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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Dalai Lama

March 23, 2009

By Alyssa Fetini and M.J. Stephey
March 17, 2009

Fifty years ago today, two mortar shells landed
near the Tibetan palace of Tenzin Gyatso, the
14th Dalai Lama. "When the Chinese guns sounded
that warning of death, the first thought in the
mind of every official within the Palace, and
every humble member of the vast concourse around
it, was that my life must be saved and I must
leave the Palace and leave the city at once," the
Dalai Lama recalled in his autobiography about
fleeing the Potala Palace disguised as a Tibetan
soldier. Since then, His Holiness has become the
most recognized face of Tibetan Buddhism from his
sanctuary in Dharamsala, India. Read TIME's 1959
cover on "The Escape That Rocked the Reds."

But even with the backing of three U.N.
resolutions, the support of global celebrities
like Richard Gere and Sharon Stone, and a Nobel
Prize in recognition of his efforts, the Dalai
Lama has had little luck convincing China to
grant Tibet "meaningful autonomy" from the
People's Republic. Beijing has accused the Dalai
Lama of inciting protests in Tibet and China, and
has called him a "liar" and "schemer." And time
has done little to heal such diplomatic and
cultural wounds. Last week, a day before the 50th
anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising that
left 22 dead, the country's prime minister
announced that China would only welcome more
talks with envoys for the Dalai Lama if the
exiled spiritual leader renounced "separatism."
The Tibetan prime minister-in-exile responded in
kind: "The Chinese premier's allegations ... [are] far from the truth."

Fast Facts:

* The literal translation of "Dalai Lama" is
"Ocean Teacher," a term first coined in 1580 by a
Mongol chieftan to describe Bsod-nams-rgya-mtsho,
an "incarnate lama," or highly advanced spiritual
teacher whose wisdom and compassion for the world
is said to be reincarnated after death.

* In 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama received temporal
control of Tibet; the region remained under the
Dalai Lama's rule until the Communist revolution
in China, when the nation's new leaders asserted
that Tibet was part of the "Chinese motherland."

* When the 14th Dalai Lama was just 2 years old,
he was recognized as the reincarnation of the
13th Dalai Lama after oracles and search parties
discovered him in a rural town in Tibet. But
first, he had to pass a number of tests
(including the selection of personal items that
had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso).

* His Holiness was enthroned on Feb. 22, 1940
after being held for ransom by a powerful Chinese
warlord. (The Tibetan government paid the ransom to ensure his release).

* Much of what the Dalai Lama first learned about
the outside world came from magazines, newsreels
and visits with the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich
Harrer, who spent seven years in Tibet.

* In 1954, he embarked on a year-long tour of
China, meeting with leader Mao Zedong to lobby on
Tibet's behalf. He first visited Europe in 1973
and, six years later, trekked to the U.S. for the first time.

* The 14th Dalai Lama spent only 9 years of his
rule in Tibet before escaping to the Himalayas,
where the Indian government granted him asylum.
More than 90,000 followers have since joined him
in exile in Dharamsala, where they have
established monasteries and farming communities
to preserve a culture that was nearly destroyed
during China's decade-long Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966.

* The Dalai Lama is currently the longest-serving
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. Though the question of his successor
remains unanswered, the Buddhist monk has
asserted that the next Dalai Lama would be
discovered outside of China's borders, and has
even suggested that Tibetans hold an election to
decide whether the spiritual institution should continue after his death.

Quotes about the 14th Dalai Lama?

"The Dalai Lama in his struggle for the
liberation of Tibet consistently has opposed the
use of violence. He has instead advocated
peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and
mutual respect in order to preserve the
historical and cultural heritage of his people."
-- The Nobel Committee, on their decision to
present the 14th Dalai Lama with the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1989 (Boston Globe, Oct. 8, 1989)

"What the international community should concern
itself with, and should ask about, is precisely
what role and function he played in this serious
incident of criminal violence involving fighting,
smashing, looting and arson. The one who should
be tried and investigated is the Dalai Lama himself."
-- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang,
on the Dalai Lama's role in the destructive
Tibetan protests in China earlier this year (New York Times, Mar. 19, 2008)?

Quotes by the 14th Dalai Lama?

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for
temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our
own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."?
-- On compassion (New York Times, Nov. 28, 1993)

"I am a simple Buddhist monk -- no more, no less."
-- On himself (New York Times, Oct. 9, 1989)

"Because we all share this small planet Earth, we
have to learn to live in harmony and peace with
each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity."
-- From his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture (, Dec. 11, 1989)

"I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way
approach in dealing with China for a long time
now but there hasn't been any positive response
from the Chinese side. As far as I'm concerned, I have given up."
-- On the lack of progress regarding discussions
with China on autonomy for his homeland (USA Today, Oct. 25, 2008)

"Hell on Earth."
-- Describing life under 50 years of Chinese rule
during the 50th anniversary of Tibet's failing uprising (AP, Mar. 10, 2009)
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