June 19, 2010

Dalai Lama criticizes anti-whaling protesters

UPDATE: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society acknowledges the guidance of HH the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, who is visiting Japan, criticized anti-whaling protesters, saying that while he sympathized with their efforts to protect the mammals, protesters' methods should be nonviolent.
dalai lama, anti-whaling, japan, pete bethune
No doubt this was music to the ears of Japan's government. AFP reports that "Japanese prosecutors have demanded two years in prison for a New Zealand anti-whaling activist on trial for assault and charges relating to his boarding of a harpoon ship in Antarctic waters."

According to an April BBC report, Pete Bethune (pictured here), of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, boarded the Japanese harpoon ship Shonan Maru in February to make a citizen's arrest of the captain. In January, Bethune's boat, carrying anti-whaling activists, had been sliced in two in a collision with the ship.

Bethune denies Japanese claims that he injured a Japanese sailor. He and his crew say charges that they threw butyric acid at the ship causing one sailor a chemical burn are bogus, countering that "the substance thrown was harmless, if unpleasant, rancid butter," according to the BBC.

Photo: AFP © 2010

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James Shaheen's picture

@ Seana - I believe implied in the Dalai Lama's statement was that the Sea Shepherds had been violent, which is why their president, Captain Paul Watson, acknowledged that his organization had been "rebuked." Watson added that he felt the Dalai Lama had been misinformed by the Japanese. In the same statement he also acknowledged the value of the support and guidance his group has received from the Dalai Lama.

Palyx's picture

DL does not care for the victims of the Aum-Sect, he considers the leader as a good friend-why? He got a nice sum from him.

Palyx's picture

DL does not care for the victims of the Aum-Sect, too. Western people in their naivity also are not interested in those victims caused by tibetan feudalism and their clergy, oppressing the Tibetans.

Seana's picture

CJ is correct.....non-violence has become the topic of this discussion.We should all agree that that is our goal, right? Non- violence leads to less suffering! Lot's of you seem heated here.....perhaps because this is a serious matter.Undertsood.However, because HHDL reiterates the concept of non-violence surely does not sound like a "critisism" to me. It sounds like reality (?). Maybe because the title of this article sounds so negative, some people have tapped into that energy. Right speech on the part of the article writer may have given off a different response.
No whaling=No suffering. HHDL supports, just NOT violently. Being violent towards anyone or anything will only create suffering for all directly and indirectly involved....

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Maril's picture

Re: Comment #7:

I think it's important to clarify that this is not a direct quote from HHDL, but the words of the journalist from The Seattle Times who covered his talk to 7,600 high school students in Portland, Oregon in May 2001. Here is part of what the journalist wrote, which sounds quite different in context:

"Students, in a question-and-answer period, asked some hard questions. One girl wanted to know how to react to a shooter who takes aim at a classmate. The Dalai Lama said acts of violence should be remembered, and then forgiveness should be extended to the perpetrators. But if someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, he said, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg." [http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20010515&slug=dalai15m0]

Unfortunately, this "quote" has been seized upon by the pro-gun crowd as evidence that even HHDL would justify arming the citizenry around the world.

Claudia St. Peter's picture

If the Dalai Lama was asked about the anti-whaling protesters how else was he supposed to respond? He supports their principles but does not support violent means. Sounds fair to me.

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E Koby's picture

While this conversation languishes in perseverance about whether the HHDL, the Japanese, or the crew of the Sea Shepherd are right or wrong, the fact is that the most profound of sentient beings among us are murdered. Anyone with a brain that can comprehend the science establishing the intelligence of these creatures would leave this debate in disgust and humbly reach out to understand these creatures and learn from them. We all behave so smug in our own self-absorbed worlds while these creatures remain the consummate examples of nonviolence and are exterminated.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up to what these creatures, Cetaceans, represent as a lesson to all who would be so arrogant and self-centered to what is right before us as a better way.

Imagine if these creatures came to us from another world, which ironically they do, and exhibited the similar gesture of a peaceful relationship. Would we be as quick to exploit their innate unconditional acceptance for the fine oil from their blubber, meat, and ingredients for perfume that is the simplistic view of their real value?

We are the barbaric ones, aren't we? Yes, some of us even resort to violence against those who exhibit the insanity of closed-minded annihilation of creatures who are defenseless, otherwise. The actions against these murderers of these creatures has not even begun to approach the level of justifiable physical intervention on their behalf. Would anyone witness to an attempted murder not intervene to the point of death to the perpetrators? Even Tibetan Buddhist teachings of the HHDL suggest this as right action.

CJ's picture


" The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society respects the Dalai Lama and his guidance is of great value to the Society."

DT's picture

I have lost a lot of respect for him because of this. Sea Sheppard used no violence and never has. This just sounds like he is just sucking up to Japan. He was speaking from a position of ignorance and should know better than to even speak on matters in which he doesn't know the facts. This is ultimately about the Whales and I think the dalai lama has forgotten that.

Why isn't Tricycle writing their own view on this versus using a AFP press release?

Leland Jory's picture

I reiterate, there is nothing inherently violent about the Sea Shepherds' methods. They use non-toxic chemicals to deter whalers from working. The Japanese, however, use LRAD devices against helicopter pilots (risking the pilot making a critical and fatal error) and ram small boats. They also have been known to throw nuts, bolts, and other metal objects at people in small boats (risking physical injury to the sailors and possible sinking of the inflatable boats).

If *anyone* in this conflict is using violent means, it is the whalers.

Also, to those that suggest the whales "have it coming" because of their karma, then maybe no one should help people starving and/or being exploited/tortured/killed in 3rd world countries (since they are also just reaping their karmic debt). That is ludicrous, and is exactly the reason I don't believe in karma in that sense (i.e. trans-incarnation). At the end of the day, the whales are being hunted for simply being whales, and they cannot defend themselves. Therefore, we defend them.

It seems like the compassionate thing to do, don't you think?

CJ's picture

The Dalai Lama has been a long supporter of Sea Shepherd, see link below. He does not support violent methods, that is all.


Bill's picture

The Dalai Lama shouldn't involve himself in these things. It's creating more problems for everyone.


CJ's picture

The Dalai Lama said that while he sympathized with their efforts to protect the mammals, protesters’ methods should be nonviolent. - That is the main trust of the message. It is always the main point of messages from the Dalai Lama because he lives and breathes the Buddha's view that violence can only breed more violence and suffering, that all of our our struggles must remain non-violent and free of hatred. Why? because he says we are trying to end the suffering , not to inflict suffering. This understanding is crucial if we are to take positive and decisive action.

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Mary's picture

How many Buddhists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
The lightbulb must change from within.
(See how far that theory gets ya'll Buddhists in Kali yuga - "dark times"...wake up!)

jack's picture


I think this is a valid generalisation, although there will certainly be exceptions. We are talking here about the Dalai Lama and I was referring primarily to Tibetan Buddhism and its traditions and history. From all the accounts I have read, Tibet was notable more for its social inequalities (which were severe) than any kind of social activism. Even the Dalai Lama has commented that Buddhism has a great deal to learn from Christianity when it comes to practical social action.

I am aware that some western Buddhists, disenchanted with the culture of their mother country, have a tendency to view their new-found faith with rose-tinted spectacles while heaping scorn on their 'white, Christian, neo-colonialist' heritage. No doubt it was ever thus.

Mumon's picture


Correct. Those who say that aren't familiar with Ashoka (good), or Sri Lanka (bad) or Japan (bad...and good).

Or freakin' Vietnam!

Mumon's picture

Grover, drosera:

Here here. I agree.

I mean, do I really care about whether he favors the iPhone or the Android models? Coke or Pepsi?

And I know it's part and parcel of a Tibetan Buddhist thing, and this is a wee bit of a tangent (except the DL does it all the time) but can there please be a moratorium on "chicken soup for the soul" flavored aphorims on Twitter?

nathan's picture

"When traditional Buddhists reflect on such horrors as whaling and the forceful actions of those who try to stop it, they see the pervasiveness of dukkha and they respond by going back to their cushions, because only by purifying their own minds is there any hope of release. This is why there is little or no tradition in Buddhism of direct social and environmental engagement with the world. That is a largely Christian legacy and one which most western Buddhists have absorbed from the womb without recognising it."

This is a classic reductionist position that lumps all traditional (read:Asian) Buddhists into one category. Do you really think that it's only been mostly white, Christian types that "introduced" social action into Buddhist life? Really? Have you never dug into the history of politics in nations like Japan?

I think we "western" Buddhists need to look into the ways we project a neo-colonialist lens on our practice.

Willemien de Villiers's picture

I respectfully disagree with HHDL's opinion on this matter. I believe the protesters' intentions are to do no harm, and to do everything they can to sway Japanese sentiment towards respecting all live, including those of whales. The continued and senseless killing of these majestinc animals – any sentient being, really – cannot be justified under any circumstances: the vast majority of human beings on this planet need not consume animals to survive.

jack's picture

I think we need to understand where the Dalai Lama is coming from when he makes statements like this. To the environmentally-engaged western mind his position can sound misguided, but from his religious standpoint it makes sense. In his tradition, the world is a place of delusion and suffering. The suffering of the whales is just one instance of a world which is entirely the product of ‘contaminated’ actions and the source of further contaminated actions. It is a sorry-go-round from which there is but one exit, full enlightenment, in which the mind is purified of every last trace of delusion. The actions of the anti-whaling activists, while possibly well-intentioned, are actually deluded. Their minds are disturbed by anger and frustration, which readily lead to acts of violence. Even if they have some limited success in hampering the efforts of the whalers, the most significant factor is that they are laying down the causes for future suffering and unfortunate rebirths in which they will be unable to practice Dharma and thus escape the nightmare of samsara. When traditional Buddhists reflect on such horrors as whaling and the forceful actions of those who try to stop it, they see the pervasiveness of dukkha and they respond by going back to their cushions, because only by purifying their own minds is there any hope of release. This is why there is little or no tradition in Buddhism of direct social and environmental engagement with the world. That is a largely Christian legacy and one which most western Buddhists have absorbed from the womb without recognising it.
Behind the Buddhist logic is the belief in karma and rebirth. The whales and whalers alike are our own dear mothers from past lives and it is right that we should feel compassion for them, but we can only truly help them by leading them out of samsara and to do that we must first become enlightened ourselves. The whales’ suffering is the result of their own karma from past lives, causing them to have been born in a ‘lower’ realm. As whales they cannot practice Dharma and the most we can hope for them is that they will be reborn as humans. As for the whalers, they are also acting out their own unfortunate karma. As regrettable as this is, confronting them will only inflame passions and generate more bad karma. Perhaps they will in turn be reborn as whales and suffer the very fate they now mete out to the animals. Such is cyclic existence. What can we do? Get back to our cushions.
The belief in karma and rebirth can lead to many strange and unfortunate actions. In Tibet the Buddhists were more than happy to eat meat as long as someone else reaped the karmic consequences of killing it. Slaughter was carried out largely by Moslems. The hypocrisy and moral cowardice underlying this position can seem shocking to a westerner but it presumably makes perfect sense to Buddhists. The same beliefs no doubt underlie the Dalai Lama’s reluctance to sanction direct action against the whalers. Such a position easily leads to tolerance and even appeasement of abuses like whaling, because always the solution is seeking our own enlightenment. There is no place in traditional Buddhism for the ‘righteous anger’ that motivates western activism.
Personally, I think the Dalai Lama is wrong, but that is because I do not share many of his underlying beliefs. Given his assumptions his position is rational, but given mine it is misguided. We are both the products of our own very different cultures.

Nate DeMontigny's picture

I cringe to say this... but I disagree with HHDL here. The Japanese (illegal) whalers are the one's using violence against the Sea Shephards.

I'm not sure how credible this quote is, but it is attributed to HHDL, "If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun."

The Japanese use of the LRAD, especially directed toward the pilot of the helicopter, was life threatening. So the use of Butyric Acid, which is similar to rancid butter, is minimal compared to the near death exposure to the LRAD. And the ramming of the Ady Gil, which was another life threatening incident, was beyond the pale. They could have killed all those on board.

I appreciate the audacity the Sea Shephards have in fighting for the defenseless whales of the sea.

drosera's picture

The Dalai Lama has no special insight or knowledge into this issue [whaling]. His reaction should be taken in the same way as anyone else's. Those of you who insist that he speaks from a position of profound religious understanding and that his views should be granted special attention and respect are mistaken. One should pay attention to his views on Tibetan Buddhism, but not to his thoughts about political, environmental, or social questions.

Todd's picture

HHDL is not trying to say that the attack is justified or unjust, but that no methods should be used if they are violent.

Leland Jory's picture

While I have the utmost respect for HHDL, I have to say I feel he is mistaken in this case.

I have been following the activities of the Japanese Whaling fleet and the Sea Shepherds for some time now, and from what I can tell, the Sea Shepherds have done nothing overtly violent in their protection of marine mammals.

However, the Japanese whalers have: thrown metal objects at protestors in small boats; used a LRAD device against the protestors' helicopter pilot; and (allegedly) rammed and destroyed the protestor's specialized boat (and I've seen the footage, it was deliberate AFAICT). This was all done in the name of exploiting a loophole in the International ban on whaling.

The Sea Shepherds have only: thrown (essentially) stink bombs onto the whalers' ships to try to slow down/stop their work; and attempted to disable the whalers' ships by fouling their propellors. Neither of these actions could be considered violent (or life-threatening, unlike the LRAD and boat-ramming scenarios).

I feel HHDL must have based his comment on Japanese propaganda. It is sad that he would make such a public statement without getting both sides of the story.