THE ZEN MIRROR
Protecting The Dalai Lama
By Jeff Brooks
When he is here in the US the Dalai Lama is treated as a visiting head
of state and as such receives a high level of security. Federal, state
and local agencies coordinate to provide personal protection, site protection,
and route protection, as they would for any dignitary of his stature.
The Dalai Lama has a powerful influence upon the people who encounter
him. Many people, not merely Buddhist adepts, or even religious-minded
people, report feeling that when they hear him speak they feel as if he
is speaking personally to them. Many feel this even when they are in an
arena that holds 50,000 other beings.
People say that their fear and anger, feelings they may have been unaware
of, or to which they had grown accustomed without realizing it, dissolve.
In place of these negative feelings, they say, arises a feeling of calm
and peace and love.
For his presence to produce a result like that, without any evident effort
or conscious intention on his part is surely a mark of an extraordinary
being. Some say he is the most accomplished human being on the planet,
someone able to demonstrate by the facts of his life and his actions,
how humans can mature and realize their full potential.
Millions of people buy his books, others listen to his talks online and
tens of thousands attend his lectures and teachings worldwide. He won
the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He is among the most revered figures in
In some quarters he is also among the most reviled. Hard to believe perhaps,
but there are some who regard him as an enemy. The Chinese government
for example. Some Tibetan sects regard him as their competitor for authority
and these internecine struggles have been remarkably bitter. Some fundamentalist
Christian groups regard him as a threat, teaching heresy. And where Islamic
cultures border Buddhist ones as in central Asia the conflicts have been
serious. The Taliban’s bombing of the 125’ tall, 1500 year
old statues of the Buddha in the mountains at Bamiyan, Afghanistan is
symbolic, but it is not unique. And there are always the lone nuts with
a fantasy life or an imaginary grudge.
When observing the Dalai Lama in action you can see great courage. His
openness, certainty and vulnerability are as much an example of his physical
courage as his famous journey into exile through the snows of Tibet through
the Himalayas to India, under fire from Chinese guns.
His kindness is courageous. There is no fear in his body. No fear in his
emotional suppleness. No embarrassment, no tough pose, no declaration
of victimization, no threats or pleas or promises. He employs none of
the gamut of usual techniques of those who claim the attention of the
public for their cause.
His dignity is complete. His effort on behalf of others is ceaseless.
His sense of duty and the clarity of his mission govern his public actions,
and from all evidence we may guess, his private life as well.
We can see no hesitation in his exchange with people who make demands
on him, who wish to debate him, who wish to draw from him, whether teaching
or praise, status or support or refuge from a world of suffering.
He seems to connect with everyone. Yet he does not take his safety for
granted. He does not presume that because he is good that no harm will
come to him.
He is continually protected. Among his attendants and translators, monks
and managers is a contingent of professional warriors, all of who are
willing to put their lives on the line and defend his life, without hesitation.
In 1959, when the Mao’s army invaded Tibet they burned monasteries
and murdered monks, the Dalai Lama’s escape was managed by the CIA.
This is no secret.
Some would say that the success of that venture was the result of his
formidable good karma created in the infinite past. Still, they would
have to agree that the karmic results of those past actions manifested
in the form of strong, skilled, courageous, armed warriors. They protected
him and saved his life. Those modern warriors helped make possible the
worldwide dissemination of classical Buddhism and the regeneration of
Tibetan culture in India and the West.
The Dalai Lama is an immensely precious thing in the world today. We need
to take care of precious things. Not squander them, abuse them, take them
for granted, falsely assuming that we can get another one.
Our lives are precious. Our families are precious. Our friends, communities,
our country, the world… draw the boundary where you want to, we
need to take care of what is precious.
For a martial artist we need to be sure that we are protecting what we
value. If we are simply training our body and mind to prepare for conflict,
and if as a result we neglect our motives and mission, we will eventually
degrade the quality of our lives.
For example one young martial artist I knew tried always to remain ramrod
straight and hyper-vigilant, even when going to a restaurant or attending
a family barbecue. He was trying to fulfill his idea of being an excellent
martial artist. Someone must have told him that a martial artist is “always
ready” and he interpreted it in this way.
That kind of posturing wears off after a while. But if there is no purpose
for their martial arts, no goal to which they can strive, which will serve
as a kind of north star by means of which they can plot the path of their
practice, if nothing beyond increased personal power occupies them, then
their training can simply create walls between themselves and others.
Instead of making life better it can make life worse – more rigid,
alienated and pretentious, always in need of affirmation.
People have asked me how I could be both a Zen practitioner and a martial
artist. For them this seemed to be a contradiction: one practice directed
toward peace, the other, they assumed, devised to increase aggression
The teacher who has influenced me most, Shoshin Nagamine (the great karate
teacher, historian and founder of Matsubayashi Ryu Karate), was the Chief
of Police on the Japanese island of Okinawa. He was also a well-known
martial artist and, later in life, an ordained Zen practitioner. In his
cultural milieu it was understood that there was no contradiction.
Lets say you have some water to give to a thirsty person. But no glass.
No container, lets say, of any kind, to hold it. If so, the water would
be useless. It would evaporate or drop to the ground and disappear. The
thirsty person would have no way to make use of it. In the same way we
need a vessel to contain what is most precious to us.
We need a physical world. A body. Human relationships, love, work and
purpose. We need to preserve the forms of things so their nature can be
realized; their purpose, and ours, fulfilled.
The Dalai Lama’s message of peace is contained in his ineffable
realized mind; conveyed in his language and actions; communicated by means
of his physical presence at various times and places throughout the world.
As he travels his material body is protected by the warriors who are assigned
to serve him. There is no contradiction. These functions act in concert.
As a police officer you are in a position to protect people. As a martial
arts instructor you can help create the conditions in which people can
develop health and strength, clarity and confidence. As a Zen practitioner
one can attend to other needs of people: to provide a setting and present
a method by which they can grow in character and wisdom, and so approach
the most perplexing and important questions we face as human beings: life
and death; the reason for suffering; how to find the path to freedom.
The Dalai Lama does not have the same job as the people who protect him.
But he needs them. And they need him. He provides them with their mission
and the motive for them to exert themselves to the limit of their capacity
of attention, skill, and commitment to their warrior path.
These functions – the defender and that which we defend –
coexist in each of us, and in our communities and nations. We need to
be sure they function in mutual support and with a single, just mission.
Then we can be healthy and strong, and the world can be transformed.
Copyright Jeff Brooks and FightingArts.com
About The Author:
Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, US Shorin Ryu
Karate, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton,
Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993.
He is a police officer and police instructor, and the author of “Rhinoceros
Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom.” His column
Zen Mirror and other articles appear on FightingArts.com.
FightingArts.com is pleased to announce its first
book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen
Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work
that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do.
and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding
read for any martial artist.
(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)