The Dalai Lama has been variously described as a self-exiled leader, the world’s most famous refugee, an itinerant monk, as one of the world’s most sought after speakers, a Nobel prize winner, a celebrity who can overshadow most celebrities – but seldom as a tragic figure presiding over a hopeless cause. While each one of these descriptions could be said to contain an element or a fair measure of the truth, they still do not give a true measure of the man. His personal charm, beaming smile and warm personality have been the subject of many biographies, articles and commentaries by countless admirers around the world. They reflect genuine admiration, adulation and respect. Yet these are all external manifestations of a fascinating human being; of a semi-divine figure who claims no attribute other than his basic humanity and humility.
He was of tender years when they invaded his country. Had he had then the wisdom of the years would he have confronted them differently? Did he really have any options? Does he suffer from the regret of what might have been? Is there a lingering sense of betrayal by other nations who might have been in a position to influence events. India, the other big neighbour, had become independent before the communist take-over in China. The tantalizing thought must surely have crossed his mind that, under different circumstances, a Sardar Patel at the helm of affairs in India might just have saved Tibet. At the very least he would have worked out a more acceptable modus vivendi with the Chinese, before giving them the carte blanche to do as they pleased.
Time and again the destiny of nations appears to have been moulded by their leaders. Do leaders then encapsulate in their persona the fate of nations, or does destiny mock nations by throwing up leaders who will follow her dictates? Whatever the truth, the fact remains that destiny, while amenable to change, cannot be unmade. Nor can history be unwritten. The believer in the pre-ordained must then pause to wonder whether destiny looked away: from him, his countrymen, or both. A traveler on this perilous path must confront the dilemma of the ages to which no really satisfactory answer has been forthcoming since time immemorial, in spite of the voluminous philosophical treatises on the subject.
What failed Tibet in the second half of the twentieth century? Inability on the part of the leadership to anticipate events and plan for them? Or was it the destiny of the people of Tibet to witness helplessly the subjugation of their land under an invader who showed neither mercy nor regard for their culture, despite belonging to one of the most remarkable civilisations the world has known. The Dalai Lama has been reported to have confided to some of his interviewers – seriously or in jest must remain in doubt – that he and his people were undergoing their ‘karmic’ lot.
How many solitary moments must the Tibetan leader have spent agonising over those dark days when the tyrant’s heal first pressed on Tibet’s heart. It is still there. How frequently does he behold first hand the misery of his people who manage to survive the arduous trek to India and freedom – more than the freedom, to behold him in person and to seek his blessings. With such weight upon him what superhuman reserves of strength does he summon to keep the smile on his face when he gazes out at the world. Are those reserves inexhaustible. Will they, one fine day, suddenly take their toll of him. Does the simple Buddhist monk, the divinely inspired leader, know what the future has in store for his people. Is the optimism and cheerfulness a means of keeping himself and his people from sinking into a fatalistic morass from which there would be no escape, karmic or otherwise.
Nobody, not even perhaps the Dalai Lama himself, knows the answers. But he does know that the very nature of existence posits that the struggle itself is life, karma or the lila of existence. In his case historical parallels hardly apply. Few people would term his spirited defense as a battle between a David and Goliath. He remains deeply, even viscerally, committed to the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, itself an offshoot of the philosophy of the Buddha.
This follower of Buddha naturally shuns violence. He has given Gandhi’s concept a new dimension. The Tibetan struggle that he leads does not call for the oppressor to quit his land. He is willing to adjust to the reality of the situation. He would be satisfied with Tibetan autonomy under a Chinese dispensation. The Tibetan leader’s sagacity has to be admired. The Chinese authorities have already reduced the Tibetans to a minority. They have an overwhelming military presence in Tibet. On a number of occasions they have demonstrated absolute ruthlessness. An armed struggle would have no chance of success without the active support of the Government of India.
The dawn of the new millennium (of the Christian era, which has become the world standard for all practical purposes) heralds two important milestones for the 14th Dalai Lama: the sixtieth anniversary of his enthronement and the fiftieth anniversary of his assuming state responsibility. The latter anniversary is a poignant reminder of how young he was – in years as well as in the experience of statecraft – when China invaded Tibet. He fled his country with many of his followers in 1959. Between the invasion and his flight he must have aged. Physically less than ten years, mentally can only be guessed at. The length of time that he has been living with his anguish would have embittered most other men. The person would have become cynical. His worldview would have become jaundiced. Nothing of the sort happened to this remarkable man. If he internalised his sorrow he did not let it reflect on his public face. He did not go under. Instead the leader of a small group of exiles grew in stature to become a world leader. The mighty leaders of the great power that subjugated his country would have known how to deal with an armed insurrection. They did not know how to deal with the Dalai Lama. Fifty years of denunciation have not borne fruit. They have made him only dearer to his people. The Chinese leaders do not know how to meet the challenge posed by the self-exile.
One reason why they fear a direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama is that they would not like to thereby expose the Chinese public to this marvelous human being whom they have so persistently reviled. They are not even sure what their own reaction would be. They have been watching with unease country after country succumbing to his charm. Unarguably – whether the concerned people agree with his political formulations or otherwise – there would hardly be anybody who when face to face with the Dalai Lama would be able to sustain a personal animus against him. It would be well nigh impossible for almost any human being to be offended with the Dalai Lama as a person. His laugh is infectious, his warmth all-embracing, his simplicity endearing. That would perhaps explain the persistent hostility that the Chinese continue to maintain towards him. It is they – the mighty power – who feel insecure. Not him.
The fourteenth Dalai Lama started out as a leader of the Tibetans, as the repository of their hopes and aspirations, for this world and the next. The intervening decades have seen his stature grow to that of a world leader, who remains in the forefront of humanity’s march towards a more humane world order. Millions more around the world look to him for inspiration. His cause is no longer just the cause of the preservation of a unique culture of a few million Tibetans. The Tibetan question can perhaps no longer be tackled on the political plane where it has proven intractable and continues to be so. An honest attempt might now have to be made to tackle the issue on a plane where no system or political entity needs to feel alienated or excluded from the process. The successful outcome of the epic struggle of this Buddhist sage and his people will be an important landmark for the human race in its quest for universal brotherhood. Surprisingly, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, the biggest beneficiaries will be the Chinese themselves. They would, by one dramatic gesture of accommodation, have absolved themselves of their sins of the last century.
Times are changing. The world is changing. A new era may be just over the horizon for a world weary of wars and warring. The day may not be far off when the flag of the 14th Dalai Lama again flies from the Potala Palace – as a symbol of the collective wisdom and melding of a great culture and a great civilisation. Source – [English] or [Russian]