His Holiness The Dalai Lama 

Holiness in Exile 



Holiness in Exile

Times of India, New Delhi
June 28, 1999

His humility and accessibility may be misleading enough to make him look like any ordinary person. But it is his profound wisdom and knowledge that undoubtedly makes him the greatest Dalai Lama in history. Completing 60 years as the temporal and spiritual leader of six million Tibetans and inspiration to followers of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has relentlessly struggled to preserve Tibet's unique culture and persuade China to recognise it as an autonomous region.

In an interview to Maneesh Pandey, the 64-year-old God-king argues for better Sino-Indian ties, crucial for peace in South Asia, and suggests ways to attain it.

Q. You advocate better Sino-Indian ties and at the same time you wish India to do more for Tibet. What are the areas in the China-Tibet tangle where you think India could play a part?

A. Development of mutual trust between India and China is not only important for the two but also for peace in Asia. From the beginning, I have strongly felt that unless the situation in Tibet improves, you cannot build mutual trust between the two. The issue of Tibet and good Sino-Indian ties are inseparable as, besides Tibet, there is no border connecting the two Asian giants. Once Tibet is granted autonomy, there's no need to station such a huge force on the border. I indicated in my Five Point Peace Plan in 1988 at Strausbourgh to make Tibet a Zone of Peace. This is the best possible way to smoothen ties between the two. Since we became refugees, the Indian government provided the greatest support to the 1,00,000 Tibetans and is still doing it on the lines of policies laid down by Pandit Nehru, particularly in the social and cultural realm. But on the political front, I find India's policy with China, particularly on Tibet, over-cautious. In areas like human rights violations or respect for Tibetan autonomy, India can express displeasure and concern without fear.

Q. Your envoy's address to the US Congress and Julia Thaft's report hinted at the growing resentment and the likely adoption of violent methods by the Tibetans against the Chinese. Do you agree?

A. Yes, there are valid reasons for that. The Chinese government did a survey among Tibetan students to know their views about Tibetan independence. Of those studying in China proper, 90 per cent favoured independence and in Lhasa area 60 per cent, while 20 per cent remained neutral. This alarmed the Chinese because the generation born and brought up under Communist rule is more nationalist. These are indicators of the Tibetan sentiments irrespective of the torture and humiliation they suffer. Of late, China has started criticising Tibetan Buddhism and wants changes in it: Meaning Buddhism must change to suit Chinese Socialism!

Q. Your advice to Tibetans to criticise you in order to escape persecution sounds depressing.

A. The situation inside Tibet is pathetic. A number of monks, nuns and ordinary people who were reluctant to denounce me were tortured, imprisoned and often disappeared. Though I feel things are changing, solution of the Tibet issue will take time. Nothing would be of consequence if Tibetans lose life so cheap. I say: Live in high spirits and live longer. Becoming physically handicapped or enduring other sufferings serves no purpose. It hurts me more when they are tortured. So to avoid this, there is no harm in criticising me.

Q. Do you find contemporary China more accommodating?

A. Of course, but mostly outside China. Chinese scholars and students do interact directly or indirectly with the Tibetan students. Once at Harvard, one Tibetan student told me about a Chinese scholar's reservations against their government's policies. And many of them have expressed solidarity with our struggle for freedom which coincides with their own fight for democracy against a totalitarian regime. In a way, we're fighting for similar objectives. Also, some Chinese students have openly supported the Tibetan's right to independence. On one occasion, the Chinese students and academics told me unanimously that if the Chinese people came to know my real middle-path approach, the entire Chinese population would come to our support.

Q. On the China-Tibet tangle, you say you are always open for talks, but China lays pre-conditions. What are the prospects of any talks taking place in the future?

A. Yes, I'm still open. But China continues to be tough. The government and local authorities are continuously making efforts to reduce the Tibetan population and increase the Chinese numbers inside Tibet. In some areas, the authorities have started encouraging more monks and nuns -- a way to reduce the Tibetan population. Also, they know they cannot succeed unless they eliminate the popularity of the Buddhist state. So they have devised new methods: Corrupt the Lamas in a way that they lose respect among the monks. Secondly, incite feuds between the monks and the monastic establishment; and lastly, forcing young Tibetan women into prostitution in China and sending them back to the monasteries. Very complicated methods (laughs)! Still I think things will change.

Q. Can the world hope to see a free Tibet in the 21st century?

A. Quite possible within few years if one is for genuine autonomy. And why not? My middle-path approach is not aiming victory for our side and defeat for the other. To the Chinese, the most important concern is stability and unity. They are afraid of separation. So the best possible way could be to unite willingly with them for a bigger human family. But we want full protection of Tibetan spirituality besides material development. Complete freedom for preserving our culture and traditions, and in the meantime China can supply us with all the material help for development. If, then, one thinks of separation from mainland China, it sounds foolish to me. Imagine pre-Independence India and now. National boundaries are not something absolute. Also in today's economy, the notion of complete independence appears meaningless. So I think the Chinese must overcome their oversuspicious nature. They feel with even a slightest freedom, the Tibetans would go out of control. This fear is the main cause behind the repression of Tibetans. This won't help the Chinese and they would be forced to find a more meaningful and constructive approach. In this lies my hope.

Q. There are large numbers of foreigners visiting Dharamsala. What do they come looking for?

A. Human life keeps changing. Everyone at a certain point of time needs change. You want something new. It's possible that such a craving for new things may motivate you for a new spirituality too. I've come across a few Western followers. Initially atheists, they change after developing interest in ethics or in analysing the cause and effect of day-to-day life. In such cases, they find the Buddhist approach most suitable. Secondly, these foreigners find in Buddhism their key to a peaceful life. Buddhist teachings and practices act to soothe their minds.


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