Have you ever seen the film Seven Years in Tibet?
Well, you should.
The first time I watched it, I took away from it many things, but the one line from it that kept my feelings collected was spoken by Kundun, the Dalai Lama (ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ་), as a fourteen-year-old. He was watching a Newsreel to learn about the world, already aware that the Chinese military had breached Tibetan soil:
Do you think one day people will see Tibet on the movie screen and wonder what happened to us?
Sad and powerful, and tragic given the global ennui towards the Tibetan occupation, but perhaps that’s a subject for another day. I watched the movie again last night and the line that stood out for me this time around comes from one of the Chinese generals who had just ruined a mandala that was being prepared especially to welcome them, who ignored and overrode every cultural imperative of Tibetan culture and religion. As he walked out of the room where he’d just insulted every level of Tibetan life he muttered, “Religion is poison.” He said this to a Tibetan governor without missing a step.
Personally, I find most world religions contemptible human institutions. Put a bureaucracy around and behind an axiom/dogma and you always end up with a weapon. Always. But Buddhism seems impervious to weaponization and I found myself finding the Communist General contemptible. To disrespect others without provocation, to insult a heritage, to remove the right of individuals to practice their own religions (and that includes, especially, religions which seek to override and insult and disrespect other religions) is the true poison here. I’d call it irony that a true-believer Communist would look down upon the entire notion of religion, but that pattern is repeated so often that the intellectual aspect of it is gone and all we’re left with is disdain, sorrow, tragedy.
I know very little about Tibet. In fact, the first things to pop into my head when I hear or see the word “Tibet” include Richard Gere and those seemingly ubiquitous “FREE TIBET” bumper stickers. Yeah, I guess I’ve been part of the “we” in “ennui”, I have to admit.
But some of the tutorials and samples of the professional photography application Aperture include Tibetan landscapes. The film shows the peaceful and vibrant Lhasa and the lands of Tibet, the Himalayan landscape, a people who respect life and the earth. A people ruled by the human vessel of the reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara not with hand or fist or weapon, but by the choice of autonomous individuals whose mainstay is that of respect, happiness and wisdom.
Of course Tibet is not the sole province of these qualities, but it does provide the stark contrast between a religion that reinforces itself from within and a religion which weaponizes itself: two different means of self-preservation; two very different outcomes.
I have of late been interested in typography, searching for fonts that might suit a redesign of these pages. Historical fonts speak as expected, modern ones hold the zeitgeist of their own eras, novelty fonts know their place is a spare one.
Mac OS X 10.5, also known as Leopard, has increased its one-world-ness to include two Tibetan fonts. And as fonts are speaking to me lately, so speaks the Tibetan font, brazen and pliant. A sample:
If you are on a Leopard machine and want to see more of the glyphs from these fonts (the one above is called “Kailasa”, click here. The Font Book application will launch and you’ll see the font sample. Hit ⌘2 and you’ll be able to see all the glyphs from the font. Most are simply beautiful and taken as an alphabet they speak a certain something about those who employ them. As would be any alphabet, I suppose.
If you want to learn more about the Dalai Lama, click here. (Again, if you’re using Leopard, it will open the Dictionary.app and display information from many sources all at once).
There is nothing worse than Empire: countless persons, customs, cultures, wisdoms lost forever, paved over by a uniformity that breeds nothing but contempt, creates nothing at all and holds little of value.
Will we ever mature past Empire? I like to think that the Dalai Lama, even after all that loss, still hopes or even expects so.