On July 6 the Dalai Lama, whose spiritual wisdom and friendship have been touchstones for both of our lives, is turning 80 years old.
Since his harrowing escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet into exile on horseback through the high Himalayas into India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has become a towering figure on the world stage. He is a religious leader and a man whose message of peace and the universal values of love, compassion and respect has never mattered more.
Reaching one’s 80th birthday is a significant milestone in any culture, none more so than in Tibet. It is a moment to celebrate.
It is also a moment for reflection. In the Dalai Lama’s homeland, more than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, giving their lives to protest oppression by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party’s vitriolic campaign against the exiled Tibetan religious leader. Two years ago Chinese troops opened fire on Tibetans peacefully gathered to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. News has emerged recently of tightened restrictions in advance of his birthday this year, with a ban on celebrations to mark the occasion.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable achievements of the leader known to his people as “Kundun,” meaning “presence,” is his profound and unbreakable connection with the people of Tibet. They sometimes offer a simple greeting to visitors: “Listen to him.” It is too dangerous to say his name, but they mean the Dalai Lama. Many young Tibetans use a phrase in Chinese on their social-media profiles that means “I learn to be strong in waiting for the great teacher to return from afar.” [Source]
Mr. Gere, an actor, is chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet. Mrs. Pelosi is the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.