Dear Freethinking Friends!
What a pleasure it is to be amongst you today – on a day when reincarnation appears to be the theme of the day – of course, it is the reincarnation of a Global Association for Freethought! Such an organisation is today’s need, hence my congratulations for what has already been achieved, and may I assure you that we shall be next to you during your initiatives to come – it is a renaissance and a reincarnation that we will welcome with open arms!
But today I will take the opportunity to bring to your notice another kind of reincarnation which we have just fought successfully in Asia. It is a story about Buddhism, a religion with 350 million followers worldwide, and which in the minds of the westerners is linked closely with the famous Nobel Laureate, the Dalai Lama.
But the Dalai Lama does not represent all the Buddhists of the world. After all, there are three main Schools of Buddhism: the Hinayana (also known as the Theravada) and the Mahayana have the adherence of the majority of Buddhists, while the third sect, the Vajrayana based on the practice of
tantra rites and rituals has the support of some 25 million followers, specially in Tibet which is under the Chinese occupation and dictatorship. Vajrayana, in turn, is further divided into 4 smaller sects, amongst which the oldest is the Karmapa sect. Next comes the Gelugpa, of which the Dalai Lama is the head.
Despite being the spiritual and temporal head of a small group of Buddhists, the Dalai’s public relations, his sense of humour and the problem of Tibet gives him an extraordinary profile, and makes him dear to the many who wish to support the Tibetans who are fighting for freedom. But campaigning against Chinese atrocities and supporting the Dalai Lama and his beliefs or superstitions are not the same. Let us be clear about this: the Dalai lama received the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to the atrocious murders in Tiananmen Square by the Chinese authorities, and not for the beliefs of Vajrayana which is a religion in need of babies for its existence. With help from mysterious signs, Vajrayana monks identify some babies and declare them to be
the reincarnation of dead monks. Once so identified, the babies are absorbed into monasteries where they receive religious education, and are subjected to brain washing: they start thinking that they really are the reincarnation of a dead person and that they can communicate with the souls of dead people. They do not any longer have the possibility of retaining their own identity, and they are condemned to live a false life without contact with the outside world. We identified this religious practice as a violation of the human rights of babies and children. Further, we were ready for the the Dalai, who, over a period of two years, announced variously that he might perhaps be reborn
as a girl, that he would choose India as the place for his rebirth instead of Tibet, and that he would be reborn even before his death. This last announcement escapes understanding even if one believes in reincarnation – to be born again even before one’s death?
But this kind of idiocy is to be expected from heads of religion who think that human beings come back after their death – friends here will recognise that this story is at least 2000 years old, is it not ? These special envoys from God – they appear to be human from the outside, but inside they lack the basic elements that define our human identity, especially reason. Of course, they deliver speeches on love and peace and compassion and divinity, but the sacredness of the integrity of the human person does not appeal to them!
In any case, we were ready for the Dalai Lama when he launched his nasty strategy to name his next reincarnation: when little Sambhavi (7 years) announced that she was the child hood friend of the Dalai Lama, this news completely captivated and captured the imagination of the media and the religious persons in India. For more than a year, the little girl appeared on a daily basis on TV for interviews and for religious talks. Tibet should be free, she said. China will become a democracy in 2012, she announced. She even shared information with the media that she was in contact with the Dalai Lama by telepathy and that he was soon going to inaugurate her ashram, as he had recognised her divinity.
Later, the Dalai Lama’s personal assistant came to discuss with the administration and Government representatives the construction of a helipad near Kurnool city, and the construction of a new road for his Holiness who was going to participate in religious rituals along with the child. His Holiness himself confirmed that he identified signs of divinity in Sambhavi, and videos of an earlier ceremony (when the child was 5 years old) where she participated in religious rituals along with the
Dalai Lama were distributed to the TV Channels. Sambhavi was installed in a temple, and every day hundreds of devotees came to venerate the child who continued to predict the future, and who continued to talk about Tibet and other things: the new Chief Minister of the state would be Jagan (wrong), in January 2012 Veera Bhoga Vasantha Rayalu will be born and he will save the world (eagerly awaited), and he will also pluck out the hearts of atheists and meat eaters (run for our lives!) …
Our response was a media campaign and participation in debates on Buddhisms, the meaning of life, and the impossibility of reincarnation. Our campaign succeeded, and obtained the support of many – even that of religious people. The Dalai Lama came to Hyderabad to meet the child, but had to cancel his interviews with the media. He did deliver the lecture which was announced by his organisation, and worse still, he even cancelled his public prayers in a Buddhist temple. The ascetic stayed in his 5 Star Hotel, and left Hyderabad without having met with Sambhavi!
We were also working on another track – we complained to the Human Rights Commission, and we obtained a judgement of which we are quite proud: concurring with our arguments, Justice Subhashan Reddy concluded that attributing divine powers to children – even if this is done by the parents – is a crime. The Judge also held the Government responsible for ensuring that the child goes to school. The child should not be installed in a temple, and no one has the right to turn a child into an instrument to achieve their own objectives (political or spiritual).
A failed reincarnation, yes, but the menace of superstitions is not eliminated – because of a missed renaissance and an enlightenment. More needs to be done here – not very far from my city of Hyderabad, 2 persons were recently burnt alive because they were suspected to be practising witchcraft. Another was stoned to death for the same reason, near the city. One the one hand, a country which sends satellites to the moon; on the other, a country whose citizens tremble when the shadow of the moon falls on the earth – after all, that is what a solar eclipse is, is it not ?
Even if at times in some countries the Humanist movement seems to be occupied with devising or performing secular rites of passage, these activities only complete the Humanist vision for society, at the heart of which are Free Thought, the Scientific Approach and Secular morality: these will forever define the philosophy of Humanism. I believe that to attain our century founded on Human Rights, we should restore reason to its first place in human life, and only Free Thinking can do it – be it in Africa or in Asia where the tyranny of superstition and religious privileges continue to
destroy human dignity.
It is a matter of great urgency that the message of Freethought spread throughout the world; may I wish you success in the name of Humanism, while pledging my support to your efforts.