The other day, a teammate asked me that question. It so happened that the Dalai Lama was in town - do you also hear George Clooney say “what else”? I also get asked Tibet-related stuff everytime there was a Tibet documentary on TV the night before. You probably have the same experience.
Most of the time though, my ethnic background is not an issue for my environment. I focus on my family and on my job. To be a role-model my children can believe in is challenging and so is trying to keep my sanity amidst the crazy, fast-paced world of the big corporate where I work to make a living. I don’t know how you feel about it but for me, it’s never been dominating that I am Tibetan.
Because for me Tibetans are not special. At least not more than Kenians are special or Japanese or George Clooney. You get the point. People are appreciated for being a good sport, a successful professional, a loving parent or supportive partner. Who would want to be appreciated for being “Tibetan”? That’s so silly and not even an achievement.
But to get back to Bruno’s question “are you a Buddhist”, I answered: “Probably a Buddhist in the way you are a Christian” my implication being, “hey hombre, you don’t label yourself either, why do you ask me for a label? Secular people don’t have religious tags on them, only religious values,” or so I thought. But later he really got me thinking.
To tell you the truth, I was horrified to be associated with that sanctimonious type who almost melts away in the presence of the Dalai Lama, who folds hands and lowers their heads – eyes closed – every time they spot him on TV, the type who never throws away any newspaper or journal with his picture in it, the type who believes he is omniscent, omnipotent, and infallible, the type who believes he is the Buddha (or Bodhisattva or emanation of Avalokitesvara, whatever, details), the type who turns off their brains because they believe he knows how to make everything alright.
It was completely ok for my grand-parents’ generation to be “that type”. They never knew anything else. Or for people who grew up in the exile-Tibetan education system. Never bite the hand that feeds. But people my generation? Far from Dharamsala’s reach, Western-born, Western-bred, been there, done that got the t-shirt?
I for one am unable to believe the Dalai Lama is omniscent, omnipotent, and infallible. When I listen to his speeches, even he doesn’t seem to think that. I am also unable to take his word as my command. He always asks us to use our critical mind and then decide for ourselves, so how could I? I’m also unable to tell whether he is something like a Buddha. I couldn’t care less. He tries to walk the talk, to me that’s what counts.
To me then, the Dalai Lama is as normal as John Paul is to Bruno - not God’s representative on earth but simply the Pope and head of the Catholic Church, no more, no less. Not Buddha on earth but the head of the Tibetan government and the Tibetan Buddhist clergy. Make no mistake, he still is my king as much as he is the king for more pious compatriots. Just minus the personal cult and minus the over-obedience.
I think we actually do him a favour if he could take us more seriously. It's more effective for him if he could converse with us from equal to equal - on an intellectual level, that is. Rather than talking to us like a father to his (small) children. It should be just like when he talks to Westerners. Or Westerners talk to their President or whatever. Comprende? Let us not degenerate into a bunch of yes-men, and still worse, confuse that with “Tibetan culture”, yuck.
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