Rod Dreher

Some time ago, I read something, can’t remember where, about Tibetan Buddhism. The author may have been a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism; I just don’t recall. Anyway, the writer said that in the West, we have a completely romanticized view of Tibetan Buddhism, one that ignores the dark and violent side of the tradition. If memory serves, this writer wasn’t putting Tibetan Buddhism down, only saying that there’s a lot more to it than people in the West think, and that if they saw the entire thing, instead of only what they wanted to see, they’d be a lot more troubled by it. I’m in no position to say whether this person was right or wrong, but I do know that all of us have a tendency toward confirmation bias, and toward filtering out information that challenges narratives we prefer to believe. That’s human nature.
Anyway, Brendan O’Neill is traveling in Tibet, and says the real thing is rather different from the SWPL Disneyland the West imagines. Excerpt:

Yet in central Lhasa, the only culture shock I experience is how similar Tibetans are to other Asians and to us Westerners, too. Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian who grew up in England, was once told by an academic colleague who saw him arrive at work by car: ‘I can never get used to the idea of a Tibetan driving a car.’ That academic should brace himself if he ever visits Lhasa: here they drive cars, drink beer, smoke, dance, wear leather, sit in parks, play cards, flirt, chat, talk rubbish, and do all the other things that the rest of us do. It is testament to the influence of the Western Tibetophilic lobby, all those actors, princes and middle-class healing nutjobs who have spread such a severely distorted image of Tibet as a land of childlike monks and nuns who smile softly all day long, that even I find myself surprised by the reality.


What connects the old imperialists with the new Tibetophiles is their desire to have Tibet as a ‘buffer state’ – only where the imperialists wanted to use Tibet to protect their material interests against China and Russia, the new lot want to use it to protect their emotional interests, to preserve an idea of innocent, childlike humanity so far uncorrupted by modernity.
Both sides have indulged in borderline racist fantasies that are all about themselves rather than reality. Arriving in Lhasa I’m delighted to find that it is not mystical at all. Beautiful and buzzing? Yes. Paranormal and utterly unlike the rest of humanity? No. I’m in a real place populated by real people, with all the fun and flaws and tensions that involves, not an otherworldly kingdom or a posh person’s buffer state.

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