July 19, 2024

The Dalai Lama and the Anatomy of Politically Correct Buddhism

By James C. Stephens

But what conception of the world is hiding behind the smiling, so apparently philanthropic and peaceable mask of the Tibetan God-King?

The ignorance that this key question exposes, particularly in the western world, can only be described as catastrophic.

(Neue Zurcher Zeitung July 15, 1999 A German Newspaper)

Nearly three thousand tickets for the Annual “Distinguished Speaker’s Series” at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium featuring the Dalai Lama had sold out within an hour. Since no seats were available, I decided in Jay Leno fashion to go down and conduct some on the street interviews of people waiting to get a glimpse of the God-King of Tibet.

As that balmy October Southern California evening arrived, the air was filled with the anticipation of an opening night in Hollywood. Black limousines carrying the Dalai Lama and his US Diplomatic Secret Service escort pulled up to the Mediterranean style auditorium. A smattering of celebrities and Tibetan lamas with shaved heads dressed in maroon robes trimmed in golden yellow mingled in the large crowd lined up to pass through the specially installed security stations.

I was standing near “Heather” a slender hippyish woman in her twenties who was observing that evening’s crowd and occasionally seeing if a passerby had any extra tickets. Nonchalantly I asked her, “So, what brings you out here this evening?”

She replied, “Oh, I hitch hiked out here this summer from the Ozarks with my boyfriend to attend the Empowerment Ceremonies with the Dalai Lama. Tonight we decided to see if we could attend his public talk on Ethics for the New Millennium.”

“Will you be disappointed if you can’t get in?” I inquired.

Without hesitation she mused, “Not really. I’ve been watching all the well-dressed people going in and decided they probably need to hear him more than I do.”

Since she was open I posed a slightly more personal question, “Hypothetically, let’s say that Jesus Christ and the Dalai Lama were to be standing here before you and you had the opportunity to choose one to follow. Who would you select?”

She paused for a moment and then said, “The Dalai Lama.” Observing my slightly baffled look, she confessed, “Well, he is the spiritual leader of our day who’s bringing everyone together. He seems to fit our times better, and although I find Jesus attractive, I don’t feel the same about most Christians.”

When asked why the Dalai Lama was so popular, she commented, “I think he is like the Wizard of Oz, reflecting people’s illusions of what they want to believe.”

At first I was taken aback, but recognized that her comments represent a growing segment of our society that wholeheartedly embraces Buddhism as their religion of choice and leaving no doubt that the Lotus is blooming in America. Studies have shown that there are presently over 1600 Buddhist temples, centers and monasteries in America, many of them Tibetan. [1] In the twelve years between 1985 and 1997, “more Buddhist meditation centers were established than the total number founded in the first eighty-five years of the twentieth century.” [i]

Currently Buddhism is being marketed to such a high degree that even Buddhists parody the Madison Avenue hype surrounding the Buddhist boom. Buddha books are big business, while magazines are a lucrative cottage industry supported by pages and pages of advertisements marketing everything from retreats, national conferences, the reincarnation of tea, salad dressings, Buddha beads, sneakers to smiling Tibetan lamas opening Toshiba laptops on the “rooftop of the world.” Huge billboards along LA freeways featured the smiling image of the Dalai Lama advertising Apple’s “Think Different,” while the “Simpson’s,” a primetime cartoon program parodying American culture focused on little Lisa’s conversion to Tibetan Buddhism on their Christmas special.

As a college student who had converted to Buddhism in 1970, like Heather, I had been enamored with the exotic religious rituals, smells of incense, chants, and ancient stories of Buddha’s life and teachings. Myths like the life of the Buddha convey powerful images to believer and non-believer alike. Ignoring those myths in global affairs can bring dire consequences, e.g., Wahabism, the radical fundamentalist Islam of Osama Bin Laden. Approaching a worldview different from our own requires freedom to think critically and a “civil public square” [ii] that embraces discussion and debate, essential components for the survival of the human race. In certain Buddhist countries, nationalism is equated with religious expression, e.g., “To be Thai is to be Buddhist, to be Buddhist Thai.” The same holds true in Tibet and other Buddhist nations where there is no separation of Church and State and constitutionally Kings are required to be Buddhist.

About jstephens

James C. Stephens was a graduate of a Buddhist Study Academy and a Buddhist leader for fourteen years (1970-1984). In 1978, he married Elizabeth, a Jewish Buddhist at a Buddhist temple. Following an accident in Japan in 1981 while on a Buddhist pilgrimage followed by an intense three year spiritual search through various other faiths and practices, James and Elizabeth made the decision to become disciples of Jesus Christ. James graduated in 1999 with a MA in Intercultural Studies from Fuller School of Intercultural Studies and in 2010, launched http://www.worldviews101.com/ which offers a twelve week course "A Christian Perspective on the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism."

He and his wife enjoy Landscape architecture, gardening, making kombucha and kefir, film, screenwriting, literature, and music.


  1. jstephens says

    Dear Tenzin,

    I thank you for your letter on our website. While I appreciate your writing me, I am at a loss at how it is that my writing is seen as an attack against the Tibetan people. I have hosted Tibetan Christians in my home and love them as brothers and sisters. As a former Buddhist myself, I am addressing the idolatry that is practiced not only Tibetan Buddhists, but also that which is being practiced by the Church. I play no favorites. I love God with all my heart and do not desire to offend you my brother. I too reach out to Tibetan Buddhists and am not afraid of offending them with the Gospel which is an offense to those who will not believe. The time is short and I would rather offend someone on the way to their perdition than stand before the judgment seat of God one day and be accused of being so nice and not telling them where to find the truth. I will continue to point out the hypocrisy of Tibetans who openly text insults as Buddhists toward Americans or Tibetan Christians. I am not one to be politically correct. If you desire a friend who will tell you the truth without watering it down I’m one of those. If you would point out where I have insulted a Tibetan I would appreciate you pointing it out. I am not perfect. The only One who is perfect is our LORD Jesus Christ. I am a work in progress. Do keep in touch. Oh, btw, I do know that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, however, you know quite well that deity yoga in Buddhism invites dangerous demons into their midst especially when they are building sand mandalas, etc. I conducted interviews with Tibetan lamas in charge of these ceremonies and they themselves told of how they had to do protective prayers to protect themselves from these malevolent deities. It is a serious issue and I for one am greatly offended by the Nechung Oracle who is possessed and has visited our Nation’s capitol and many of our elected representatives offices. I do not only read Christian documents about these issues, but go directly to those Tibetan Buddhist documents that talk of blood sacrifice and demonic possession. I for one do not welcome these rituals in the United States and find the lack of discernment appalling among so called Christians from every denomination that have invited these supposed artistic sand paintings into their sanctuaries, churches, universities, and capital buildings. Well, that is all for now. I have no problem with Tibetans reading my words online. If they do so and want to honestly discuss spiritual issues and desire to leave their idolatrous ways behind and stop worshiping a man who claimed to be the god-king, then I am willing to talk and have even gone as far as climbing up to a mountain monastery to deliver a Tibetan Bible to a Lama who requested one so that he might know who Jesus is. You see, I don’t curse Tibetan Buddhists as they have done to Christians for ages. Do you want to know the truth? Or do you desire to please men. I was a radical Buddhist for fourteen years and converted many into that dark faith. No more. I desire as our LORD Jesus Christ does to see men, women and children from every tribe, tongue and people saved. I admire men like the late Reverend Stephen Hishey, a Tibetan Christian pastor in Leh who stood up for his faith as 300 Tibetan lamas marched around his home for three days chanting death to the Christian pastor. I would proudly stand with a man of his character and dedication for Christ. He is now with the LORD. Hallelujah! Thank God I know Tibetans with courage and backbone that are not afraid of persecution. Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus, James C. Stephens