The Difference between the Dalai Lama and a Satyagrahi

Dalai Lama

 

    After 68 years of leading the Tibetan people from his place of exile, the Dalai Lama is the “most seasoned ruler on the planet.” A recent article in Time magazine entitled “A Monk’s Struggle” details the Dalai Lama’s life and his current struggles to free his government from Chinese rule. Though he he has campaigned the world over and is a popular dignitary at universities, capitols, conferences, and celebrations, he hasn’t managed to make significant progress in the past 50 years – “98% of Tibetans have no access to their leader and are denied the most basic of freedoms.”

    To analyze the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and strategy is to explore the fundamental difference between pacifism and nonviolence. Both pacifism and nonviolence are based on the same idea of interconnectedness. “China and Tibet will long be geographic neighbors,” the Dalai Lama intimates, “so for Tibetans to think of the Chinese as their enemies – or vice versa – is to say they will long be surrounded by enemies. Better by far to expunge the notion of “enmities” that the mind has created” (Iyer, Pico. “A Monk’s Struggle, p. 48). A Hindu leader in the country which now protects the Dalai Lama once phrased this same idea by saying, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy. But even for the supposed enemy he will have nothing but compassion in his heart” [Gandhi, Mohandas. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha)]. An ocean away from both these men, a young pastor was preaching much the same idea around 1959, the year the Dalai Lama was first exiled. He said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (King, Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait).

    Although based on the same idea of life’s interconnectedness, there is a world of difference between a Satyagrahi and a pacifist. A pacifist looks at the idea of human interconnectedness and concludes that nothing he/she can do could better the situation. The choice of a pacifist is to withdraw support from such a system, hoping that their single vote will eventually cause the aggressor or oppressor to yield to reason. However, the pacifists’ viewpoint does not take life’s “network of mutuality” to its natural conclusion. If all life is connected, then “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere;” the oppressor is living in an unjust world every bit as much as the oppressed. Gandhi maintains that a victory for Justice is a victory for everyone involved, though at first the oppressor might not view it as such. A pacifist, then, sees the interconnectedness of life and asserts that he/she must remove themselves from the circle of action; the nonviolent Satyagrahi sees the interconnectedness and realizes that he/she must impact Justice for the good of the world.

    Pacifism has long been attacked as “passivism,” and too often nonviolence has been lumped in as well because of its similar aversion to violence. Nonviolence, however, is a pro-active response rather than an acquiescence. Nonviolence is diametrically difference than “not violence” – it chooses pro-active methods such as boycotts, sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, etc, to prick the conscience of its oppressor and anyone watching. There is nothing passive about nonviolence.

    As Dr. King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait, “Fortunately, history does not pose problems without eventually producing solutions….Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement – not replace – the process of change through legal recourse. It was the way to divest himself of passivity without arraying himself in vindictive force…” (36) The beauty of nonviolence is that it offers a a third way; instead of self-defeating violence or an acquiescence condoning evil and injustice, nonviolence offers a way to save the oppressed from cynicism or inaction and provides a means for redemption for the oppressor. I pray, indeed the whole world prays, that Tibetans and other oppressed peoples throughout the world will be able to bring about Justice through positive, nonviolent means; the Justice of us all depends on their choice today.

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One Response to “The Difference between the Dalai Lama and a Satyagrahi”

  1. Mark T Says:

    Great post, the distinction between Pacifism and Satyagrahi is useful and I fully agree. I am also struck by the eloquence of King’s writing, wow. Keep up the good work, I look forward to more posts.

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