November 12, 1999
The 14th Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama literally means ocean priest. His vast followers, awestruck by his presence, cast their eyes downward, fall to the ground and weep. They cannot look directly in his eyes out of respect. The Dalai Lama realizes the magnitude of his position, but dismisses the idolatry. His people call him His Holiness. He calls himself a Tibetan who chooses to be a Buddhist monk. He also was leader of a country that Tibetans say is occupied and that Beijing says has always been part of China.
He is considered the reincarnation of the previous 13 Dalai Lamas of Tibet, the first born more than 640 years ago. This Dalai Lama is different from his predecessors, though. For instance, the 13th Dalai Lama was strict and formal, and most Tibetans couldnt get close to him except during public blessing ceremonies. The 14th Dalai Lama meets often with Tibetans and foreigners and never keeps people at a distance. He is among 600 Tibetan Buddhist monks living in Dharamsala, in northern India. About 7,000 of the 24,000 who live in this city are Tibetans, with the greatest concentration in the village of McLeod Ganjthe seat of Tibets government-in- exile.
The Chinese occupied Tibet in 1950. For nine years, the Dalai Lama tried to negotiate peaceful coexistence with his people and the Chinese. When that failed, he fled in 1959 to India, where he set up Tibets government-in-exile.
Lhamo Thondup was born July 6, 1935, to peasant farmers in Taktser, a poor settlement on a hill overlooking a broad valley in northeastern Tibet. Buddhist priests from Lhasa, Tibets capital, came for the boy when he was 2. Omens led them to him: from the way the head of the 13th Dalai Lama had turned in his coffin toward the childs village, to the vision of the house seen in a lake by a high priest. The boy was renamed Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso and raised by monks in Lhasa in the 1,000-room Potala palace, where the fifth through the present Dalai Lamas resided. As a boy, he had no idea what it meant to be the 14th Dalai Lamathe ruler of the land hidden behind the Himalayas. He was tutored in Buddhist teachings.
At 15, with his country under threat from the newly communist China, he formally became head of Tibet, which is about three times the size of California. At that time in 1950, peace in Tibet was shattered when 84,000 Chinese soldiers launched an attack at six points along Tibets border.
Chinese officials say communism liberated the downtrodden Tibetan people from a feudal theocracy harshly ruled by a succession of Dalai Lamas. But many Tibetans say communism never was attractive for them, and they always considered the rule of the Dalai Lama benevolent. Fearful of being captured by the Chinese and believing he would be more effective outside Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled at age 24 across 17,000-foot Himalayan passes into India. Together with the 70-man remnant of the Tibetan government, he was given political asylum. He chose India for its proximity to his homeland, and Tibetans felt a spiritual kinship with their neighbors because Buddhism originated in India.
Buddhism teaches people to eliminate suffering caused by ignorance, egotism and self- centeredness. Buddhists cultivate morality, generosity, patience, energy, wisdom and meditation. They believe good actions lead to a promising rebirth. Tibet was the only place where Buddhist monks solely ruled the country. Leaders were thought to be incarnations of enlightened beings, and they taught others how to calm their minds and cultivate altruism. Tibetans say they lived peacefully until the Chinese invaded their country. Since then, 1.2 million people — 20 percent of the Tibetan populationhave died in combat and through massive famines from collectivized farming and diversion of Tibetan grain to China. The Chinese gutted all but 10 of Tibets 6,254 monasteries, and their treasure — $80 billion in jeweled, gold, silver and bronze statues and other holy itemswas trucked back to China and later sold in markets in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Still, the Dalai Lama, 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his non-violent quest to free his homeland, doesnt hate the Chinese. He considers compassion as a means to regain Tibets autonomy.
Leaders of Tibets government-in-exile have lived since 1960 in Dharamsala, a hill station in Himlach Pradesh, India, 125 miles from Tibets border. From the center of Dharamsala, theres a hair-raising climb up thousands of feet along narrow roads that twist to the village of McLeod Ganj. Tibetans live there under Indias rules, but theyre permitted their quasi-government. The Dalai Lama drafted a constitution in 1963, allowing Tibetans throughout the world to be elected representatives of the government-in-exile. He has established an independent judiciary, an auditors office and other departments. He no longer has final say on all governmental matters and can be impeached.
Living in Dharamsala in the 1960s and 70s was difficult for the Tibetans because it was isolated. Construction of a small airport and installation of a telephone system have improved conditions, the Dalai Lama says. Up the mountain is the Tibetan Childrens Village, run by one of the Dalai Lamas sisters. It houses and educates about 1,500 youngsters, many refugees. Its branches throughout India serve 5,500 or so more children. The Dalai Lama sometimes visits the village and elsewhere, but the majority of his time in Dharamsala is spent praying, meditating and studying. He reads scriptures, studies philosophy and often prays with other Tibetan Buddhist monks. He also pores over official papers, listens to the BBC World Service on the radio and reads magazines like Newsweek and Time and newspapers such as The Times of India and The Hindustan Times.
Many people told Tibetans in the 1960s that their quest for freedom was hopeless, the Dalai Lama says. With political changes in the former Soviet Union and East Germany, he believes Tibetan freedom isnt that far-fetched. Obstacles remain before Tibetans have political and social freedom in their homeland, the Dalai Lama says. The old Chinese Communist leaders are in their 80s, and he believes the first generation of revolutionaries still respect and obey the government regime.
Even with no signs of political liberalization, the Communist Partys free market reforms have improved the Tibetan economy and quelled unrest. And many Chinese sympathize with the Tibetan freedom movement, the Dalai Lama says. Once the current Chinese leaders are gone, then I dont see any obstacle.
In 1963, His Holiness promulgated a democratic constitution, based on Buddhist
principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a model for a future free Tibet. Since then, the Dalai Lama has been the most vigorous advocate for the refugee’s own democratic experiment, while consistently reaffirming his desire not to hold political office once Tibet regains its independence. The Dalai Lama continues to present new initiatives to resolve the Tibetan issue. At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in
1987, he proposed a Five-Point Peace Plan as a first step toward resolving the future status of Tibet. This plan called for the designation of Tibet as a zone of non-violence, an end to the massive transfer of Chinese into Tibet, restoration of fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms, and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for nuclear weapons production and the dumping of nuclear waste, as well as urging earnest negotiations on the future of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama continued what he viewed as the most realistic effort to create a self-governing democratic Tibet. His proposal, made in Strasbourg, France in 1988, included the accommodation of China’s own interests while preserving the Tibetan peoples’ ultimate authority in forming their government. However, the Dalai Lama faced a closed and negative attitude from the Chinese leadership in response to his efforts, causing him to declare the Strasbourg Proposal as no longer binding in 1991.
His travels have taken him to Brazil, England, Switzerland and the United States, where he met with President George Bush in April 1991. That meeting ended a 30-year American boycott of the Tibetan leader. The United States never has officially recognized Tibet, considering it part of China.
The Dalai Lama has met with several major heads of state as well as other senior political, religious, cultural and business leaders to speak on his belief in the oneness of the human family and the need for each individual to develop a sense of universal responsibility. In October, 1989, during a dialogue with eight rabbis and scholars from the United States in Dharamsala, The Dalai Lama said, When we became refugees, we knew our struggle would not be easy; it would take a long time, generations. Very often we would refer to the Jewish people, how they kept their identity and faith despite such hardship and so much suffering. And, when external conditions were ripe they were ready to rebuild their nation. So you see, there are many things to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.
His talks in other forums focused on the commonality of faiths and the need for unity among different religions: I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religion or philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religion has certain unique ideas or techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one’s own faith.
The Dalai Lama has received numerous honorary doctorates from Universities worldwide. In 1989, he received The Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. The Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasized the Dalai Lama’s consistent opposition of the use of violence in Tibet’s struggle for freedom and remarked that, The Dalai Lama has developed his philosophy of peace from a great reverence for all things living and upon the concept of universal responsibility embracing all mankind as well as nature…he has come forward with constructive and forward-looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues and global environmental problems.
Despite his great achievements, the Dalai Lama remains modest, often saying I am just a simple Buddhist monk — no more, no less.
While fighting for peace and freedom for his people and others, His Holiness has authored many books. Some intended to teach others to tell stories. Ancient Wisdom, Modern World – Ethics for a New Millennium is the latest book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his first major publication in recent years. In this work, His Holiness calls for a revolution – not a political, an economic, a technical or even a religious revolution, but a spiritual revolution to help us through the moral maze of modern life.
Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart is a practical instruction book on developing compassion in our daily lives through simple meditations that directly relate to past and present relationships. Cultivating a Daily Meditation includes two discourses in which His Holiness touches upon the essential points of the Dharma and provides a clear and simple method to cultivate a daily practice of meditation. He also explains how we should proceed in the effort to generate both the heart of compassion and the expansive view of emptiness in our daily life. Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom is an inspirational volume offering encouragement to anyone seeking a more peaceful and liberating way of life. Here the Dalai Lama shares his perspective on such enduring themes as love, religion, justice, human rights, poverty, cultural conflict and protection of the environment. Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet is an updated autobiography following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, in which the Dalai Lama talks freely of his life and the tragic story of Tibet, and also discusses contemporary issues.
The Dalai Lama is a man who believes and practices in world peace, happiness, inner balance, and freedom. Bringing peace and freedom to Tibet and to the world has been the Dalai Lamas life for the last many years. Writing books, visiting Presidents and officials, and lobbying for his cause has become what he is. What I believe is that His Holiness is a great man. He is a man who has lived in exile for decades but has not given up his cause of liberating himself and his people. He teaches about a global community, where all countries of our planet would live and exist with and for each other, in harmony. Compassion is another thing His Holiness teaches, to live and care for others. I am not and may never be a practicing Buddhist, but in my heart and in myself I will always believe that the Dalai Lama is one of the greatest men ever to walk the Earth. In our world where aggression, conflict and violence breed hatred for our fellow man, how important is a man such as the Dalai Lama whose teachings involve love, compassion and peace.