Tibet Archaeology

and all things Tibetan

Flight of the Khyung

July 2007

John Vincent Bellezza

Bon Reunion
Lopon Tenzin Namdak, the foremost Bon scholar was in Tibet for most of June. This, as might be expected, created quite a fanfare in the Bon community. The Lopon was able to make a pilgrimage to gNam-mtsho, but was prevented from visiting sTeng-chen, the place of his birth. The Lopon has not seen his homeland since the 1950s and may never have another chance, thanks to the unfortunate and unnecessary restrictions imposed upon his movements. Thankfully, the rest of his visit went splendidly. The Tibetans, being as resourceful as they are, came down in force to Lhasa, converging on the hotel where the Lopon was staying. He had a constant stream of guests and people kept vigil, waiting for him when he was out and about.

Many interesting Bon lamas and sngags-pa came to Lhasa to see the Lopon. I was able to meet an impressive array of scholars and practitioners, enriching my own understanding of their fascinating religion. The most interesting aspect of the gathering, however, was the social dynamic. To see Lopon meet old friends, give intimate instructions to young lamas and counsel pilgrims was a moving experience.

I was curious to meet Chinese Han disciples of Bon who came to pay their respects to the Lopon. As with Buddhism, Bon is attracting an ever wider circle of mainland Chinese followers. These are mostly educated and affluent individuals, searching for a more profound dimension in their lives. As we all know in the West, money and social prestige alone are not enough to insure personal well-being and happiness. Human beings crave more than just physical wealth and social approbation, as collective experience has shown again and again (witness the rise of cults, religions and new movements of all persuasions throughout history).

Trends in the psychosocial development of China
I expect that one of the most momentous changes in Chinese society will occur in the next 10 to 20 years, spurred on by growing affluence. Once something like 60% to 80% of the Chinese population is lifted out of poverty (60% are presently living below the poverty line), there will be a huge psychosocial groundswell. While increased prosperity will certainly lead to greater happiness in many respects, it will also pose the same types of moral challenges facing the West. Ennui, dissatisfaction, alienation, and bewilderment are all potent psychosocial problems in the West. In my opinion, China will not be immune to them. The handwriting is already on the wall as the latest social trends indicate. That is to say, China will have to cope with the same moral issues now affecting the developed world. While China’s cultural makeup is very different from the West, the negative human impacts of urbanization, industrialization and modernization will not be unlike those suffered by other countries.

The big question is how will China deal with its affluent society, affording it manifold opportunities while maintaining stability and cohesion? I would argue that encouraging increased plurality is the best strategy the PRC government can pursue. This is not to intimate that the China should adopt a Western style pluralistic democracy per se but that more intensive citizen participation in the affairs of state is the only viable way forward. As a result, human rights and personal liberties cannot but be enhanced. A lot can happen in the international arena in the next 10 to 20 years, but given a fairly smooth trajectory, China will politically look more like the West, as it economically looks more like it. Any attempt to stem the tide of economic, political and social liberalization is likely to have unintended negative consequences.

I am afraid that we are all in this globalization enterprise together, like it or not. The question is how do we make the most of it, guaranteeing basic economic opportunities to all the world’s citizens, while protecting the planet’s environment and cultural heritage? This is surely not a matter for China to ponder alone but for all nations to look at with added vigor. Clearly, the 21st century has the potential to be a golden age for humanity. But are we up to the task? Please pause and think about it, everyone should, if we are to realize the dream of a better future.

International cooperation in the 21st century, the American experience
We have entered the 21st century with a bang and a whimper. The millennial event marked some seven years ago passed off without anything too terribly momentous happening, despite the dire predictions of some fundamentalist cults. But there is also a lot of thunder rumbling out there and, as the dust settles, the new global trends of the century are beginning to take shape.

The so-called 9/11 crisis in the United States led to major shifts in her foreign policy, the long term geopolitical implications of which are still not clear. The use of American economic and military might to set the Middle East on a bright, new course has by most reckonings been a dismal failure. The professed objective of bringing democracy to this part of the world was naively conceived to say the least. To lead nations on the road to democracy when most were still grappling with modernity was a terribly tenuous ideal on which to base a foreign policy. It has not worked and the prospects of it working soon are not good. Yet, observers can be forgiven for questioning the real intent of American foreign policy in the Middle East. The fact is that most of the regimes propped up by America in the region are authoritarian and loathe to ushering in democratic reforms. To make matters worse, popular political movements are being suppressed by a number of Middle Eastern states, apparently with the tacit support of America. The region is in turmoil and the situation has the potential to deteriorate further. Arguably, America is now even less secure than it was before 9/11. Very unfortunate indeed.

I have briefly delved into the ugly state of affairs in the Middle East to make a point: narrowly viewed self-interest and unilateral approaches to the rest of the world are counterproductive to national security. There is nothing novel about this idea; the United Nations was established on the principle that nations must have a common forum in order to augment their individual and collective well-being. I put forward that this founding principle of the United Nations must be given new relevance in the 21st century. Multilateral channels of all kinds should be strengthened and international institutions enlarged, and to a very significant degree. Yes, I am endorsing internationalism, but not one so much founded on lofty ideals but on common gut level interests. If we are to advance in the 21st century, I simply see no other way forward. The global juggernaut of climate change, environmental degradation, economic globalization, cyber network disruption, nuclear proliferation, population rise, poverty, and disease, all require international cooperation and resources, and on a scale never seen before. This necessitates the development of new transnational frameworks, be they legal, economic, political, cultural, or religious in character.

The aim is quite simple: to start talking and working with one another like never before. By forging new partnerships and enterprises, building upon the United Nations but extending well beyond its auspices, we have the best chance of tackling the epic challenges facing humanity. I know this kind of ‘radical’ internationalism is an anathema to those in the United States who think they can go at it alone, riding roughshod over any international convention that does not suit their immediate interests. An unsettling number of Americans support foreign policy directives that are ultimately detrimental to their own good. This does them no credit at home or in the theatre of international relations. For the sake of brevity, I shall provide just one example: by not signing up to the Kyoto protocol, the US government caused a tremendous public relations blunder. The Americans, the creators of mass advertising and Hollywood, should know better than anyone else how important image is, especially in this age of instant communications. Signing up to the Kyoto Protocol would have stimulated the development of high tech industries vital to American technological preeminence, not to mention having a positive impact on carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Although international efforts to control greenhouse gases have moved on from this point, lasting damage has been done to America’s standing in the world.

New thinking is desperately needed in Washington, and in London, Beijing and Moscow, all over the globe for that matter. We must carefully reconsider what is really in our national interests, and how this is affected by the new global realities. My basic premise is that current models for determining what is beneficial for an individual nation woefully underestimate international processes in the equation. And in the 21st century, globalized processes will increasingly shape the fate of nation states. Does this spell the end of the modern nation state? I think not anytime soon, but the nation state must evolve if it is to thrive. This involves its entering into ever more intensive transnational arrangements, leading to a reordering of the traditional organs of political control. Domestically ordained decision-making capabilities should gradually give way to internationally ramified bodies of governance, wherever the collective good demands it. Philosophical breakthroughs in what constitutes national sovereignty must occur first. Self-interest may well dictate changes along these lines. As the 21st century unfolds, we shall see.

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