Sunday, February 05, 2006

Book Review: Pioneer in Tibet

Pioneer In Tibet
The Life and Perils of Dr Albert Shelton
By Douglas Wissing

During the time of the XIVth Dalai Lama (preceding the precent one), Dr Albert Shelton set out from America to the borderlands of Kham hoping to reach Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. His dream was to preach Christianity to the masses there, being a sort of missionary pioneer to "the last stranglehold of Satan." Typical of missionaries at the beginning of the last century, he used medicine to reach the locals, operating and preaching at the same time. During the initial stages of the book, one can see the superiority and ethnocentric view of the Christianian-American as he sets out to "fix" the ingnorant Tibetan. A humorous part mentions Dr Shelton's wife, a prairie wife, who learns Tibetan, and decides to uses the typical missionary tactic of learning the local religious texts and then refuting their authenticity. Anyone who has ever read a text of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition will have to chuckle at that thought. Needless to say, there is no mention of her ever attempting to do so.
Another sad issues is when the missionaries adopt a Tibetan child in an attempt to win over their first convert, but when war breaks out, they run for America, and leave the adopted child behind.
Towards the end of their nearly twenty-year stay they had converted less than 5 (if I remember correctly) Tibetans, though they did convert more half-Tibetan and Chinese. Another missionary tactic was to use a sort of trick empirical reasoning which some peoples might fall far, but given that Buddhism is rooted in empirical reasoning one can see why so few would convert.
At the end of his life, Dr Albert Shelton warms up to the Tibetan people and he to them (and the reader as well). Gone are the mentions of Satanic rituals and Satanic lands. He speaks of the people with respect and admiration and describes Tibet as a sort of home.
Sadly, with his strong presence gone from the mission, rumors and fighting began and a missionary was found to have had "improper relations" with a local girl.
Overall the book is full of adventure on the borderlands between Tiber and China. If you want to see the dreamy land of Tibet painted in books of the modern era, this would not be the book to read. This takes place in a land of brigands, where war was an everyday occurence and brigands roam the hills to this very day.


At 4:43 AM, Blogger Regine said...

No problem, my pleasure =)


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