<-Back to WTN Archives
Dalai Lama bombs on world peace
World Tibet Network News
Wednesday, July 22, 1998
4. Dalai Lama bombs on world peace
Revered spiritual leader comes to the aid of nuke-wielding far-right
government of India
NOW JULY 16-22, 1998
By ENZO Di MATTEO
The Dalai Lama's shocking musings in defence of India's right to test and
bear nuclear arms has become the latest controversy to dog his holiness.
There was already enough unbalance in the spiritual leader's life, notably
a long-simmering battle between devotees of Tibet's spiritual leader and
the Dorje Shugden sect of Buddhism. That was what prompted
saffron-and-maroon-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to greet the Dalai
Lama in New York City on his recent U.S. tour with signs accusing him of
suppressing religious freedom.
Lost in the media reports was the backing of the prince of peace for the
nuclear adventurism of an Indian government ruled by far-right
But India has been good to the Dalai Lama -- it's his adopted homeland. The
Tibetan spiritual leader and thousands of other refugees escaped to India
after they were exiled by the Chinese from their Tibetan homeland in 1959,
following a failed uprising. The Indian government carved out a new
homeland for the Tibetans -- Dharmasala.
Perhaps that's the way to understand his remarks in the U.S. "We have to
make every effort for the elimination of nuclear weapons," he told an
audience in Madison, Wisconsin. "However, the assumption that few nations
are OK to possess nuclear weapons and the rest of the world should not,
A statement by the Dalai Lama posted on the official Web site of the
Tibetan government in exile echoes the sentiment.
It says, "As long as some of the major world powers continue to possess
nuclear weapons, it is not right to outright condemn India's actions. After
all, India is a large country with its own nuclear perceptions."
It's the same line the Indian government used to rebut the international
wails of condemnation that followed its testing. A delegation of Tibetan
leaders in India joined in the chorus of support, adding a call for the
Chinese to negotiate for a return of Tibet.
"We are so happy and proud that India has shown the world that it is no
less than any other country," says Dolma Gyari, a member of the Tibetan
government in exile, on their Web site.
"India has a moral responsibility to solve the Tibetan issue," he adds.
By contrast, the Canadian government's response to the nuclear tests was to
recall its high commissioner, cancel trade talks and recall military
exports to India.
The Dalai Lama's defence of India also makes a stark contrast with remarks
on the issue by foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy to the standing
committee on foreign affairs.
Axworthy says, "The clock has been turned back 40 years -- facing a world
in which proliferation is an immediate threat."
That the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile refused to condemn
the blasts was a source of shock and surprise to the Dalai Lama's devotees
north of the 49th parallel.
Thubten Samdup, president of the Canada Tibet Committee and a government
representative of Tibet in North America, was in India at the time of the
Samdup is a staunch supporter of the Dalai Lama, but he admits, from the
group's national office in Montreal, to being shocked by his leader's
After all, the Dalai Lama has long talked of nuclear nonproliferation and
even criticized as violent the efforts of monks who burn themselves to
death for the Tibetan cause.
But to Samdup, the Dalai Lama's statements about India are about "internal
disarmament" -- the notion that superpowers should find it within
themselves to take the first step to ban nuclear weapons testing and
refrain from criticizing others.
Samdup says, "If the superpowers are really sincere about a nuclear test
ban, they should take the first step themselves. Tibetans know India will
never be the first to strike."
He adds, hinting at differences of opinion among the Dalai Lama's
followers, "I can tell you from my own experience that he does not support
any armaments, but for a lot of people this road is not practical."
For Hwasun Yangil, a Korean Zen master and spiritual leader of the Sangha
Council of Ontario Buddhist Ministry, it's all a little hard to grapple
Over the phone from his sanctuary north of Toronto, he's struggling with
"The assumption that it's OK for a few nations to possess nuclear weapons,
as a monk, I don't understand that," he says.
Others suggest the Dalai Lama is indulging in his own subtle brand of
brinkmanship by pumping India's nuclear rights in the face of China's own
nuclear buildup. But Yangil responds, "A monk is a monk. He's not supposed
to look around to see what India or China is doing."
The Dalai Lama, though, has been under increasing internal pressure,
particularly from the Tibetan Youth Congress, a group that has wanted to
see him adopt a more militant posture toward China.
Recently, hunger strikes and self-immolations have become more common in
Tibet's refugee community.
Spiritual questions aside, Donald Lopez, head of Buddhist Tibetan Studies
at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, says the Dalai Lama's position
has always been highly politicized.
"The press is so interested in the Hollywood stuff, his pictures with
Richard Gere and such," Lopez says. "The more serious political sides are
He adds, "Many audiences are listening to what he's saying. He's wearing
many hats, and the contradictions are beginning to come out."
In Ottawa, meanwhile, foreign affairs spokesperson Jennifer Ledwidge
declines to offer a Canadian perspective on what the Dalai Lama's comments
might mean for the prospects of continued peace in Southeast Asia.
"We wouldn't comment on someone's comments," she says.
Articles in this Issue:
- Amnesty International's position on alleged abuses against
worshippers of Tibetan deity Dorje Shugden (AI)
- Cosmic Thing The Saltmen of Tibet (VV)
- Tibetan music student held in Shigatse after appeal (TIN)
- Dalai Lama bombs on world peace
- Letter from Losel Tethong
Other articles this month -
WTN Index -
Mail the WTN-Editors