HE IS PUSHING 85 AND, BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, has more energy in the brain than in his knees. Hence, he prefers to speak sitting down. But, speak he must, on issues of material and spiritual import, touching issues both national and global.
Hundreds – both elite and commoners cutting across all religions – gather to hear the Tibetan Buddhist leader wherever he speaks, though what he says are fairly down-to-earth homilies on non-violence, compassion, loving, life and death that appear profound as they come from him – a venerated leader of over six million Tibetans, of whom about 150,000 live outside Tibet, mostly in India, forced out by Chinese repression.
No doubt the Chinese remain acutely wary of him and call him names – from a splittist to a wolf in sheep’s clothing – even though the man is the very antithesis of the monikers that are used for him by Beijing.
At a recent lecture at the India International Centre in New Delhi, the Dalai Lama wondered laughingly at Chinese “fear” and “anger” directed against him and said criticism, from any quarter, does not affect him, as he loves even his enemies. And that was the secret of his remaining happy and peaceful all the time, he said in response to a query from an audience member.
The Dalai Lama’s current preoccupation is promoting “ancient Indian learning” as he feels it is due to India’s consistent generosity and kindness that the Tibetan people have been able to preserve their ancient cultural heritage in exile.
“The age-old Indian traditions of non-violent conduct, ‘ahimsa’, compassionate motivation, ‘karuna’, along with a thorough understanding of the workings of minds and emotions, are not only relevant but are also necessary in today’s world,” he said.
He never loses an opportunity to express his profound gratitude to the government and people of India for hosting the Tibetan people with warmth and generous hospitality. The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959, mostly in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, where there is a Tibetan government-in-exile, although about 100,000 Tibetans are scattered in settlements in different parts of India.
For the Chinese Communist Party, control of Tibet, and its religion is of great cultural and strategic importance. Hence they have declared that they would choose the next Dalai Lama, an issue that is bound to become another point of contention and possible confrontation, not only with the Tibetans, but with the rest of the world, particularly India.
Although India has kept quiet on the issue so far, the US has said it will not recognise a Dalai Lama chosen by Beijing. China is extremely sensitive about Tibet – as it is with its other border regions – and sees the Dalai Lama’s call for religious and cultural autonomy of Tibet within China as the thin edge of separatist sentiments that must be put down with a heavy hand.
In a recent interview to Mint, the Dalai Lama said the Chinese were being “unrealistic” and, instead of dialogue, only knew the “use of force” to put down “freedoms”, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China. But he remained hopeful that China may be changing and that, in a year or two, he may be able to visit China, though what was the basis for his optimism he did not spell out.
But China remains wary as ever of the octogenarian spiritual leader and visitors from India are often sought out for information on him and their sympathies or otherwise towards him. That there will be some kind of showdown in future over the Dalai Lama, or the choice of his successor, seems inevitable as recently as October a US delegation visited Dharamsala to meet him to iterate that “the United States government supports the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama and that the role of picking a successor to the Dalai Lama belongs to the Tibetan Buddhist system, the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders. It does not belong to anybody else, not any government or any entity.”
The Indian government has not disclosed its mind on the issue, but with the huge goodwill that the Dalai Lama enjoys in India – and the fact that the Tibetan refugees are seen as a persecuted, peace-loving and an industrious community – it will not be easy for New Delhi to stay detached when the time comes and is bound to open up another friction point between the two countries.
— Tarun Basu/New Delhi
(The writer is President, SPS)
(This article has been reproduced here in arrangement with the South Asia Monitor. It can be accessed at https://southasiamonitor.org)