2016-06-30
beliefnet_anne

: Welcome to the Beliefnet chat with Prof. Donald Lopez. Donald Lopez was born in Washington, D.C., in 1952 and was educated at the University of Virginia, receiving his doctorate in Buddhist studies in 1982. He is currently Carl W. Belser Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.

Let's begin.

das_kopfweh

: Why does the Dalai Lama run from the Chinese? Shouldn't he take a stand against them?

donald_lopez_jr

: In March of 1959, there was a popular uprising in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, by the Tibetan people against the People's Liberation Army of China. It became clear at that time that the Chinese were planning to either capture or kidnap the Dalai Lama. And so he escaped into India. He's been living in exile since 1959, but has made numerous attempts since then to negotiate with China and has been willing to meet with them anywhere to discuss the future of Tibet. He has decided that he can best serve the cause of Tibetan independence in freedom, rather than living under Chinese rule in Tibet.

Rougekitty

: What's the current situation like in Tibet?

donald_lopez_jr

: Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950. And during the past half-century, Chinese policies have fluctuated from periods of harsh repression to periods of a bit more openness, within the constraints of Chinese colonial rule. The past few years have seen one of the harshest periods of Chinese control, which has led to many nuns and monks escaping to India so that they can practice their religion freely.

bo00om

: Do you think that the majority of Tibetans believe in the separatist agenda of the Dalai Lama?

donald_lopez_jr

: Yes. The majority of the Tibetan people remain Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan nationalists, and look to the Dalai Lama both as their religious leader and their national leader and look forward to the day when he can return under conditions of freedom. Despite 50 years of Chinese occupation, Tibetan Buddhism remains very strong within Tibet.

Lekvar_5

: What do you think about the flight of the Karmapa Lama to India? I've heard that he may become regent after the Dalai Lama's death? Is this possible?

donald_lopez_jr

: The flight of the Karmapa from Tibet to India last January was significant for a number of reasons. He was the last remaining leader of one of the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism who had remained in Tibet. And the Chinese had placed great hope in him. Hence, his escape marks a significant blow against the Chinese claim that Tibetan Buddhism may be practiced freely in Tibet. Regarding the question of the succession of the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama belong to different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, so it would not be possible for him to succeed the Dalai Lama in that role. However, there is every hope that he will become one of the leaders of the Tibetan exile community and a leading figure in the Buddhist world.

Mushita_98

: Is there any hope they'll ever be able to return to Tibet?

donald_lopez_jr

: I think everyone continues to hope that the Chinese will see fit to negotiate with the Dalai Lama over the conditions for his return to Tibet. The Dalai Lama is no longer demanding complete independence for the Tibetan nation, but rather a cultural autonomy for Tibet within China. From recent indications, it seems as if the Chinese are simply waiting for the current Dalai Lama to pass away. However, this seems to be a shortsighted strategy on their part. And everyone is hopeful that they will decide to negotiate and find a way for the Dalai Lama and the exiled community to return.

Meledison

: How far is the Dalai Lama willing to compromise politically with the Chinese before he is able in good conscience to return?

donald_lopez_jr

: The Dalai Lama some years ago dropped his demand for complete independence, and has presented the plan under which Tibet would be an autonomous region within China. Under this arrangement, Tibet would have religious freedom and cultural autonomy, but would leave matters of national defense and foreign relations to China.

Lekvar_5

: Why do you think Westerners have such a need to mythologize Tibet? shouldn't we be looking to our own traditions for answers?

donald_lopez_jr

: Tibet presents an almost irresistible combination of the exotic, the spiritual, and the political. Tibet has always been regarded as one of the most remote places on earth. It is also the home of a long and rich Buddhist tradition. And finally, Tibet presents a political situation about which all people of good will can agree--that is, that Tibet should be free. Especially since the 1960s, there has been a great deal of interest in Buddhism, beginning especially with Zen, and in the last decade in particular, moving toward Tibetan Buddhism, sparked in part by the person of the Dalai Lama. And we are living in a time in which people are able to study the religion, they have access to many traditions, and Tibetan Buddhism has proved meaningful to many people. The Dalai Lama has not encouraged people to convert to Tibetan Buddhism but has encouraged Westerners to look to their own religious traditions, which share many values with Tibetan Buddhism.

jackiemac_ie

: Have you ever met him?

donald_lopez_jr

: I have had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama many times. I first met him in 1978 when I was in India doing research for my dissertation, which dealt with Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and he very kindly answered all of my most difficult questions. And since then, I've had a number of opportunities to meet with him during his visits to the United States. In 1984, I organized his visit to Middlebury College in Vermont, where I was teaching. In 1994, I organized his visit to the University of Michigan.

psionic_apprentice2

: What is required of someone in order to become the Dalai Lama? For instance, do their Buddhist teachings begin sooner, or differ in their methods?

donald_lopez_jr

: The Dalai Lama is considered to be the incarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Thus, the current Dalai Lama is the 14th Dalai Lama. He was born in Tibet in 1935, several years after the death of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. After the death of a Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government undertakes an extensive search for the next Dalai Lama. They consult oracles and other signs to determine the location of the next child's birth. After that, search parties are sent out to find a number of possible candidates, and those children (who in most cases are toddlers) are given a series of tests to determine which of them is, indeed, the next Dalai Lama. This was the process that the current Dalai Lama underwent as a young child.

buddha_tim_2000

: Do reincarnated lamas ever decide they don't want to be lamas?

donald_lopez_jr

: The term "lama" has at least two important meanings in Tibetan Buddhism. The term "lama" is the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit term "guru," meaning teacher. Hence, anyone's religious teacher may be referred to as a lama. However, the term has a more technical meaning, referring to someone who has been identified as the current incarnation of a past Buddhist master. In this latter sense, one has no choice as to whether one is going to be a lama or not, because the identification is made when one is a young child. One may decide not to pursue religious education or Buddhist practice, but one nonetheless remains a lama.

mperlman_2000

: Do you think the monastic system is outdated?

donald_lopez_jr

: It's generally said that monasticism is at the very heart of Buddhism, and that when the monastic order disappears from the world, the disappearance of Buddhism will soon follow. However, the form of Buddhism that has become popular in Europe and America has been primarily a lay movement, with few Westerners (relatively speaking) deciding to become monks and nuns. Therefore, we may be witnessing the development of a new form of Buddhism, which we might call American Buddhism, in which lay teachers and practitioners are able to practice Buddhism without an established monastic community.

KWinters1972

: Is the rise in interest in Buddhism in America also mirrored in Europe and other traditionally Western countries?

donald_lopez_jr

: Buddhism is not only grown in popularity in the United States but in Europe as well. For example, a book by a French Buddhist monk was a best-seller in France. And the Dalai Lama regularly visits England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and other European nations, where he receives response in terms of large crowds and enthusiastic audiences similar to those he finds in the U.S.

Owensderrick

: What does "Dalai Lama" mean?

donald_lopez_jr

: The 3rd Dalai Lama, whose name was Sonam Gyatso, had a meeting with a Mongol Khan. The Mongol Khan asked the Dalai Lama what his name was, and when he told him his name, it was translated from Tibetan into Mongolian. The Dalai Lama's name, Sonam Gyatso, means "merit ocean." In Mongolian, the word "ocean" is "dalai." So translating from Tibetan into Mongolian, the Mongol Khan called him "Dalai Lama," that is, "ocean lama." Of course, up until that moment, the 3rd Dalai Lama had not been called Dalai Lama, but that title came to be used, and was applied retroactively, to his two previous incarnations, making them the 1st and 2nd Dalai Lamas. And all Dalai Lamas since then have carried that title, although they also have other names and titles. Among Tibetans, the term Dalai Lama is rarely used. They tend to refer to him as either "the precious conqueror" or as the "wish-granting jewel."

Rougekitty

: How's the religious leader between the death of one lama and the active duties of the next young lama?

donald_lopez_jr

: After the death of the previous Dalai Lama, another lama from the Dalai Lama's own sect is appointed as regent of Tibet. He serves as acting head of state. His first responsibility is to locate the child who is the next Dalai Lama, and he oversees that search. The Dalai Lama is generally discovered at the age of 2 or 3, and must embark on a rigorous program of education and training, and during that time, which usually lasts until he is 18 or 20 years old, that same regent continues to rule.

KWinters1972

: Are there worries that "American Buddhism" could lead to a misunderstanding or misrepresentations of Buddha's teachings if there is a lack of qualified spiritual guides to teach the correct methods and meanings?

donald_lopez_jr

: Buddhism has undergone many changes and transformations over the course of its 2,500-year history. It spread from India to a society which was probably more unlike India than any other in the world, that of China. It spread to Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, all of which had their own languages and cultures and traditions. Buddhism has both adapted to those settings and been transformed by them. Therefore, there is no particular worry about the form that Buddhism may or may not take in the West, since it has been changing and adapting to change for 2,500 years.

buddha_tim_2000

: I read in an excerpt from your book on Beliefnet that the Tibetans see themselves as priests relative to the so-called patrons of other countries. Do you think they ever resent that role?

donald_lopez_jr

: It is not the case that all Tibetans see themselves as priests, but rather that Tibetan lamas have often served as priests to Chinese emperors over the past centuries. One of the ways that Tibet has been able to survive as a culture despite the lack of a strong military is by the value it has been able to provide to its strong neighbors in the form of Buddhism. I argue in the book that from a certain perspective, Tibetan Buddhism is forming a similar function for Europe and America today.

Lekvar_5

: What was the meaning of the Monlam Chemno festival in Washington that the Dalai Lama led?

donald_lopez_jr

: The Monlam Chemno festival in Tibet was the New Year's celebration that took place in Lhasa. And it dates back to the 15th century. The name means "great prayer," and this was a time for expelling all of the evil from the past year and for welcoming goodness into the new year. Some elements of that festival have been brought to Washington this past week, except that the weather is slightly different than it would have been in Tibet.

HugMeTightBaby

: Has Tibet ever been wrong about the legitimacy of a Dalai Lama? Have they ever made a mistake in the choice?

donald_lopez_jr

: There have been controversies over the choice of the Dalai Lama, especially in the case of the 6th Dalai Lama, who did not have as much interest in the study of Buddhism as some of his predecessors. However, Tibetans revere the 6th Dalai Lama very highly, and accept the succession of the Dalai Lamas from the 1st to the 14th as legitimate and correct.

Lekvar_5

: So do you think there's a significant transmission that takes place when the Dalai Lama does something like a kalachakra

initiation for tens of thousands of people in Madison Square Garden?

donald_lopez_jr

: The kalachakra initiation is one of the few Tantric initiations that is given to a large public audience. Although the initiation has many different levels of meaning, one meaning and purpose is to provide a blessing to allow those present to be reborn in a Buddhist Pure Land in their next lifetime. The Dalai Lama has given this initiation many times throughout the world, often drawing audiences larger than could fit into Madison Square Garden.

Rougekitty

: Is it possible for someone to be appointed a Dalai Lama incarnate who is not Tibetan?

donald_lopez_jr

: It is theoretically possible for a non-Tibetan to be the Dalai Lama. However, this has never occurred. The Dalai Lama is the special Buddhist protector of the Tibetan people, and therefore it is preferable that he be Tibetan. However, as you may know, a number of incarnate lamas of a different stature have been identified as European and American children.

Meledison

: Don't you fear that contact with the West will have the opposite effect--contaminate Tibet rather than spiritualize the West?

donald_lopez_jr

: One of our misconceptions about Tibet is that it was a pure society in which there was no crime and no corruption. Tibet, like every other society on earth, had both saints and scoundrels. Tibet for the last 50 years has been a colony of China, and during that time much of traditional Tibetan culture was destroyed. So the question is not so much preserving a spiritualized Tibet which never existed historically, but gaining political independence for the Tibetan people.

quantum_prophet

: What are the significant traditions of Buddhism besides Tibetan?

donald_lopez_jr

: Every Buddhist nation has its own Buddhist tradition. Those that have become well known in the West include Zen Buddhism, which originated in China and spread to Japan and Korea; there is also the Theravada tradition of Southeast Asia, which is known in the West primarily through the practice of insight meditation. But there are many other forms of Buddhism, both historically and present day.

j_padinha

: And what about your students? Do most of them study Buddhism because they have a personal interest? Do they become Buddhists usually?

donald_lopez_jr

: There are undergraduate students who take courses like "Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism," which often draws 300 students. Those students come for a wide range of reasons--interest in Tibet, or personal curiosity about Asia, or interest in Buddhism. I find that, in general, their interest in Buddhism is very similar to my own back in the '70s. I also have graduate students who are studying the Tibetan language in order to become scholars of Buddhism.

Anarkiehayseed

: What can the people of the world be expected to do for Tibet?

donald_lopez_jr

: Write your congressman!

whataboutthis_98

: Does the Dalai Lama consider himself as God?

donald_lopez_jr

: There is no "god" in Buddhism, in the sense of a deity who is omnipotent and is the creator of the universe. So despite the fact that the Dalai Lama is sometimes referred to in the West as the "god king," he in no way considers himself to be a god.

Rougekitty

: What's the principal difference between Tibetan and Zen Buddhism?

donald_lopez_jr

: Zen Buddhism originated in China and spread to Japan. It has a strong emphasis on seated meditation and the use of koans. Tibetan Buddhism came to Tibet from India and is a Tantric form of Buddhism which offers what is considered a quick path to enlightenment. In Zen, one of the basic ideas is that we are already enlightened, and we just need to recognize that fact. There are similar statements in forms of Tibetan Buddhism, but one also finds in Tibet the idea of the Buddhist path as a gradual process of purification of the mind.

KWinters1972

: I'm studying Buddhism, and I still can't figure out--is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?

donald_lopez_jr

: Buddhism is a religion, in the sense that it presents an entire worldview with which to confront the issues of life and death.

It is not only a worldview but also a form of practice. Hence, although there are many philosophical schools within Buddhism, it is best to consider Buddhism a religion.

beliefnet_ellen

: Thanks for being with us Professor Lopez and thanks to all of you for your great questions!

donald_lopez_jr

: It's been a great pleasure to attempt to answer all these interesting and intelligent questions!

beliefnet_ellen

: Make sure to check out the webcast of the Dalai Lama's recent public talk and the daily Dalai Lama and much more at www.beliefnet.com. Remember, Beliefnet.com is *the* place for matters of religion and spirituality on the net. Make sure to check out our message boards too!

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