The Dalai Lama has been doing a number of gigs in Nottingham, UK, in front of thousands of people. Every day he emphasised the importance of continuing in one’s own faith. “It’s better to keep your own tradition, Catholic, Protestant — better, safer,” he said.
I found this an interesting, even quite extraordinary position to take. He was speaking primarily to modern westerners. On the one hand it says a lot about his tolerance and his understanding that Truth can be found in all traditions. It’s not something you’d hear coming out of the mouth of a radical Islamist or a Pope. It’s not even something you’d hear from a moderate, pleasant, civilised Sunni (I have one in mind), who states as a simple matter of fact that the Shias are not real Muslims. With moderates like this, who needs extremists?
As an aside, this was one of the film-maker Anthony Minghella’s (The English Patient) points. He had noticed how perfectly reasonable, civilised people from different cultures could easily hold incompatible viewpoints which could ultimately lead to conflict. Part of his mission was to explore this through his film-making.
I am sure, for example, that there are many very reasonable and humane Israelis who think that Israel has every right to exist pretty much in its present form, and that if a wall round Gaza is the only way to keep the suicide bombers out, then so be it. I am sure at the same time that there are many very reasonable and humane Palestinians who feel that Israel has pushed them out of their homeland, that their conditions are intolerable, and that action needs to be taken.
You don’t need extremists to get wars. You just need ordinary, decent people who have the usual failing of finding it hard to see the other’s point of view – and who will also succumb to group pressure to see issues one-sidedly. So let’s not blame the fundamentalists for everything!
Back to the Dalai Lama. He has Saturn in the 9th House (like the present Pope), which is a classic aspect for a spiritual leader/ teacher. It is also in the sign of Pisces, which describes his tolerance and inclusivity towards other religions, his teaching that at the end of the day, it is the development of a compassionate heart that matters.
At the same time, his position here is very Piscean, it is not something that the opposite sign of Virgo would say! Virgo would point out, in its usual analytical style, that there are differences between religions that we need to be aware of, and to tread carefully. And that people are different: some will find it most helpful to stay with their own tradition, while others will need to explore different paths.
The Dalai Lama’s Saturn is opposite a 3rd House Moon-Neptune conjunction in Virgo. This is the main challenge in his chart (the other is Mars in Libra square Pluto, which describes his quest for non-violence). With Moon in 3rd House Virgo and Mercury in Gemini trine Mars, there is no doubting the sharpness of his mind. But there is a tension here between Virgo and Pisces that is basic to the Dalai Lama, and I think it is the Moon, in its conjunction to Neptune and in the context of a very watery chart, that is likely to get swamped.
I think the statement he made about everyone sticking with their own religion is one-sidedly Piscean. It is common sense that some people, even many people will need to explore other paths. So I don’t think I am imposing my own opinion onto the Dalai Lama’s astrology when I say that his statement is an example of Pisces getting the better of Virgo. Not just his Moon being swamped, but also his Mercury in the watery 12th House. (For more on the Dalai Lama's chart, see my post of 7th April.)
I assume, given context and audience, that the Dalai Lama very much has in mind westerners aligning themselves with the Tibetan Buddhist path. I have to assume also that his experience of this has overall not been a happy one!
I think he has a point. One Buddhist group I have visited, for example, is run by academics/intellectuals, and the audience/congregation are classic timorous church mice. I thought why bother switching from the Church of England? It’s no different.
Then there are the big Tibetan groups, and again I can see what I think is the Dalai Lama’s point, from my limited experience. The people in them are sincere, but often very guru-focussed at the expense of their own strength and power – lost souls. And they do all this chanting in a foreign language, often without a very clear idea of why. One western Tibetan group has been protesting against the Dalai Lama: the issue is a political one, and whatever the rights and wrongs of it, it goes back hundreds of years and all these poor westerners have been drawn into one particular side of it.
In other words Tibetan Buddhism is an organised religion like any other. People like to accord it special status, but I think that is a mistake. And I think this is where the Dalai Lama is coming from. Organised religion has its well understood failings, but you’ll also find some good teachings in all of them. And within it you’ll also find the mystics, those who have their own direct relationship with the Absolute, rather than having it mediated by priests or monks, to whatever extent.
At the same time, people often have a profound need to leave the religion they were brought up with, and the Dalai Lama for some reason does not appear to understand this. Maybe it is because of the traditional context he grew up in, where you didn’t have this phenomenon of rebellion and alienation that you get in the West.
My experience of the Catholic Church from my very early years was of people who were dogmatic and intolerant, often harsh, and not very intelligent. My subsequent experience of the Church of England, while a relief after the Catholic Church, was of something very dilute. There was no way I was going near either when I grew up. Moreover, they ask you to believe preposterous things.
So this is why I find the Dalai Lama’s statement extraordinary. It suggests that, after all these years, he does not understand the western predicament. It may be, as he said, “safer” to stick with your native religion, and I have seen plenty of examples of young westerners coming to grief through their involvement with Buddhism. But some of them, including myself, learn from that. The West is a melting pot in which it is difficult to find a meaningful and human way to live, and a philosophy to back it up. But it is also open and free and thrilling and certainly not ‘safe’. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.