I have met the Dalai Lama once. It was during his last visit to Taipei and I was particularly lucky to have what was in effect a private chat with him -- maybe I should say an "audience." After some affable introductory exchanges, I asked him my big question. "Do you really think," I asked, "that you can prevent earthquakes?" \nIt had been reported in advance that rituals would be performed in Nantou County to protect the population from another disaster like the one of September 1999. His initial reaction was to burst out laughing. The Dalai Lama often laughs and makes jokes and some people think it's a characteristically Tibetan way of looking at things. At that Taipei press conference, he kept bringing a cup of tea up to his lips, smiling at the banks of cameramen who got ready to photograph him drinking it, then laughing as he put the cup down, without drinking. It was a ritual he went through while something he'd said was being translated and he clearly thought it added to the general gaiety of occasion. \nAfter pointing out that he himself wouldn't be conducting the rite in question, but that its main aims were to "clear the air" and to assist the souls of those who'd died in 1999, he countered my skeptical rationalism by saying that, even if the ritual did no good, at least it couldn't do any harm. It struck me at the time that this was a modest assertion from someone who many of his followers believe to be a mage with the power to bring off near-miracles when the need arises. \nThis book is made up of four addresses delivered in India between 1999 and last year, plus one other of uncertain date. They're quite short, and are followed by questions. (Even the Buddha, he points out, gave his followers permission to question his words). The Dalai Lama's answers are often interesting. Someone asks about terrorism and he answers that, in the long term, the only answer is dialogue, compassion and understanding. Someone else asks about the possessiveness some people have toward him and he replies that it doesn't affect him, and he's simply a being made up of earth, wind, water and fire. "I am just sitting here," he says. \nBut as this book demonstrates, the Dalai Lama is a powerful and benign personality, independent in many matters, and much more than a mere pawn in the game of international politics. For someone who was chosen shortly after birth by means of a variety of signs and portents few of us would set any store by in ordinary circumstances, he's an extraordinarily wise human being and a powerful force for good. \nThis book was first published by Penguin Books India, and the audience the Dalai Lama has in mind is essentially an Indian one. As he remarks at one point, he has lived in India for 41 years (he was speaking in 2001) and he defends his friendly attitude to Hinduism -- not always shared by fellow Buddhists, he says. He does make some critical comments about caste, but goes on to point out that at the Hindu festival at Kumbha Mela, 25 million people gathered without a single animal being killed for food. "If 10,000 Tibetans gathered, I think the butchers would be very busy. A bit unfortunate." He's trying to promote vegetarianism, he says. Earthquakes feature here too -- his 2001 address followed a major one in Gujarat. \nSpiritual books are frequently hard-going for the ordinary reader. In common with Christian handbooks, this one talks about perfection, concentration and so on, but also deals extensively with the characteristic Buddhist practices of meditation and the pursuit of "emptiness." Elsewhere he remarks that Buddhists can't accept a creator because they don't see how a creator could occur in the first place. \nIn answer to another question elsewhere, the Dalai Lama states his belief that there can probably never be one world religion, and that the different faiths all have much to offer. \nThere are some difficult technical passages, such as this one: "The grosser level of impermanence refers to transitory states of a particular object in the sense of disintegration of its continuity. When we talk about subtle impermanence, it is more in the sense of momentary disintegration rather than disintegration in terms of its continuity." Luckily, they aren't typical. \nPopes and Dalai Lamas haven't usually taken to setting down their wisdom in cold print. But, the two present incumbents have each been responsible for several books. This is slightly perplexing, given that their strength would appear to lie in the cabalistic secrets they alone have access to. To explain these mysteries in paperback pages might run the risk of their being analyzed and refuted by their enemies. During the 19th century, Buddhism and Roman Catholicism alike were frequently derided as enemies of science, and hence of progress. More recently, they came back into favor, probably because they were perceived as bulwarks against communism. \nThe Dalai Lama is understandably a great friend of Taiwan, even though on his last visit a party of what looked like aged KMT soldiers and their wives lined up with placards at the airport (the wrong airport as it turned out) demanding that he go away and recognize a "one China" that included Tibet. But I doubt if such people would have very much interest in the contents of this book, whatever their political stance.
The many ways to nirvana
With around 10,000 descendants packing the ancestral shrine every Tomb Sweeping Day, the Yeh family’s grand affair made a bid for the Guiness Book of World Records in 2016. They won’t be coming even close on Saturday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 30 people will be attending and conducting the rituals. “We hope that our ancestors don’t take offense,” branch association head Yeh Lun-tsai (葉倫在) tells the Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times). Tomb Sweeping Day activities can potentially aggravate the spread of the virus as large groups congregate in cemeteries and columbariums at the same
In terms of life expectancy for its citizens, in recent decades Taiwan has caught up with and overtaken a number of Western countries. According to the most recent edition of the CIA’s World Factbook, Taiwanese now live longer than Americans, Czechs and Poles. Of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may shake up the rankings. Taiwan’s single-payer healthcare system, set up in 1995, is one reason why people here can stay healthy for a long time. Before the postwar Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime introduced the piecemeal health-insurance schemes (covering government employees, farmers, and others) that preceded the universal system, sick people
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April 6 to April 12 Han Chinese settlers from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou were such fierce rivals that simple activities such as buying supplies for festivals would often result in armed violence. It’s said that this was especially severe just before Tomb Sweeping Festival, and to prevent bloodshed Qing Dynasty officials ordered them to conduct their rituals on different days. This is not unlike the government urging people to visit their ancestors’ graves on days other than yesterday’s official Tomb Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, to curb the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Chinese Nationalist Party