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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Delinquent Dalai Lama's Indian legacy

September 8, 2009

06 September 2009

By Edward Wong in Urgelling, India

HE DRANK wine, cavorted with women and wrote poetry that spoke of life's
earthly pleasures.

He was the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyamtso, the spiritual leader of the
Tibetans and reincarnation of Chenrezig, a deity embodying compassion.

Given the precedent set by him, some here mention the area as a possible
birthplace for the next Dalai Lama. The current one, the 14th - who fled to
exile in India in 1959, passing by this village on his route - has said his
reincarnation could very well be born outside of Chinese-ruled Tibet.

The fact that the Sixth Dalai Lama came from this area, called Tawang, is
one of the reasons that China gives in asserting that it is a part of Tibet,
and thus part of China. Indian officials say the land was ceded to
British-ruled India by Tibetan leaders in the Simla Convention of 1914.

The Sixth Dalai Lama would sneak out of the Potala Palace in the heart of
Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, for midnight trysts. He renounced his monastic
vows in the middle of his stewardship of Tibet. He was later kidnapped by
Mongolian warriors allied to the Manchu Chinese court and died in captivity
about three centuries ago at the age of 33 - or so one story goes. Another
tells of his winning his freedom and wandering the Tibetan lands as an

So goes the legend of Tsangyang Gyamtso, one of the most popular historical
figures among Tibetans and the most colourful of the long line of Dalai
Lamas. His poetry is among the most iconic in Tibetan literature.

In this remote area of the eastern Himalayas, the mystique surrounding the
Sixth Dalai Lama is magnified a hundredfold. He was born in Urgelling,
called Ugyenling in Tibetan, a village in the lush hills that border Bhutan
and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. The dominant ethnic group is the
Monpa, a Buddhist people who speak a language closely related to Tibetan but
consider themselves distinct from the Tibetans on the high plateau.

The two-storey childhood home of the Sixth Dalai Lama was turned into a
pilgrimage shrine centuries ago. Candles flicker in front of the main altar
and prayer flags adorn a large tree outside.

"He's pure Monpa, the only Monpa to be a Dalai Lama," said Jamparema, 60, a
hunched woman in a striped red dress who was pouring oil out of brass candle
holders in the altar room. Since her youth, she said, she had taken care of
the shrine.

The shrine has traditional thangka paintings of most of the 14 Dalai Lamas.
Nine white stupas in a room on the ground floor supposedly house remains of
the Sixth Dalai Lama's relatives.

As for signs of the Sixth Dalai Lama himself, there is a small wooden box
with a stone inside that has a faint footprint - supposedly his, even though
he was taken from this area before he turned three. He never returned.

A small museum in the sprawling Tawang Monastery, which sits above, at
10,000 feet, displays necklaces of turquoise and other precious stones said
to have belonged to the Sixth Dalai Lama's mother.

Long ago, the leader of Tawang Monastery came to Ugyenling to collect the
family's possessions. He was afraid they would be spirited away by Tibetan
officials in Lhasa, said Gombu Tsering, 70, the museum's caretaker.

"The Tibetan government would have sent a spy from Lhasa to collect all
this," he said. "That's why we collected it. A shoe of the mother was taken
by a spy."

The Sixth Dalai Lama had a complicated relationship with Lhasa, according to
the definitive biography of him, Secret Treasures And Hidden Lives by
Michael Aris, a Tibet scholar at Oxford University. Aris, who died in 1999,
was the husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader in Burma.

"It is difficult to think of a more enigmatic or elusive figure in Tibetan
and Himalayan history," Aris wrote.

When he was enthroned in 1697, at the age of 14, he was thrust into the
greatest spotlight in all of Tibet, something for which his reclusive
childhood had left him ill-prepared.

He rejected all the trappings of his title. That meant renouncing his vows,
wearing jewellery and growing his hair out.

Gray Tuttle, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University,
said that the Sixth Dalai Lama, if he had focused on ruling the land, could
have consolidated the gains made by his predecessor - the first leader to
unify Tibet after the collapse of the empire in the ninth century - and
transformed Tibet into a strong state with the ability to resist Chinese

"This is where the Sixth Dalai Lama really could have played an important
role, but because of his lack of training, lack of being raised as a Dalai
Lama, he went off and did these other activities," Tuttle said. "But the
Tibetans loved him for that, loved his writings."
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