Tibetan culture, often beginning on the death bed and lasting for forty-nine days after the passing, in which a monk comes to the family home every day to read from the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The lack of a proper ritual performed by a monk doubles the loss of the families: they lose a loved one, and the loved one loses a golden opportunity to be reborn in the Buddha’s Pure Land. Because without the guide of a proper ritual, the victim’s soul will wander lost in the bardo –the 49-day between-lives period– without recognizing the Buddha mind and will finally be lured into another terrenal incarnation, or worse.
Not that any of the Yushu earthquake survivors are expecting 49-day passing rituals, but even in times of extreme need as this, when the bodies have been cremated as opposed to the traditional “sky burials”, the presence of hundreds of monks praying together is more than enough to compensate the full ritual as far as good vibes are concerned. Unfortunately there remain still dead to be accounted for, and many survivors are beginning to demand that, given the magnitude of the disaster, the Dalai Lama himself be allowed to visit Yushu and bless the entire area. The geopolitical and the karmic implications of such a visit are nothing short of mind-boggling, and will never happen. Nevertheless, the very demand is another jab at the giant’s exposed flank, evidencing that which cannot be taken by force: the minds and spirits of the Tibetans, which turn to their spiritual leader, never to Beijing, in times of crisis.
Now we can expect the usual parade of Party members and their bought-and-sold foreign supporters posing as pundits to be activated in damage control mode to smear the Dalai Lama as per their usual tactics. Chances are they’ll say he caused the earthquake to make China look bad; maybe they can blame him for the shoddy unregulated buildings the victims were living in too. But this time their words will sound as hollow as the mouthpieces themselves; the old “feudal overlord” script cannot explain what happened in Yushu, and the new scripts are still being drafted in Beijing.
So before the hounds are set loose, a prayer for the survivors and the deceased, and some words of consolation from the Dalai Lama (skip to 1:20). Om mani padme hum.