Comment on Shadow of the Dalai Lama
Comment on Shadow of the DL vs 19th c. occult fascism
06.12.09 at 2:10 pm ·
I think it is important to burst the bubbles of naive New Agers, but I think this account is a bit too simplistic even though it probably has some important information scattered in it. One of the dangers here is essentialist thinking in relation to an amorphous and highly variegated tradition that we refer to as “Tibetan Buddhism.” The history of this “tradition” (I put this in quotation marks because it not clear how unified it is) is extremely difficult to unravel. The attempts to unify very different “religions” in the Tibetan cultural sphere are mostly due to the modern struggle to ward off the Chinese threat. Most people probably don’t realize that the DL isn’t even the head of the Vajrayana (he only leads 1 of the 4 main groups).
Elst on the Trimondis:
“The Trimondis’ crowning piece of evidence for Buddhism’s not-so-benevolent and Nazi-attracting nature, is the element of violence and conquest in the text of the Kalachakra Tantra, a 10th-century text used in an initiation rite regularly conducted by the ever-smiling Dalai Lama. This seems to be the central revelation of the Trimondis: the Kalachakra preaches a war of conquest against the demons until everyone will accept the truth of Buddhism. When I first heard of this, I thought it would be some metaphor for the fight against the demonic tendencies in ourselves, famously depicted as demons in Tibetan paintings. But it seems that the Kalachakra text is too explicit for such an innocuous interpretation.
It may be helpful first of all to explain the term. Chakra means “wheel”; Kâla means “time”, “moment in time”, and sometimes specifically “hour of death”. It is in the latter sense that it is personified as a female deity, Kâlî (with long vowels; unrelated to Kali, “quarrel”, with two short vowels, as in Kali Yuga, the last and lowest of the four world ages), the goddess of destruction. So, Kâlachakra is “the Wheel of Time” or, if you prefer to give it a sinister twist, “the Wheel of Destruction”. To Buddhists, the two terms are ultimately equivalent, for the passing of time brings a continuous disintegration of composite entities.
What is the terrible secret of the Kalachakra that the Trimondis claim to have revealed? It announces an apocalyptic struggle and enlists the initiand as a “Shambhala warrior”. It also specifies who the enemy is, by listing his prophets in chronological order: Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mani (the prophet of Manicheism, a Christian-Zoroastrian hybrid religion), Mohammed and the Mahdi, i.e. the expected one of the Shiites. The Trimondis claim that these represent “the three monotheistic or Semitic religions”, and that the Kalachakra is consequently anti-Semitic, or at least open to anti-Semitic usage. This is highly unlikely. The Tibetans had never confronted the Jews and their encounters with Nestorian Christians are not known to have been hostile. Those two religions, at any rate, do not recognize all the prophets enumerated. Islam, by contrast, recognizes the Biblical religious figures of the Jews and Christians as its own. So the list simply describes the “pantheon” of Islam. The designated enemy is not “the Semitic religions” (an appallingly wrong term, given the non-monotheistic allegiance of most Semitic-speaking people before the imposition of Christianity and Islam), but Islam.
That the medieval Tibetan Buddhists considered Islam as their enemy is not due to some evil little idea of the Kalachakra author, but of Islam’s own treatment of the Buddhists. As is well-known, the Buddhists monasteries and universities in the Gangetic plain had been utterly destroyed by the Muslim invaders in the late 12th century, putting the surviving monks and novices to flight, mostly to Tibet. The same scenario had already played itself out in the 10th century in Afghanistan, and that is when and why the Kalachakra Tantra was composed, complete with its tirade against Islam. The wholesale destruction of their presence in an entire country had perplexed the Buddhists, they had never experienced such an outburst of fanaticism and seem to have thought that this was the end of the world or something similar. This explains the apocalyptic tone of the Kalachakra Tantra sufficiently.
The text seems to have come about as a reaction to this trauma. In any case, calls for holy war are highly untypical of Buddhism. If an exception can be found here, that is a pity and a reminder that nothing human is alien to the Buddhists, but not an indictment against Buddhism itself. The Trimondis concede such corrective points here and there, but the overall thrust of their book is nonetheless to foster deep suspicions (some might call it “hate”) against Hinduism and Buddhism. This is also how most reviewers have understood it, or how they have lapped it up, as will be clear from the review excerpts on the Trimondi website.
The Trimondis themselves probably don’t understand many crucial terms, and they fail to clear up the misunderstandings about terminology that are likely to exist among lay readers. I wouldn’t say that they deliberately mislead the reader, but the outcome will amount to the same. Thus, the Trimondis have Nazis and neo-Nazis praise Hitler as a Chakravartin, a universal ruler. The message conveyed to the non-specialist reader is that Buddhism contains a doctrine of rulership fit to underlie a Nazi-like regime (just as the Buddhist term Arya, “noble” as in “the four noble truths”, is left giving the incorrect impression of being the Nazi racial term “Aryan”, as indeed some Nazis misconstrued it). In reality, anyone describing Hitler as a Chakravartin simply shows he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.
In Hindu scriptures, the Chakravartin is described as a suzerain who receives tribute from subject rulers, but who respects the autonomy (swarajya) and local customs (swadharma) of his subject nations. Is that what Hitler did? The Buddhist ideal of the Chakravartin was emperor Ashoka, who had his regrets about his initial military conquest (needed to round off his predecessors’ conquests upto India’s natural borders, easy to defend) chiselled in stone pillars. He explicitly dropped the ambition of further military conquest and opted for “religious conquest” (Dharma-Vijaya) instead. And lest anyone start misquoting this, the meaning of “religious conquest” is not something like Jihad, Islamic war against the Infidels, but simply promoting morality and sending out Buddhist missionaries. Far from illustrating that Buddhism had its imperialists too, as the Trimondis present it, the story of Ashoka is one of pacifism.
So, like most Oriental religious doctrines, the notion of Chakravartin was seriously misunderstood by those in Nazi circles who extolled it. But even if Ashoka had been appropriate as a militaristic model for Hitler to emulate, it would still not follow that Hitler did what he did because he took inspiration from Ashoka. It is one thing to point out a few German scholars who knew about Ashoka and talked about him to their Nazi sponsors, but quite another to prove that these talks “led to” the atrocities for which the Nazi regime became notorious.
The most frequently repeated flaw in the Trimondi couple’s thesis, then, is the fallacy of “cum hoc ergo propter hoc”. Yes, there were some enthusiasts of certain half-understood Hindu or Buddhist doctrines, just as there were amateurs of many other things, but there is no proof that they had any measurable influence on Nazi policies. And the same criticism applies to Karla Poewe’s thesis: she may have proven that a few people in the Nazi orbit felt drawn to Heretic and Pagan forms of spirituality, but not that this belief somehow had a causal relation with the crimes of the Nazi regime.”