Why 360 Degrees?


                                  – L. Gordon Plummer

The division of the circle into 360 equal parts called ‘degrees’ is very ancient. The early astronomers and mathematicians who divided it thus, knew well what they were about, and if we embark upon a short excursion into the mystic Land of Numbers we shall soon learn that there are wonderful correspondences between cycles of time and geometrical form. Let us first study the interesting astronomical cycle known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.

Those who have studied astronomy will recall that the points on the Earth’s orbit where it is crossed by the plane of the celestial equator, move slowly westward, making the complete circle in nearly 26,000 years. The number as reckoned by the ancients is 25,920 years. This cycle is known as the Precessional Cycle because the points of intersection above referred to are the points on the Earth’s orbit where the planet is at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and these equinoctial points move very slowly in the clockwise direction, while the Earth travels once around its orbit counter-clockwise every year, in other words, the time of equinox ‘precedes’ that of the year before. Hence the word ‘precession.’

The ecliptic is the great celestial circle in whose plane the Earth moves in its orbit, and as the other planets move in orbits whose planes are nearly identical with that of the Earth, these other planets actually, and the Sun apparently, move in the ecliptic. As we move along this circle or track in one year the Sun appears to pass across 12 great constellations called the Constellations of the Zodiac. The ecliptic is divided into 12 equal areas, which take their names from these 12 constellations, and therefore these divisions are called the Signs of the Zodiac. Imagine now the ecliptic (in which the Earth’s orbit lies ) to be a great wheel revolving slowly in the heavens. The point on the Earth’s orbit – and hence on the ecliptic – where the Earth passes through the vernal, or spring, equinox marks the beginning of the first of the 12 divisions, and they are reckoned counter-clockwise, or eastward. Since, as we have observed, the point of the vernal – and consequently of the autumnal – equinox moves westward, we may consider that it carries the ecliptic along with it. The great circle turns round and round in the heavens, and requires 25,920 years to make one revolution. The Signs of the Zodiac then move with it because they are a part of it. Thus, the Sign of Aries, which begins at the spring equinoctial point and the ecliptic, and which once occupied a position in the sky identical with the constellation Aries, has shifted, and is now entering the constellation Aquarius. That is to say, the Sun is now in the Constellation Aquarius at the time of the spring equinox, whereas it was once in the constellation Aries at the same equinox.

It is obvious that since the first point in the sign of Aries – usually called the ‘first point of Aries’ – takes 25,920 years to pass around the Zodiac, or across the 12 constellations, it will take one-twelfth of that time or 2,160 years to pass through one constellation, assuming for the moment that all the constellations occupy equal portions of the sky. This number, 2,160 years, is extremely important, because it is a basic factor in computing the ages of the Earth, and the Rounds and Races, as also in counting the numbers of degrees in the geometrical solids. Further, the length of the Messianic Cycle, or Cycle of certain Avataras is 2,160 years. A point of great interest is that the cube, which was anciently held to symbolize Man, has for the sum of its plane angles, 2,160′. The cube unfolded into a plane surface becomes a cross. At the commencement of the Avataric Cycle of 2,160 years a candidate for the highest initiation is placed upon a cruciform couch, and while his body remains there, his spirit soars through the inner realms of the spiritual world, reaching at last the ‘Heart of the Sun.’ When he arises from the couch, he does so as a glorified Adept, a Teacher of Men.

But we have digressed somewhat from the purpose in view, that is, to find out just why the circle is divided into 360 degrees. So let us note that the number 2,160 is 10 times the cube of 6. Now the cube of 6 is equal to the sum of the cubes of 3, 4, and 5. Among the important numbers, the numbers 3, 4, and 5 play a leading part in the building of form. The five regular polyhedrons, held so sacred by the ancients, are built upon the 3, 4 and 5. At some future time, we may devote an article to the study of these most interesting figures, so we will make but few allusions to them here.

There are five regular solids in geometry. These are: the icosahedron, having 30 edges, 20 equilateral triangular faces, and 12 vertices; the dodecahedron having also 30 edges, but 12 pentagonal faces, and 20 vertices; the cube with 12 edges, 6 quadrilateral faces, and 8 vertices; the octahedron having also 12 edges, but 8 triangular faces, and 6 vertices; and the tetrahedron, or triangular pyramid, having 6 edges, 4 triangular faces, and 4 vertices. The numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 play a very important part in the building of these figures, both as to the numbers of faces, vertices, or edges in them, and as to the numbers of degrees in their angles. These figures are the working out in geometrical form of the same principles which are behind the manifested universe, which, before manifestation, may be represented by the circle. A circle may be divided into 3 equal arcs, each of these into 4ths, each resulting 12th part into 5ths, and the resulting 60ths, into 6 equal parts each, and the whole will be then divided into 360 equal parts, or degrees. Now the product of 3, 4, 5 and 6, or 360, divided by their sum, or 18, gives us 20, a number suggestive of the icosahedron, the most complex of the geometrical solids. Lines may be drawn, joining interiorly all the points of the icosahedron, and we shall find that within it we have a new figure, the dodecahedron. The dodecahedron, having 30 edges as well as the icosahedron, we have now 60 lines. (Note that 60 is the product of 3,4, and 5.) The dodecahedron was considered to represent the solar system – the 12 faces, symbolic of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac – and the icosahedron, the outer stars.

Suppose, now, that we take a circle, and divide the circumference into 10 equal arcs, suggestive of the 10 planes of consciousness, join each point with every other point . . . . . and we have drawn the icosahedron surrounding the dodecahedron! The point at the center of the circle, where some of the lines cross, becomes in reality 2 points, coinciding and forming the north and south poles of the icosahedron.

Now the circle here represents the Unmanifested, which, however, as soon as manifestation takes place becomes 10 Cosmic planes. These Cosmic planes we have learned to divide into sub-planes, 10 in each, as follows: 3 subjective or formless planes: 4 intermediate planes, upon which the globe-chains which belong to that particular cosmic plane manifest; then 3 lower planes of a substance and energy lower in vibration even than the lowest of the seven globes of the planetary chains occupying the four intermediate planes. Thus the planes can be numbered, 3, 4 and 3. (Incidentally, the number 343 is the cube of 7, the number of manifestation.) These sub-planes are not to be considered as layers in a cake, but are interpenetrating. Suppose, then, we divide in this fashion each of the 10 arcs of our circle: first, into 3 equal parts, each of which will be one-thirtieth of the whole, each of these into 4ths, making 120ths, then each of these into 3rds again, and we have our circle divided once more into 360 equal parts, or degrees.

To sum up, then, we find that the numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6, and also the number 10 considered as the sum of 3, 4 and 3 are of especial interest and importance in connexion with the number of degrees in the circle, because they represent active agents in the constructive side of Nature. The number 12 (the sum of 3, 4 and 5) has a particular function which will require further consideration, but it may here be said that the numbers 11 and 12 represent the zenith and the nadir of any hierarchy of 10 planes, because they represent the higher and lower connecting-points, as it were, between that hierarchy and the ones above and below it. The relations between the numbers are as intricate, apparently, as are the lines of the geometrical figure here illustrated, yet when we have a bird’s-eye view of the whole subject, we can see clearly the part that each number has to play.

And we have but touched the shores of the mystic Land of Numbers. We shall set sail again and find out more about the geometrical solids. Wonderful are the lessons we can learn about Nature and her majestic laws, and sublime is the inspiration that will come to us if we approach her with eager hearts, and a love of Truth, free from personal desires.

Theosophical Path, Jan., 1934


The Earth


. . . . One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban street lamps. Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of dreams. Beyond the seas’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead, obscurity.

I distinguished our own house, our islet in the tumultuous and bitter currents of the world. There, for a decade and a half, we two, so different in quality, had grown in and in to one another, for mutual support and nourishment, in intricate symbiosis. There daily we planned our several undertakings, and recounted the day’s oddities and vexations. There letters piled up to be answered, socks to be darned. There the children were born, those sudden new lives. There, under that roof, our own two lives, recalcitrant sometimes to one another, were all the while thankfully one, one larger, more conscious life than either alone.

All this, surely, was good. Yet there was bitterness. And bitterness not only invaded us from the world; it welled up also within our own magic circle. For horror at our futility, at our own unreality, and not only at the world’s delirium, had driven me out on to the hill.

We were always hurrying from one little urgent task to another, but the upshot was unsubstantial. Had we, perhaps, misconceived our whole existence? Were we, as it were, living from false premises? And in particular, this partnership of ours, this seemingly so well-based fulcrum for activity in the world, was it after all nothing but a little eddy of complacent and ingrown domesticity, ineffectively whirling on the surface of the great flux, having in itself no depth of being, and no significance? Had we perhaps after all deceived ourselves? Behind those rapt windows did we, like so many others, indeed live only a dream? In a sick world even the hale are sick. And we two, spinning our little life mostly by rote, seldom with clear cognizance, seldom with firm intent, were products of a sick world.

Yet this life of ours was not all sheer and barren fantasy. Was it not spun from the actual fibres of reality, which we gathered in with all the comings and goings through our door, all our traffic with the suburb and the city and with remoter cities, and with the ends of the earth? And were we not spinning together an authentic expression of our own nature? Did not our life issue daily as more or less firm threads of active living and mesh itself into the growing web, the intricate, ever-proliferating pattern of mankind?

I considered “us” with quiet interest and a kind of amused awe. How could I describe our relationship even to myself without either disparaging it or insulting it with the tawdry decoration of sentimentality? For this our delicate balance of dependence and independence, this coolly critical, shrewdly ridiculing, but loving mutual contact, was surely a microcosm of true community, was after all in its simple style an actual and living example of that high goal which the world seeks.

The whole world? The whole universe? Overheard, obscurity unveiled a star. One tremulous arrow of light, projected how many thousands of years ago, now stung my nerves with vision, and my heart with fear. For in such a universe as this what significance could there be in our fortuitous, our frail, our evanescent community?

But now irrationally I was seized with a strange worship, not, surely of the star, that mere furnace which mere distance falsely sanctified, but of something other, which the dire contrast of the star and us signified to the heart. Yet what, what could thus be signified? Intellect, peering beyond the star, discovered no Star Maker, but only darkness; no Love, no Power even, but only Nothing. And yet the heart praised.

– Olaf Stapledon [from Starmaker, 1937]

Fundamental Buddhist Beliefs

Buddhist Temple

The following text is of the fourteen items of belief which have been accepted as fundamental principles in both the Southern and Northern sections of Buddhism, by authoritative committees to whom they were submitted by me personally…… [ – H. S. Olcott (1881) ]
I. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom.

II. The universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.

III. The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world-periods, by certain illuminated beings called BUDDHAS, the name BUDDHA meaning “Enlightened”.

IV. The fourth Teacher in the present kalpa was Sakya Muni, or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.

V. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth, the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.

VI. Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.

VII. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.

VIII. The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.

IX. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, namely:
1. The miseries of existence;
2. The cause productive of misery, which is the desire ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end;
3. The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of oneself from it;
4. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path, viz.: Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance; Right Meditation.

X. Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.

XI. The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagatha (Buddha) himself, is:
To cease from all sin,
To get virtue,
To purify the heart.

XII. The universe is subject to a natural causation known as “Karma”. The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.

XIII. The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, namely: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.

XIV. Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accords with reason.

Drafted as a common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree.

– H. S. Olcott, P.T.S. (from Appendix of “The Buddhist Catechism”)


On Work


Work is something to be greatly desired, something to be praised and lauded by us all – our life-long friend, the giver of all gifts, the creator of everything we shall ever need or desire. And surely, with such thoughts in mind, our love for work will become deep and true. Then we shall gain the power to work even better – with greater capacity and talent – even with genius: for an intense love of work usually gives birth to genius.

Work for a great idea, and you arouse great ideas in your own mind. Great ideas produce great thoughts, and great thoughts produce great men. A man is exactly what he thinks himself to be. Therefore, the man who thinks great thoughts must necessarily become a great man, and the simplest way for anyone to form the habit of thinking great thoughts is to work for great ideas.

The man who shirks does not grow. The man who works poorly will remain small in mind. The man who works in the wrong concept of work will tire and wear out.

When you work simply for yourself, or for your own personal gain, your mind will seldom rise above the limitations of an undeveloped personal life. But when you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitiations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

The majority work to make a living; some work to acquire wealth or fame, while a few work because there is something within them which demands expression. The majority dislike work. Only a few truly love it. Nearly everybody wearies of work and there is only a limited number that gain streangth from work. The average person works because he has to, so that it is the exceptional one who works because he want to. When we dream of Utopia we picture it as a place where there is less work and more pleasure, and the highest heaven is supposed to be a realm where one does nothing. With this idea of work, the multitudes are eternally longing for rest, but this longing is seldom satisfied because their whole conception of work is based on lies and falsehood.

To get something without working for it – that seems to be the acme of delight. But why is the desire to get something for nothing so strong in so many minds? For no other reason that this: we do not understand the true nature of work, and therefore dislike it. When we learn to understand work, however, and learn how to work, we shall go to our work with just as much delight as we go to our pleasure. And when we consider the real purpose of work and discover the work that builds the man [or woman], we will consider it a far greater privilege to work for everything we need or desire, than to go to a free mine and take all the gold we can carry away.

– E. B. Szekely (?)


. . . . Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man would have dreamt would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

– W. H. Murray


Voluntary Action vs. Compulsion



Militarily things seem pretty much the same today as 73 years ago – only not so much so. The inner laws of Nature, however, are still exactly the same.

Two thousand Allied bombers drop hundreds of tons of flaming death on German cities. The four great powers meet at Dumbarton Oaks to agree on means for maintaining peace in the world. Eight thousand Japanese exterminated on Pelieliu Island. Thousands of tons of food supplies and clothing distributed to the war indigent in Italy, France and Greece.

Those, and similar contrasting newspaper headlines, run through the mind, as wending a somewhat weary way from the great city, the peace and quiet of the wayside is gratefully received. What does it all mean? This destroying with one hand and constructing and helping with the other.

The answer to all problems can be found by a communing with Nature, as long as we do not qualify it by placing that word HUMAN before it. Nature requires a rather close observation at times. So it is that we can note that all growth, whether vegetable or animal, all evolution or change of form, seems to be controlled by two great laws. One is Voluntary Action and the other is Compulsion.

It does not seem to matter much which law is allowed to hold its sway, the results seem to be the same. However, we note that the law of Compulsion is generally accompanied by sufferings, while that of Voluntary Action always seems to be a joyous affair.

Another thing to be noted is that whenever Voluntary Action is spurned, the very effects of such spurning is what produces the manifestations of Compulsion. An entity partakes of too much food, repudiating self-control, voluntarily exercised. Such nausea is produced that COMPULSION causes abstinence, until balance is once more restored. Therefore, the Law of Compulsion is not enforced by exterior forces, but merely produced by the throwing aside of the Divine Law of Voluntary Action.

In Nature, if it be studied with the Seeing Eye, it will be found that the Mineral Kingdom is ruled by the Law of Compulsion alone. In the Vegetable Kingdom, Voluntary Action makes its appearance, but faintly. Many botanical species have appeared and disappeared on account of it, but the Vegetable Kingdom, as a whole, has wonderfully progressed, since the days of the primitive fungi and gigantic tree ferns.

In the Animal Kingdom, Voluntary Action becomes more perceptible, as locomotion, the ability to change position has entered the life picture. Pity the poor plant, over-shadowed by the growing tree: it cannot move over into the sunshine, but has to make the best of it. Partly by Voluntary Action, partly by Compulsion, many a plant has grown into a tree that has overshadowed the tree that almost snuffed it out of existence. Sometimes, it is itself snuffed out of existence. In the Human Kingdom, having locomotion, as well as self-conscious mind, the Law of Voluntary action becomes supreme, the Law of Compulsion only lurks in the shadows of man’s creation, ready with its whip-lash to drive him onward and upward, if he will not move on his own intiative.

Now read again the first paragraph, and see if you can reconcile the conflicting actions, in the light of the Law of Compulsion, acting through the man-made destruction, compelling man to do what he should have done voluntarily.

Moral: Man advances, willy-nilly. With joy in his heart, voluntarily, or under the whip-lash of the Law of Compulsion.
And that’s just simple Theosophy.

– The Wayfarer [Maj. Hubert S. Turner]

– From “Thoughts by the Wayside,” Theosophia, Nov.-Dec., 1944

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Ambition vs. Attainment


                                             – G. C. LeGros

“Oh, not the men of pomp and guile,
The crafty and the bold,
The haughty men who never smile,
And men who live for gold;
But broken men with hands that bleed
And souls by anguish rent . . . . ”

On the first page of Light on the Path we read the number one rule for disciples – “Kill out ambition.” The Adept-author explains that “Ambition is the first curse: the great tempter of the man who is rising above his fellows. It is the simplest form of looking for reward. Men of intelligence and power are led away from their higher possibilities by it continually. Yet it is a necessary teacher. Its results turn to dust and ashes in the mouth; like death and estrangement it shows the man at last that to work for self is to work for disappointment.”

Ambition may even persist in the life of the occultists “…who fancies he has removed his interest from self, but who has in reality only enlarged the limits of experience and desire, and transferred his interest to the things which concern his larger span of life.” We see this everywhere – “astral projection,” “psychic powers,” “third-eye clairvoyance,” “hypnotic control over others, ” etc.  Ambition is a hydra-headed thing.

In another book – Fragments of Life and Thought – the same Adept points out that “…not until the man has triumphed again and again in one incarnation after another, not until success has become tedious to him, and the high places of the earth all seem low and poor to him, is he beginning to be ready to go beyond it. And only so can it be killed out. “Man must go on struggling for earthly prizes until he reaches the point “…where the excelling of his fellows becomes suddenly and forever contemptible in his eyes, beneath the dignity and greatness of his soul, and then he will kill out ambition and cast it from him as a weed of earth. He will perceive that the strength which he has developed must be used, not in order to excel, but in the endeavor to attain.”

Attainment is different from Ambition because the latter fires one with a passion to out-distance all others striving for the same goal. The ambitious man is by necessity personal, jealous, envious, and ruthless – in other words, a menace to the world because he sows discord. To realize his aims he will stop at nothing save that which imperils his own preservation. And sometimes he will risk even that, like Shakespeare’s soldier “… seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth.”

Attainment, on the other hand, is a reaching out from self to SELF, from the finite to the Infinite, from the conditioned to the Unconditioned. The man who attains finds no rivals at his side, no single prize waiting at the end of the race. He moves in Eternity, where there is room for all.

Ambition is the effort of man to add to himself some coveted fragment of Earth, hoping thereby to exalt and increase his stature before others; but Attainment is the giving of oneself to the Whole.

A good example is the poet who wins first prize in an important contest. At the reception which follows, he receives honor and praise, and for a little hour feels as a god among men. But he also looks upon the faces of other poets who had competed and lost. They regard him as a thief, a usurper of the prize they sought, and which, in their opinion, they deserve.

He also thinks of next year’s contest, and wonders if he will win again, or only receive honorable mention, or no mention at all. Instead of rejoicing in his triumph, he finds himself under a cloud of apprehension. Victory is not the splendid thing he had envisioned.

Looking back, he sees that writing the poem was Attainment; but competing and winning the prize was Ambition. In the joy of creating something beautiful, he reached out of himself into the starry spaces where the Gods of Glory sing, and where, for a moment, he was one with their song.

But winning the prize and humbling his rivals, was an earthly thing that compressed his soul, and imprisoned him in a little world made by the littleness of men, where Ambition is king, demanding its terrible price.

The poet should sing as a bird sings – not for reward, but to Attain, to reach out from self to Infinity. The poet can be taken as a symbol of all men because everyone strives to express what he is – what is in him – either to win something from the world that may be added unto himself, or to give something of himself to the world. Each man is, by nature, either a taker or a giver.

The taker, following the path of Ambition, loses with every step because he violates the Supreme Order of the Universe, which is Duty, Service, and Cooperation. The giver, following the path of Attainment, wins with every step because he acts in keeping with the Harmony of the Whole, thereby enriching himself, because he is the Universe.

Attainment is the foundation of the Ultimate Discipline of Life. “Work as those work who are ambitious.” Make the utmost of the life that is yours; but seek no personal victories which, once realized, crush those around you. Regard men not as rivals, but as fellow pilgrims walking beside you on the Eternal Highway. Help them to attain with you, to become whole with you, and all the treasures of the Universe will be yours!

(from “Messiah”)


The Last Theocracy


[This was written about 30 years ago, but the situation is the same and worse in Tibet as it was in 1950, with monasteries now being monitored with spy-cameras, and the Chinese bulldozing a Tibetan settlement and monastery of Larung Gar last summer. See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36863888?SThisFB    Let’s hope the U.S.’s new administration will have more backbone in challenging the biggest murderer of human rights in the world.]

In what was to be the beginning of one of the periodic madnesses that grip parts or all the globe, in the spring of 1950 Tibet was invaded by China after China’s declaration that it intended to free Tibet from “the influence of foreign imperialists” (there being six westerners in Tibet at the time) It was to prove the total destruction of the base of exoteric Mahayana Buddhism, which has near identical doctrines to that of Theosophy. The invasion was to directly and indirectly result in the death of some one million Tibetans and to make refugees of 100,000 others including the Dalai Lama.

Before China’s attempted “modernization” of Tibet, it was the home of some 3,000 Buddhist monasteries and 200,000 monks. By 1984 these vast numbers had shrunk to a remaining or rebuilt 45 monasteries housing some 1,400 monks. For years any practice of religion was forbidden in Tibet, but in the last ten years under a new Chinese administration some of these strictures have been loosen. Partially this change in policy is due to the value of Buddhism as a tourist attraction. While the superficial ceremonial practice of Buddhism is allowed, any serious scholastic study of its scriptures is forbidden.

Most the destruction of monasteries occurred during the chaos of China’s “Cultural Revolution” in the 1960’s. Some monasteries were taken apart brick by brick while most were dynamited or shelled with field artillery – although the walls of most were too thick to be totally destroyed. The process was to first take an inventory of all valuables. Gold and silver artifacts were taken in truck convoys to China to be melted into bullion. Manuscripts were either burned on the spot or sent for use as shoe padding and toilet paper. Clay images were pulverized and recast for the specific purpose of making public lavatories. At the central temple in the capital at Lhasa, sacred manuscripts kept bonfires burning for five days. Monasteries not totally destroyed were used for granaries, barracks or offices. The temple at Lhasa was renamed “Guest House #5” and used for government offices and its courtyards for keeping pigs.

Monks were either killed or shipped with other Tibetans to work camps such as that at Golomo to build railroads, Tsala Ka to mine borax, or Kongpo for Timbering. At Golomo, which is at 10,000 foot elevation and has six months of winter with gale force winds much of the time, large numbers died almost immediately from exposure and starvation. One account claims that 1,400 of 1,700 prisoners held at Drepang monastery died of starvation from November 1960 to June 1961. Tibetan’s homes were arbitrarily seized and all their possessions sold. During this period Tibet’s agricultural production actually increased, but nearly all the harvest, except that kept for Chinese troops, was shipped to China. to offset its own famine. While famine was previously unknown in Tibet, formerly prosperous peasants were reduced to stealing scraps from the Chinese pigs, picking horse offal for undigested grain, and feeding their own blood mixed with tsampa to their starving children. Fare at the work camps, when there was any, was typically barley husks mixed with sawdust or ulcer-producing tree bark.

Monks and Lamas were special objects of Chinese persecution. Lamas, formerly heads of monasteries, were lashed through the streets of Lhasa with heavy statues of Buddha strapped to their backs. Monks and nuns were forced to copulate in public or branded with irons. There were crucifixions. Monks and nuns were forced to marry while other Tibetans were sterilized in large numbers. One of Tibet’s highest Lamas, the Panchen Lama, was publicly beaten in his trial for “crimes against the state” – chiefly his support of the Dalai Lama. His aged tutor was sent to Golomo where he shortly died and the Panchen himself was imprisoned for fourteen years, and released in 1978 for political reasons. [After the Panchen Lama died, the Chinese kidnapped his recognized child-reincarnation, and substituted their own state-sponsored reincarnation.] It is still illegal today to even have a picture of the Dalai Lama. NBC recently reported an arrest for having the Lama’s picture on a T-shirt.

In China’s “development” of Tibet, the provinces of Gansu and Amdo were transformed into what a 1979 Time magazine article calls a “vast sea of prison camps” with up to ten million Tibetan and Chinese prisoners – a “black hole … from which little information ever reached the outside world.” By 1978 China’s largest nuclear weapons factory was located at Nagchuka 165 miles north of Lhasa. Whole mountain ranges have been denuded of timber. Tibet’s vast herds of wild ass were machine-gunned, her snow leopards, himalayan monkeys and wild yaks have become nearly if not extinct and her formerly endless flocks of ducks and geese have disappeared. Sixty western scientists were allowed to visit Tibet in 1980 and according to their account there is not a large wild animal to be seen anywhere and only a few birds in Tibet’s now sterile landscape.

In short, there has been nothing worse in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Gulag, or under the Khymer Regime in Cambodia than what has occurred in Tibet under the Chinese. There is no outcry in the West, however, over this great atrocity or even sparse public knowledge. It is good politics to be friends with China and its billion people, while Tibet is important neither economically nor militarily and Buddhism matters very little in the political grist mills of the world. Our country, which prides itself for its stand on worldwide human rights, has chosen expediency and officially recognizes China’s claim to right of sovereignty over Tibet.

What was to befall Tibet was perhaps foreseen by the thirteenth Dalai Lama when he wrote in 1932 a year before his death:

“It may happen that here, in the center of Tibet, religion and government will be attacked both from without and from within. Unless we can guard our own country, it will now happen that the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, the Father and Son, and all the revered holders of the Faith,, will disappear and become nameless. Monks and their monasteries will be destroyed. The rule of law will be weakened. The lands and property of government officials will be seized. They themselves will be forced to serve their enemies or wander the country like beggars. All beings will be sunk in great hardship and overpowering fear; the days and nights will drag on slowly in suffering.”

While the present Dalai Lama has become a world ambassador in his never ending efforts to gain independence for Tibet, his attitude is also objective and philosophic. “There are many prophecies which indicate that I will be the last Dalai Lama. The world is changing so dramatically, that there may no longer be a need for the lineage.” Elsewhere he has stated that “the very aggregates of a human mind and body have, as their actual nature, suffering. They serve as a basis for suffering, and as long as one has them one is susceptible to suffering. From a deep point of view, while we Tibetans don’t have our independence and are living in someone else’s country, we are subject to a certain type of suffering, but when we return to Tibet and gain our independence, then there will be other types of suffering. So, you see, this is just the way it is. You might think that I’m pessimistic, but I am not. This is Buddhist realism. This is how, through Buddhist teaching and advice, we handle situations. These sorts of thoughts make one stronger, more active.”

In Exile from the Land of Snows, John F. Avedon, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1984
The Making of Modern Tibet, A. Tom Grunfeld, M.E. Sharp Inc., Armonk, NY, 1987

(from Protogonos, Winter 1987-8)