Thanks to The Buddha Project (one of many new blogs on my ever growing roll to the left) for highlighting this story about the "Tibetan Festival of Compassion" currently in progress in the Indian capital of New Delhi (Sarah tells me the name has recently changed). His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself will be delivering the keynote speech - "Compassion: An Antidote to Terrorism" - on the last day of the festival.
While reading the story linked above I came across this description of the festival, a single element of which disturbed me not a little:
To the casual visitor, the venue of the festival being held in the Indian capital for the first time presents a purely cultural picture. Stalls cater to anything from Tibetan medication to meditation and friendly faces are all around, including that of Dolma Tsering, selected as Miss Tibet at a modest beauty pageant at Dharamsala in October.
If you are unable to determine what is wrong with this italicized picture, I will isolate it for you:
. . .selected as Miss Tibet at a modest beauty pageant at Dharamsala in October.
While I want in no way to detract from the more than important message of compassion His Holiness will be delivering on December 18, I must say. . . a Tibetan beauty pageant!?
As the event in question ocurred in October this is rather old news. My shock, however, is quite fresh since this is the first I've heard of it. For anybody reading this who is unaware:
I believe beauty pageants to be rituals of sexual objectification sprung from a patriarchal world view that is anachronistic at best. At its worst, the force of this Dominator mode is deadly (can you say fascism, suppression, war?).
The organizers of this event obviously don't agree with me:
"The Miss Tibet beauty competition will bring Tibetan culture forward in
time," the event organisers told the BBC's Outlook programme.
- BBC News, Thursday, 8 August, 2002 -
Responding to an official denouncement from the Tibetan Prime Minister and general claims from critics that the competition was "un-Tibetan", pageant producer Lobsang Wangyal offers the following:
"Our religion is from a foreign country," fumes Wangyal. "Buddha was Indian. Our food is Chinese, our clothes come from Mongolia. We have always borrowed from other cultures. A beauty pageant is just one more thing."
- Time Asia, October 21, 2002 / VOL. 160 NO. 15 -
Perhaps, Lobsang, but ask yourself, "What would Buddha do?" At least in the cases of Chinese cuisine and Buddhism you were getting the respective creams of China and India! Beauty pageants are the dregs at the black bottom of the worst of Western culture. Mr. Wangyal hopes, supposedly, to improve the plight of the Tibetan people with this competition.
The actual leaders of the Tibetan people, like me, don't approve of his methods:
"The Tibetan government feels that it is against the spirit of the teachings of Buddha," Thupten Psamphel, spokesman of the Tibetan government in exile, told Reuters. "The whole purpose of Buddhist civilization is to liberate the ego from the tyranny of the human body."
-LatelineNews: 2002-10-12 -
If any good does (or has) come out of this beauty competition then it will not have been completely bad. But exploitation of women is not a step forward, Mr. Wangyal. It is a big step back.
Related reading: Women In Theravada Buddhism