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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Book Review: Resurrection Shuffle

July 3, 2008

Cary Gee
Tribune Magazine (UK)
July 2, 2008

Dalai Lama: The Revealing Life Story and His Struggle for Tibet
by Mayank Chhaya
IB Tauris, £9.99

THERE is, perhaps, no religious or political leader who embodies his
nation as completely as the 14th Dalai Lama which is why Mayank
Chhaya's book is as much a history of Tibet as a straightforward
biography of the man. Or, at least, as straightforward as a biography
about a re-incarnated mystical monk can be.

 From his discovery as the Dalai Lama at the age of two, little about
Tenzin Gyatso's life has been ordinary. For a start, he has,
apparently, been here 13 times before. How else could he have known
as a small boy where the 13th Dalai Lama kept his dentures?

Believe that and you are well on the way to understanding the
mysterious power he holds not only over six million Tibetans but
also, seemingly, over those in the West who have joined his lifelong
struggle to liberate Tibet after the occupation by the Chinese almost
50 years ago.

Combining the life of a celibate, meditative man of God with the life
of the jet-setting head of a government in exile was never going to
be easy. But this was the Dalai Lama's destiny and, from an early
age, he has fulfilled his role with extraordinary vigour and an
astonishing charisma which has allowed him to put Tibet's case to
world leaders, Hollywood A-listers and the ordinary people who flock
to hear him pronounce on everything from neuroscience to world peace,
all of which saw him awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989. Throughout what
appears to be an unwinnable struggle against the Chinese he has also
managed to retain an enviable sense of humour. He puts his success in
the West, and in America in particular, down to his good looks.

Chhaya begins by trying to unravel the mysteries of the Dalai Lama
that form part of the apocrypha from his Indian childhood. Was the
Lama really the living Buddha? If so, where was his magical third eye
and could he conjure catastrophe to fell his enemies by opening it?
And why do the Chinese still occupy Tibet?

Despite the mysticism, despite growing up in the 4,000-room Potala
Palace, and despite stage appearances around the world with Richard
Gere, the Lama remains a realist, under no illusion about the
immensity of the struggle or the prospect of returning home in this
particular lifetime. He is also sanguine about the future of the
institution he represents. Notwithstanding a Tibetan prophecy that
there will be 17 Dalai Lamas, many people believe Gyatso will be the
last. However, according to Tibetans, it is entirely up to him
whether or not to reincarnate and I suspect that if his struggle to
free Tibet does not bear fruition in this life he will simply come
back and have another crack at it. He may also name a successor,
although it is not clear how this would work. Perhaps this is why
Chhaya's book is successful without being hagiographic; he explains
the Dalai Lama while allowing the Lama to remain unexplained.

"Religion" says the Lama, is "science with faith" and "science is
religion in search of faith". Six million Tibetans have put their
faith in him. It is a tall order and not the life the Lama chose for
himself. There is no reason to believe he will win his fight against
the Chinese, at least not in this life time, but if by living among
mortals he has imparted a little compassion, a word he uses
frequently, and spread peace around the world then this life will
have been worth it.
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