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May 04, 2008
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May 04, 2008

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Home > 2008 Issues > May 04, 2008


Clash of Buddhism and Communism in Tibet

By Dr Kunal Ghosh

Veneration of saints? tombs and offering floral tributes are common in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, and Islam. Modern technology has made the tomb transparent and the body preserved. So we had the spectacle of the holy tombs of Communist leaders?first Lenin and then Stalin and later Mao Zedong.

Anti-China protests broke out in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet on 14th March 2008. They have spread to the neighbouring Sichuan and Qinghai provinces that incorporated what used to be Amdo region of Tibet before China took possession of Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama has called for an international probe into whether ?Cultural Genocide?deliberate or not?was taking place in his home land? (Times of India, March 17, 2008, Lucknow). Samdhang Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile, has said, ?China is interfering in our subjects of study under the garb od re-education and patriotic religion. They are not allowing our history and culture to be taught in schools and monasteries.? (Times of India, March 21, 2008, Lucknow).

The Chinese Government has said that the disturbances had been planned and orchestrated by the Dalai Lama and declared a ?People?s War? against the Buddhist organisers of the uprising. The Chinese Communists much like their East European comrades have been trying to suppress conventional religions, since 1948. In Europe the move has not succeeded and the religions there, both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, have resurfaced with vengeance as soon as the ?iron grip? loosened in the late 1980s with then President Gorbachev?s perestroika or restructuring. Likewise Buddhism started showing signs of resurgence all over China as soon as some social and economic freedoms were introduced by the political authorities. In the new millennium, i.e., since 2000 the temples are attracting increasing numbers. The Communist authorities cannot help this, but they would not tolerate any organised religious activity even of an avowedly apolitical group such as the Falun Gong. Newspaper reports and TV coverage amply bear this out. The sense of insecurity and aggression displayed by the Communists are quite akin to those of a religion when another invades its turf. The worst victims of this reprehensible attitude are the Tibetans. The suppression of Buddhism in Tibet has had a much deeper cultural impact than in main land China. What shapes the Communist attitude to other ideologies/religions is the subject of this investigation.

ABRAHAMIC FAITHS AND COMMUNISM : Similarity of Institutions.
That Communism is a crypto-religion in line with Judaism and Christianity (both are Abrahamic faiths of West Asian origin) has been alluded to by many great thinkers. I do not want to fill pages here by quoting great European thinkers such as Bertrand Russel, Alberto Moravia etc. However I do wish to quote three Indian thinkers of repute, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sushobhan Sarkar and Nikhil Chakravartty, and add a few observations of my own. Incidentally Nehru was an admirer of Communism and Chakravartty and Sarkar were camp followers. So there must be an added sting in their observations, since they were all insiders.

Nehru called himself a ?Pagan? and admired ?the essential tolerance in a Pagan?. He took both America and Soviets to task for trying to impose a rigid economic doctrine on others, but his criticism of the Communists is sharper. He said (Link 1961), ?The whole idea that others must conform to our ways, that we are the only true believers?this is contrary to my pagan conception??.The Semitic conception is different. So is the attitude of the Communists, though without saying so they are now adopting a new approach. But basically communism has descended from Christianity, and Christianity has basically descended from Judaism. ?Accept my God, there is no other God than the God of Israel?. The Communists are trying to apply the same kind of attitude to politics and economics?? It is this concept of having the whole truth, which is fundamentally opposed to the pagan concept. The whole truth is too big for any one people to grasp completely.?

Sushobhan Sarkar(1979) in his Joseph Stalin?s Centenary criticised the great dictator in the following words, ?Let us recall that famous speech of Stalin after Lenin?s death: ?Before leaving us Comrade Lenin had instructed ?.we pledge Comrade Lenin, we shall fulfil that instruction?etc etc.? Does not the whole thing sound like some litany of the Orthodox church ? It is said that the church influenced Stalin in his childhood. In this context I am reminded that at one time in China too the so-called ?mirror documents? were in vogue. This was a kind of striving for individual self-purification, efforts at self-improvement by comparing oneself with Marx, Lenin etc. Is not this method a complete imitation of the Jesuits?(1)?

Nikhil Chakravartty (1990) in his ?CPI(M) in West Bengal : A Moment of Truth? said, ?It?s time to pause and ponder for the CPI(M) in West Bengal. I would not use the hackneyed clich? of ?self-criticism??much abused in Communist circles. It has been shown up as a means to force a sort of confession in Catholic terms.?

These are a few excerpts from persons of great vision and penetrating insight. I agree with Nehru?s opinion that Communism has basically descended from Judaism and Christianity. Communists, whose prophet is Marx, have evolved the concept of ?false consciousness?. For instance, why do Tibetans show such great attachment to their religion, Lamaist Buddhism ? It is because they harbour a false consciousness, which is going to melt away under the sunshine of Marxism, when they receive proper education (read indoctrination or sermon). The concept of False Consciousness is very similar to the False Religion or False God of the Abrahamic faiths. Mogul emperor Jahangir?s diary reveals that he felt threatened by and arrested/tortured Guru Arjun Dev of the Sikhs, because the emperor believed that the Guru had been preaching a false religion and he (the emperor) had to stop the ?false traffic? of devotees to the Guru?s abode (Singh 1977). Long after Christianisation of Europe, Pagan forms of worship persisted under cover. Whenever it was detected, the Christian priests felt threatened and called it witchcraft or ?Satan worship?, a particularly reprehensible form of false religion, and inflicted terrible punishment. There is ample evidence that Bengal?s 16th century Nawab Hussein Shah felt threatened by the gatherings around Shri Chaitanya and came close to arresting him several times. This was in spite of the transparent and completely apolitical nature of Shri Chaitanya?s Bhakti movement. Likewise the present Chinese Communists feel needlessly threatened by the totally and avowedly apolitical Falun Gong, which preaches an amalgam of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional breathing exercises. They arrest Falun Gong members on concocted charges of some crime or the other and incarcerate them. The Christian term for a religious war is Crusade, the Muslim term is Jihad and the Communist term for an ideological (read religious) war is People?s War. They now wish to unleash a People?s War on the Buddhist infidels of Tibet.

Catholics have traditionally regarded the religious interpretation of the Orthodox or Protestant churches as ?false interpretation? and called it heresy. We find it also among the earlier sects of the Jews; the older Samaritan sect rejected the interpretation of reformist Ezra as ?false?. This led to tremendous enmity and the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple. Whenever a new interpretation arises the ruling Communist establishment of China gives it a derogatory name such as Splittism, Deviationism or Revisionism leading to intense hostility. They do not use the word ?heresy? but the sentiment is hardly different.

Veneration of Saint?s tombs and offering floral tributes are common in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, and Islam. Modern technology has made the tomb transparent and the body preserved. So we had the spectacle of the holy tombs of Communist leaders - first Lenin and then Stalin and later Mao Zedong. The last still endures and attracts flower-offering pilgrims. Another holy tomb is likely to be added in near future, that of Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba.

Abrahamic religions, whenever they conquer a territory, convert the inhabitants and try to suppress their ancestral culture. Ancestral history becomes a prohibited subject. In Afghanistan and Pakistan pre-Islamic Hindu-Buddhist history is not permitted in schools. China is doing the same in Tibet and I have already quoted Samdhang Rinpoche on this.

Abrahamic faiths tell that history ends in an apocalyptic Doom?s day or the Day of Judgement or Kayamat. Communism talks of a definite and purposive direction in history which fulfils itself in a Utopia signaling the end of history. In contrast, the eastern religions have a cyclical view of history in which patterns of social organisation and governance repeat in a sequence, and history never ends.

Like western Christianity (Catholic and Protestant), Marx built into his ideas a proselytizing missionary zeal. Lenin and Mao carried it forward. Communists of the Second World War generation fervently believed that salvation of the world lay in Communism. They sent literature, preachers and professional revolutionaries abroad. The unjust order of West European imperialism offered a favourable climate. China led by ?the great helmsman? Mao Zedong was in a fervent proselytizing mood in the 1950s. In this phase she invaded Tibet and wished to convert the suzerainty under the Manchu dynasty into sovereignty under Communist rule. The People?s Liberation Army (PLA) of China captured Tibet and imposed a command economy. Soon there was a border conflict with India in 1962. India had made her share of border provocations under the leadership of an unwise Nehru. Mao wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the Communist system over the ?bourgeois? system of India and there was a short military conflict. A completely unprepared India (it is said that the Indian soldiers fighting at an altitude above 16000 feet did not have snow boots) lost heavily. The Chinese declared ceasefire and withdrew to their original position, which was more or less along the Mcmahon line in the east. In the next four years they offered to settle for the Mcmahon line in the east provided India accepted their position in the west bordering Ladakh. It should be recalled that border in the Ladakh region had never been demarcated and different 19th century maps of British India showed different imaginary borders which included varying chunks of territory on the other side of the Himalayan ridge line. The land under question is difficult to access from India. However, in her belligerent mood India did not accommodate the Chinese view.

The late 1950s witnessed a division in Communism and emergence of sects, Krush-chevism and Maoism. The two sects fought each other almost as much as they battled against their common enemy, world capitalism. This sectarian conflict infected Indian Communists too In the early 1960s the Indian Communists split into two, CPI and CPI(M). In the late 1960s the latter split again giving birth to CPI(ML). There was a tri-partite bloody conflict in West Bengal, with the Congress siding with the CPI. It is to be noted that warring sects are a common occurrence in Abrahamic faiths, vide three hundred years of extremely bloody Protestant-Catholic conflict in Europe and still continuing Catholic-Orthodox-Muslim tripartite strife in Eastern Europe that broke up Yugoslavia and is now breaking up Serbia to create a new country called Kosovo. Mao Zedong divided the world in three?the 1st and 2nd world consisted of Capitalist countries and Revisionist ?developed? countries of Eastern Europe under Russian patronage; the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America formed the 3rd world waiting to receive the gospel of Mao. From the triumph of the revolution in 1948 till 1966 Chinese Communism was in an intense proselytizing missionary phase.

(To be continued)

(The writer is Professor in Aerospace Engineering Department, I.I.T. Kanpur)

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