Dalai Lama, Labour faithful and others

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Why the Dalai Lama is not putting blame on disabled people

Why the Dalai Lama is not putting blame on disabled people

Sir: Writing as one of the many "soft-headed" trendy Westerners that takes an interest in Buddhism, I believe Johann Hari (Review, 7 June) either had not adequately researched the principle of karma, or was disingenuous in his line of questioning of the Dalai Lama, in the hope of furthering his own agenda (to show that Buddhism is as flawed as any other religion?)

The law of karma states that we suffer due to our past negative actions. It allows that the suffering experienced by Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese was, and is, a consequence of past negative actions. It is not punishment, as there is no external deity acknowledged in Buddhism to administer punishment. It simply says that negative actions inevitably result in future suffering. In using the politically loaded example of a disabled person in his next question, Hari leaves it to the reader to conclude that in some way Buddhists believe that disabled people deserve to be in the unfortunate position they are in.

But central to Buddhism is compassion. Compassion for suffering, and all living beings that endure it. That would seem to include oppressed indigenous Tibetans and disabled people, notwithstanding their past negative actions. Perhaps if Hari had approached the Dalai Lama with a more open mind to Buddhism (and indeed religion), he would not have received the short shrift that he undoubtedly did.


Sir: As a practising Buddhist myself, I was concerned to read the Dalai Lama quoted as saying "every event is due to one's karma". In fact, Buddhism teaches that there are several different orders of causality, known as niyamas, of which karmic, that is willed, actions are only one. Unless we are enlightened, it is very difficult to know which level of causality, or conditionality, is operating; and, in any case, the niyamas do not necessarily act discretely but act on one another.

The implications of this teaching are clearly important. A view that all events are due to one's "karma" can potentially lead to blaming people for their misfortune. Concern about this, naturally enough, led Johann Hari to ask the question "So, are disabled children being punished for sins in a past life?" The answer to this is that a disability is probably far more likely to be due to the physical organic or biological order of cause and effect than to karmic action. Being subject to physical ailments is part of the human condition. Sometimes karmic effects may also play a part, but we are not usually in a position to know that.

In any case, there is no question of "punishment" or "sin" with respect to the fruits of karma. The "law" of karma is a natural law, as is the law of gravity. If you put your hand in a flame, no one would suggest that the flame is punishing you when you get burnt.

Hove, East Sussex

Labour faithful have had enough of Blair

Sir: As one of that awkward but ever-diminishing bunch of socialist members of the Labour Party who refuse to cede control of it to Blair and his interlopers, not only have I not torn up my party card, but I have been out working for the re-election of Ken Livingstone as London mayor and for Labour candidates for the GLA. Ken may have rejoined the party, but he will always be his own man, unlike most of Blair's waxworks.

But I certainly won't be out working at the general election if Blair is still Labour Party leader, and I'm far from alone in this. Apart from his total lack of socialist ideology, Blair's action over Iraq exemplified both the contempt he has for those who disagree with him and the messianic aloofness with which he subverts the democratic process.

And what sort of a case has he made for Europe? The most important question so far this century is being hijacked by the rabid and the flat-earthers because Blair has thrown away our goodwill in Europe - and in the UK no one would believe a word he says anyway.

If the Labour Party wants workers out in numbers for the general election it will have to give us grassroots members something and someone to work for. Enough of initiatives, targets and other new Labour fluff. Gordon Brown is a bit pro-American for my liking, but at least he's basically a socialist - and the redistributing Chancellor responsible for most of the headlines this government has enjoyed.

London SW15

Sir: With 25 per cent of the votes in a 40 per cent turnout my rudimentary maths tells me 90 per cent of the electorate did not vote Labour. Jack Straw sees this as "disappointing".

"Alarming" or "disastrous" are other adjectives that come to mind. How long before someone shows Tony where that reverse gear is? Or will it be full steam ahead into oblivion?


Sir: The local elections have taken place, and for the first time ever forced the ruling Labour government into third position, with their worst showing in history. Is this just a mid-term blip, or the culmination of the huge Iraq backlash that will topple the Government?

Tony Blair has said that he would resign if he became an electoral liability to his party. In the run-up to these elections, all references to him were kept out of Labour's campaign leaflets.

Time and again Blair has said that we the people would decide if he was right on Iraq at the ballot box. Ignore the ridiculous suggestion that acting contrary to international law is OK if he can sell the idea at the next election and ask yourself why he's suddenly asking people to put the issue of Iraq to one side when they vote.

The time has come: Blair must go.

London N15

Sir: E-voting, postal voting and text voting have all been proposed or used to increase voter turnout at elections. Why not just hold them on a Saturday, when voters have more time to visit the polling station? Only custom dictates that elections are held on Thursdays, which has the added disadvantage of closing schools.

However, perhaps this would be seen as non-British and will invoke the equivalent of metric martyrs and europhobes.

Hornchurch, Essex

Sir: Why must we always provide a positive vote? At election time we can only ever vote "for" someone, never against. If I want to use my vote to protest, say, against the government of the day, I have to vote for the Opposition. How much more demonstrative of my true feelings - and how much more satisfying - if I could actually register an anti-vote.

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Nuclear options

Sir: Your recent report on the views of Professor Jim Lovelock ("Hellfire and brimstone as Lovelock faces his anti-nuclear opponents", 4 June) included, almost in parenthesis, some comments from me on nuclear power.

The major threat posed by climate change requires us to consider all options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation. Its use is inevitable in the short term. If nuclear power is to become a viable and acceptable component of our medium-term energy portfolio we must: a) decouple power generation from nuclear weapons production; b) address directly the linked questions of decommissioning and waste disposal; c) insist upon active steps to guard against malicious attacks and the potential for nuclear wastes to be used in "dirty bombs"; d) use modern designs of power plant that prevent run-away fission and melt down (China syndrome) in the event of coolant or moderator failure.

The cost of such precautions may be considered worthwhile given the serious implications of the environmental changes that we are already beginning to experience. However, a balanced and independent assessment is urgently required to judge whether alternative actions (development of renewable energy sources, increased efficiency of conventional generation plants and of energy use) would provide more effective ways of using the substantial investment required.

Tavistock, Devon

Tobacco addicts

Sir: Dr Reid and Philip Hensher (Opinion, 11 June) have it dead wrong about smoking and poor people. I've some practical experience of smoking; before I stopped in 1988 I regularly got through three packs of Marlboro a day.

The fact is, the first cigarette you ever smoke tastes vile and makes you sick and dizzy. Craving for the next starts quite soon, and remains until you quit smoking or die. The perceived "pleasure" of smoking is no more than relief of the craving for nicotine; the "pleasure" of a cigarette is in direct proportion to the time elapsed since the previous fag. Hence the extra joy of the first smoke of the day.

If the single mother of three on a sink estate hadn't got addicted in the first place, or was able to kick the habit, she would find herself, I imagine, somewhere between £30 and £100 a week better off, with the option to spend this money on some genuine pleasures.

Given that no one craves a fag until they've had one, if you didn't have this expensive and entirely useless habit, what would be the reason to acquire it?

Hollin Green, Northumberland

Sir: I cannot enjoy a pint of beer in virtually any pub or even walk along the pavement without inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke. It is about time the rights of non-smokers were placed above those addicted to killing themselves, their families and us, the silent vast majority, who rights are permanently infringed.

London SE20

Sir: If smoking is the only pleasure left on a council sink estate what have Labour been doing for the last seven years?

Ripon, North Yorkshire

Reagan's legacy

Sir: You give Ronald Reagan credit for the economic growth and low inflation of the 1990s ("Ronald Reagan's achievements should not blind us to the failings of his presidency", 7 June). Yet this growth was due to George Bush Senior's repudiation of Reagonomics when he raised taxes to balance the budget, and Bill Clinton's insistence on not spending more than the government took in when he ran a government with a surplus.

George Bush Senior realised that Reaganomics was a dead end, that its massive spending increases and over-spending were reckless. Reagan never realised this. His supporters still don't admit it. Their anger at Bush led to his loss of the election, and their nostalgia for more of the same has led directly to the reckless economic policies of his son.

The economic boom in the US during the 1990s was due to a one-time event, the revolution caused by the advent of computers and digital technology, for which no individual can take credit.

Dennis, Massachusetts, USA

Off the field  

Sir: Hurrah for Mrs Kington and her blissful immunity from mindless football mania (Miles Kington, 8 June)! I wonder if she is a member of that growing band who choose to be out and about when there is a big game on television? It's wonderful. No crowds, empty roads and polite people. I concede that not all football fans are boors and thugs but I'm sure that all boors and thugs are football fans.

London NW3

Diplomatic joke

Sir: Your Thought for the Day (8 June) attributes to Sir Henry Wotton the definition of an ambassador as "an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country", which kills the joke stone dead. What he wrote was "sent to lie abroad", a pun on terminology used in relation to the disposition of the fleet. Without that connotation the definition is banal.


Welcome, sisters

Sir: "Modern women say they now feel underpaid, overworked and sexually frustrated," you report (10 June). Please extend my congratulations to modern women on this latest step towards equality.

Felliscliffe, North Yorkshire

Bent policeman

Sir: Nick Martin-Clark tells us we should be grateful for America policing the world for free (letter, 10 June). He seems to have overlooked the fact that in Iraq, and so many other cases, the policeman was corrupt and complicit in the "crime" it would have us believe it was trying to solve.

Lymington, Hampshire

Take no notice

Sir: The old ones are the best, and the old railways were a rich source. "Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted" (Why, what had he done?). "Refrain From Spitting" (Remind me, how does that go?). Best of all was "Do not use the WC while the train is standing in a station". Many a northern Sunday school excursion - for whom "while" meant "until" - would get into difficulties over that one.

Ilkley, West Yorkshire