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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 the world.
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 and power.
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 2007

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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

New! 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. Fast paced and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding read for any martial artist.

(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)


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Dali Lama, Zen and the martial arts, martial arts

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