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When is a peaceful demonstration not a peaceful demonstration?

by Ven Dharmakara Bodha, Los Angeles, USA, The Buddhist Channel, March 29, 2008

In her latest letter, Visakha Kawasaki has once again twisted the words of another person in her attempt to propagate political agendas and behaviors that are inconsistent with the Buddha-dharma, attempting to further derail any meaningful discussion about what a peaceful demonstration actually requires of its participants.

David Lourie, myself, and others were horrified at the sight of Tibetan monks kicking in doors and breaking out the windows of Chinese shop owners, events that were covered by western media prior to the Chinese military's most recent crackdown in the region.

Let's first examine what a "peaceful demonstration" is from within Ghandian non-violent Satyagraha movement. A "satyagrahi" (one who practices satyagraha) refuses to inflict injury on others and must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle which they have initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, always providing a face-saving "way out" for the opponents.

This understanding of what a peaceful demonstration represents is reflected in "Ahimsa", where participants are not simply requested to refrain from inflicting injury on others, it's demanded of them or they shouldn't be at the demonstration in the first place.

Doesn't this sound a lot like the Bodhisattva ideal?

Even though their respective countries have a long way to go before their dream is realized, both Mahatma Ghandhi and Martin Luther King were able to succeed because this was exactly what they advocated, not what we've seen being passed off as "peaceful demonstrations" by the pro-democracy movement. Many pro-democracy groups involved in the unrest in Tibet, as well as Myanmar, seem to ignore this and have no problem enabling the opposite to occur because they do not understand the principles behind Satyagraha, long enough what a peaceful demonstration constitutes.

The best example of this can be found in the words of John Ackerly, the president of the International Campaign for Tibet, who has recently stated that "Tibet's movement for justice and freedom cannot be reduced to the burning of Chinese shops," which is true, but in his statement he not only downplays the violent behavior of many participants in the demonstrations, but he also makes no mention of the fact that some of these Chinese shop owners had actually died a horrible death at the hands of these demonstrators.

Sure, it's easy for some people to turn a blind eye to this unfortunate event because many people see these Chinese shop owners as invaders of Tibetan culture and society. It's just as easy to justify this behavior by declaring that these demonstrations didn't occur in a vacuum, that they were the total sum of the frustrations faced by the people of Tibet, but at the end of the day MURDER is still MURDER, regardless of how one attempts to package the event or the fact that the Chinese government has done the same on a much larger and unimaginable scale.

Can we expect Visakha Kawasaki and other misguided individuals to understand this? Clearly not. Their understanding of what constitutes a "peaceful demonstration" is about as flawed as their understanding of the Buddha-dharma.


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