Apart from possessing an extraordinary charisma, why does the Dalai Lama matter so much in today’s world?
The first thing which strikes someone meeting the Tibetan leader is his lack of pretence. "I am just a simple Buddhist monk," he likes to repeat.
A couple of years ago in Ahmedabad, I remember attending a function at the Indian Institute of Management.
The chairman of the prestigious institution introduced the chief guest as "a living Buddha".
The Dalai Lama (nearly) got upset. He hammered home several times, "I am not a living Buddha, I am just a monk."
And for the audience of future CEOs, he added, "A Marxist monk, but a true Marxist, not like in China!"
On another occasion, he explained to me: “I always tell my Chinese friends (from mainland China) that the Communist theory is very good. I myself believe in Marxism; it is good. When Lenin established a new State and carried out the Bolshevik Revolution with the masses, the idea was pure, very humanistic; thinking about the working class people’s rights and equal distribution of wealth was good.
“But it changed when Lenin brought politics into the Revolution particularly at a time when there was a serious civil war within Russia and with outside forces powers intervening in the civil war. Under Lenin, Marxism became mixed with ‘power’. Under such circumstances, it created distrust, suspicion.”
Another aspect which makes the ‘Marxist monk’ different, are his commitments in life.
You may think that his first responsibility is towards his enslaved country and his uprooted people. But no! As he explains, his first commitment is “the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.”
He elaborates: “All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their life happier.”
He likes to speak of ‘human values as secular ethics’. After more than 50 years in exile from his native land, he continues to share these human values wherever he travels.
It is rare to find a leader of such stature today, a person who has the courage and the foresight to place ‘humanity’ before his own self, before his own community and even his own nation.
His second commitment is not for Tibet either. As he puts it, he works for “the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions.”
He strongly believes that “despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of each other’s respective traditions. As far as one truth, one religion is concerned; this is relevant on an individual level.”
Not many religious leaders in today’s world are ready to admit: “for the community at large, several truths, several religions are necessary!”
He even goes a step further: he says that if modern science proves some old Buddhist precepts wrong, he is ready to drop them. Would all religious leaders show the same tolerance, ninety per cent of the world’s problems would be solved!
He likes to differentiate between Buddhist science, Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist religion.
“It is important to understand that when I say ‘Buddhist science’, I mean science of the mind; it is something universal; it is not a religion. Buddhist religion is not universal, it is only for Buddhists. This is clear,” he points out.
For the past 27 years, he has been meeting ‘Western’ scientists to exchange views on the ‘Buddhist’ science of the mind.
He explains, “These scientists do not want to become Buddhist; they are scientists, some of them are Christians, many are atheists, some have no religious beliefs, but they are interested in Buddhist experiences and explanations, or techniques for studying the mind and emotions.”
It is an unfortunate fact that religion has been dividing people everywhere and the worst crimes have been committed in the name of ‘religion’. That is why the Dalai Lama’s thoughts are so refreshing.
And where is his Land of Snows in all this?
It is his third commitment in life (he insists that it should be read in this order). He states: “as a Tibetan [who] carries the name of the ‘Dalai Lama’, Tibetans place their trust in me. Therefore, [my] third commitment is to the Tibetan issue.”
He acknowledges that he has “a responsibility to act as the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice”, but as far as this third commitment is concerned, he is very clear that “it will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and Chinese”.
However, he says that he will continue to pursue the first two commitments till his last breath.
Another interesting aspect of the Tibetan leader who recently completed 50 years in India (which he refers to as ‘Aryabhumi’), is his love for this country and its people.
He explains: “I consider Indians as my gurus
, because we follow the Nalanda tradition. All our concepts and way of thinking comes from the Nalanda Masters. Therefore, we are the chelas
and Indians are our gurus
. I also often say that we are reliable chelas
, because after the 8th century, the Nalanda tradition was established in Tibet, after that in our gurujis
’ own home, lots of ups and downs happened. Over thousand years, we have kept intact the Nalanda tradition. That means that we are reliable chelas
For reasons that I can’t fully grasp, this point deeply infuriates the Chinese. They constantly question his connection with India.
Recently in an op-ed in The People’s Daily
, one commentator wrote: “The Dalai Lama pleases his Indian masters not only by showing his willingness to be a ‘son of India’, but also by effacing the originality of the Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama uses such words to dwarf the rich Tibetan culture with distinctive local characteristics. He could not be more subservient.”
The Dalai Lama’s Indian connection seems to disturb Beijing so much that their arguments often lose their Cartesianism. They don’t understand how he can at the same time be a ‘son of India’ and represent Tibet to the outside world.
“The more absurd thing is that the Dalai Lama often considers himself a ‘son of India’ and India's cultural guru, but he also keeps on claiming that he represents the interests of all Tibetans,” wrote a commentator.
Yes, he is a son of India, because Gautam Buddha was Indian and like all Tibetans, the Dalai Lama is a follower of the Great Monk. Where is the problem in that?
The Dalai Lama is aware of that the Chinese are unhappy with him, but he laughs and says: “I describe myself as a Son of India, firstly because my thoughts come from the Nalanda Buddhist tradition and this body has lived on Indian dal
, rice and chapattis during the last 51 years. So, physically also, I am a Son of India. Sometimes, it irritates the Chinese officials. What to do?”
In the end, the Chinese always betray their motives: “Furthermore, will a man who betrayed southern Tibet to India really care about the well-being of the Tibetan people?”
They refer to the Dalai Lama’s support of the Indian stand on Arunachal Pradesh (which the Chinese call ‘southern Tibet’).
While the Dalai Lama and his people have always been at the forefront of India's struggle for its integrity, certain facts are, sadly, not very well known, if not completely ignored by the media and Indian public.
For instance, how many people in India know that the Tibetans have participated in several operations to defend India’s borders?
What about the unsung Tibetan heroes of the Special Frontier Forces working directly under the Cabinet Secretary and protecting India’s integrity?
Even without taking this into account, is it not time for India to recognize the Dalai Lama’s genuine contribution to world peace and universal responsibility, his defence of the highest Indian spiritual values and confer on him the Bharat Ratna?Related links:
Wish the Dalai Lama!
'A Tibetan lady Dalai Lama will be very attractive'
'We call him Kundun'
Related image galleries:
The Making of the Dalai Lama: Early Years
Escape from Tibet
Fifty years in India