The Compassionate Rifle of the Dalai Lama
I’m reading an excellent 1997 book called Interview - a compilation of interviews by New York Times writer Claudia Dreifus. The very first one jumped out at me, a poignant conversation with the Dalai Lama of Tibet published in November ’93. Dreifus asks him what he does to relax, and he mentions gardening and reading. It’s a pretty ‘soft’ question, but his answer becomes candid as he elabourates:
I am a man of peace, but I am fond of looking at picture books of the Second World War. I own some, which I believe are produced by Time-Life. I’ve just ordered a new set. Thirty books.
Really? Why does the Reincarnation of Compassion have such a fascination with one of the most terrible events in human history?
Perhaps because the stories are so negative and gruesome, they strengthen my belief in nonviolence. [Smiles.] However, I find many of the machines of violence very attractive. Tanks, airplanes, warships, especially aircraft carriers. And German U-boats, submarines….
I think this was a very human answer. There is something compelling to many people – myself included, about the weapons and trappings of war. Perhaps it’s cultural indoctrination, that violent escapism is fostered to some extent when we are young. Or it might be something innate, that humans instinctively know violence as a means of empowerment. Whatever the reason I was surprised that this holy man of peace, a Buddhist Reincarnation of Compassion would also profess his attraction to the fetishization of war. And I read on:
I once read that as a little boy in Lhasa, you liked war toys.
Yes, very much. I also had an air rifle in Lhasa. And I have one in India. I often feed small birds, but when they come together, hawks spot them and catch them – a very bad thing. So in order to protect these small birds, I keep a rifle.
So it is a Buddhist rifle?
[Laughs.] A compassionate rifle!
Again it’s a human answer, but on this point I differed with His Holiness. I can understand the desire to prevent defenseless suffering, but saw in those decades of hawk-shooting just vain interruptions of the natural order. He might be preventing immediate suffering (assuming the hawk dies quickly), but what of the offspring that hawk might be feeding? Is the life of a predator worth less than the life of its prey? Surely the hawk’s role is to eat smaller birds, just as those birds might eat insects.
Finally, here was proof of what I had always suspected. I was morally superior to the Dalai Lama!
Then I did some digging online, and it all went sour. I had mistakenly equated the use of the rifle with the murdering of innocent hawks. Instead he clarifies in an interview elsewhere that he uses it to scare the hawks, not kill them. I would have thought there were more efficient ways to do this – devices that were louder and less dangerous than an air rifle, but I’m grasping at straws.