Volume 1 Number 8
Tibet's Apostle of Compassion
01 April 1988
The man who takes such an interest in those around him carries each hour the pain and suffering of his six million people.
By RUSSI M LALA
A cavalcade of cars wends its way up a hill in western India. It comes to a halt and then restarts after a couple of minutes. The VIP has spied a flower by the roadside that he has not seen before and wants to know more about. He is the fourteenth Dalai Lama.
After two weeks of gruelling teaching of seven hours a day, a flight of a thousand miles, a change of planes, and a long drive, he arrives late at night at the next conference that he will attend. A hundred policemen are assigned to protect His Holiness, and most of them are camped in tents overnight. In the cold of the winter night, two police officials are deputed to keep guard on the verandah next to his suite. In the still night of the hills, one of them dozes off. At 4.30 am a kindly figure wrapped in a robe taps him on the shoulder and enquires, `Would you like some tea?'
At the inaugural function later in the morning, a speaker compliments the Dalai Lama for his concern for the man. `Oh, no,' he replies, `I just went to see whether they were awake!' And he breaks into hearty laughter. But as he leaves, the Police Chief remarks, `We look after many VIPs, but nobody cares to thank us the way he did.'
The man who takes such an interest in those around him carries each hour the pain and suffering of his six million people. He estimates that a million of his people on the roof of the world have been killed, tortured, imprisoned. Occasionally he lets out an anguished, `What have they achieved by these killings?' But not a word of bitterness escapes his lips, and nothing is further from his mind than revenge. Those who carry the burden of unresolved hurts are challenged by being in his presence.
Like Mother Teresa, he is intensely preoccupied with the person he is speaking to. His searching eyes look right through you, and his broad smile encourages you to relax. Of the Chinese Communism of the days of persecution he says, `Socialism is good, the aim is good. But their motivation was wrong.' His concern is that his Tibetan people are not degraded by hate.
He yearns for the freedom of his people to practise their faith, to protect their identity, longs to regain their independence. But he wants them to be liberated within as well as without. `All people want to fight evil men; we have to fight the evil in men.'
Good leaders attract good men, and it is impressive to see the quality of his entourage. An official in his thirties said, `I find it quite difficult to forgive, having lost three brothers, four uncles and a half-brother of my father, all executed by the Chinese under Mao. But in order to reach a final conclusion for the Tibet-an situation, we may have to forgive a hundred times.'
A man may reveal himself by the word he uses most frequently. The Dalai Lama's favourite word is `compassion'. The word vibrates in him because he lives it. To him, `it is the basis of Buddhism'. Unlike some religious leaders who expound ethical beliefs, and stop at that, he likes to show people the way to attain a higher life.
When you generate angry emotions, he says, you should use reason to generate an opposite attitude, the appropriate antidote, and stop it before it can develop more. But if you can't do that, at least seek to distract your mind from the angry emotion - go out for a walk. `What doctor prescribes anger as a treatment?' he asks.
He is a man with a twin mission in life. The first concerns his land and his people; the second is to promote compassion and love in other lands and other peoples so as to bring about peace and harmony in the world. His interest in other nations and their well-being is obvious when one speaks to him.
His day begins at about 4 am in his lodge at Dharamsala in the high hills of northern India. After meditation and prayer, at 6.30 he switches the radio for the BBC news. He does some further study, and at 10 am his audiences begin. They continue through the day. There is time in the evening for further meditation, reading and prayer. He goes to sleep about midnight.
The Dalai Lama was born in north-eastern Tibet in the family of a well-to-do farmer. In 1933, two years before his birth, the previous, revered thirteenth Dalai Lama died. The Regent went to a sacred lake, Lhamoi Latso, 90 miles outside Lhasa, where it is believed that visions of the future can be seen in the waters. The Regent saw a vision of three Tibetan letters indicating `north-east', followed by a picture of a monastery with roofs of jade green and a house with turquoise shell tiles. Various search parties were sent out, briefed in the strictest confidence to look for those signs, to locate the reincarnation of the late Dalai Lama.
When a search party came to the village of Dokham, they found a house with turquoise tiles. The head Lama enquired if the family living in the house had any children and was told that there was a boy two years old. The head Lama disguised himself as a servant and, while his companions entered by the front door, he entered by the servants' door.
The child played in the servants' section with the senior Lama, who wore a rosary belonging to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The child was fascinated and asked for it. They also tested him the following day by giving him two drums to play with: an attractive drum with golden straps, and a very small drum which the previous Dalai Lama had used. The child chose the small drum. When shown two walking sticks, he grasped the stick used by the deceased Dalai Lama. The party felt that they had come to the end of their search. The child was finally enthroned in Lhasa as the fourteenth Dalai Lama.
From his early days he was given a gruelling schedule of study. `There must have been something lacking from my childhood, without the constant company of my mother and other children,' he says. Later his mother was permitted to stay at the Potala Palace - a spacious and fascinating `prison', a city in itself.
At 13 he was introduced to metaphysics and he felt as if he was `hit on the head with a stone', but he soon recovered and began searching beyond his allocated studies. He would spread the atlas on the floor and study the world that lay beyond his isolated land. He tried to teach himself English. His faith in his religion deepened. He took toys to pieces and tried to put them together again. He still has an interest in mechanical things, and when he relaxes, he loves to take photographs.
He was barely 15 in 1950 when the Communist Chinese marched into Tibet, which they claimed was historically a part of their country although ethnologically and linguistically they are two separate peoples. An uneasy relationship prevailed between the young Dalai Lama and Beijing. He was allowed to come to India at the express request of Prime Minister Nehru, for the 2,500th anniversary celebrations of the birth of the Buddha. As he laid a wreath at the memorial where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, the Dalai Lama says he wondered what wise counsel the Mahatma would have given him.
Tibetan:' resistance was growing. In March 1959, the local Chinese commander asked the Dalai Lama to come to dinner at his army camp, without his palace guards. The Tibetan people got wind of it, and fearing for his safety, they turned up in their thousands and surrounded the palace, to protect him. Events came to a head when the Chinese fired two heavy mortar shells which splashed into a marsh outside the palace gate.
The Dalai Lama was not afraid for himself, but he feared for the 30,000 or so people outside the gate exposed to Chinese fire. He was advised to leave the palace, at the risk of his life. He removed his spectacles, changed from his monk's habit into a soldier's uniform, donned a fur coat, slung a rifle over his shoulder and went out, unchallenged, onto the dark road beyond the palace crowds. A small party accompanied him. The Chinese frantically searched for them, but he crossed into India on 31st March, 1959. He was given refuge in India. A hundred thousand Tibetans followed him. He repeatedly expresses his gratitude for India's hospitality, but many Indians are grateful that such a man should live among them.
A whole generation of Tibetans has since been born in India and has never seen Tibet. Thanks to his efforts and to assistance from different parts of the world they have been well educated. Smaller communities have found refuge in some 30 countries around the world - Switzerland has a Tibetan village.
He has little concern for his life. `I am only a mortal being and an instrument of the never-dying spirit of my master,' he says. When asked, `Will there be another Dalai Lama after you?' he quickly answers, `Does that matter?'
After he left Tibet, in the period of China's Cultural Revolution, there was savage persecution. Where there were some 7,000 monasteries in 1959, there are only 17 today. In the last four years there has been some relaxation, and Lhasa was opened up to tourists. But last year there were demonstrations against Chinese rule and there was firing; at least six people were killed.
The Dalai Lama believes in strong action, but without anger, hate or violence. But how long can he hold his people to this path?
Negotiations with the Chinese started in the early 1980s, but the talks made little headway. There is the political issue of the future of Tibet. There is the more pressing angle of human rights. The Dalai Lama has issued a five-point peace plan, which proposes: that the whole of Tibet be transformed into a zone of peace and non-violence; that the transfer of Chinese people to Tibet be stopped; that human rights and democratic freedoms be respected; that the production of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste in Tibet be halted; and that negotiations for the future of Tibet be started in earnest. The European Parliament and the United States Congress have supported the Dalai Lama's programme.
The Dalai Lama's early morning encounter with the policeman was at a Moral Re-Armament conference in western India, where he spoke to people from many backgrounds. A Bengali who heard him speak said, `Although I'm not a Buddhist, it never occured to me that he's of a different religion.' `Even if you felt down,' said a Chinese woman from Malaysia, `he made you forget yourself.' A Sri Lankan commented, `We had in our midst a great and wonderful man, respected by millions in the world, and yet so simple, truthful, friendly, and above all absolutely honest. He didn't bluff us. He was frank enough to say, "This is what I feel, this is the Buddhist way of thought."'
How one wishes that the leaders of present day China could spend enough time with the Dalai Lama. Here is a man who can build a working relationship that keeps Chinese long-term interests in view and at the same time protects the right of the Tibetan people to live and worship in freedom and dignity.