The Press, The Nazis, and Tibet
For the press in UK and Germany it seems to be more relevant to report about a supposed Buddha statue made from meteorite, claimed to be taken from the “Nazis” out of Tibet, than to report a bit more about the sad and tragic events of self-immolations in Tibet and the Tibetans’ sufferings under China’s rule. How much entertaining and less informative … not only this, the information, sensationalist in nature (“Buddha, Nazis, Tibet, meteorite”)*, seems to be in some key points also plain wrong.
In this case the information BBC Online, Spiegel Online and Bild Online are providing that the statue made from meteorite would be the indo-Tibetan Buddhist deity Vaisravana and made in Tibet cannot withstand really an initial analysis.
Achim Bayer, a Tibetologist and Professor at the Dongguk University (Seoul), annotated in the comment section of Spiegel Online that the claims made by Elmar Buchner, Geologist (University of Stuttgart), et al. in “Buddha from space—An ancient object of art made of a Chinga iron meteorite fragment” (Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Volume 47, Issue 9, pages 1491–1501, September 2012) that the “ancient statue discovered by the Nazis” (BBC) would be / could be Vaisravana, as well as that it had been carved 1000 years ago in Tibet are very unlikely. Bayer remarked too that the research team missed to involve Tibetologists and Indologists. For Bayer’s reasoning see his comment here: http://forum.spiegel.de/f22/nazi-beutekunst-aus-tibet-buddha-statue-aus-meteorit-geschnitzt-71807-3.html#post11043734 (Please use Google translator to read the arguments.) There is also not any proof so far that the Ernst Schäfer Tibetexpedition has brought this item to Germany. It’s just a baseless speculation.
An online paper in English about the so called “Nazi-Tibet Connection”, including the Ernst Schäfer Tibetexpedition, is still on its way. Jigme Duntak’s online article “The Influence of the Occult on the 1939 German Expedition to Tibet” is a very good start to untangle the online and offline published trash on this subject.
Two Press Articles about Tibetan Lamas
- Osel Hita Torres – The reluctant lama By Matt McGrath (Science reporter, BBC World Service)
- Lama brought deep Buddhist learning (About Traleg Kyabgön Rinpoche) By Gabriel Lafitte
* Spiegel Online even went so far to use the term “Nazi looted art” besides the fact that the Deutsche Tibet-Expedition Ernst Schäfer (1938/39) has correctly bought the items in Tibet. The research team paid 12,119.80 RM for more than 2000 items. After complaints by readers SPON has at least removed that term from the heading of the main article.
Update 30 September 2012
There are more press articles, and a discussion among academic scholars has evolved.
Among others Professor Achim Bayer from Dongguk University has “written a short article addressing the meteoric-iron state that made headlines last week.” His “article is directed toward an informed audience.” The title of the article is “The Lama Wearing Trousers: Notes on a Meteoric Iron Statue in a German Private Collection”. (It’s not online but circulates by email.)
Mark Taylor wrote an article in The Guardian “Priceless Tibetan Buddha statue looted by Nazis was carved from meteorite” on Friday 28 September 2012 where he wrongly repeats the baseless accusation that the statue was “looted” by the Nazis and he defames again the Schäfer expedition as a “Nazi expedition”. Ernst Schäfer and his colleagues (all of them SS members but mainly only Beger was a convinced Nazi; Schäfer was a Zoologist and the main aim was really scientific though Himmler tried to get its hands into it) paid for the items they brought from Tibet. There is a detailed list of every item with the prize they had to pay. However, besides the facts Mark Taylor claims wrongly the items were “stolen before the second world war during a pillage of Tibet by Hitler’s SS, who were searching for the origins of the Aryan race.” What a mess up of information! As Prof. Buchner missed to contact well established Tibetologists, Buddhologists or Indologists likewise the press missed that and spread instead a mix of distorted and sensationalist information … (the same faults had been done also in the past with respect to the Shugden controversy and the Western Shugden Society protests, and it seems in general to me that the quality of the press is going down, becoming more and more unreliable due to a lack of thorough investigation, time and money.)
Huffington Post reports about it too: ‘Iron Man’ Buddhist Statue With Nazi Past Found To Have Been Carved From Space Rock. Their claim “The iron man first came to Germany after a 1938-1939 Tibet expedition by zoologist and ethnology Ernst Schäfer, who was sent to the region by the Nazi party to find the roots of Aryan origin.” is not too wrong in the first part of the sentence. Though there is no proof that it came from that expedition to Germany and it is incorrect to portray the aim of the expedition as “to find the roots of Aryan origin”. This was only a motive of Himmler or Beger but not of Schäfer or the expedition in general.
Nature News Blog also reported about it: “Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space“.
Update 02 October 2012
At least four Tibetologists assume that the image of the statue is either fake (to give wrongly the impression it derives from a Tibetan artist) or fantasy (mix of different styles to sell it to an uninformed audience, and made by a European sculptor). Though the material, the meteorite, might be very old, the carved image might have been made between 1920-1970. Among the many unusual elements of the statue there are: European-like shoes that are unlike of any Tibetan boots, trousers (instead of a robe), face and beard are non-Tibetan, unusual knot in the upper garment etc. Moreover two persons remember that they saw this statue in the past and that it has been presented for evaluation respectively. I assume there will be more details in the future.
Update 09 October 2012
A sober research article about the Ernst Schäfer Tibetexpedition is now online:
- Tibet in 1938–1939: The Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet by Isrun Engelhardt
Update 13 October 2012
A paper by Achim Bayer “The Lama Wearing Trousers: Notes on an Iron Statue in a German Private Collection”* is now online:
* Note October 17, 2012: A. Berzin clarified to A. Bayer that—as far as he remembers—he never replied to an email he had received regarding the “meteorite Buddha” but instead deleted that email immediately because he dismissed it as nonsense.
Update 22 October 2012
Austria’s Standard and German’s Spiegel Online posted online articles taking up the doubts by Bayer and other Tibetologists. Standard spoke in the previous article of “The Nazi-Buddha from space”, Nazi-Buddha (how strange!), a term Spiegel online used for his present article: “Statue aus Meteoritengestein – Beim Barte des Nazi-Buddhas”. Except the strange term “Nazi-Buddha” the Spiegel Online article is balanced and corrects previous wrong claims. Isrun Engelhardt was interviewed for the article as the expert for the Schäfer expedition.
- A Full Beard and Trousers Meteorite Nazi Buddha Exposed as Likely Fake – Spiegel Online
- La estatua budista esculpida en un meteorito es una falsificación, según varios especialistas
Update 24 October 2012
- Heather Pringle: Buddha, Space, Meteorites and Nazi Science
- Reply to Heather Pringle by Roger Croston: Is the Space Buddha a Counterfeit?
- The Guardian: Nazi buddha from space might be fake
The term “Nazi Buddha” seems now to be the attention catcher of the newspapers …
Update 26 October 2012
- FOX News: ‘Space buddha’ statue may be a fake
Update 18 October 2017
Last edited by tenpel on October 18, 2017