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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

A Monk's Struggle

March 26, 2008,8599,1723922,00.html
By Pico Iyer
TIME Magazine
Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2008

"Since China wants to join the world community," the 14th Dalai Lama
said as I was traveling across Japan with him for a week last November,
"the world community has a real responsibility to bring China into the
mainstream." The whole world stands to gain, he pointed out, from a
peaceful and unified China—not least the 6 million Tibetans in China and
Chinese-occupied Tibet. "But," he added, "genuine harmony must come from
the heart. It cannot come from the barrel of a gun."

I thought of those measured and forgiving words—the Dalai Lama still
prays for his "Chinese brothers and sisters" every morning and urges
Tibetans to learn Chinese so they can talk with their new rulers, not
fight with them—as reports trickled out of Tibet of freedom
demonstrations that have led to some of the bloodiest confrontations in
the region since similar protests preceded a brutal crackdown in the
late 1980s. The violence has left 99 people dead, according to Tibetan
exile groups; the Chinese government says 13 "innocents" were killed in
the riots. Soon after monks began demonstrating in the Tibetan capital
of Lhasa, Chinese forces moved to contain the marchers, but the
disturbances spread to other Tibetan cities, and their causes clearly
remain unresolved. Working out how best to avoid further embarrassment
as they prepare for the start of the Olympic-torch relay on March 25
will be a tricky challenge for China's rulers. As a diplomat told TIME,
"They need to get this under control, but to do so without a lot of

How the crisis unfolds will be determined not just in Beijing but also
by the words and actions of a man who protects his people from afar, in
his exile home in the northern-India hill station of Dharamsala. As a
Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama speaks unstintingly on behalf of all
people's rights to basic freedoms of speech and thought—though as a
Buddhist monk, he also holds staunchly to the view that violence can
never solve a problem deep down. If the bloodshed gets out of control,
he said in recent days, he will step down as political leader—a symbolic
act, really, since he would continue to be the head of the Tibetans and
the democracy he has set up in exile already has an elected Prime
Minister. In China meanwhile, Tibetans are still liable to imprisonment
for years just for carrying a picture of their exiled leader (who by
Tibetan custom is regarded as the incarnation of a god, the god of
compassion). Some have been shot while walking across the mountains to
visit cousins or children in exile.

As soon as you start talking to the Dalai Lama, as I have been doing for
33 years, you notice that his favorite adjectives are logical and
realistic and the verbs he returns to are investigate, analyze and
explore. The Buddha was a "scientist," he said the last time I saw him,
which means that a true Buddhist should follow the course of reason
(recalling, perhaps, that anger most harms the person who feels it).
Contact and communication are the methods he always stresses—to this
day, he encourages every possibility for dialogue with China and in
places even urges Tibetans to study Buddhism under Chinese leaders whom
he knows to be capable.

This determination to be completely empirical—as if he were a doctor of
the mind pledged to examine things only as they are, to come up with a
clear diagnosis and then to suggest a practical response—is one of the
things that have made the current Dalai Lama such a startling and tonic
figure on the world stage. There are few monks in any tradition who
speak so rarely about faith while rejecting anything that has been
disproved by scientific inquiry; on his desk at home, he keeps a plastic
model of the brain with detachable parts so that he can take it apart,
put it together again and see how it works. And there are even fewer
political leaders who work from the selfless positions and long-term
vision of a monk (and doctor of philosophy). It's easy to forget that
the Dalai Lama is by now the most seasoned ruler on the planet, having
led his people for 68 years—longer than Queen Elizabeth II, King
Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand or even Fidel Castro.

This all has deep and wide implications for a world that seems as
religiously polarized now as it has ever been. Always stressing that the
Buddha's own words should be thrown out if they are shown by scientific
inquiry to be flawed, the Dalai Lama is the rare religious figure who
tells people not to get needlessly confused or distracted by religion
("Even without a religion, we can become a good human being"). No
believer in absolute truth—he eagerly seeks out Catholics,
neuroscientists, even regular travelers to Tibet who can instruct him—he
is also the rare Tibetan who will suggest that old Tibet may have
contributed in part to its current predicament, the rare Buddhist to
tell foreigners not to take up Buddhism but to study within their own
traditions, where their roots are deepest.

As the world prepares for the Olympic Games in Beijing this August—and
as Tibetans (and those in other occupied areas across China, like
Xinjiang) inevitably use the world's attention to broadcast their
suffering—a farmer's son born in a stone-and-mud house in a 20-home
village in one of the world's least materially developed countries has,
rather remarkably, become one of the leading spokesmen for a new global
vision in which we look past divisions of nation, race and religion and
try to address our shared problems at the source. Acts of terrorism, he
said when I saw him in November, usually arise from some cause deep in
the past and will not go away until the root problem is addressed. He
could as easily have been talking about the demonstrations of discontent
being staged in his homeland nearly a half-century since he saw it last.

The Scientist

I have been visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala regularly since 1974
and have been listening to him speak to psychologists, non-Buddhist
priests and philosophers—from Harvard to Hiroshima and Zurich to
Malibu—since 1979. I'm not a Buddhist myself, only a typically skeptical
journalist whose father, a professional philosopher, happened to meet
the Dalai Lama in 1960, the year after he went into exile. But having
spent time watching wars and revolutions everywhere from Sri Lanka to
Beirut, I've grown intrigued by the quietly revolutionary ideas that the
Dalai Lama has put into play. China and Tibet will long be geographic
neighbors, he implies, so for Tibetans to think of the Chinese as their
enemies—or vice versa—is to say they will long be surrounded by enemies.
Better by far to expunge the notion of "enmities" that the mind has created.

Among fellow Buddhists, the Dalai Lama delivers complex, analytical
talks and wrestles with doctrinal issues within a philosophy that can be
just as divided as anything in Christianity or Islam, but he has decided
after analytical research that when he finds himself out in the wider
world talking to large audiences of people with no interest in Buddhism,
the most practical course is just to offer, as a doctor would, simple,
everyday principles that anyone, regardless of religion (or lack of
same), might find helpful. Since material wealth cannot help us if we're
heartbroken, he often says, and yet those who are strong within can
survive even material hardship (as many monks in Tibet have had tragic
occasion to prove), it makes more sense to concentrate on our inner, not
our outer, resources. We in the privileged world spend so much time
strengthening and working on our bodies, perhaps we could also use some
time training what lies beneath them, at the source of our well-being:
the mind.

His own people, inevitably, have not always been able to live according
to these lucid precepts, and if you walk along the crowded, gritty
streets of Dharamsala, you find as many Tibetans looking to the West for
salvation as you find Westerners looking to Tibet. Melancholy signs in
the Tibetan government-in-exile compound say Tibetan Torture Survivors'
Program and Voice Of Tibet (Voice For The Voiceless), and many young
Tibetans feel they have spent all their lives dreaming of a country
they've never seen. In Tibet, meanwhile, I remember—visiting in 1990,
when the shadow of martial law hung over the capital—seeing soldiers on
the rooftops of the low buildings around the central Jokhang Temple and
tanks stationed just outside the city limits.

Yet the larger sense of identity being proposed by the Dalai Lama—and
many others from every tradition—has special relevance today because, as
the Tibetan leader likes to say, we are living in a "new reality" in
which "the concept of 'we' and 'they' is gone." And if the terrorist
attacks and wars of the new millennium have made some people on every
continent wary and skeptical of religion, they have also made them ache,
more palpably than ever, for precisely the sense of moral guidance and
solace that religions traditionally provide.

Exile and Opportunity

What could be called a global movement on behalf of post?identity
thinking seems one of the brightest hopes of our new world order and one
often advanced by such close friends and admirers of the Dalai Lama as
Vaclav Havel and Desmond Tutu. Yet what has made the Dalai Lama's
example particularly striking—and what was perhaps partly responsible
for his receiving the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace—is that he has had to
live these principles and put them to the test during almost every hour
of his 72 years. He came to the throne in Lhasa, after all, when he was
only 4 years old, and he was receiving envoys from F.D.R. with intricate
questions about the transportation of military supplies across Tibet
during World War II when he was just 7. He was 11 when violent fighting
broke out around him in Lhasa, and by the time he was 15—an age when
most of us are stumbling through high school—he was the full-time
political leader of his people, having to negotiate against Mao Zedong.
After he fled Tibet at age 23, when Chinese pressure on Lhasa seemed
certain to provoke widespread violence, he had to remake an entire
ancient culture in exile.

The result of all this is that he is as rigorous and detailed a realist
as you could hope to meet. His life has never allowed him the luxury of
talking abstractly or wishfully from a mountaintop. He follows the news
more closely than many journalists do and cheerfully confessed to me
more than a decade ago that he is "addicted" to the bbc World Service
broadcast every morning. When he speaks around the world, one of his
favorite lines is "Dream—nothing!" or some other expression to stress
that instead of looking outside ourselves for help or inspiration, we
should act right now because "responsibility for our future lies on our
own shoulders."

This makes for a novel way of practicing the art of politics—one
inspired, you could say, by the prince called the Buddha more than by
the one described by Machiavelli. The central principle of Buddhism is
the idea of interdependence—the notion that all sentient beings are
linked together in a network that was classically known as Indra's Net.
Thus, calling Chinese individuals your enemy and Tibetans your friend,
the Dalai Lama might suggest, is as crazy as calling your right eye your
ally and your left your adversary; you usually need both to function
well, and all parts of the world body depend on all other parts.
"Before," I heard him say last November, "destruction of your enemy was
victory for your side." But in our globalized world, where ecology
enforces our sense of mutual dependence, "destruction of your enemy is
destruction of yourself."

The other essential idea of Buddhism (more accurately called a science
of mind than a religion) is that we can change our world by changing how
we choose to look at the world. "There is nothing either good or bad,"
as Hamlet said, "but thinking makes it so." For most of us, for example,
exile means disruption and loss. But the Dalai Lama has decided that
exile is his reality and therefore should be taken as opportunity.
Almost as soon as he left Tibet in 1959, he started to draw up a new
democratic constitution for Tibetans, allowing for the possibility of
impeaching the Dalai Lama. He threw out much that he regarded as
outdated or needlessly ritualistic in the Tibetan system while gradually
bringing in reforms so that women are now allowed to study for doctoral
degrees and become abbots (which they could not do in old Tibet) and
science is part of the monastic curriculum. Tibetan children in exile
take their lessons in Tibetan until they are 10 or so—to make sure they
are strongly rooted in their own tradition—and then in English ever
after (so as to be connected to the modern world).

This has made the Tibetan exile community one of the success stories
among refugee groups in recent decades. But no less important, perhaps,
it has offered a possibility to many others on a planet where there are,
by some counts, as many as 33 million official and unofficial refugees.
By showing how Tibet can exist internally, in spirit and imagination,
even if it is barely visible on the map, the Dalai Lama has been
suggesting to Palestinians, Kurds and Uighurs that they can maintain a
cultural community even if they have lost their territory. Communities
can be linked not by common soil so much as by common ground, a common

Challenging China

Yet even as the Dalai Lama has managed to make all these breakthroughs
in the exile world, in Tibet itself he has made little visible progress
over the past 50 years. Every Tibetan I've met remains immovably devoted
to him. And yet, as he said to me 12 years ago, "in spite of my open
approach of maximum concessions, the Chinese position becomes even
harder and harder." The violence that broke out recently was a harrowing
reminder of the fact that 98% of Tibetans have no access to their leader
and are denied the most basic of freedoms. And in return for talking of
interdependence and the need to stop even thinking in terms of enemies,
the Dalai Lama is known in Beijing as a "splittist" and the "enemy of
the Tibetan people."

Indeed, his very determination to speak for openness and a long-term
vision has sometimes brought him critics on every side. Some
conservative Tibetan clerics believe he has been too radical in
jettisoning old Tibetan customs, while some Western Buddhists, graduates
of the revolutions of the '60s, wish he did not speak out against
divorce or sexual license. True to his Buddhist precepts, he has not
called for Tibetan independence from China for more than 20 years; he
seeks only autonomy, whereby China could control Tibetans' defense and
foreign affairs so long as Tibetans have sovereignty over everything
else. But more and more Tibetans in exile ask how they can sit by and
practice nonviolence while their homes and families are being wiped out
by the Chinese occupation. "Why is he thinking of the future and not the
present, the past?" asks an outspoken Tibetan in Dharamsala who once
fought with the cia-trained guerrillas violently resisting the Chinese.
"I want freedom in this world, not from this world."

In July 2006 Chinese authorities intensified what the Dalai Lama calls
"demographic aggression" by launching a high-speed train linking Lhasa
to Beijing and other Chinese cities, thus allowing 6,000 more Han
Chinese to flood into the Tibetan capital every day. Lhasa, sometimes
known as an "abode of the gods," has turned from the small traditional
settlement I first saw in 1985 into an Eastern Las Vegas, with a
population of 300,000 (two out of every three of them Chinese). On the
main streets alone, by one Western scholar's count, there are 238 dance
halls and karaoke parlors and 658 brothels, and the Potala Palace—for
centuries a symbol of a culture whose people were ruled by a monk and
home to nine Dalai Lamas—is now mockingly surrounded by an amusement park.

Yet the Dalai Lama, true to his thinking, points out that the
Beijing-Lhasa train is neither good nor bad. "It is a form of progress,
of material development," I heard him say four months ago, adding that
Tibetans understand that for their material well-being, it is of benefit
to be part of the People's Republic. The only important thing, he
pointed out, was how its rulers use the train and whether they deploy it
for compassionate purposes or not.

It can almost seem, in considering Tibet, as if two different visions of
freedom are colliding. For Buddhists, liberation traditionally means
freedom from ignorance and so from the suffering it brings. For Chinese
pledged to material development, freedom simply means liberation from
the past, from religion and from backwardness. According to the Dalai
Lama, at the sixth and most recent round of regular talks between
Chinese officials and a delegation of Tibetans, the Chinese said, "There
is no Tibet issue. Everything in Tibet is very smooth." To which the
exiled Tibetans said, "If things are really as good as you say they are,
then why don't you let us come and see the reality?"

The Long Road

The central question surrounding Tibet, of course, is what will happen
when the current Dalai Lama dies. In preparation for that event, the man
has been stressing for years that the function of any Dalai Lama is only
to fulfill the work of the previous Dalai Lama; therefore, any young
child selected by Chinese authorities and declared to be the 15th Dalai
Lama, a Beijing puppet, will not be the true "Dalai Lama of Tibetan
hearts." As practical and flexible as ever and holding to the Buddhist
ideas of impermanence and nonattachment, he told me as far back as 1996,
"At a certain stage, the Dalai Lama institution will disappear. But that
does not mean that Tibetan Buddhist culture will cease. No!" Most
Tibetans, however, cannot abide the thought of a future without their
traditional leader.

The deeper issue, as the Dalai Lama always stresses, is that names and
forms are unimportant so long as something more fundamental is
sustained. The Buddha's job—and therefore that of his most prominent
contemporary student—was not just to be clear-sighted and compassionate
but also to show how compassionate and clear-sighted any one of us can
be. In that regard, it hardly matters whether the terms Dalai Lama or
Buddhism or even Tibet continue to exist. As it is, thanks to the exodus
of Tibetans in the past half-century, Tibetan culture and Buddhism have
become part of the global neighborhood. Whereas there were all of two
Tibetan Buddhist centers in the West in 1968, there are now more than 40
in New York City alone. In Taiwan, there are more than 200. More French
people call themselves Buddhist than Protestant or Jew.

Perhaps most significant, some of the people most eagerly drawn to
Tibetan tradition and Buddhism are, in fact, citizens of China, who have
been denied any religious sustenance for more than 50 years. The last
time I visited Lhasa, in 2002, I saw more and more Chinese individuals
going to the Jokhang Temple at the center of town as pilgrims, seeking
out Tibetan lamas for instruction, even trying to learn Tibetan, the
same language that is all but banned for Tibetans. When I traveled
across Japan with the Dalai Lama last November, I saw dozens of Chinese
people clustering around him, sobbing and asking for his blessing and,
30 minutes later, saw another group of Chinese, much more poised and
sophisticated, eager to talk to him about their plans for democracy in
the mainland.

"If 30 years from now, Tibet is 6 million Tibetans and 10 million
Chinese Buddhists," the Tibetan leader said to me five years ago, "then
maybe something will be O.K." As the world looks toward Beijing and its
glittering coming-out party this August, and the Chinese government
prepares to unveil all the fruits of its recent remarkable economic
achievements, oppressed citizens in Tibet and elsewhere will no doubt
use the same opportunity to remind the world of what has been lost in
terms of freedom and humanity in the rush for those achievements. The
calm scientist in monk robes, however, with his habit of looking at the
deeper causes beneath every surface, will surely keep noting that the
only revolution that lasts and that can truly help us toward a better
world is the one that begins inside.
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