As comedy comes closer and to becoming trusted sources for news and news becomes a source for comedy, HBO aired a segment of their comedy news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Sunday night on the topic of the Dalai Lama. As broad as that sounds, the almost 19-minute segment did not focus on religion, but rather the politics surrounding the Dalai Lama’s position and how those politics are interwoven with Chinese government, the livelihood of the Tibetan people, and the autonomy of the Tibetan government. Oliver specifically examined and pointed out that while the Dalai Lama may no longer be leader of the Tibetan government, he is still a religious head for the Tibetan people. At the same time, when the Dalai Lama passes, his reincarnation is to be chosen by the Panchen Lama, who’s reincarnation was captured by the Chinese government at the age of 6. As a result, the Chinese government has named their own Panchen Lama in an attempt to name the Dalai Lama’s successor after he passes, in order to curry religious favor with the Chinese government. The latter half of the video is John Oliver’s interview with the Dalai Lama, and he specifies that he may not be reincarnated into the next life and that he may be the last Dalai Lama on this Earth.
This focus on politics without any specific mention of Buddhism when discussing one of the most religious figures in the world is an important distinction to make because it cements the idea that religion is not worth talking about unless it creates a problem or has a hand in politics that concern Europe and North America (which may or not be problematic dependent upon what the situation). This specific interpretation of politics and religion is another topic of power struggle described by Foucault and emphasized by Talal Asad. In other words, the claim on the Dalai Lama’s place as a religious and political leader potentially could and will be exploited by the Chinese government in favor of their policies towards Tibet. Claiming that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama supports Chinese policy would be an example of the exercise of that perceived power given to a government by a religious authority. Furthermore, the segment’s refusal to mention Buddhism’s, or religion’s, direct relationship to this power struggle is another example of the exercise of power in the form of secularism as more favorable than religion (since the western of perception of religion is that it can be used to authorize or endorse acceptance of possibly atrocious acts).