Skeptics and naysayers had a field day when French Vogue announced that the Dalai Lama would be the guest editor of the Christmas issue. But the magazine, which has just hit the stands stateside (complete with an insert of His Holiness' words in English) has quieted any misgivings. Sixty-eight sumptuous full-color pages were guided by the hand of the esteemed guest editor. Tibetan Buddhism and culture are beautifully unveiled through stupendous color photographs (featuring a traditional "show-off dance," a thangka being unrolled, and prayer stones) and thoughtful text which consists primarily of His Holiness' answers to questions about the nature of hatred, the ego, and enemies. In addition to the teachings, there are articles about Tibetan medicine, reincarnation, and the art of debate. The lengthy main section is complemented by twenty-one pages of miscellany on things Tibetan, from travel and Buddhist reference books to restaurants. Here follow some excerpts:
H. H. the Dalai Lama on the nature of enemies:
Myself. My ignorance, my attachment, my negative desires, my hatred, these are the real enemies! The other enemy is not really the Chinese: you know, an enemy today may become a good friend tomorrow, so why remain enemies? We must develop our own attitude.
He adds, after further reflection:
Yes, there are cockroaches which are really intolerable! Cockroaches and mosquitoes! The mosquito is a real enemy.
When asked about contraception and abortion His Holiness responds:
From a Buddhist point of view, life is very precious. Each individual human life is considered very precious, therefore the interruption of a new life is considered negative. The world situation has changed, however. . . . Resources are limited and the world has to face problems of famine and hunger. Abortion is something violent. It is wise to put some birth control system in place so that there is no need for abortion. This is what I call the nonviolent method for birth control.
Asked which quality he reveres most, he answers:
A good heart. Believer or nonbeliever, educated or uneducated, without distinction of any kind, the most important thing is a warm heart. . . If a warm heart is there, that person is a happier being. The less quality of heart there is, the less happiness.
FACT AND FICTION
In 1933 James Hilton's Lost Horizon introduced generations of readers to Tibet. The wheel now appears to have turned once again, and in recent months at least four novels have been published that deal—at least in part—with Tibetan Buddhism.
Of the four, only one, Mark Frutkin's Invading Tibet (Soho Press), explores the dharma directly and extensively. In his meditative novel, Frutkin, a former student of the late Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa, uses a young man's research into the real-life 1904 British expedition to Lhasa as a metaphor for spiritual quest. Jeff Long's novel, The Ascent (William Morrow), a muscular thriller about a climb up the north face of Mount Everest, takes a more political approach, as a Tibetan monk who seeks refuge with the climbing party catalyzes the party's understanding of the genocidal destruction of Tibetan culture by Tibet's Chinese oppressors.
Meanwhile, Junius Podrug's occult adventure novel Frost of Heaven (Dark Harvest) treats Tibetan Buddhism in almost comic-book style, reviving the romantic allure of Tibet as a land of mystery and magic. Finally, there's Elizabeth Scarborough's futuristic fantasy Last Refuge (Bantam), a sequel to her 1991 novel Nothing Sacred (Doubleday). Like Frost of Heaven, both of Scarborough's novels trade on Tibet's Shangri-La reputation, depicting it in the years 2069-2089 C.E. as a Buddhist-run paradise, the last refuge of a world devastated by nuclear war.
Novels are not traditional vehicles for the dissemination of Buddhist ideas, but these are bringing the religious and political plight of the Tibetan people to the attention of a great many readers.
WHO'S WHAT? WHERE?
In a recent "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine, William Safire attempted to define the current usage of "evolved." It seems that Safire was criticized for his misinterpretation of Barbra Streisand's much-celebrated description of Andre Agassi. Comparing her friend to a Zen master, Streisand described the tennis star as being "very evolved. . . very in the moment."
When Safire directed a query to Streisand about her meaning of "evolved" she replied: "Thank you for the offer to respond. If you vote for Clinton, I just might."
With no clues from the high priestess, Safire resorts to David Smith, a Harvard graduate student, so we are told, who explains that being in the moment is "similar to experiencing an Eastern state of transcendental immanence."
That's odd. Just when we thought California had the monopoly on transcendence we are left wondering just which Eastern state he is talking about. New York? Or maybe even New Jersey.
DEAD BUDDHISTS SOCIETY
California's latest contribution to the white-light circuit is The Conchus Times, a newsletter "of the Dead Buddhists of America, for those appreciating both Grateful Dead and Buddhist cultures." This slim home-grown newsletter is fun and lively; with its Buddhist focus on Vajrayana, it follows current political events in Tibet and carries news of interest to students of Tibetan teachers.
For further information, write to Box 769, Idyllwild, CA 92549.
Tricycle, May 15, 1992:
The New Yorker, Dec. 28, 1992: