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The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has been on a speaking tour through Japan this past week. He was engaged in Tibetan Buddhist teachings in the west, where he said, “Buddhism is a science of the mind,” and then moved through Hiroshima, where he added his own appeals for nuclear abolition. On Friday, November 10, he was in Tokyo. On that day, somewhere in Shinjuku, just an hour or so by bicycle away from me, was the fourteenth in a successive lineage that is traced back to the 14th century of Buddhism’s highest spiritual leader.

More than 70 years old, the current Dalai Lama, “spiritual teacher,” is Tenzin Gyatso. He is known the world over and in the West, he is always associated with peace, spirituality and tradition. However, that tradition, like so many, has come crashing into the political world.

Tibet’s official status is a region of the People’s Republic of China, which, despite its secular stance, has reserved the right to approve the nominations of all high-ranking Tibetan officials, spiritual and otherwise. The current Dalai Lama has stated publicly that his successor would not be born within Chinese territory, if, as he has suggested, he is reincarnated at all. In the tradition, the Dalai Lama would cease its cycle of rebirth when his mission was complete, when the people of Tibet were secure or when he lost influence in the pursuit of his quest.

With each successive death of a Dalai Lama, his monks begin the search for his reincarnation, a search that has typically taken a few years, in the 14 changes of power that have been made. The most promising sign of the search’s completion is the discovery of a young child who recognizes the possessions of the previous Dalai Lama, which were traditionally carried throughout the Tibetan region. Just that happened nearly six decades ago when the current Dalai Lama was found. However, it seems the world might have seen the last of this search.

Since his exile in 1959, the current Dalai Lama has lived in northern India, home to some Tibetan refugees, many of whom clamor for an independent Tibetan state. His Holiness is understood to be the reincarnation of the Buddha’s compassion and, before 1959, was the leader of the Tibetan government.

For those of us who aren’t well-versed in Tibetan history, perhaps we should review. In March of 1959, the Chinese military entered Tibetan territory to answer what the Chinese government called a violent uprising earlier in the month. More than 2,000 people died during the three days of fighting between the Tibetans and Chinese forces. In one day, the Chinese army fired nearly 800 artillery shells at the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace, destroying the ancient building and over 300 civilian homes, according to a BBC News article.

By that time though, the Dalai Lama had already begun, with an entourage of 20 men, a 15-day journey on foot over the Himalayan Mountains to northern India where he was eventually granted asylum and still resides today. All Tibetan men who managed to survive the violence were deported, many adding to the number of 80,000 Tibetans who settled near the Dalai Lama in India.

Those left in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa claimed the Chinese army remained for an additional 12 hours, burning corpses and completing their destruction of that March of 1959. This divide between the region’s traditional leader and its officially recognized government remains today and has been a source of some contentious debate between India and China.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his controversial stature according to some,The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his attempts to establish Tibetan independence. In the 1980s the Chinese government offered the Dalai Lama the opportunity for Tibet to have effective autonomy as a Chinese region, but he declined. The offer has since been revoked, and Tibet remains under Chinese control, in an area with a number of territories disputed between India and China.

Here on the other side of the world, I am exposed to this, different perspectives and regular experiences with new portions of history. I’ll be sure to say hello to the Dalai Lama for everyone.
Jaa ne,

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