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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?"

Dalai Lama: A charismatic figure in his adopted land

January 26, 2008

Economic Times
24 Jan, 2008

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh winged his way back from Beijing,
China’s bete noire, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was in our part of the
world. The crowds that gathered to greet him and the spell he cast on
his audiences showed that the ageing leader of Tibet’s
government-in-exile remains a charismatic figure in his adopted land.

At IIM Ahmedabad, a packed auditorium heard the Dalai Lama’s address on
‘Ethics and business’ in pin-drop silence. When his talk was over, many
rushed to the dais, some to touch him, some to prostrate, others merely
to see him from close quarters. Outside the auditorium, many waited
patiently for the Dalai Lama to emerge even if they could catch only the
merest glimpse of him.

The Dalai Lama’s appeal has little to do with the attractions of
Buddhism. Quite the contrary. He appeals to people because he offers a
version of ethical living that does not have to be based in religion.
Just as the Buddha is the one religious figure that fascinates those
with a scientific temper, the Dalai Lama’s appeal today is to a wider,
secular audience.

Those who would steer clear of religion and holy men find themselves
drawn to the Dalai Lama. As journalist Mayank Chhaya notes in his recent
biography (The Dalai Lama — Man, Monk, Mystic), the Dalai Lama “had made
his message non-denominational and non-religious without compromising
the enduring mystique of his life”.

Another element in the Dalai Lama’s appeal is his freedom from pomposity
or condescension. He breaks into laughter easily and he comes across as
somebody who is accessible. His fan club includes some of the world’s
leading politicians, Hollywood celebrities, scientists and young people.
In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

In 2005, Time magazine ranked him among the 100 most influential figures
in the world. It is hard to think of a non-political figure in modern
times with such a universal following or comparable stature.

Then, there is the Dalai Lama’s ability to reduce the most complex
matters to simple terms. At IIMA, the Dalai Lama explained what ethics
in business was all about. For businesses to succeed, the employee
needed to have a sense of belonging to the organisation. This would
happen when the employee came to trust the employer.

And trust would exist only where the employer was seen to act ethically,
where his actions sprang from “warm-heartedness”. Ethical action was
also required because success in business alone would not bring about
peace of mind or satisfaction. Only actions that were rooted in “warm
heartedness” would prove constructive.

This is as neat an exposition of ethics in business as any. Much of it
may seem self-evident or trite but, with the Dalai Lama, the medium is
the message. The message is effective, it has ready listeners because
the audience is left in no doubt that it emanates from an elevated
being. There is something about his presence — his utterly relaxed
manner, perhaps, or a certain joyfulness — that compels attention.

China has been severely critical of the Dalai Lama’s public appearances
and international travels. It has said that he uses the cover of
religion to pursue political goals. The Dalai Lama himself makes no
secret of his commitment to the Tibetan cause. At IIMA, he listed his
three priorities today as promoting ethical behaviour, fostering harmony
among religions and pursuing the Tibetan cause.

That cause has begun to look increasingly forlorn in recent years. It is
nearly five decades since the Dalai Lama went into exile and his
original goal, independence for Tibet, seems well nigh unattainable.
These days, the Dalai Lama only talks of autonomy of a degree that would
help preserve the Tibetan culture. But China seems to have lost interest
even in pursuing a dialogue with him.

Tibet is important to China because of its vast territory and its
abundant natural resources. In seeking to pacify Tibet, China has pursed
a policy of engineering huge settlements of Han Chinese in Tibet,
winning over locals through economic development and fostering greater
economic linkages between Tibet and the rest of China. It is a policy
that seems to have met with a fair degree of success.

India, like the rest of the world, has been a mute spectator to the
goings-on in Tibet if only out of a sense of utter helplessness. At
times, it has seemed that Tibet is a vital card that India will play in
containing Chinese attempts at encircling India.

At other times, it appears that Tibet will be reduced to a side-show in
India’s efforts towards greater rapprochement with China. Nor is the
rest of the world in a mood to confront China, an emerging world power,
over the cause of Tibet.

Whatever lies in store for Tibet, the frail figure in ochre, who rattles
a mighty kingdom, remains a powerful symbol — of the relevance of moral
values pitted against brute force, of the importance of means in a world
in which ends alone seem to matter.

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