Hayagriva: a lesson for the Chinese in Tibet

At least 80 people are reported to have been killed so far in Tibet during protests against Chinese imperialist rule. And the Tibetan leader in exile has now accused China of “a rule of terror” and “cultural genocide” against his people.


China has been engaging in cultural genocide in Tibet ever since its forces invaded the country in 1950. The Dalai Lama is merely reinforcing this point in his description of the latest violence.

But is he right to call it a “rule of terror”? That would imply that the Tibetans are terrified of the Chinese. Going by the information dribbling out of the region, I would say that the Tibetans are anything but terrified of Chinese rule. They are instead facing up to it bravely, even if they know they cannot win the battle on the streets of Lhasa.

Current events in Tibet remind me of a story told by Captain Paul Watson, leader of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The Dalai Lama is a declared supporter of this environmentalist group, which some describe as “eco-terrorist”.

In a letter of response to an Australian senator who denounced Sea Shepherd’s “foolhardy” direct action strategy, Watson spoke of the difference between violence and aggressive tactics. He also referred to a gift from the Dalai Lama that now sits on the bridge of one of Sea Shepherd’s ships.

It is an icon of Hayagriva (“the horse-necked one”): an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of absolute compassion. This dynamic compassion manifests itself in angry deities such as Hayagriva, and the Dalai Lama explains the meaning of the fearsome image thus:

“You never want to hurt anyone, but sometimes when they cannot see enlightenment, you scare the hell out of them until they do.”

So who’s scared in Tibet – the natives or their foreign rulers?