Theravada and the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama:Question & Answer Session with Thai Buddhists

Dalai Lama:Question & Answer with a Group from Southeast Asia

Thai Monks Chanting for the Dalai Lama

HH Dali Lama meets with Thai Buddhists

Sri Lanka government unlikely to allow Dalai Lama visit-official

Dialogue with Sri Lankan Theros and US Diplomats

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Happy 82th Birthday Dearest Holiness the Dalai Lama!!!

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso
(82nd birthday today)



The Dalai Lama was important in my life simply as being the only buddhist monastic I knew of until late into my 20s when I had decided to delve deeper into becoming a Buddhist.

So I owe it to him (or perhaps the Chinese?) that Buddhism became known enough in the pop culture for me to gradually find my way to where I am today. I also read one or two of his books when I was in that early exploring stage.

Once I decided I was going to be a Buddhist and looked for which tradition, I couldn’t go with Tibetan, or Zen, or any other Mahayana, but Theravada called to me and I never looked back.

As far as how I consider him, I consider him a fellow Buddhist monk, a much more senior one then myself, with all respect due in that case, but no more, not as a spiritual teacher or authority to me in any way. That being said I don’t have much against his work, I think for the most part what he does is good.

As for bridging the gap, I too basically consider Theravada and Vajrayana to be very very different ends of the same core. I don’t see any need to bridge any gap. We can come together on our similarities, and respect our differences, just like if you were to have interfaith dialogue with other religions.


If you will forgive me my verbal word-salad, indeed, if I may add on to your comment, bhante, HHDL speaks very highly of the earlier Buddhist texts, which is something of an innovation in his tradition (EBTs weren’t even included, no suttas, no āgamas, amongst the textual dharma-transmission to Tibet initially, so this is quite a turn-around in attitude). I recall in a dharma talk of his (I will add the link shortly) that he referred to the Buddhavacana of the Pāli nikāyas as “foundational” Buddhism, that is to say, a Buddhism that is necessary before later practices and ideas are explored, and a Buddhism that most be held and maintained while these later teachings are practiced. This was a revolutionary statement and stance from a Tibetan Lama, which I can only imagine comes from the tradition set by the Venerable Je Tsongkhapa (founder of HHDL’s sub-tradition), who did not deny ultimate liberation to the follower of the ‘śrāvaka vehicle’. There are still extant differences between the traditions, but, from HHDL, we have also these similarly revolutionary words (albeit they also have their potentialities for problematic interpretations, as to all words):

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

With the encouragement that he has given to Tibetan Buddhists to study the EBTs, perhaps some bridges can be built and some dialogue can be had that has not traditionally been had before. I wonder if “If analyses of the EBTs were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims” will ever be a thing?

I imagine that as I type this, such dialogue is underway. For instance, it is freely being recognized and realized by many in some places in the Mahāyāna community that Theravāda is neither properly understood as a ‘Hīnayāna’ school or a ‘Śrāvakayāna’ school, both of those terms originating in a tradition of Mahāyāna polemic that simply does not apply to extant (or historical) Theravāda.


The Dalai Lama has been vocal about Burma needing to get its act together and stop persecuting Muslims.

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Marxist theory has been used in different ways in different places. Some Marxist parties use Marx’s economic theory but are not ‘revolutionary’ Marxists. There have been democratically elected Marxist political parties in India - Kerala for instance - that introduced important land ownership reforms, literacy programs and, and a social security initiative that provided a safety-net strategy in the event of a poor harvest.

These important socialist initiatives were particularly helpful to the impoverished Keralan population. Subsequently, this Marxist political party was voted out of government. No dictatorship, nothing of the sort! The Dalai Lama lives in India - he may be aware of the democratic Marxist parties in that country and may have been impressed with their social reforms.

Clearly, he must be less than impressed with Communist practice as found in China. The Chinese regime practices a mix of Marxist, Maoist and, Capitalist political theory. The Dalai Lama is a democratic Marxist. He is not a totalitarian Communist by any stretch of the imagination.

“Marxian economics refers to several different theories and includes multiple schools of thought which are sometimes opposed to each other, and in many cases Marxian analysis is used to complement or supplement other economic approaches. Because one does not necessarily have to be politically marxist to be economically Marxian, the two adjectives coexist in usage rather than being synonymous. They share a semantic field while also allowing connotative and denotative differences.” - Wikipedia

There have been capitalist ventures in many places in the developing world that have not lifted people out of poverty, that have suppressed the rights of workers to belong to unions, that have insisted on poor environmental regulations and moved most of their profits to first-world countries.

The Dalai Lama like every one of us has a right to have a political view point that differs from yours. To insist otherwise would be a totalitarian perspective.

From the internet:
Communism in Kerala refers to the strong presence of communist ideas in the Indian state of Kerala. In addition to Kerala, the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura have had democratically elected multiple Marxist governments, and change takes place in the government by regular multiparty electoral process.


Dear Jarek, It is probably best if you take this question and post it as a ‘new topic’ along with your comment. Its an important question but this thread is about the D.L. and Theravada. The main reason I responded was that a Mitra had expressed concern about the Dalai Lama’s interest in Marxism. Yours Laurence

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You are right. Thank you

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Because of these socialist ideas popular in India, India was standing at 291$ pib per capita in 1992, poorer than in the times of the Buddha. Just take a moment to think about that. Poorer than in the times of the Buddha.

Even if there is no totalitarianism and brutal opression, there is still the problem of abject poverty. The Dalai Lama, living both in India and China, should have been a little more enlightened about this problem and not insult 1/3 of the world who endured incalculable suffering because of that extreme ideology.

Many times the Dalay Lama says things that are meant to look good in progressive newspapers (where most buddhist audience comes from) so he can gain popularity in the west. Many times he says or does things just to improve his image. Many things he says are like put is his mouth by a newspaper editor. But I think this promotion of extremist ideology was a little too much of an insult to people like me, who live in an ex-communist country still lagging 50 years behind the western world at the moment because of returning our economy to the stone age through marxism in the past. I would like to see a little more compassion from the Dalai Lama towards people forced to live in abject poverty and less insults towards them for the sake of gaining popularity for himself.

In my opinion, the Dalai Lama is more like a cool public figure than a religious figure. And this is how he got to be basically the first thing that pops to ones head when you say “buddhism” despite being the leader of a very very tiny buddhist sect that has almost nothing to do with the teachings of the historical Buddha.

As Vstakan said, imagine if first thing that would come to people minds when saying “Christian” would be the Amish…

Soviet Communism was extreme and oppressive! The Russian state is still oppressive and many people suffer as a consequence - it is no longer a Communist state. Therefore, oppression is not limited to Communist dictatorships.

India is a poor country - it was poor before the democratic Marxist parties arrived on the scene. It was poor before socialism appeared on the scene. It had grinding poverty before the British ‘Rajj’ etc. Therefore, your proposition, that India’s poverty is a consequence of socialism does not correspond to the historical record.

You may wish argue that poverty would not be a problem in India today if there had never been a political ‘left’ in India but that would be (impossible) to demonstrate. It was not the democratic Marxist parties that made India poor - that is due to many variables.

If people experience difficult living conditions in a state that ‘claims’ to be Marxist then, many of those people may become antagonistic when it comes Marxism and their government. If people experience unnecessary hardship under any political regime, some of them will become disillusioned. Marxism is not the common denominator in this social dynamic.

There is a Maoist insurgency in India. I do not endorse Maoism as a Marxist oriented ideology - neither does the Dalai Lama! Clearly, the Dalai Lama would see the problems that arise in Maoism - he is a refugee as a consequence of Maoism.

You need to think about the (different) ways that Marxist ideas are utilised in different situations. Not all Marxists agree that the Soviets and the Chinese totalitarians were - and are - a good idea!

Do a google-search on ‘Trotsky’ - he got an ice-pick stuck in his back for disagreeing with the genocidal Communist dictator named: Joseph Stalin! Trotsky was a Marxist but his views about Marxism differed from the ‘tyrant’ Stalin.

Do you now see that Marxist theory is applied in a number of ways. Some people are disinterested in Marx’s views about the way to overcome capitalism - by any means. They oppose ‘dictatorships’ of any kind (just like you). The Dalai Lama is this kind of Marxist!

Some political parties adopt Marxist economics and use democracy not dictatorship as a skilful means to bring about meaningful social change for the desperately poor people in India.

(This is not an anti-capitalist observation!)

When the Buddha was alive there was less abject poverty in that region then there is today. They had more forests and natural resources in the Buddha’s lifetime - they also had a much smaller population. :slightly_smiling_face:

I think you are confusing the name “marxist” with anything left of center or vague ideas. Marxism is a specific ideology that got most countries in 1000$ pib per capita. The highest pib per capita ever achieved by a marxist economy is 2000$ pib per capita. Compare that to 55.000$ of USA. It doesn’t matter if there is brutal opression or not, the abject poverty is still there.

As for India, it adopted socialist economic policies untill 1992, the year in which it was standing at 291$ pib per capita, basically a very poor african country. I repeat, it was poorer than in the times of the Buddha. That is literally as low as humanly possible. Today it is standing at 1800$, that is still abject poverty but quite an improvement. My country (Romania) got from 1500$ to 10.500$ today in 27 years of capitalism. It takes many decades to catch up with other countries if you’ve been put in abject poverty by marxism. You don’t just go from 1500$ to 55.000$ over night.

As for how left can you go without your economy declining, it was already decided long ago. There are some boundaries between which you can juggle, and they are very very tigh. For example scandinavian countries got just a little too left of center during the cold war and suffered 20 years of economic stagnation, then they switched to more liberal economic policy. Extreme stuff such as marxism is just so out of the question today. Marxism = abject poverty basically instantaniousy, as shown in Venezuela.

You do realize how life is in 291$ pib per capita ?I don’t think you do, but the Dalai Lama was right there in the middle of it and doesn’t seem to care too much about it. He is more interested in his personal image.

Name me another important religious figure from any religion declaring himself a marxist or a nazist

Yes, I can see you don’t like Marxism! However, to insist that everybody should agree with you would be a dogmatic and totalitarian point of view.

If you don’t believe that totalitarianism is a good idea then you ‘may’ believe in pluralism and democracy. I am assuming that you would not endorse a capitalist dictatorship either! There have also been capitalist dictatorships that have come and gone! There was Suharto’s ‘Indonesia’ and Marcos’s ‘Philipines’!

What you have said is related to your personal political views. The world is not ‘black and white’ - there are many shades of grey. We agree on one thing - the Soviet Socialist Republic was not good to the people who were under its control.

The Buddha lived in an interesting society that had less poverty than modern India.

In the Buddha’s times they did not have overpopulation. They had abundant natural resources and rich and complex biodiversity.

It would have been easier for people to feed and house themselves due to better access to alternative sources of food and shelter. There were more places to live because there was less private property!

There is nothing political about it, they are simple facts. You are the one having problems with political views, putting them above facts and above the interest of the poor. The best performance a marxist economy ever had was 2000$ pib per capita, quite far away from 55.000$ of USA. The eastern part of europe got in 1500$ compared to 40.000$ of the west, despite starting on pretty much the same footing.

Marxist economy simply doesn’t work, it gets everybody into the stone age. No food, no electricity, no toilet paper, etc. Poor people in marxist economies are slim, not fat like in USA. If you were to live in such a country yourself and experience the abject poverty yourself, you wouldn’t be supporting such ideas.

And yes, I do insist on agreeing with me, same as I insist that you agree the world is round and not flat. Why ? Because the best economic performance a marxist economy ever achieved was 2000$ pib per capita. There is just no way to juggle yourself around that.

I do understand that those people who started this marxist ideology really believed it would make things better. They were nice sounding theories. The problem is, it just doesn’t work. Not every theory out there works. Some work, some fail miserabely. Any sensible person today who cares for the poor should stop supporting things that only increase poverty, and in an explosive way. It is the total opposite of what they claim they care about.

PS: You just proved why the Dalai Lama is saying such things. Most buddhist in USA are very political and of the progressive variety. In USA, there was no communism so they don’t really know what it means, they only know the theories read in books not the reality. Many today still hold a favorable view of marxism, simply not knowing that fact that it’s biggest economic achievement was 2000$ pib per capita, 28 times poorer than USA - and that was their best. They don’t know how it is to simply not have any food, electricity, toilet paper etc. no matter if you are poor or middle class or rich. When was the last time you were hungry ?

Man, really, google Trotsky yourself. This guy was up to his neck in blood as well. He basically commanded the Red Army during the Civil War, and it was not particularly known for agreeable and compassionate behaviour. In fact, his theory of permanent revolution was so harsh, Russia was lucky to have Stalin instead of him (this coming from someone whose grandfather was shot by the NKVD is a big claim). Trotsky was literally ready to sacrifice the entire Soviet population for the global revolution, literally burn it up in the fiery furnace of the revolutionary World war.

I know, his is an off-topic post, but using Trotsky to prove your point is as poor an argument as it possibly gets.

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I quite like Trotskyism! I mean his alternative view of social organisation. I would not follow him into violent revolution! His ideas regarding socialist social organisation is an improvement on Stalinism. If Trotsky had gained control of the Communist Party in Russia the political history of Europe would have been different. For all we know, the Soviet Union may not have imploded?

Communism may have been more popular outside of the Soviet Union if he had taken the reigns - we will never know!

Having said this - does not make me a Trotskyist! I am just another person who believes in pluralism and who is willing to defend the rights of people to disagree with me.

The Dalai Lama has a right to have a different political opinion than you do - even if he is a Buddhist leader! This is something you seem to have difficulty understanding - for reasons unknown.

It imploded because of the 1.500$ pib per capita, because of people not having food. Just imagine not having food - how can a political force endure when people don’t even have food, let alone extravagant things such as electricity, toilet paper, cars, etc. People will just change the political situation at the first chance they get.

You really think people love being hungry all the time and lacking all basic necessities ? And for what ? For what in return ? As I’ve said, you just never experienced this kind of poverty to understand how hard it is and how much people hate it. You think it’s something people can endure for the sake of political views. You don’t understand how it is to be hungry, to be really hungry, and to be like that all the time.

The Dalai Lama has a right to have a different political opinion than you do - even if he is a Buddhist leader! This is something you seem to have difficulty understanding - for reasons unknown.

Name me another important religious figure, FROM ANY RELIGION, calling himself a marxist or a nazist in today times. A single one.

I am not disputing the reasons the Soviet Union imploded! I have simply stated the obvious - if things had been different then the outcome would also be different! It may have imploded anyway - we will never know?

I don’t know all the political views of all the religious leaders that have existed since the inception of Marxism but, I suspect their have been a few Marxists among them? If, there are only a few does that say something about Marxist theory or religious leaders - en masse?

Jesus may have been a ‘Marxist’ if he was born at a later date - who knows? He seemed to have a few subversive ideas that got him in trouble with the religious leaders of the day. These pious religious leaders seemed to have a close relationship with the Romans and, they were extremely violent imperialists.

I don’t think we can use ‘numbers of adherents’ as a valid criterion to determine the value of Marxist theory or the quality of religious leadership - in general? Correlation does not prove causation!

The liberation theology that originated in South America incorporated Marxist ideas! I also have some appreciation for their approach to theology and their religious and social ideals.

Their theology seems to have been a reaction to gross inequality and the exploitation of desperately poor communities. A similar dynamic accounts for the popularity of Marxist ideas in some parts of India.

Liberation theology was a clerical reaction to the unjust treatment of Catholic peasants by the ruling elite. It was a good antidote to fascist tendencies that have caused the death of many innocent civilians in South American societies - often with support from the USA!

Liberation theology was championed by religious leaders of some consequence. Does that answer your question?

The Catholic religious leaders in South America who created ‘liberation theology’ were prominent religious figures. The Pope new who they were as did the many poor and oppressed Catholic peasants they helped in various ways.

The fact that there are few religious leaders who are Marxists - assuming this is true - does not say anything meaningful about the Dalai Lama. There are quite a few religious leaders who are not atheists. Does that mean that belief in an all-powerful Deity is a ‘good idea’?

Do you think a good idea is determined by its degree of popularity? Think it through!

Regarding your comments about poverty and starvation in the former Soviet Union: the Marxist reforms in Kerala have increased the wealth of impoverished (and hungry) people, increased the (private) ownership of land and property and, educated people - mostly women - who had next to no access to formal education. They also created a ‘social security’ safety-net!

I cannot see how any of these democratic Marxist initiatives are regrettable? Especially, with regard to the desperately poor people we find in India! I cannot see how the Dalai Lama or, any reasonable person, could fail to be impressed by the policy outcomes of the democratic Marxists in Kerala?:slightly_smiling_face:

Oh my God. ‘Hitler had a solid plan but messed up the practical part.’ You are certainly entitled to your opinion, sure, as long as you do not preach violence that is an integral part of Trotskyism (how else would you define a global revolution?). My opinion is that condoning Trotskyism is pretty much the same thing as condoning Nazism if not worse. Doing my best to stay within the limits of the Right Speech here

We can deffinitely know. After it could no longer be kept going through brute force and opression, people of these countries were free to chose what direction to go. All chose capitalism and rose from 1500$ to even 14.000$ in the case of Poland or even higher in the case of East Germany. The only one that continued with communism to some extent was Rep.Moldova, still standing at 1.500$ today as we speak :slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

‘Hitler had a solid plan but messed up the practical part.’

I agree. True Nazism was never tried :smile: :smile: :smile:

I don’t know all the political views of all the religious leaders that have existed since the inception of Marxism but I suspect their has been a few Marxists among them. The liberation theology in South America has incorporated Marxist ideas. It was championed by religious leaders of some consequence! Does that answer your question?

The fact that you can’t name any shows there is no well known one promoting such ideologies neither inside buddhism nor in other religions. Dalai Lama is quite the only one

I am glad you are exercising appropriate decorem - keep up the good work! Regarding your question: how do I envision global revolution? My answer: a revolution that is based on understanding, good-will and, a social/environmental conscience! I would not be a party to a violent revolution but I would support a (revolution of hope). As the saying goes: you never know your luck in a big city!

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