Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rape. Torture. Slaves. All in Shangri-la

Tibetan Buddhism  by mbplee aka elle
 Regeneration of the Buddhist Priesthood in Tibet

I have often wondered about the regeneration of the Tibetan priesthood, because I had always thought that the priests observed celibacy. Buddhist priests I have observed are always single, and the nuns too are always single and I had assumed that they practised celibacy as in the Catholic faith. In Buddhism, in order to achieve Nirvana, one can infer that a celibate lifestyle is critical to leaving behind the world of material or emotional attachment. It is therefore necessary for monks and nuns to renounce certain human desires in their vows of devotion to their beliefs. Celibacy is but one of the two hundred and fifty-three vows undertaken by the novice monks and nuns. But in Tibet, this would eventuate in the di-population of Tibet as there are predominantly more Buddhist monks and nuns than anywhere else in the world.

It is not uncommon when monks spot some young, intelligent, and curious boy from among the peasant families or the serfs, to induce or persuade their parents to allow such boys to be novice priests. Most peasants or serfs would look upon such a vocation as an honour and privilege to the family. Their son would have a good life, provided for and clothed for the rest of his life and highly respected within the community. The family would be proud for such an honour and will also be relieved of having to feed another mouth. Such chosen families would be willing participants for such a future for their sons or daughters. But, their son, once accepted as a novice monk will be bonded for his life to the monastery. Dependant upon the monasteries and the priests involved, most of these boys will have escaped a life of poverty and servitude, but will now lead a life of humility and denial, and also suffer harshness and deprivations of another kind in within the monasteries.

Monastic estates are also constantly on the look out to recruit young persons from among the peasants to serve in their monastery as soldiers, or ritual dance performers, or for their requirements as domestic help. They will entice such recruits by persuading the parents that such children will be well cared for and will be respected members of the monastery, thus persuading them to give up their children willingly. Such recruitment is not so dissimilar to that practised by the Christian churches in medieval times. Outside of the serfs and the peasants, there was a small middle class Tibetan families who were members of the merchant class, or shopkeepers, and small traders. There were also a small number of independent farmers who subsisted on small plots of land as the free peasantry. These farmers were usually poor and struggled in that environment as independents.

Despite the vows of celibacy, there have been reports of rampant sex among abstemious monks practised within the Gelugpa sect. It was also common for some of the senior monks to take advantage of their position and authority to share the privileges of “Wisdom Consorts” by informing the women that by sleeping with the monks, they would gain “the means to enlightenment”. These women could be nuns or lay women of the order. No doubt pregnancies often resulted in such experiences. Break of the vows of celibacy could mean that it might require several incarnations to achieve nirvana. Yet it has also been said that Buddha himself reached nirvana after he had had experience of such a nature. Thus celibacy was by no means strictly observed among Buddhist monks.
The life of serfs was dismal and there were no laws to protect their rights. Because of the harshness of life in that period, most serfs were glad to have found shelter and food for their families from their lords and masters. In Tibet, only a handful of established warlords, retired Generals, or a few senior and influential monks and their monasteries owned all to the land, including the serfs and slaves attached to that estate. Ninety-five percent of Tibetans were serfs on these manorial estates. The serfs were treated little better than slaves. Monasteries owned large tracts of the fertile land in order to support and feed all the monks. This feudal system was similar to that in Europe in the middle ages, but lasted to the end of the Twentieth Century. Serfs were under a life bond to work on the Lord’s land or the monasteries’ land without pay, to repair the Lord’s houses, transport his crops, collect his firewood, and herd his animals. All this labour provided without pay or reward.

A Tibetan lord would often take his pick of females in the serf population, if we are to believe one 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf: "All pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished." They "were just slaves without rights." (15) Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture and forcibly bring back those who tried to flee. A 24-year old runaway serf, interviewed by Anna Louise Strong, welcomed the Chinese intervention as a "liberation." During his time as a serf he claims he was not much different from a draft animal, subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold, unable to read or write, and knowing nothing at all. He tells of his attempts to flee:

The first time [the landlord's men] caught me running away, I was very small, and they only cuffed me and cursed me. The second time they beat me up. The third time I was already fifteen and they gave me fifty heavy lashes, with two men sitting on me, one on my head and one on my feet. Blood came then from my nose and mouth. The overseer said: "This is only blood from the nose; maybe you take heavier sticks and bring some blood from the brain." They beat then with heavier sticks and poured alcohol and water with caustic soda on the wounds to make more pain. I passed out for two hours. (16)

In the Dalai Lama's Tibet, torture and mutilation -- including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation of arms and legs -- were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, runaway serfs, and other "criminals."

Michael Parenti is an internationally known author and lecturer. He is one of the nation's leading progressive political analysts. Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 1962. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad.

Some monasteries had their own private prisons, reports Anna Louise Strong. In 1959, she visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, and breaking off hands. For gouging out eyes, there was a special stone cap with two holes in it that was pressed down over the head so that the eyes bulged out through the holes and could be more readily torn out. There were instruments for slicing off kneecaps and heels, or hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disembowling.

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