You know the world is absurd when Chinese functionaries, who believe in nothing but their own political survival, denounce the Dalai Lama for betraying Buddhism. Why? The 79-year-old Dalai Lama, who has led Tibetan Buddhists for 64 years, has suggested he may not reincarnate himself, thus ending a line stretching back to the 14th century. Instead of cheering the demise of a sharp thorn in its side, the implacably atheistic Chinese government reacted with fury to this “frivolous and disrespectful” act.
"China follows a policy of freedom of religion and belief,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman with a straight face, “and this naturally includes having to respect and protect the ways of passing on Tibetan Buddhism" (or as The Wire headlined, “China Will Make the Dalai Lama Reincarnate Whether He Likes It or Not”) – except, of course, the way of the Dalai Lama, who writes with delightful understatement that “no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”
At a time when people are slaughtering each other in the name of their gods, the image of humorless Chinese bureaucrats fuming over the irreverence of a religious leader known for his sense of humor seems welcome relief. Except, of course, it’s deadly serious. As more Tibetans immolate themselves protesting China’s rule, we are reminded that repression comes in many guises and that fanaticism, whether secular or sacred, is toxic to the human soul.