Tibet’s Middle Way: Peaceful conflict resolution for the 21st century

Last week, the Central Tibetan Administration launched a new campaign, called the ‘Middle Way Approach Campaign’ (Umaylam in Tibetan) aimed at educating people on what the Tibetan call for freedom truly means.

Lobsang Sangay, leader of the CTA, says, “With the Middle Way Approach Campaign, we are trying to engage the international community–young people, diplomats, media, people from all walks of life across different nations—to counter the Chinese Government’s misinformation campaign about the policy,”

CTA’s press officer Tsering Wangchuk notes, “The Middle Way has been there for many years. We are forging it into an intensive campaign to address the spread misinformation by our adversaries.”

Not impressed, the Chinese government has called the Middle Way Approach a “cliché.” No surprise there. Yet, no matter how Chinese authorities try to dismiss it, they know better. They are not ignorant about Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, and they know that far from a cliché, or a simply a political strategy, the Middle Way is also a Buddhist doctrine. In this way, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile have founded their fight for freedom on spiritual principle, as did Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Essentially, all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism are within the doctrinal lineage of the Middle Way school (Madhyamaka) founded by Nagarjuna.  This concept of the Middle Way has to do with the insight into emptiness and transcending arguments about being or non-being. However, Nagarjuna based his Madhyamaka on the “Middle Way” as taught by the Buddha in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta:

Chinese character for “The Middle Way”
Chinese character for “The Middle Way”

Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana. And what is that Middle Path realized by the Tathagata? It is the Noble Eightfold path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.”

Tibet’s Middle Way Approach has been to seek dialogue with China and not take an extremist position, to engage in right speech. It’s an approach based on understanding  rather than condemning the adversary. The Dalai Lama has stated many times that he does not expect to ever gain full independence for his country.  In the spirit of compromise, in the Middle Way Approach, the Tibetans are simply asking for a bit more autonomy. Yet, even while the Tibetans do not demand, but respectfully request, China will not loosen her iron grip.

Nagarjuna summed up his philosophy like this:

Whatever arises through interdependency is emptiness. However, this is a conventional designation. It is the meaning of the Middle Way.”

In The Key to the Middle Way (on Emptiness), the Dalai Lama explains the Middle Way between existence and non-existence:

[If phenomena] had no deep mode of being other than their external or superficial mode of being, and if thus the way they appeared and the way they existed were in agreement, then it would be sufficient to hold that conventional modes of appearance are true just as they appear, and to place confidence in them. However, this is not so. Though phenomena appear as if true, most true, ultimately they are not true. Therefore, phenomena abide in the middle way, not truly or inherently existent and also not utterly non-existent. This view, or way of viewing—the knowledge of such a mode of being, just as it is— is called the view of the middle way.”

Although, Emptiness as the Middle Way is nuanced and seemingly abstruse, there is nothing impractical about it, for insight into emptiness is the insight that destroys all notions of nationalism, racism and hate, and it is the principle of equality that makes real dialogue possible.

Wednesday, June 4th, the Dalai Lama reiterated his belief that the ‘Middle Way Approach” is still best for Tibet:

Recently things become very, very difficult but our stand — no change . . . Independence, complete independence is unrealistic — out of (the) question . . . Sometimes I describe totalitarian regimes as no ear, only mouth . . . [The Chinese officials] lecture us, never really listen [and angry that] I am not acting like ‘yes minister’ . . . Our approach failed to bring some concrete or positive result from the government, but the Chinese public, or Chinese intellectuals, or students who study in foreign countries — they are beginning to know the reality . . . That, I think, is a positive side, a significant result . . . Sometimes people have the impression (this is) some crisis very recently happened . . . I meet some Chinese. They are frustrated. Very hostile. Then I tell them long stories . . . 60 years of stories. Then they understand, oh — the Tibetan issue is really a very, very complicated issue.”

tibet-middlewayWatch the video ‘ UMAYLAM- Middle Way Approach’ Peaceful conflict resolution for the 21st century.


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