Will the Dalai Lama return to Tibet?

Meindert Gorter gives his views on religious freedom in China today and the prospects of the Dalai L

The Dorje Shugden Society is trying to put a stop to the ban on the worship of Dorje Shugden on the basis of India’s constitution, a country where you are free to worship almost anything. The Indian High Court is due to consider the case in September.

Advanced Buddhist hermeneutics are unnecessary to understand a protector, which is actually simply a powerful thought used for developing wisdom instead of attaining mundane goals. Increasing wisdom is never forbidden and while the Buddhist teacher Tsongkhapa’s middle way philosophy has room for interpretation you have to rely on your own teacher, because he’s your protector. Teacher and protector are indivisible and the so called ‘guru-devotion’ relationship is the heart of this Buddhist practise.

You can, however, criticise your teacher. Buddhism does not mean blind adherence to dogma but rather the opposite: individual analysis. One could say the Dalai Lama found his own truth, so than let him ban the deity, but the guru-disciple relation does not apply here. It’s a decreed dogma, justified by the Dalai’s dreams: he calls upon your faith in him.

This brings back memories of the theocratic Tibet. Alas, factual history has nothing in common with the romantic Shangri-la portrayed by Hollywood, but recalling this gets you branded as anti-Dalai Lama by most who are said to be pro-Tibet. But should not pro-Tibet campaigners be working on constructive dialogue, instead of repeating the same litany over and over, creating an atmosphere of mistrust? If any constructive dialogue with the Chinese is going on, it's taking place behind the scenes and without the Dalai Lama, thanks to his policy-making friends in the West. Maybe he could fire some compassionate arrows towards Beijing.

Criticising the Dalai Lama is as taboo as Dorje Shugden is and would instantly get you branded as pro-Chinese by the majority of Tibetans. As an outcast from society, even guesthouses don’t allow you in. The Dalai Lama is encouraging this as is widely documented. His portrait next to Mahatma Gandhi’s on the Dharamsala walls shows his appreciation for Gandhi’s style of peaceful revolution, but while Gandhi's achievements were transparent and relevant, the Dalai Lama’s ways are inscrutable. When the Dalai Lama accuses China of ‘cultural genocide’, he seems to forget times have changed. The cultural revolution has ended and Buddhism is practised by millions all over China and Tibet, with the government funding the restoration of the Tibetan monasteries that the Red Guards destroyed. Its clear that China is absolutely not democratic, but as long as Tibetans don’t mix religition with politics, they are free to practise. The Dalai Lama is welcome back as long as he’s not politically involved. And, as you can read on his website: “his commitment to the Tibetan issue will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached”.

So, back in Tibet, the only role left for him would be a religious one. He could be the humble monk he has always claimed to be, but does he really have it in him? Or is he harbouring ambitions to become the religious leader he never was, in spite of all the naive parroting of him being a ‘temporal and spiritual leader’? Why else can he be so zealously devoted to uniting the lineages? I can’t think of another reason why he’s profiling himself as a religious chief than to create the possibility of his return to Tibet as Dalai Lama.

His dual role allows him to stop being a politician and the suffering of the Tibetans in exile ends' but the Dalai Lama seems set on leading them back as the dogmatic Buddhist pope that he never was.

Meindert Gorter is a student of Kundeling Rimpoche, a major critic of the Dalai Lama’s ban on the deity Dorje Shugden. He lives in the Netherlands with his wife and two children.
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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era