Saturday, April 01, 2006

In the news...

Via the Telegraph, news of further iconoclasm in the UK:
Tony Blair is preparing the biggest assault on the powers of the House of Lords for more than 50 years after a series of bruising battles with peers over Labour reforms.
The Government plans to change the law to prevent the Upper Chamber blocking legislation that has been passed by the Commons.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, said the powers of the Lords should be curtailed as part of a wider package of reforms that could include the creation of a mainly-elected Upper Chamber.
"The right position for the Lords is that it should scrutinise, it should amend legislation to give the Commons the opportunity to think again but. . . then it should give way.
"I want there to be clarity about the circumstances in which the Lords gives way. In real terms the political decisions on the big issues need to be made by the Commons."
The move - which would significantly alter the balance of power between the Commons and the Lords - will put the Government on collision course with peers.

There's also an interesting article about Tibet and the Dali Lama:
Tsering Wangmo is shaking uncontrollably as tears pour down her cheeks. Still sobbing, she pulls up her top and slowly turns around to show me a fretwork of scars. They criss-cross her body from shoulders to waist.
"My crime," she explains when she is calmer, "was to be found by the police with a picture of the Dalai Lama. I was dragged through the streets of Lhasa by my hair, beaten with electric prongs, then thrown into jail for three years."
Her waterlogged, open-air prison in Tibet was shared with around 1,000 other women. "We were tortured, raped, hung upside down for hours," she says. "Many died." On her release, she discovered that her husband had been forced to marry a Chinese woman, so she took her children and fled barefoot across the Himalayas to find solace with the Dalai Lama.
She is one of thousands of Tibetans who have made the trek to Dharmsala, an old British hill station in northern India, to seek safety with their exiled leader.
Here, they are joined by hundreds of Westerners who come, clutching their Lonely Planet guides, for a glimpse of their guru. While Tsering turns her prayer-wheel in the refugee centre, a rotund Austrian biscuit heiress called Heidi Gudrun is staying in a deluxe suite at one of the new hotels that has sprung up nearby to cater for well-heeled travellers.
Heidi seems just as miserable as Tsering - but for a vastly different reason. "For 15 years, I have tried to lose weight," she says. "I have lost two husbands, I have had my stomach stapled - the Dalai Lama is my last hope."
It is the peculiar fate of this Dalai Lama that he serves as a guru for overweight biscuit heiresses as well as a living god to 10 million Tibetan Buddhists.

The Dali Lama presents an interesting critique of 'the West'.
"It is fascinating," he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. "In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes women like Heidi miserable."
The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."
He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. "Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don't understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human's needs," he says. "The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom - but less contentment."
Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. "Full stop.
No way round it.
He laughs when I change the subject and talk about the West's attempts to become more spiritual through yoga, massage and acupuncture. "These are just physical activities," he says. "To be happier, you must spend less time plotting your life and be more accepting."
The Dalai Lama has been criticised for becoming too obsessed with the fripperies of the West: he is too much in awe of celebrities, say his detractors, and too keen to appear in glossy magazines - he has even been pictured in Hello!, alongside the Duchess of York.
"Some say I am a good person, some say I am a charlatan - I am just a monk," he says, smiling broadly. "I never asked people like Richard Gere to come, but it is foolish to stop them. I have Tibetans, Indians, backpackers, Aids patients, religious people, politicians, actors and princesses. My attitude is to give everyone some of my time. If I can contribute in any way to their happiness, that makes me happy."
Many of the Western women who queue up to be blessed, he says, have told him they feel they can talk to him about anything.
"I see women who have had abortions because they thought a child would ruin their lives. A baby seemed unbearable - yet now they are older, they are unable to conceive. I feel so sorry for them."
They need to discover an inner strength, he tells them. "The West is now quite weak - it can't cope with adversity and it has little compassion for others. People are like plants - they can develop ways of countering negative forces. If people took more responsibility for their own problems, they would become more self-confident."
He does not believe that you have to be religious in order to have a meaningful life. "But you have to have morals, to strive for basic, good human qualities. I don't want to convert people to Buddhism - all major religions, when understood properly, have the same potential for good."

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