The Chinese, one can infer, are avid readers of Rudyard Kipling. For every Teshoo Lama in New Delhi (or Dharamshala for that matter), they detect a Kim lurking in the shadows. One recent result of this attitude was the cancellation of a meeting of high-level negotiators, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, on the boundary dispute with India. The reason: the presence of the Dalai Lama at a gathering of Buddhist leaders in the Indian capital.
Initial news reports speculated that the Global Buddhist Congregation—to mark the 2,600th year of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment—enjoyed help and planning support from Indian diplomats and intelligence officials. But no sooner had the Chinese government indicated its displeasure than the Indian officialdom and political leaders beat a hasty retreat. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not grace the occasion nor did other leaders of importance.
A file photo of Buddhist monks meditating and praying (Bloomberg )
One wishes Indian intelligence agencies were as efficient as the Chinese portray them to be. The fact is the Delhi congregation was nothing more than an effort to create a unified global Buddhist forum based out of India. It depends on how one looks at such a development. From an Indian perspective, it is another effort to use its “soft power” to influence countries and other people in a positive manner, to its advantage, of course. The US does the same thing, so does Europe. China never protests against this. If anything, the Chinese people have embraced these cultures with gusto. It is true that centuries of dispersal across many shores have helped China soak up these cultures in a thoroughgoing manner, but the liberalization of the Chinese economy since 1978 has played a big role in this.
Buddhism evokes a different reaction: anxiety. This has different roots. The Chinese Communist Party and its rule are brutal in many ways. They rest on two antipodes: coercion and extreme nationalism. When one falters, the other takes over. The two leave little space for religion, a system that is subversive within the present-day Chinese worldview. A Buddhist congregation is unlikely to find any favour. The addition of India and the Dalai Lama (the “Great Splittist”) to the matrix makes the whole affair radioactive.
India has done well not to accede to the Chinese demand to call off the event. The Dalai Lama is the Living Buddha and a great spiritual leader. He is also an honoured guest of India. What he and leaders of other religions do in India is an Indian matter. It concerns no one else, least of all China.
Why does religion worry Chinese authorities? Tell us at email@example.com