The Dalai Lama – Stumbling Block between China and the West

DHARAMSHALA ~ The Dalai Lama, at the centre of the latest row between China and the European Union, is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists, a role that makes him both a darling of the West and a political irritant for Beijing’s leaders.

Considered a god-king by his followers, he has been a mainstay on the diplomatic stage ever since he fled his native land for neighboring India in 1959.

Aged 73, and still based in northern India, the Dalai Lama has increasingly been in the spotlight since protests in Tibet turned violent in March this year.

The unrest occurred just months before the Chinese capital Beijing hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The sporting extravaganza provided a focus both for protests against China’s human rights record and for groups which seek either independence or greater autonomy for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has denied claims by China, which invaded the region in 1950, that he orchestrated unrest in March in an attempt to sabotage the Olympics, which in the event passed off peacefully.

Regarded by his many supporters outside China as a visionary in the vein of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his accent on non-violence to achieve change.

However, he is reviled by the Chinese government, which has branded him a “monster” and accused him of trying to split the nation.

As a young man the Dalai Lama fled his Himalayan homeland after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

Since then he has been a powerful rallying point for Tibetans, both in exile and in their homeland, while frequently touring the world and being a friend to kings, politicians, celebrities and the poor.

Born into a peasant farming family in the Tibetan village of Taksar on July 6, 1935, Lhamo Dhondrub was chosen as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama at the age of two.

Considered a Buddhist Master exempt from the religion’s wheel of death and reincarnation, he was taken to the capital Lhasa’s palace to be trained to lead his people.

But as a teenager in 1950 he was called upon to become head of state following the Chinese invasion.

He tried to keep the peace but the effort failed in 1959 when China poured troops into the region to crush the uprising.

The young religious leader, disguised as a soldier, trekked for 13 days through the Himalayas and crossed into India, which offered him Dharamshala as a base and allowed him to set up a government in exile there.

According to officials, at least 100,000 Tibetans live in exile in India which, after fighting a war with China in 1962, barred the Dalai Lama from using its soil as a springboard for a Tibetan independence movement.

The Dalai Lama’s original campaign to reclaim Tibet slowly morphed into a plea to Chinese authorities for autonomy for his people.

He insists his moderate “middle path” approach to the impasse is in the Tibetans’ best interests. His religious title translates as “Ocean Teacher,” a metaphor for the depth of his spirituality.

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