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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

A talk with the Dalai Lama

May 7, 2009


May 5, 2009

IN A MEETING at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge last week, the Dalai Lama
and more than 100 scholars from China showed how direct discussion can
overcome irrational prejudices and official cant. Chinese academics
needed a chance to encounter Tibet's spiritual leader without government

The organizer of the event, Lobsang Sangay, a senior fellow at Harvard
Law School, set out the simplest of ground rules: civil discourse and no
photographs taken until after the discussion. Moderator Tu Weiming,
professor of Chinese history and philosophy and Confucian studies at
Harvard, urged all sides to allow a genuine exchange of ideas, celebrate
their differences, and refrain from trying to convert others.

But the participants hardly needed coaching. The Chinese scholars were
respectful and open-minded, often acknowledging false impressions they
had originally held about Tibetans, the history of Tibetan-Chinese
relations, and the role of the Dalai Lama. For his part, the spiritual
leader of Tibetan Buddhists seemed to surprise many of the younger
Chinese academics as he described the three- and four-hour audiences he
had with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing more than a half century ago.

Some in the audience were amused when the Dalai Lama said he had once
been attracted to the moral principles of socialism, particularly its
ideal of equal distribution, and had even asked to join the Chinese
Communist Party. There were no challenges and no raised eyebrows,
however, when he said that today there is a ruling Communist Party in
China without communist ideology.

Free from official mediation, the academics heard the Dalai Lama say
that he welcomes the material progress China had brought Tibet - but
also that his people were suffering nonetheless because they lacked
freedom of expression, religious freedom, and freedom from fear.

Drawing a distinction between autonomy for Tibet and political
independence, he explained the request his envoys made to Chinese
officials last summer, shortly after the violent clashes on the Tibetan
plateau in March 2008. He said they had asked only for forms of autonomy
consistent with those promised to national minorities in China's
constitution - especially the right to preserve Tibetan language,
culture, and religion. Yet Chinese officials falsely accused him of
demanding independence for Tibet, calling him a liar and a demon.

The Chinese scholars who crowded around him afterward, snapping photos
of themselves with the Dalai Lama, now know he is nothing like the
figure depicted in Beijing's propaganda.
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