Theocracy in Tibet

03 Oct 1994 12:03

The Buddha was amiable and enlightened; on his deathbed he laughed at his disciples for supposing that he was immortal. But the Buddhist priesthood --- as it exists, for example, in Tibet --- has been obscurantist, tyrannous, and cruel in the highest degree.

---Bertrand Russell, ``Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilisation?'' (1930)

This is nowadays a fairly shocking quotation. Among Westerners of liberal views, the Dalai Lama is all but canonized, and Tibet holds a place in the minds of progressives rather like the one Poland had a century ago. Now, by any reasonable standard what the Chinese have done since they invaded Tibet is horrid and wrong, and the Dalai Lama seems to have led an exemplary life. But it doesn't follow that Tibet was a very good country before the invasion, and His Holiness was delivered from the corruption of being a ruling god while still at a tender age. The record of his predecessors in office (and, if the official theology is to be believed, previous incarnations), is not a pretty one. Probably, if the Chinese had not invaded, Amnesty International would now be compiling reports on such human rights abuses as public whippings, and the suppression of dissent needed to sustain serfdom, slavery and theocracy.