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Tibet, Burma, Darfur and the limits of activism

May 17, 2008 05:00 AM
by prmoliveira

If HPB was right, the essence of Theosophy is Altruism, a concern and 
dedication for others. She wrote in The Voice of the Silence: "To 
live to benefit mankind is the first step". The wisdom which 
Theosophy essentially is expresses itself in a mind without barriers 
which seeks to help, succour and understand.

A question could be asked: if Theosophy is Altruism, can we also say, 
credibly, that Altruism is Theosophy? Or does Altruism need, 
necessarily, a sanction from an authoritative Theosophical doctrine? 
Does Theosophy, both as a teaching and a world view, hold the 
legitimacy of altruistic action, or ANY genuine altruistic initiative 
carries with it the influence of Theosophy as a wisdom inherent in 
life and consciousness?

Perhaps the statistics, wherever they are, may reveal that the number 
of voluntary workers and activists has grown exponentially in the 
world for the past twenty five years. The growth of organisations 
like the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Human Rights Watch, 
Amnesty International, to name a few, may be directly connected to a 
growing number of people, world wide, who feel impelled to do 
something about the widespread human suffering prevailing in the 

However, as time passes, certain issues acquire a status which is 
almost Teflon-like. By their very nature they impose a limit to what 
activists can do. Take Tibet, Burma and Darfur, for example. 

Practically every great democracy in the world welcomes and talks to 
the Dalai Lama, give him several awards, and when he leaves the room 
they renew their economic and commercial ties with China. Some call 
this 'enlightened pragmatism'. The Chinese government declared  
recently that the Dalai Lama had instigated the recent riots in 
Chinese-occupied Tibet. There were some predictable protocol-dictated 
answers to that in some countries but now, two months later, it is 
business as usual in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Yes, thousands of 
monasteries were destroyed in Mao's 'Cultural Revolution'; yes, 
summary imprisonment, torture and assassination of thousands of monks 
and nuns have taken place in the past fifty years; yes, Tibetans are 
not allowed to show pictures of the Dalai Lama without going to jail, 
but economic considerations are paramount because China is the 
emerging global superpower and almost every article that we buy, at 
least in Australia, is made in China.

When the Burmese monks started marching through the streets of 
Rangoon a couple of months ago, applauded by the population, the 
western media showed, with glee, the maroon-tinged processions, 
demanding accountability and democracy from a military junta that 
oppresses Burma for over 40 years. When the marches led to riots, and 
the riots were met with assassinations of both monks and civilians, 
the Chinese government declared that what happened in Burma was "an 
internal matter." Although the UN sent its envoy to talk to the 
junta, the Chinese statement soon became like a statutory declaration 
of how blood-thirsty regimes are allowed, in the broad daylight of 
the twenty first century, to geat away with murder.

And then there is Darfur. There have been widespread awareness 
campaigns in many countries about the plight of 3,000,000 refugees 
who saw 200,000 of their family members and friends been slaughtered 
and women and girls repeatedly raped by the Janjaweed militias. And 
in spite of this horrific nightmare, the Sudanese government gets 
away with murder every day for the past four or five years. 

Is it not the time, in the name of human solidarity, compassion and 
justice, to re-write, the notion of sovereignty? Or should we 
continue to accept that extreme violations of human rights, of 
religious freedom, and of access to knowledge and information, 
continue to plague humanity for centuries to come?

I suspect that when HPB took a bullet in the battle of Mentana, when 
she joined the Garibaldi forces, she was not necessarily meditating. 
When K.H. wrote the following to Sinnett it shows that he was very 
much aware of the politico-strategical realities of his time:

"A crisis, in a certain sense, is upon us now, and must be met. I 
might say two crises ? one, the Society's, the other for Tibet. For, 
I may tell you in confidence, that Russia is gradually massing her 
forces for a future invasion of that country under the pretext of a 
Chinese war. If she does not succeed it will be due to us; and 
herein, at least we will deserve your gratitude."

There may be a limit to what activism can do to change harsh 
realities which, on a daily basis, withdraw hope and life from 
millions of people around the world. The question that asks itself 
here is: can the energy of Altruism burst through that limit and 
point a direction that derives its truth from the realization that as 
long as one person suffers, or is killed, or is raped, none of us can 
truly be happy?


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