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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Pico Iyer on Tibet, China and the Dalai Lama

May 12, 2008

By Jon Wiener
May 10, 2008

As opening day of the Beijing Olympics approaches, the Chinese
government and official media have intensified their attacks on
Tibet's Dalai Lama, blaming him for the recent violent demonstrations
in Lhasa, where Tibetans have been protesting against China's
restrictions on their religion and culture. The Tibetan government in
exile, based in India, says the Chinese have killed more than 200
people in these protests, which started in March. Pico Iyer has been
following the story -- his new book is "The Open Road: The Global
Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama." He spoke recently with
Truthdig's Jon Wiener.

Jon Wiener: The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan
Buddhism, and the international media personification of Tibet. But
some Tibetans are criticizing him because he does not support the
"Free Tibet" campaign, which seeks an end to the Chinese occupation
of Tibet. Why doesn't he support independence?

Pico Iyer: For 21 years he has said "Save Tibet" rather than "Free
Tibet." He asks for autonomy rather than independence. The last time
I saw him, five months ago in Japan, he was reminding me that Tibet
has a lot to gain from being part of China—materially. It is still an
underdeveloped and impoverished place. He says that the more
interconnection between cultures, the better.

Wiener: The Dalai Lama didn't support the street protests of the past
two months, led by monks. Why not?

Iyer: After those demonstrations he made the symbolic act of
threatening to step down, which was his way of sending a message to
the monks, saying: "Please, please, please don't practice violence.
Speak out on behalf of Tibet, keep championing the freedoms you
deserve, but don't demonize or antagonize the Chinese in the process."

Wiener: And yet China's President Hu Jintao has blamed the Dalai Lama
for inciting the protests in Lhasa. Recently, Hu said, "We hope the
Dalai will stop acting to separate the homeland, stop orchestrating
the inciting of violent acts."

Iyer: It's so bitterly funny that the Chinese are accusing him of
fomenting violence when he's doing everything he can to try to
restrain it. When he led prayers after those disturbances, the first
people he prayed for were the Chinese individuals who had been the
victims of that violence.

Wiener: The official line in China is that the Dalai Lama is a "splittist."

Iyer: It's ironic that the Chinese accuse him of creating divisions,
because he always works from the core Buddhist principle, which is
interdependence. Everything is connected. It's an example of how
gratuitous their insults are. He says we have to keep extending the
hand of friendship until the Chinese government wakes up to its better self.

Wiener: When and how did you first meet this Dalai Lama?

Iyer: I met him when I was 17. My father had met him the first year
he came out of Tibet into exile, 1959-60 -- my father was an Oxford
professor of philosophy interested in Buddhism. He sailed from
England back to India because he realized this was the first time in
history this great repository of centuries of wisdom was available to
the outside world. When I went back to India as a teenager, my father
thought I should go and meet this celebrated teacher, so I did. And
I've been returning ever since.

Wiener: When you met him as a teenager, what was your attitude? Were
you a Buddhist?

Iyer: No, and I'm afraid I'm not a Buddhist to this day -- although
I've learned a lot from many Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama. In
those days I was a typical teenager. I wanted to meet Keith Richards
or Jerry Garcia. I didn't want to meet a colleague of my father's.
But one way or another, that initial meeting made enough of an
impression on me so that, as soon as the Dalai Lama started coming to
this country five years later, I always went to hear him, and each
time I heard him I learned and understood a little more than before.

Author Pico Iyer and his new book, "The Open Road: The Global Journey
of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama."
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