All I could think about when I read this was, what about the Rohingya? The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority, who, though they have lived for generations in northwestern Myanmar, have mostly been denied citizenship by the Buddhist-dominated government. The Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination. Starting last fall, the Myanmar military launched an ethnic cleansing campaign, allegedly in response to a tiny insurgency, that targeted Rohingya-inhabited areas.
Their villages were torched, burning many alive. Children were repeatedly raped. Soldiers tore babies from their mothers’ breasts and threw them into the fires. They shot and killed Rohingya men in front of their families. This campaign of terror ultimately drove more than 700,000 Rohingya from their home villages and into neighboring Bangladesh, where they now languish in refugee camps with little food or water. Some 120,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are largely confined to camps, where they are refused jobs or even permission to marry. U.N. investigators and the press are not allowed.
For years the Dalai Lama has been traveling the world, trying to convince people to support him in his battle against the Chinese to allow his return to Tibet and those of his followers. A worthy goal, but so far he hasn’t had much success.
China’s harsh crackdown on the region continues. Beijing has flooded Tibet with security forces and repopulated it with Han Chinese. Lhasa, the capital, is a Potemkin Village, a tourist Mecca with great antique shops and colorful monks in saffron robes, occasional pilgrims on their knees, white scarves and yak butter tea. It’s selfie heaven. You could almost be forgiven for overlooking the secret policemen and soldiers lurking in the alleyways.
What else has the Dalai Lama been doing? He has been writing books on happiness, the latest being one he co-authored with Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa (full disclosure: He’s a friend of mine) called “The Book of Joy.”
Anyone who has heard the Dalai Lama on one of his promo tours, as I have several times, will know that his mantra is “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” He’s a very jolly fellow, and he laughs a lot.
But when you read his book’s table of contents, it’s hard not to consider the Rohingya and how they might react to some of his advice. “Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Some Suffering”’ is the heading of one chapter. If you delve into the one titled “The Obstacles to Joy,” you’ll find the following list: “Fear, stress, anxiety, frustration and anger, sadness and grief, despair, loneliness, envy, suffering and adversity, illness and fear of death.” And what about “The Eight Pillars of Joy”? “Perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.” One possible interpretation: If you’re suffering, it’s your fault.
What has the Dalai Lama said about the suffering of the Rohingya? Strikingly little. Last September, just as the government campaign of violence against the Rohingya was gearing up, he declared: “They should remember, Buddha, in such circumstances, Buddha (would have) definitely helped those poor Muslims.” Since then, though, he’s been conspicuously silent.
I think it’s time for the Dalai Lama to step up to the plate and walk the walk, not talk the talk.
He is the most influential Buddhist voice in the world. The idea that he could stand by and watch his co-religionists torture and persecute others because of their faith is unthinkable.
The Dalai Lama should move to Myanmar and live in a Rohingya camp, insist on media coverage and the presence of human rights investigators, and stay there until the Myanmar government and the Buddhist leaders reverse their positions on the Rohingya. Myanmar must repatriate them, provide them with resources (which could be raised by other countries), give them citizenship and freedom, and let them live in peace. Imagine the worldwide attention His Holiness would get from simply being at the camp and refusing to leave.
The Myanmar government would find such pressure hard to resist. He would put the Myanmar Buddhists who are committing these atrocities to shame. What kind of advertisement for Buddhism is what’s going on in Myanmar? When people study Buddhism, they take to heart the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the five principles, which are: Do not take life. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not lie. Do not consume liquor or other intoxicants.
Those Buddhists who persecute Rohingya are an abomination to their faith. The Dalai Lama can show them what true Buddhism looks like. Happy Birthday, Your Holiness.