A recent article in Tibettruth argues that many Western Tibetan Buddhists have ceded to the Dalai Lama an infallibility that approaches the same sort of infallibility that has historically been given to the Pope. This is a problem, the article points out, because these same Westerners not only take spiritual advice from the Dalai Lama, but they also accept his views on the future of Tibet. They take his political advice as well. As a result, they support autonomy, as opposed to independence, for the Tibetans who are currently living in Tibet. Appropriating a phrase from the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, supporters of autonomy have branded this position as the "Middle Way."
Side-note: I don't know how anyone could ascribe to a radical thinker like the Buddha anything approaching a compromise with oppression, violence, lying, rape, mutilation, starvation, torture, and cultural genocide, but I will leave that discussion to the Buddhist scholars. To call political autonomy the "Middle Way" is, at least, a stroke of branding genius that ad agencies around the world ought to examine.
But to return to my main point: I agree with this article in Tibettruth because I used to be one of those Westerners. Many of us have at times gotten so involved with Tibetan spirituality that we have allowed its most able spokesman, the Dalai Lama, to influence our opinions about the political future of the Tibetan people. And in that discussion, His Holiness represents one voice.
The moral of the story? Tibetans get to decide for themselves how they want their own futures to unfold.
When I realized that I was an American who had grown up with the notion of self-determination as a national and founding principle, I also realized that if I were going to have an opinion about Tibet's future, I would have to understand first how Tibetans envisioned their own future. And I would have to extend to them the same priviliges I would want extended to me—I would have to honor the notion of self-determination.
Many Tibetans have now determined that they want to be free and independent, and they have made that position clear. Even if only one Tibetan, however, had articulated this position, I don't see how an American, or any Westerner, could do anything but honor and support that position.
And we mustn't confuse discussions concerning the goal of freedom with those that address the possibility of achieving it. Those are two different conversations. The complexity involved with determining whether or not independence is a realistic goal does not compromise the determination that independence is still the desired goal.
The struggle for independence and freedom, wherever it occurs, deserves the unqualified support of all Westerners. This is no less true of Tibet now than it was of the American colonies in the eighteenth century. As Americans, we honor our past by recognizing that Tibet would envision its own future in a similar fashion.