Tag Archives: Buddhism

September 13, 1970 (a Sunday)

Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that “there is no such thing as society” and mainstream economics works from exactly the same assumption – for mainstream economists society is simply the aggregation, the adding together, of millions of individual economic actors and actions. All of these actors are assumed to be “rational” – a word which economists also use in a way that reflects their own prejudices – a purely calculating and narrowly self interested mentality focused on short and long run material gratification, whose relationship to other economic actors is intrinsically competitive. Thus “rational economic man” has no emotion, is part of no social psychological processes involving mutual influence, common hopes, beliefs and fears, no mutual support, no group or common class interests. Instead “rational economic man” is a calculating machine, focused on maximizing his satisfactions or “utility”.

— Brian Davey, “Economics is not a social science”

It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

— E. F. Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics” (1966)

Zen stones

On this date, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Milton Friedman entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.”  It has been held up by neoliberals as the foundation of their economic beliefs ever since.

Neoliberals are fierce advocates of so-called free markets, as though they are some magical solution to all of the world’s problems. What Friedman called the “free market” is actually laissez-faire, the elimination of any government influence in the market. The only role for the government in the system would be for the protection of property rights.

The problem, of course, is that laissez-faire fails every time it is tried. The grand laissez-faire experiments during America’s Gilded Age resulted in the most devastating economic collapses, the last of which we now call the Great Depression. Friedman’s “free market” offers no safety and no rules. The unscrupulous exploit any advantage to develop a monopoly, with the result being that the market itself becomes unstable and will eventually self-destruct.

The other problem with the free market is that it makes no accommodation for the commons. The commons is a very old concept, pre-dating even colonial America, existing in English common law as far back as 800 CE. A “commons” is any resource used as though it belongs to all. In other words, when anyone can use a shared resource simply because one wants or needs to use it, then one is using a commons. For example, the radio frequencies that pass in and around and through us all are part of the commons. Nowadays, a government agency, the FCC, prevents any two businesses from broadcasting on the same frequency because otherwise nobody could listen to either of them. However, in laissez-faire, there would be no commons, and things such as the radio spectrum would be unusable in its entirety, due to encroachment by other ventures.

Sometimes it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in — sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and/or dangerous gases (for example, carbon dioxide) into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. If a corporation’s share of the cost of the wastes discharged into the commons is less than the cost of purifying those wastes before releasing them, then we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest,” so long as the government, even though it represents the people, cannot effectively regulate polluting corporations.

Milton Friedman offered no solution to these problems; in fact, his writings exacerbated them. The article he published on this date was ferocious. He said that any business executives who pursued a goal other than making money were “unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They were guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” and had even turned themselves into “unelected government officials” who were illegally taxing employers and customers. Ironically, Friedman himself was guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” by assuming the conclusion of his argument at the beginning of his article.

On 26 June 2013, Forbes published “The Origin of ‘The World’s Dumbest Idea’: Milton Friedman” written by Steve Denning. He points out several flaws and inconsistencies in Friedman’s paper:

“In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem,” the article states flatly at the outset as an obvious truth requiring no justification or proof, “a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” namely the shareholders…

If anyone familiar with even the rudiments of the law were to be asked whether a corporate executive is an employee of the shareholders, the answer would be: clearly not. The executive is an employee of the corporation…

A corporate exec­utive who devotes any money for any general social interest would, the article argues, “be spending someone else’s money… Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsi­bility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money.”

How did the corporation’s money somehow become the shareholder’s money? Simple. That is the article’s starting assumption. By assuming away the existence of the corporation as a mere “legal fiction”, hey presto! the corporation’s money magically becomes the stockholders’ money.

Denning then points out how Friedman later, in a conceptual sleight of hand, recasts the money:

The article goes on: “Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money.” One moment ago, the organization’s money was the stockholder’s money. But suddenly… the organization’s money has become the customer’s money…

The article continued: “Insofar as [the executives’] actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.” Now suddenly, the organization’s money has become, not the stockholder’s money or the customers’ money, but the employees’ money.

According to Denning, Friedman’s entire paper rests on the false assumption “that an organization is a legal fiction which doesn’t exist and that the organization’s money is owned by the stockholders.”

The success of the article was not because the arguments were sound or powerful, but rather because people desperately wanted to believe. [emphasis in original]

As a result of Friedman’s writings, self-interest has reigned supreme. His theories justify the impulse to make money by whatever means are available. As recent scandals have made clear, even breaking the law is acceptable, if the corporation gets off with civil penalties that are small in relation to the illicit gains that are made.

Roger Martin, in his book, Fixing the Game, writes:

It isn’t just about the money for shareholders, or even the dubious CEO behavior that our theories encourage. It’s much bigger than that. Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism. These theories underpin regulatory fixes instituted after each market bubble and crash. Because the fixes begin from the wrong premise, they will be ineffectual; until we change the theories, future crashes are inevitable.

References:

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Location of the Mind Remains a Mystery

ResearchBlogging.orgWhere does the mind reside? It’s a question that has occupied the best brains for thousands of years, including the Buddha’s.

Recent advances in functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging, a technique that measures brain activity in the hope of finding correlations between mental functions and specific regions of the brain, have led to a wealth of studies that map particular functions onto regions. Self-awareness is defined as being aware of oneself, including one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors. Previous neuroimaging studies had suggested that self-awareness (SA), which is central to human consciousness, depends critically on specific brain regions, namely the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). This proposal predicts that damage to these regions should disrupt or even abolish SA — an afflicted individual should be like a zombie, according to David Rudrauf, a neurologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

University of Iowa researchers studied the brain of a patient with damage to three regions long considered integral to self-awareness — left to right, the insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex. Image credit: UI Department of Neurology.

So when Rudrauf and his team heard about patient R, they immediately thought he could help set the record straight. Patient R is a 57-year-old man whose brain was damaged in 1980 following a severe episode of herpes simplex encephalitis. His brain damage is bilateral, more extensive on the right, and encompasses the target regions mentioned above: the insular cortex, the ACC, and the mPFC. Rudrauf et al reasoned that if any of the structures that are damaged in this patient are indeed critical for the different aspects of SA implicated by the hypothesis described above — i.e., insula, ACC, mPFC — the patient should show clear disruptions of the corresponding functions. Conversely, if these structures are not critical, R should show largely preserved SA.

In fact, R displays a strong concept of selfhood. Rudrauf’s team confirmed this by checking whether he could recognize himself in photographs and by performing the tickle test — based on the observation that you can’t tickle yourself. They concluded that many aspects of R‘s self-awareness remained unaffected. “Having interacted with him it was clear from the get go that there was no way that [the theories based on neuroimaging] could be true,” says Rudrauf. R also has an IQ within the normal range, although he does have severe amnesia, which prevents him from learning new information, and he struggles with social interaction.

The UI researchers estimate that R has ten percent of tissue remaining in his insula and one percent of tissue remaining in his anterior cingulate cortex. Some had seized upon the presence of tissue to question whether those regions were in fact being used for self-awareness. But neuroimaging results presented in the current study reveal that R’s remaining tissue is highly abnormal and largely disconnected from the rest of the brain.

The authors of the report conclude that:

R is a conscious, self-aware, and sentient human being despite the widespread destruction of cortical regions purported to play a critical role in SA, namely the insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex.

“Self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain,” says Rudrauf. “In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.”

Patient R demonstrates that the mind remains as elusive as ever.

References:

  • Philippi CL, Feinstein JS, Khalsa SS, Damasio A, Tranel D, & et al. (2012). Preserved Self-Awareness following Extensive Bilateral Brain Damage to the Insula, Anterior Cingulate, and Medial Prefrontal Cortices Plos ONE, 7 (8) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038413

August 3, 2007 (a Friday)

Ban the Chinese Government

On this date, in one of history’s more absurd acts of dictatorship and totalitarianism, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree (State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5) that all reincarnations of tülkus of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are “illegal or invalid”. The Chinese word for tülku is huófó (活佛), which literally means “living Buddha” and is sometimes used to mean tülku, although this is rare outside of Chinese sources. However, according to the Dalai Lama, “this is wrong. Tibetan Buddhism recognizes no such thing.” Also, in interviews that he has given, the Dalai Lama has frequently dismissed the notion of “living Buddha”, referring to it as “nonsense”. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, tülku is used to refer to the corporeal existence of enlightened Buddhist masters in general. 

The Chinese decree stated, “It is an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas. The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country.” It also requires that temples which apply for reincarnation of a living Buddha must be “legally-registered venues for Tibetan Buddhism activities and are capable of fostering and offering proper means of support for the living Buddha.”

In other words, China banned reincarnation without government permission. Tibetan Buddhists believe lamas and other religious figures can consciously influence how they are reborn, and often are reborn many times so they can continue their religious pursuits. So, the Chinese government decree, which took effect September 1, 2007, requires that each of these people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several Chinese government agencies for approval.

This is what the Chinese Communist Party bosses like to call “religious freedom”. But beyond the irony was China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and (at that time) political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, who, by tradition, is reborn to continue the work of relieving suffering.

July 16, 1997 (a Wednesday)

Dharmsala, India.

On this date, Chen Kuiyuan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, gave a speech on “legitimate” art, “acceptable” tradition, and the role of Buddhism in Tibetan culture in which he said:

In inheriting traditional culture, we must distinguish the essence from the dross and continue to create something new.

(…)

Some people say that the Tibetan national culture is connected to religion in form and essence. Some others say that college teaching material will be void of substance if religion is not included and that in that case, colleges would not be real colleges. If what such people talked about were a Buddhist college, I would have no comment. But what they refer to is a Tibet University, so they have no reason whatsoever to make such an allegation. After all, is the Tibetan national culture equivalent to a Buddhist culture? If one should say that the Tibetan national culture came into being after Buddhist culture, one would have shorten the history of Tibetan civilization by more than 1,000 years. As is known to all, there was no Buddhism in Tibet over a long period of time. Buddhism came into being only a little over 2,500 years ago.

(…)

Is only Buddhism Tibetan culture? It is utterly absurd. Buddhism is a foreign culture. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no culture before the arrival of Buddhist culture, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a culture? The view of equating Buddhist culture with Tibetan culture not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself. I just cannot understand that. Some people, claiming to be authorities, have made such shameless statements confusing truth and falsehood. Comrades who are engaged in research on Tibetan culture should be indignant at such statements. Making use of religion in the political field, separatists now go all out to put religion above the Tibetan culture and attempt to use the spoken language and culture to cause disputes and antagonism between nationalities, and this is the crux of the matter. [emphasis added]

Later, at a secret meeting held in December 1999 in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Chen Kuiyuan recommended to the Central Chinese Government that an all-out effort must be made to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism and culture from the face of the earth so that no memory of them will be left in the minds of coming generations of Tibetans – except as museum pieces. Chen Kuiyuan stated that the main cause of instability is the existence of the Dalai Lama and his Government-in-exile in Dharamsala and these must be “uprooted”. He recommended that Tibet, Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism – in other words the very name of Tibet – must be destroyed and the “Tibet Autonomous Region” be merged with provinces like Sichuan.

Chen’s statements, as arrogant and ignorant as they made him appear to be [which can be illustrated by paraphrasing Chen: Communism is a foreign government. If it is said that the Tibetan nationality had no government before the arrival of the Communist (Chinese) government, is it not said that the Tibetan people used to be a nationality without a government? The view of equating Communist (Chinese) government with Tibetan government not only does not conform to reality but also belittles the ancestors of the Tibetan nationality and the Tibetan nationality itself.], were hardly the isolated or extreme views of a minor CCP official. From July 20 to 23, 1994, Beijing had staged the Third Forum on Work in Tibet, which had expressed deep concern at the continued popularity of Tibetan Buddhism. The Party publicly ordered a halt to any further spread of Buddhist institutions or of the monastic population in Tibet:

There are too many places where monasteries have been opened without permission from the authorities, and having too much religious activity. Some districts have built monasteries without limits and without permission. The waste of manpower, materials and money was tremendous.

(…)

There are problems [p.that have?*] arisen from religion, i.e. sometimes interfering in administration, law, education, marriages, birth control planning, people’s productivity and their daily life…

However, what really had concerned the authorities was not monks wasting social resources but the perceived relationship between the clergy and the continuing activism of the pro-independence movement:

A number of religious institutions [p.trans: including places?*] have been used at times by a few people who harbor sinister motives to plot against us and have become counter -revolutionary bases.

(…)

The influence of our enemy in foreign countries, especially the Dalai clique, was slipping into the monasteries of our region more than ever. They assume that “to get hold of a monastery is the equivalent of [p.trans: getting hold of?*] a district of the Communist Party”, and they are putting great effort [p.hope?*] into achieving it.

Although most recent demonstrations calling for independence in Tibet had been initiated and carried out by members of the Tibetan clergy, few if any of these protests in Lhasa lasted more than a few minutes and none was known to have involved more than fifteen people. In other words, the protests carried out by the clergy were frequent but insignificant in size; the really large-scale demonstrations of this period were entirely lay affairs. The Third Forum’s identification of Tibetan monasteries with opposition to the state was grossly exaggerated. The result of the Third Forum’s policy on religion was to give approval at the highest level for stricter control over the monastic institutions of Tibet:

We must teach and guide Tibetan Buddhism to reform itself. All those religion laws and rituals must be reformed in order to fit in with the needs of development and stability in Tibet, and they should be reformed so that they become appropriate to a society under socialism.

Not surprisingly, then, on 5 April 1996, the Tibet Daily formally announced the ban on public display of Dalai Lama photographs:

The hanging of the Dalai’s portrait in temples should gradually be banned. We should convince and educate the large numbers of monks and ordinary religious believers that the Dalai is no longer a religious leader who can bring happiness to the masses, but a guilty person of the motherland and people.

Religious and cultural rights are internationally recognized human rights. The incorporation of these rights in international law is a recognition that the preservation of these values is of concern to the entire world community. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thereby represents an international standard applicable to all nations. The inseparability of religion and culture in Tibetan society means that the Tibetan people’s freedom of religion is also protected under article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1997), which recognizes the right of everyone “(t)o take part in cultural life”. China regularly claims that the Tibetan people’s human rights are being observed and that they enjoy full religious freedom, but this is an unequivocal lie.

References:

July 6, 1935 (a Saturday)

The 14th Dalai Lama as a child in Amdo, shorty after his discovery by a party of monks.

On this date, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (born Lhamo Dondrub) was born to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is also well known for his lifelong advocacy for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet.

Dalai Lamas are the head monks of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists traditionally believe them to be the reincarnation of their predecessors and a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Lhamo Dondrub was selected as the rebirth of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of 2, although he was only formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama on 17 November 1950 at the age of 15.

June 23, 1912 (a Sunday)

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.


On this date, the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing was born. Turing was a genius and a visionary who foresaw the digital world in which we now live and who believed machines would one day think. In the eyes of scientists today, Turing sits alongside Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin at the table of scientific greats.

Turing’s first professional success came with publication of his paper entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (1936). In the course of solving Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem (Decision Problem), Turing invented the hypothetical device that became known as the Turing machine, and proved that some such machine would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing, describes it this way:

The concept of “the Turing machine” is like that of “the formula” or “the equation”; there is an infinity of possible Turing machines, each corresponding to a different “definite method” or algorithm. But imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. Then the work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing machine, namely the Universal Turing machine. A Universal Turing machine can be made do what any other particular Turing machine would do, by supplying it with the standard form describing that Turing machine. One machine, for all possible tasks.

It is hard now not to think of a Turing machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting and obeying the program as what the computer itself does. Thus, the Universal Turing Machine embodies the essential principle of the computer: a single machine which can be turned to any well-defined task by being supplied with the appropriate program.

This is why Turing is given credit for having invented the principle of the modern computer.

But in the 1930s, when Turing began working on the Entscheidungsproblem, the word “computer” had a meaning different from the one it has today: it meant simply a person who did computations — that is to say, a person engaged in the active use of algorithms. Turing wrote:

We may compare a man in the process of computing a real number to a machine which is only capable of a finite number of conditions q1, q2, …, qR which will be called “mconfigurations”. The machine is supplied with a “tape”, (the analogue of paper) running through it, and divided into sections (called “squares”) each capable of bearing a “symbol”.

The point should be emphasized: Turing was not considering the computing machines of his day. No such machines existed at the time, only calculating devices too crude to undertake any complex mathematics, and certainly not programmable. He was actually modelling the action of human minds. The physical machines would come ten years later.

British mathematician Alan Turing, shown aged 16 at the Sherborne School in Dorset in 1928.

Turing is best known for his work in cracking the Nazi codes, which gave the allies a consistent intelligence advantage over the enemy, shortening World War II by years and saving millions of lives. “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them,” said Richard Dawkins. “After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody,” referring to Turing’s sexual orientation.

Turing also devised what is known today as the “Turing Test.” The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to perform human-like conversation. Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“, it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of some machine), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel, such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested.

However, Turing was a gay man living in an era when the word still meant “happy” or “lighthearted” and anyone who acted on a homosexual impulse was subject to criminal prosecution, not only in England where Turing lived but in many other countries as well. Nevertheless, rather naive and somewhat unworldly, Turing was never particularly concerned to hide his sexuality, and throughout his life he spoke openly of his attraction to men.

In 1952, Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old recent acquaintance of Turing’s, helped an accomplice to break into Turing’s house, and Turing went to the police to report the crime. As a result of the police investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray, and a crime having been identified and settled, they were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

Turing came to trial on 31 March 1952 and made no serious denial or defense, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of his profession in Manchester, England. Turing was convicted of the same crime Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than 50 years before. He was given the choice between imprisonment or probation, the latter conditional on his undergoing hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. To avoid going to jail, he accepted the estrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year, with side effects including gynecomastia (breast enlargement). His lean runner’s body took on fat. His conviction led to a removal of his security clearance and prevented him from continuing consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on cryptographic matters. At this time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents. In America, Robert Oppenheimer had just been deemed a security risk.

On June 8, 1954, his housekeeper found Turing dead, with a half-eaten apple left beside his bed; the previous day, he had died of cyanide poisoning. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental; there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable. Although he left no note, most believe that his death was intentional; Turing had himself spoken of suicide. His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Others suggest that Turing was reenacting a scene from “Snow White”, reportedly his favorite fairy tale. It has even been suggested that Turing’s suicide was in fact the work of the British secret service determined to remove a security risk.

Interestingly, in 1928 while a student at Sherborne School, Turing fell in love with a boy one year ahead of him in school, Christopher Morcom. The boys bonded over their shared passion for science. Unfortunately, on 13 February 1930, Turing’s beloved Christopher died at the age of 18 of bovine tuberculosis, which he had contracted years earlier when he drank tainted milk. His death profoundly affected Turing and may have spurred his intellectual achievements.

A letter sent from Alan Turing to Christopher Morcom’s mother.

In his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodges refers to an essay Turing wrote to the mother of his deceased boyfriend:

He fell in unrequited love with Christopher Morcom, a very talented youth in the school sixth form, and his longing for friendship brought him to communicate. A brief flowering of scientific collaboration perished when Morcom suddenly died in February 1930 of tuberculosis. Turing’s correspondence with the dead boy’s mother gives insight into the development of his ideas in the aftermath. He was concerned to believe the dead boy could still exist in spirit, and to reconcile such a belief with science. To this end he wrote for Mrs Morcom an essay [entitled ‘Nature of Spirit‘], probably in 1932. It is the private writing of a twenty-year-old, and must be read as testament to background and not as a thesis upheld in public; nevertheless it is a key to Turing’s future development.

The essay begins with a general account of the influence of developments in physics and quantum mechanics on the scientific conception of the universe, then moves quickly into the question of free will:

It used to be supposed in Science that if everything was known about the Universe at any particular moment then we can predict what it will be through all the future. This idea was really due to the great success of astronomical prediction. More modern science however has come to the conclusion that when we are dealing with atoms and electrons we are quite unable to know the exact state of them; our instruments being made of atoms and electrons themselves. The conception then of being able to know the exact state of the universe then must really break down on the small scale. This means that the theory which held that as eclipses etc. are predestined so were all our actions breaks down too. We have a will which is able to determine the action of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this.

In stating the classic paradox of physical determinism and free will, Turing is influenced by Arthur Stanley Eddington’s assertion that quantum mechanical physics (“more modern science”) yields room for human will. Eddington asked how could “this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine?” and Turing tries to find some answer.

There is now the question which must be answered as to how the action of the other atoms of the universe are regulated. Probably by the same law and simply by the remote effects of spirit but since they have no amplifying apparatus they seem to be regulated by pure chance. The apparent non-predestination of physics is almost a combination of chances.

Here, Turing says that although the atoms, in their action, “seem to be regulated by pure chance” (emphasis added), in fact they are “probably” subject to the same “will” by means of which we as human beings are able to control at least a small portion of our brains. Thus the “remote effects of spirit” have not, in fact, been banished.

As McTaggart shows matter is meaningless in the absence of spirit (throughout I do not mean by matter that which can be a solid a liquid or a gas so much as that which is dealt with by physics e.g. light and gravitations as well i.e. that which forms the universe). Personally I think that spirit is really eternally connected with matter but certainly not always by the same kind of body. I did believe it possible for a spirit at death to go to a universe entirely separate from our own, but now I consider that matter and spirit are so connected that this would be a contradiction in terms. It is possible however but unlikely that such universes may exist.

Then as regards the actual connection between spirit and body I consider that the body by reason of being a living body can “attract” and hold on to a “spirit,” whilst the body is alive and awake the two are firmly connected. When the body is asleep I cannot guess what happens but when the body dies the “mechanism” of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.

As regards the question of why we have bodies at all; why we cannot live free as spirits and communicate as such, we probably could do so but there would be nothing whatever to do. The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use.

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by NPL Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

By the time of the publication of “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950, Turing had decided that artificial intelligence was possible — a machine could be built that could have the qualities of a human mind — which his now-famous test was designed to detect. In his paper he addressed an argument opposed to his view:

This argument is very well expressed in Professor Jefferson’s Lister Oration for 1949, from which I quote. ‘Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain — that is, not only write it but know that it had written it. No mechanism could feel (and not merely signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.’ This argument appears to be a denial of the validity of our test. According to the most extreme form of this view the only way by which one could be sure that a machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking. One could then describe these feelings to the world, but of course no one would be justified in taking any notice. Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. It is in fact the solipsist point of view.

The gist of Turing’s view now was that the existence of consciousness (“but know that it had written it”) is an illusion, a quality emerging from and ultimately to be explained by great complexity. His approach would not accept “intentionality” as any better an explanation than “spirit” or “soul”. In this conviction he is close to Buddhism. “I do not wish to give the impression that I think there is no mystery about consciousness,” he wrote. “There is, for instance, something of a paradox connected with any attempt to localize it.”

The mystery of how matter comes to support human mind was the burning theme of Alan Turing’s lifelong inquiry. In 1932, he believed that “spirit” could live on, and in a sense he proved that yes, it could. In the end, Christopher Morcom’s spirit lived on not in his body but in a wholly different form, in the work of Alan Turing.

References:

June 11, 1963 (a Tuesday)

Self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc

At midday on this date, Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức took a ride in a car to the corner of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet streets (now Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Cach Mang Thang Tam streets) in central Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Đức emerged from the car along with two other monks. One placed a cushion on the road while the second opened the trunk and took out a five-gallon gasoline can. Đức calmly seated himself in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position on the cushion. A colleague emptied the contents of the gasoline container over Đức’s head. Đức rotated a mala (string of wooden prayer beads) and recited the words Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật (“homage to Amitabha Buddha”) before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body.

Đức’s last words before his self-immolation were documented in a letter he had left:

Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Đình Diệm to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.

The Most Venerable Thích Quảng Đức, whose lay name was Lam Van Tuc, was born in 1897 in a small village in a province in central Viet Nam.

In August of 1963, Diệm, a Roman Catholic who had been oppressing the Buddhist majority, used regular troops to arrest and imprison more than one thousand Buddhists in Hue and Saigon. Protests spread, and Quảng Đức’s self-immolation was followed by similar acts. Madame Nhu, the president’s sister-in-law, referred to the burnings as “barbecues” and offered to supply matches.

People around the world began to question a regime that would oppress peaceful Buddhists and provoke such shocking sacrifice. Many Americans viewed Thích Quảng Đức’s act as a demonstration that Vietnamese lacked the most cherished of American liberties: freedom of religion. Such was the outrage that officials genuinely feared that it would lead to the end of Diệm’s reign and the American effort to combat communism in Vietnam. The U.S. government found it increasingly difficult to continue its support of the man they had put in power.

The statue of Thich Quang Duc at the corner of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Cach Mang Thang Tam streets.

The JFK administration demanded that Diệm find a way to end the protests. Diệm refused, outrageously claiming yet again that communist infiltration lay behind the Buddhist protests. The Americans lost patience. On 1 November 1963, the CIA orchestrated a coup against the no-longer-useful Diệm. He was assassinated the following day.

For his extraordinary martyrdom, Thích Quảng Đức was deemed a bodhisattva — a human being who aspires to enlightenment not purely to free themselves from suffering, but to free other sentient beings from suffering as well. And that he did. His heroic act precipitated the end of Diệm’s oppressive reign, and the regimes that followed pledged to accommodate the Buddhists.

Thích Quảng Đức’s heart, which miraculously survived the immolation intact, has become a holy relic.

June 1, 1965 (a Tuesday)

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh

On this date, while exiled for speaking out against the ravages of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraging him to publicly denounce the war. “You yourself can not remain silent,” he said. The full text of the letter, which is as relevant today as when it was written in 1965, follows:

The self-burning of Vietnamese Buddhist monks in 1963 is somehow difficult for the Western Christian conscience to understand. The Press spoke then of suicide, but in the essence, it is not. It is not even a protest. What the monks said in the letters they left before burning themselves aimed only at alarming, at moving the hearts of the oppressors and at calling the attention of the world to the suffering endured then by the Vietnamese. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with the utmost of courage, frankness, determination and sincerity. During the ceremony of ordination, as practiced in the Mahayana tradition, the monk-candidate is required to burn one, or more, small spots on his body in taking the vow to observe the 250 rules of a bhikshu, to live the life of a monk, to attain enlightenment and to devote his life to the salvation of all beings. One can, of course, say these things while sitting in a comfortable armchair; but when the words are uttered while kneeling before the community of sangha and experiencing this kind of pain, they will express all the seriousness of one’s heart and mind, and carry much greater weight.

The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, say with all his strengh [sic] and determination that he can endure the greatest of sufferings to protect his people. But why does he have to burn himself to death? The difference between burning oneself and burning oneself to death is only a difference in degree, not in nature. A man who burns himself too much must die. The importance is not to take one’s life, but to burn. What he really aims at is the expression of his will and determination, not death. In the Buddhist belief, life is not confined to a period of 60 or 80 or 100 years: life is eternal. Life is not confined to this body: life is universal. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, i.e., to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people. This is not suicide. Suicide is an act of self-destruction, having as causes the following:

— lack of courage to live and to cope with difficulties
— defeat by life and loss of all hope
— desire for non-existence (abhava)

This self-destruction is considered by Buddhism as one of the most serious crimes. The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope; nor does he desire non-existence. On the contrary, he is very courageous and hopeful and aspires for something good in the future. He does not think that he is destroying himself; he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Like the Buddha in one of his former lives — as told in a story of Jataka — who gave himself to a hungry lion which was about to devour her own cubs, the monk believes he is practicing the doctrine of highest compassion by sacrificing himself in order to call the attention of, and to seek help from, the people of the world.

I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination which lie within the heart of man. I also believe with all my being that the struggle for equality and freedom you lead in Birmingham, Alabama… is not aimed at the whites but only at intolerance, hatred and discrimination. These are real enemies of man — not man himself. In our unfortunate father land we are trying to yield desperately: do not kill man, even in man’s name. Please kill the real enemies of man which are present everywhere, in our very hearts and minds.

Now in the confrontation of the big powers occurring in our country, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Vietnamese peasants and children lose their lives every day, and our land is unmercifully and tragically torn by a war which is already twenty years old. I am sure that since you have been engaged in one of the hardest struggles for equality and human rights, you are among those who understand fully, and who share with all their hearts, the indescribable suffering of the Vietnamese people. The world’s greatest humanists would not remain silent. You yourself can not remain silent. America is said to have a strong religious foundation and spiritual leaders would not allow American political and economic doctrines to be deprived of the spiritual element. You cannot be silent since you have already been in action and you are in action because, in you, God is in action, too — to use Karl Barth’s expression. And Albert Schweitzer, with his stress on the reverence for life and Paul Tillich with his courage to be, and thus, to love. And Niebuhr. And Mackay. And Fletcher. And Donald Harrington. All these religious humanists, and many more, are not going to favour the existence of a shame such as the one mankind has to endure in Vietnam. Recently a young Buddhist monk named Thich Giac Thanh burned himself [April 20, 1965, in Saigon] to call the attention of the world to the suffering endured by the Vietnamese, the suffering caused by this unnecessary war — and you know that war is never necessary. Another young Buddhist, a nun named Hue Thien was about to sacrifice herself in the same way and with the same intent, but her will was not fulfilled because she did not have the time to strike a match before people saw and interfered. Nobody here wants the war. What is the war for, then? And whose is the war?

Yesterday in a class meeting, a student of mine prayed: “Lord Buddha, help us to be alert to realize that we are not victims of each other. We are victims of our own ignorance and the ignorance of others. Help us to avoid engaging ourselves more in mutual slaughter because of the will of others to power and to predominance.” In writing to you, as a Buddhist, I profess my faith in Love, in Communion and in the World’s Humanists whose thoughts and attitude should be the guide for all human kind in finding who is the real enemy of Man.

June 1, 1965
NHAT HANH

May 14, 1966 (a Saturday)

Tzu Chi Foundation is socially engaged Buddhism.

On this date, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was established.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen established the Tzu Chi Foundation in Hualien, on the poor east coast of Taiwan.  Its work is based upon the Buddhist principle of living out the spirit of a Buddha and carrying out the bodhisattva mission.  With the values of self-discipline, diligence, frugality, and perseverance, Tzu Chi set out to help the poor and relieve suffering. Since then, the foundation has been contributing to better social and community services, medical care, education and humanism in Taiwan and around the world. Tzu Chi now has chapters and offices in 47 countries and provides aid to over 69 nations. Its volunteers selflessly contribute through a mindset of gratitude, expressing their sincerest care and support to each and every individual in need.

April 8, 563 B.C.E. (?)

Colored lanterns in S. Korea at the Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born Prince Siddhartha Gotama in the foothills of the Himalayas over 2,500 years ago. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on the first full moon day of the sixth month (Vesakha) of the Indian lunar calendar (which would be the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar) except in years in which there’s an extra full moon, and then Buddha’s birthday falls in the seventh month. Well, except where it starts a week earlier. And in Tibet it’s usually a month later…….

Oh, and in Japan, Buddha’s Birthday is always celebrated on April 8.

Confused?

Since the occurrence of the full moon varies from year to year, naturally the actual date varies from year to year (except in Japan).  In Southeast Asia, the day is called Vesak Puja or Visakha or Wesak.   “Puja” means “religious service,” so “Vesak Puja” can be translated “the religious service for the month of Visakha.”  This full moon day is the most commonly observed date for Buddha’s birthday.  Upcoming dates for Vesak Puja include:

  • 2010: May 21
  • 2011: May 10
  • 2012: May 28
  • 2013: May 17
  • 2014: May 6
  • 2015: May 25

In South Korea, Buddha’s birthday is a gala week-long celebration that ends on the first full moon day of the lunar month Vesakha.  Throughout Korea, city streets and temples are decorated with lanterns. At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the first day begins with religious ceremonies, followed by a street fair near the temple. In the evening a gala lantern parade stretches for miles through the heart of Seoul.  Here are upcoming dates for the celebration in South Korea:

  • 2010: May 15-May 21
  • 2011: May 4-May 10

Buddha’s birthday in Japan.

In Japan, Buddha’s birthday is always celebrated on April 8, although it is not a national holiday.  This day is called Hana Matsuri or “Flower Festival.” In China, the first celebration of the Buddha’s birth is said to have taken place on April 8 in the latter Chao dynasty (C.E. 319–355) and in Japan it was first held in 660 at the Ganko-ji temple near Nara by order of Empress Suiko. On this day, the statue of the infant Buddha is placed in a flower-decorated shrine symbolizing the beautiful Lumbini garden where the Buddha was born. Sometimes it is carried on a white elephant in a parade, recalling the legendary elephant that brought the Buddha from heaven to the womb of his mother, Queen Maya. People gather around the shrine and pour sweet tea on the statue of the infant Buddha as a substitute for the nectar which is said to have been sprinkled by celestial beings at the time of his birth. The service is therefore called the Kambutsu (Anointing the Buddha) Service.

Celebrating in Tibet.

The entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, which usually begins in May and ends in June, is called Saga Dawa (meaning “fourth month”). The seventh day of Saga Dawa is the date of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, called Saga Dawa Duchen. This is the single most important holiday for Tibetan Buddhism, usually observed with pilgrimages and other visits to temples and shrines. The highlight of Saga Dawa Duchen is the raising of a huge pole which is festooned with prayer flags galore, as pilgrims circumambulate the central ring area with prayer wheels in motion.

March 28, 2009 (a Saturday)

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On this date, the Chinese Communist Party bosses marked 50 years of direct control over Tibet by raising their national flag in the regional capital and commemorating a new political holiday honoring what they call the “liberation of slaves from brutal feudal rule”. Testimonials about the “misery of life” in old Tibet kicked off the short ceremony – televised live from in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa – to mark the end of the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet. March 28 marks the date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising, sending the Dalai Lama over the Himalayas into exile and placing Tibet under its direct rule for the first time.

In contrast, the Tibetan government-in-exile said on its Web site that the new holiday, crowned “Serfs Liberation Day”, would be a day of mourning for Tibetans around the world. “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative,” it said.

Press Statement: China’s Serf Emancipation Day Hides Repression in Tibet
The Kashag
27 March 2009

China’s decision to observe tomorrow as the so-called Serf Emancipation Day is aggravating problems in Tibet. Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative. We believe the observance of the “Serf Emancipation Day” on 28 March is aimed at destabilizing and creating chaos in Tibet by a few individuals with overriding self-interest. If the Tibetans, losing their patience, took to the streets in protest, the Chinese leaders will have the excuse to use even more brutal force to crackdown.

Already the whole of Tibet is under heavy security clampdown, with additional troops deployed. Despite these measures, Tibetans, considering conditions in Tibet unbearable, collectively and individually, are taking to the streets, distributing pamphlets calling for freedom, bringing down the Chinese flag and replacing it with the Tibetan flag. This year, Tibetans did not celebrate the Tibetan New Year to mourn those killed in last year’s crackdown on the widespread protests that erupted throughout Tibet. In a development unprecedented in the history of Tibet, Tibetans in Kanze in eastern Tibet have decided not to farm their fields in a unique form of civil disobedience to protest China’s heavy-handed rule. One monk, Tashi Sangpo of Ragya monastery in Golok in north-eastern Tibet was arrested on 10 March 2009, for allegedly hoisting a Tibetan flag. He escaped his captors and drowned himself in the nearby Yellow River. These acts and many more are the true Tibetan attitude to “emancipation” by China.

This day will be observed by Tibetans throughout the world and especially those in Tibet as a day of mourning. No less a figure than Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who visited Lhasa in 1980, apologized to the Tibetan people and said the conditions in Tibet were worse than pre-1959 Tibet.

The late Panchen Lama said in 1989, a few days before his untimely death, that on the whole China’s rule in Tibet brought greater suffering than benefit for the Tibetan people.

Since 1949/50 when China invaded Tibet, over 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of Chinese communist rule and more than 6,000 monasteries were razed to the ground. Today, it is hard to come across a Tibetan family that has not had at least one member imprisoned or killed by the Chinese regime. This day will be observed as the day when the Tibetans as a people lost all vestiges of their basic individual and collective freedoms.

One justification for China’s “liberation” of Tibet is that old Tibet was feudal and repressive. This is a blatant distortion of the nature of Tibet’s old society. In the early mid-20th century, there was no big gap between the peasants in Tibet and China. Moreover, the Tibetan peasants enjoyed more freedom and better living conditions.

To prove that the old Tibetan society was repressive, the Chinese authorities are currently organising an exhibition of Tibetan prisons and the punishments meted out. However, the reality is that the size of Nangze Shar Prison in Lhasa, heavily used in Chinese propaganda, could accommodate not more than a score of prisoners. In fact, the total number of prisoners in the whole of Tibet before 1959 hardly crossed hundred. After the so-called liberation and emancipation of the Tibetan “serfs”, prisons have come up in every part of Tibet. In Lhasa alone, there are 5 major prisons with a total prison population between 3,500 – 4,000.

The best judge of whether they have been “liberated” is the Tibetan people. They vote with their feet and lives by crossing the Himalayas to seek freedom and happiness outside of their “liberated” Tibet. They also sacrifice their lives to inform the world of the terrible conditions prevailing in Tibet. This was massively demonstrated last year when a series of sustained and widespread protests erupted throughout Tibet. If the “serfs” are happy with their “emancipation”, why are they risking lives and limbs to protest Chinese rule in Tibet.

“Just as Europe can’t return to the medieval era and the United States can’t go back to the times before the Civil War, Tibet can never restore the old serf society era,” Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss of the region, told the crowd of more than 13,000. But his statement reflects how the Chinese government continues its deceit and propaganda: the people of Tibet, including the Dalai Lama, do NOT seek to institute a “serf” society. In 1963 the Dalai Lama promulgated a constitution for a democratic Tibet. It has been successfully implemented, to the extent possible, by the Government-in-exile.

Furthermore, at the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that a country is backward cannot justify invading it. Backwardness was often advanced as a justification for 19th century colonialism, what Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s burden” when he encouraged the United States to colonize the Philippines. The fact that China relies on the “backwardness” argument to support its occupation of Tibet is a further indication of a classic colonial occupation.

Thus, the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet to exploit its untapped natural resources, pure and simple. “Tibet belongs to China, not a few separatists or the international forces against China. Any conspiracy attempting to separate the region from China is doomed to fail,” Zhang said.

Also, how could China have “liberated” Tibet in 1949 if it claims prior sovereignty? It is odd that China, on the one hand, claims that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, and then, on the other, claims that it “liberated” Tibet in 1949 from an unfortunate past. But, liberated it from what? You can only liberate a country from a situation that your country does not control. Therefore, the Chinese government’s use of the term “liberate” seems to be an admission that China has not governed Tibet contiguously since the Mongol invasions. Either this, or it would have to argue that it was liberating Tibet from circumstances that China created while Tibet was under its control.

It should be noted that numerous countries made statements in the course of UN General Assembly debates following the invasion of Tibet that reflected their recognition of Tibet’s independent status. Thus, for example, the delegate from the Philippines declared: “It is clear that on the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the rule of any foreign country”. He described China’s occupation as “the worst type of imperialism and colonialism past or present”. The delegate from Thailand reminded the assembly that the majority of states “refute the contention that Tibet is a part of China.” The US joined most other UN members in condemning the Chinese “aggression” and “invasion” of Tibet.

In the course of Tibet’s 2,000-year history, the country came under a degree of foreign influence only for short periods of time in the 13th and 18th centuries. Few independent countries today can claim as impressive a record. As the ambassador to Ireland at the UN remarked during the General Assembly debates on the question of Tibet, “[f]or thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand of years at any rate, [Tibet] was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here.”

In May 1991, the Senate of the United States of America passed a resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Over the years many more resolutions have been passed by various international bodies.

And what has “liberation” meant to the Tibetan people? The International Commission of Jurists (1959 and 1960) judged the Chinese guilty of genocide in Tibet, “the gravest crime of which any person or nation can be accused … the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” and detailed atrocities to which Tibetans were subjected. These included public execution by shooting, crucifixion, burning alive, drowning, vivisection, starvation, strangulation, hanging, scalding, being buried alive, disemboweling and beheading; imprisonment without trial; torture; forced labour; and forcible sterilization. Many people, including children under 15 years, disappeared without trace.

The United Nations passed a resolution in 1959 calling for respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life based on the principles of fundamental human rights in the Charter of the United Nations and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Communist China ignored this resolution and 1961 saw another resolution stating that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be followed and Tibetans be granted their rights, including the right to self determination. The same was repeated in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In the 2000s, many view the Chinese genocide in Tibet as the result of the territorial ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party bosses. It is seen as stemming from their systematic attempt to expand the traditional territory of China by annexing permanently the vast, approximately 900,000-square-mile territory of traditional Tibet. Tibet represents about 30 percent of China’s land surface, while the Tibetans represent .004 percent of China’s population. Tibetans were not a minority but an absolute majority in their own historical environment. Chinese government efforts can be seen as aiming at securing permanent control of the Tibetans’ land. For this reason, some observers see genocide in Tibet as not merely referring to the matter of religion, that is, of destroying Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese policies have involved the extermination of more than 1 million Tibetans, the forced relocation of millions of Tibetan villagers and nomads, the population transfer of millions of Chinese settlers, and systematic assimilation.

References:

January 26, 1915 (a Tuesday)

Ashoka's Edict at Maski, Raichur district, Karnataka, India.  This edict confirmed the name ASOKA for "Devanampriya Piadassi".

Ashoka’s Edict at Maski, Raichur district, Karnataka, India. This edict confirmed the name ASOKA for “Devanampriya Piadassi”.

British gold mining engineer C. Beadon did not, in his wildest dreams, think he would soon be creating history when he went for a stroll around the hillocks of Maski in Raichur district’s Lingsugur taluk. Way back in 1915, on January 26, he chanced upon a minor edict on a boulder in a cavern. Historians and scholars of India and abroad were thrilled over the discovery because, for the first time, it revealed beyond doubt that the “Devanampriya” (Sanskrit, meaning “The Beloved of the Gods”) and Priyadarsi (Sanskrit, meaning “He Who Looks On With Affection”) referred to in a number of ancient edicts across the country was none other than the legendary Mauryan emperor Ashoka (or Asoka) the Great, one of the world’s most remarkable rulers.

Numerous stories about a great emperor called Ashoka appear in ancient Vedic literature, the Asokavadana, Divyavandana, and Mahvamsa. For many years, westerners considered them to be mere legend. They did not connect the Vedic ruler Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, to the stone pillars inscribed with edicts that are sprinkled all around the edges of India. The pseudonym “devanampriya” found in a number of edicts had, till the British engineer found the Maski edict, remained a mystery. Research scholars struggled hard to unearth the mystery but met with no success.

The Maski edict in Prakrit language, carved in Brahmi script and dated 256 BCE, changed the very course of historians and experts’ understanding of ancient Indian history. The Maski edict clearly told the world that it was Ashoka who had had the inscriptions carved under the name “Devanampriya”. The inscription has a mention of “Devanampriya Asoka”.

A few years later one more edict was found at Gujarra in Madhya Pradesh that also shows the Name “Asoka” in addition to the usual “Devanampriya Piyadasi”.

Ashoka’s edicts made during his reign are dispersed in more than thirty places throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan and represent the first tangible historical evidence of Buddhism.

Zen stones

Ashoka was born in 304 BCE to the Mauryan emperor Bindusara and his queen, Dharmā (or Dhammā). He was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan dynasty. It is from his mother’s exclamation “I am now without sorrow” upon his birth that Ashoka got his name. His name “aśoka” means “painless, without sorrow” in Sanskrit (the a privativum and śoka “pain, distress”).

Ashoka was given the royal military training knowledge. He was a fearsome hunter, and according to a legend, killed a lion with just a wooden rod. He was very adventurous and a trained fighter, known for his skills with the sword.

Bindusara’s death in 273 BCE led to a fratricidal struggle over succession. Ashoka managed to become the emperor by getting rid of the legitimate heir to the throne by tricking him into entering a pit filled with live coals. His coronation occurred in 269 BCE, four years after his succession to the throne.

Ashoka is said to have been of a wicked nature and bad temper. He submitted his ministers to a test of loyalty and had 500 of them killed. He also kept a harem of around 500 women. When a few of these women insulted him, he had the whole lot of them burned to death. He also built an elaborate and horrific torture chamber, which was like a hell on Earth. This torture chamber earned him the name of Chand Ashoka (Sanskrit), meaning Ashoka the Fierce.

Ashokan Pillar in Vaishali in the Indian state, Bihar.

Ashokan Pillar in Vaishali in the Indian state, Bihar.

While the early part of Ashoka’s reign was apparently quite bloodthirsty, he became a follower of the Buddha’s teaching after his conquest of Kalinga on the east coast of India in the present-day states of Orissa and North Coastal Andhra Pradesh. His 13th inscription (Rock Edict No. 13 [S. Dhammika]) tells us:

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.

Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this — that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees — that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods.

It is even said that in the aftermath of the Battle of Kalinga, the Daya River running next to the battle field turned red with the blood of the slain. As the legend goes, when Ashoka was walking through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest, rejoicing in his victory, he was moved by the number of bodies strewn there and the wails of the kith and kin of the dead. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue:

What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout? Is it valor to kill innocent children and women? Do I do it to widen the empire and for prosperity or to destroy the other’s kingdom and splendor? One has lost her husband, someone else a father, someone a child, someone an unborn infant… What’s this debris of the corpses? Are these marks of victory or defeat? Are these vultures, crows, eagles the messengers of death or evil?

The brutality of the conquest led Ashoka to adopt Buddhism. His conversion occurred around 260 BCE, and he used his position to propagate the relatively new religion to new heights, as far west as ancient Rome and Egypt.

After his conversion, Ashoka came to be known as Dhammashoka (Sanskrit), meaning “Ashoka, the follower of Dharma”. He defined the main principles of dharma (dhamma) as nonviolence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the Brahmans and other religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all. These principles suggest a general ethic of behavior to which no religious or social group could object.

During the remaining portion of Ashoka’s reign, he pursued an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa). Even the unnecessary slaughter or mutilation of animals was immediately abolished. Wildlife became protected by the king’s law against sport hunting and branding. Limited hunting was permitted for consumption reasons but the overwhelming majority of Indians chose by their own free will to become vegetarians. Ashoka also showed mercy to those imprisoned, allowing them leave for the outside a day of the year. He attempted to raise the professional ambition of the common man by building universities for study, and water, transit, and irrigation systems for trade and agriculture. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics, and caste. He is acclaimed for constructing hospitals for animals and renovating major roads throughout India. The kingdoms surrounding his, so easily overthrown, were instead made to be well-respected allies.

Some critics say that Ashoka was afraid of more wars, but among his neighbors, including the Seleucid Empire and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom established by Diodotus I, none could match his strength. Therefore, his new policies were most likely not for geopolitical reasons.

Asoka died in 232 BCE in the thirty-eighth year of his reign.

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