Tag Archive for 'Dalai Lama'

“I took the Dalai Lama to a ski resort and he told me the meaning of life”

Douglas Preston in Slate:

In the mid ’80s, I was living in Santa Fe, N.M., making a shabby living writing magazine articles, when a peculiar assignment came my way. I had become friendly with a group of Tibetan exiles who lived in a compound on Canyon Road, where they ran a business selling Tibetan rugs, jewelry, and religious items. The Tibetans had settled in Santa Fe because its mountains, adobe buildings, and high-altitude environment reminded them of home.

The founder of the Tibetan community was a man named Paljor Thondup. Thondup had escaped the Chinese invasion of Tibet as a kid, crossing the Himalayas with his family in an epic, multiyear journey by yak and horseback. Thondup made it to Nepal and from there to India, where he enrolled in a school in the southeastern city of Pondicherry with other Tibetan refugees. One day, the Dalai Lama visited his class. Many years later, in Dharamsala, India, Thondup talked his way into a private audience with the Dalai Lama, who told Thondup that he had never forgotten the bright teenager in the back of the Pondicherry classroom, waving his hand and answering every question, while the other students sat dumbstruck with awe. They established a connection. And Thondup eventually made his way to Santa Fe.

The Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Thondup, who had heard that he was planning a tour of the United States, invited him to visit Santa Fe. The Dalai Lama accepted and said he would be happy to come for a week. At the time, he wasn’t the international celebrity he is today. He traveled with only a half-dozen monks, most of whom spoke no English. He had no handlers, advance men, interpreters, press people, or travel coordinators. Nor did he have any money. As the date of the visit approached, Thondup went into a panic. He had no money to pay for the visit and no idea how to organize it. He called the only person he knew in government, a young man named James Rutherford, who ran the governor’s art gallery in the state capitol building. Rutherford was not exactly a power broker in the state of New Mexico, but he had a rare gift for organization. He undertook to arrange the Dalai Lama’s visit. More:

Dalai Lama on food

The untold story of how Tibetan Buddhism first came to America

In Tricycle:

The combined efforts of Geshe Wangyal and Takster Rinpoche at the birth of the organized Tibetan resistance made it possible for ST Circus, the CIA’s codename for its anti-Chinese effort, to achieve its most notable success: the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. Fortuitous contact by members of the first class of US-trained Tibetan resistance fighters with the Dalai Lama’s escape party in March 1959 allowed the CIA to be informed daily of the Dalai Lama’s whereabouts throughout the grueling ordeal. At the time, 50,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers and dozens of spotter planes scoured the Tibetan side of the Himalayas trying to thwart his escape—or, as they suggested, to rescue him from kidnappers.

 Besides keeping their CIA patrons updated on the escape party’s coordinates, the guerrillas used Geshe-la’s telecode to request from Prime Minister Nehru’s government political asylum in India for the Dalai Lama, his cabinet, and his family. Three years earlier, Nehru had turned away a similar request and essentially forced His Holiness to return to Tibet after a brief religious pilgrimage to India. It was thus a great relief when Nehru’s consent to the asylum request, after traveling through several bureaucratic levels of the US and Indian governments over a 24-hour period, was relayed to the Dalai Lama’s Lord Chamberlain by the CIA-trained guerrillas. That message permitted a then ailing Dalai Lama to cross into Indian refuge ahead of his pursuers.

 His Holiness’s decision to leave Tibet at that time, almost nine years into China’s occupation, and the details of how and whether he was eluding the Chinese army became fodder for international journalistic speculation as hundreds of newsmen flocked to India’s remote Himalayan outposts hoping to witness his arrival. Few can remember today that this was the most internationally covered cliffhanger of that era, one that resonated well in the existential drama of the ongoing Cold War.

 Once His Holiness the Dalai Lama was safely in India, Geshe Wangyal would soon discover that the follow-up task of bringing His Holiness to the United States might be more daunting than the just-concluded escape. For that project, he would need other allies—and plenty of patience. More:

Why the Dalai Lama is a Marxist

From tricycle:

When the Dalai Lama announced his Marxist leanings last summer in Minneapolis, the only surprise was how surprising it was. The blogosphere was once again astir with this nonrevelation, which came by way of an Indian-born Tibetan journalist, Tsering Namgyal, who had tagged along when the Dalai Lama held a nearly three-hour meeting with 150 Chinese students. Namgyal, a Mandarin-speaking reporter living and studying in Minneapolis, had posted online that the Dalai Lama surprised his young audience when he volunteered that “as far as sociopolitical beliefs are concerned, I consider myself a Marxist.”

 Namgyal’s post explained that a student had asked about the apparent contradiction between the Dalai Lama’s economic philosophy and Marx’s critique of religion. The Dalai Lama’s understanding was more nuanced than the responses of most of the bloggers who jumped on the story: he suggested that Marx was not actually against religion or religious philosophy per se but “against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.” (That would be the capitalist class.) The three-hour exchange was probably not designed for political sound bites. The year before the Dalai Lama had given a series of talks in New York at Radio City Music Hall. Following a press conference in the basement at Rockefeller Center, the Dalai Lama’s news office included this report in its summary:

 His Holiness said when he was in China in 1954–55, the Communist Party of China was really wonderful, and the Party members were really dedicated to the service of the people. His Holiness said he was very much impressed and told Chinese officials about his desire to join the Party. His Holiness said he still is a Marxist (although some of his friends ask him not to mention that) and he admired its objective of equal distribution (“this is moral ethics”). His Holiness however talked about the clampdown after the Hundred Flowers Campaign [1957] in China itself and said any authoritarian system always subdues any force that has the potential to stand up to it.

 You might think he had his thoughts on the 99 percent, but the Dalai Lama has stayed on message for years, saying the same thing many times in many places—including a Time magazine interview in 1999, and in the following passage from Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses, in 1996:

 Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned with only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. More:

The Dalai Lama in conversation with Pico Iyer at Jaipur LitFest

The Bugun Liocichla

Ananda Banerjee in Mint on the Bugun tribe in Arunachal Pradesh:

Tenga/West Kameng, Arunachal Pradesh: The story begins in 1995 with an astronomer from Pune’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Ramana Athreya, now 45, a tall man with an athletic build, a short crop of salt-and-pepper hair, and a perpetual smile. That year, Athreya, an avid birdwatcher, decided to spend his holiday in Arunachal Pradesh and landed up in the cloud forests in the western part of the state. The upper reaches of the forest had been declared the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in 1989. The name came from the 4th Infantry Division, also known as the Red Eagle Division, of the Indian Army that was stationed here and fought the Chinese in 1962.

It was in the community forest adjacent to the sanctuary and managed by the Bugun tribe that Athreya was to make the discovery that would make Eaglenest a destination for birders from around India and the world (most birders will travel huge distances even to see a single bird endemic to the region and not found elsewhere). That day in 1995, Athreya saw a bird he couldn’t identify, nor did it fit any known description in bird guides. It was a small babbler-like bird, with olive-grey plumage and a black cap. Its face had distinctive dark yellow streaks running up around the eye, and its wings had yellow, red, and white patches. Its feet were pink and its black tail had a red tip and boasted a crimson undertail.

It was a beautiful bird, and Athreya wouldn’t see another for nearly 10 years.

He saw the bird again in 2005, mist-netted (with the forest department’s permission) one in 2006, and the same year announced his discovery to the world. And in honour of the Bugun, he named the bird the Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum), magnanimously giving up the opportunity of having the bird named after him or a member of his family (most birds are named after the people who discovered them).

The Bugun, or Khowa, believe they are descendants of a primitive tribe, Achinphumpuluah, and are largely found in the Tenga region in west Arunachal Pradesh. Although animists, they have been influenced by a strain of Tibetan Buddhism practised by a neighbouring tribe that originated in Tibet, the Sherdukpen. And the Dalai Lama is a venerated figure. More:

American Buddhist monk is abbot of Rato monastery in Karnataka

The Dalai Lama has appointed Nicholas (“Nicky” to his friends) Vreeland, 56, as the new abbot of Rato Monastery in Karnataka, India. This is the first time that a Westerner has been appointed as abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The monastery in Mungud, Karnataka, has been designed by Delhi-based architect Pradeep Sachdeva.

Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of the iconic fashion editor Diane Vreeland and son of former U.S. ambassador Frederick Vreeland, is the director of the Tibet Center in New York. He was educated in Europe, North Africa, and the United States, studied in NYU film school, after which he pursued a career in photography. In the late sixties and early seventies, he worked as an assistant to famous photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.[Facebook Nalanda Monastery]

Watch Buddhist Abbot Nicholas Vreeland on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A recent PBS interview:

LAWTON: It was Richard Avedon’s son John who in 1977 first introduced Vreeland to Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, founder of the Tibet Center. Under Rinpoche’s supervision, Vreeland began learning about Tibetan Buddhism.

 Then in 1979, he went on a photography assignment in India. Because of his growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism, he included a visit to Dharamsala, headquarters of the Dalai Lama. Vreeland received permission to photograph the Tibetan leader. His camera had an extremely slow exposure, so his subjects had to sit absolutely still for one minute. That was a challenge for the Dalai Lama.

VREELAND: The shutter opened and we waited 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40, seconds, 50 seconds, and then his holiness started to move. And we did one time after another, after another, and suddenly after all these attempts to get a, a fully, a properly exposed shot, we both burst into laughter and it was as if all the tension went.

LAWTON: The Dalai Lama tried standing and they finally managed to get the shot.

VREELAND: His holiness very, very kindly remained there as I packed up my equipment and talked to me. And I had been so moved by the way in which the Tibetan people had supported me, had helped me in my travels and during my time in Dharamsala, and I asked his holiness what I could do in return. And he said, “Study.” More

The Rato Dratsang Temple, campus, guesthouse, and all landscaping, were designed by Delhi-based architect Pradeep Sachdeva and his associates Vidya Tongbram and Madhu Shankar. [Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates website here].

“The original Rato Monastery, located on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet, was established in the 14th century. “Though there are over 1,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, Rato Monastery (in Karnataka) is one of only a dozen important Tibetan Government monasteries under the Dalai Lama’s patronage.”

A recent exhibition of Vreeland’s work, entitled Photos for Rato, toured major cities around the world and raised most of the funds needed for the construction of Rato Monastery’s new campus and temple, which was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama on January 31, 2011.

[Both Nicky and Pradeep are my very good friends: Shekhar Bhatia]

[See The monk who sold his pictures at Asian Window, Vreeland's website here and read NYT here]

From India, a view of what China works to block

Sruthi Gottipati and Rick Gladstone from New Delhi in NYT:

Over the past year, nearly 30 Tibetans in remote areas of western China have set fire to themselves to draw attention to what they call Chinese government repression, but the visual images of their protests have seldom been seen by outsiders. Censorship authorities in China, which regards the immolation as a form of terrorism, have made sure of it.

On Monday, however, a 26-year-old Tibetan exile in New Delhi offered the world a visceral view of a self-immolation, setting himself on fire at a demonstration to protest the impending visit to India by China’s president, Hu Jintao. Photographs of the man, a literal human torch in flames who sprinted for 50 yards with contorted screams before he collapsed by a tree, raced around the world by way of India’s unfettered press and the Internet.

“From head to toe, he was full of fire,” said a witness, Tenzin Dorjee, the national director of Students for a Free Tibet. “He was shouting. I was in shock. There were women crying.”More:

Tibetan exiles rally around Delhi self-immolator

Edward Wong from Dharamsala in NYT:

By Tuesday afternoon, posters of the man in flames were plastered along the narrow streets of this town adopted by Tibetan exiles. Monks, merchants and tourists stared. In the early evening, more than 200 people walked through the town center waving Tibetan flags and carrying banners that proclaimed the critically injured man, Jamphel Yeshi, a martyr.

The shocking images of Mr. Yeshi’s self-immolation in New Delhi on Monday have provided the Tibetan exile movement with a rallying point and an iconic expression of the anger and frustration that Tibetans suffer over Chinese rule. At least 29 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China since March 2011, and many have died. But Chinese security forces have clamped down across the plateau, so only a handful of the self-immolations have been recorded and transmitted, and only in grainy cellphone photographs or video. More:

Blurring the flag

By cracking down on visuals of the Tibetan flag in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, the Indian Censor Board has shown lack of spine against China. But, writes Kaushik Barua in Indian Express, no amount of censorship can wish away the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people.

If you watch the new Imtiaz Ali-directed Rockstar, you might see a mysterious blue-and-red haze waving over the heads of the raucous fans as Ranbir Kapoor furiously belts out ‘Sadda Haq’. You will see a blur because the censor board has asked for images of the Tibetan flag to be blurred (or deleted).

It is ridiculous, but perhaps no longer surprising in our cynical times, that the sight of a few Tibetan flags has sent the censor board into such a tizzy. Governments across the world are scurrying to distance themselves from the Tibet issue. This was seen recently when the Dalai Lama could not obtain a visa on time to attend Archbishop Tutu’s birthday celebrations in South Africa. One might have expected a post-apartheid South African government to be more sympathetic to the cause of a disenfranchised people, but the sheer size of investments flowing into the region nudge these expectations into the realm of fantasy. more

Dalai Lama appears on MasterChef Australia

Seven amateur chefs on Australian cooking show MasterChef got the chance of a lifetime when their mystery dinner guest turned out to be the Dalai Lama. Though His Holiness sampled every dish, he refused to pass judgment as it goes against his beliefs. ”As a Buddhist monk, I have no right to prefer this food to that food. Anything I am offered, I must accept.”

A burning issue

Another Tibetan monk, the eight in recent times, sets himself ablaze to demand independence from China, reports Edward Wong in New York Times

BEIJING — A 19-year-old former monk in a Tibetan town in westernChina set himself on fire on Saturday in a desperate plea for Tibetan independence, according to reports on Sunday by Tibet advocacy groups. The flames were put out by police officers stationed on the street, and he was taken to a police station, the reports said.

The former monk, Norbu Damdrul, was the eighth monk or former monk to set himself on fire to protest Chinasince March. All the self-immolations have taken place in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province that lie in the remote region Tibetans call Amdo. At least four Tibetans have killed themselves in the wave of self-immolations, which scholars of modern Tibet say are a new and startling protest strategy by monks. more

Tibet’s next incarnation

Hannah Beech from Dharamsala in Time:

He has never been to Tibet, never breathed the thin air of the high plateau, nor spun a prayer wheel in the shadow of the great Buddhist monasteries. Yet on Aug. 8, 43-year-old Lobsang Sangay was sworn in as the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Born in a refugee camp in India and educated in the U.S., Sangay holds no passport or nationality, only a travel certificate. He expresses homesickness for a place that exists in the foreign mind as an otherworldly haven, and in the Tibetan one as an occupied homeland. “Like all of us in exile, I will never be completely at peace until I go to Tibet,” he says when we meet in Dharamsala, a scruffy settlement in the Himalayan foothills of India where the Tibetan refugee community coalesced five decades ago. “The question is: How do we get there?”

Sangay’s inauguration as Kalon Tripa, or Prime Minister, comes at a critical moment for Tibet — both for the 5.4 million Tibetans living inside China and for the 150,000 or so who have chosen exile. Young refugees whose votes carried Sangay to office are questioning their movement’s longtime commitment to nonviolent resistance, while an ongoing crackdown by Chinese security forces has failed to suppress dissent within Tibet.

Unlike protest campaigns in the 1950s and ’80s, the new wave of demonstrations has flared across the entire Tibetan Plateau, from what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Tibetan-dominated parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Beijing routinely blames Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for political instability on the high plateau. But many Tibetans argue that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in fact prevents a violent uprising from erupting in the region. “There is so much anger in Tibet now; it is only because of His Holiness that the people don’t rise up,” says Tsering Migyur, a Mandarin-speaking undersecretary in the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala. Migyur should know. For decades he was a senior officer for the Chinese police and military intelligence in Lhasa, serving as a minority poster boy. In 2000, however, he defected to Dharamsala. “China believes that once the Dalai Lama dies, the movement will lose power,” says Migyur. “But the Dalai Lama is actually China’s best friend because the next generation will not be so accommodating.” More:

Dalai Lama’s political successor

Lobsang Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard scholar, has been sworn in as head of the Tibetan government in exile, replacing the Dalai Lama as the Tibetan movement’s political leader. Sangay took the oath of office on Monday at a ceremony presided over by the Dalai Lama in the Tsuglagkhang Temple — the spiritual centre of the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, where the exiled Government is based. Read here

Harvard professor to be Tibetan PM

From The Telegraph:

A Tibetan from Darjeeling who lugged wood to light kitchen fire at home as a youngster and was briefly jailed in Tihar over anti-Chinese protests before becoming a Harvard academic has been elected Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Lobsang Sangay will assume the political role played by the Dalai Lama, who had announced his retirement last month but said he would remain the community’s religious head.

The 42-year-old research fellow at the Harvard Law School pipped the two other contenders— one of who studied in Darjeeling — in an election that saw non-religious figures in the fray for the first time. Over 83,000 Tibetans in exile in 30 countries, including India, the US, Europe, Bhutan, Nepal, Russia and Japan, voted.

Announcing the results of the March 20 polls today in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamsala, where the government-in-exile is based, election chief Jampal Chosang said Sangay bagged 55 per cent of the votes. More:

A skeptic’s guide to reincarnation

Hartosh Singh Bal in 3quarksdaily:

The Karmapa sits cross-legged on a throne facing several rows of monks, mostly Tibetan and male, arrayed on the floor according to rank. The rows behind the monks are the lay deity, most Western and female, gathered here to hear him preach during his annual sojourn at Sarnath, just a few miles from Benares. A life-size picture of the Dalai Lama looks down on him, above and beyond golden against the vivid blue, yellow and oranges of the murals on the monastery walls a giant statue of the Buddha dwarfs them both.

He is speaking at the Vajra meditation centre, across the road from the centre is the boundary wall of the deer park where the Budha first preached the dhamma almost 2,500 years ago. I am in the audience because a series of ham-handed interventions by the state government of Himachal Pradesh, the state where the Dalai Lama has dwelt in India after his flight from Tibet in 1959, have managed to rather implausibly brand the Karmapa a Chinese spy, the others in the audience, pained as they are by the charges, are here because they believe the 26-year-old seated before them is seventeenth in the line of reincarnations that date back to the first Karmapa born in 1110.

Since then, they believe, each Karmapa has left a message foretelling where he would be reborn, and senior Lamas of the Kagyu sect (one of the four important schools of Tibetan Buddhism including the Dalai Lama’s Gelug school that attained political power in Tibet in the seventeenth century with some help from the Mongols) have set out in search each time a Karmapa has died. The idea became central to Tibetan Buddhism and was slowly imitated by other schools. The Dalai Lama lineage starts hundreds of years later, which is why the current Dalai Lama is but the fourteenth in the chain of reincarnations.

The system has given rise to an elaborate web of interrelated reincarnations comprising the important lamas of the various sects. When a young boy is identified as a reincarnation based on a set of signs and portents, he is brought to be trained at a monastery, usually by the very men who had been taught by his predecessor, and when they die it is he who will identify their reincarnations. Unlike a western observer, the concept is not alien to me, quite the contrary. Among my people, the Sikhs, it is the tenth guru – Gobind Singh who brought the line of living gurus to an end by vesting that spiritual power in a book that is largely a compilation of their writings. More:

Tibet’s quiet revolution

Pico Iyer in the New York Review of Books:

It’s been startling to witness mass demonstrations in countries across the Middle East for freedom from autocracy, while, in the Tibetan community, a die-hard champion of “people power” tries to dethrone himself and his people keep asking him to stay on. Again and again the Dalai Lama (who tends to be more radical and less romantic than most of his followers) has sought to find ways to give up power, and his community has sought to find ways to ensure he can’t. It could be said that almost the only time Tibetans don’t listen to the Dalai Lama is when he tells them they shouldn’t listen to him. Now, on the eve of an important election for Tibet’s government-in-exile, he has announced he is relinquishing formal political authority entirely—and the Tibetan government has accepted his decision, even as the move has alarmed many around the world and struck some as the end of an era.

In truth, the Dalai Lama’s statement was merely a continuation—and a stronger expression—of what he has been saying for years: that political leadership for the Tibetan people (in exile at least) belongs with the democratically elected government-in-exile he has so painstakingly set up over decades in Dharamsala, in India (elections for a new prime minister are to be held March 20); that he will function only as a “senior advisor,” helping to oversee the transition to a post-Dalai Lama era; and, most important, that the spiritual and temporal sides of Tibetan rule will at last be separate. As he noted in the speech that mentioned his “retirement”—his annual state-of-the-nation address, in effect, delivered on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the People’s Republic of China and a frequent day of protest—he has believed, since childhood, that church and state should not be one and that the fate of Tibet should be in the hands of all Tibetans. More:

Dalai Lama to give up his role as Tibet’s political leader

The Dalai Lama said on Thursday he would step down as Tibet’s political leader. His role now is spiritual leadership only. The political functions will be devolved on an elected prime minister.

“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said in his annual speech marking 52 years since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese.”Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect,” he told a subdued crowd of 2,000 monks and Tibetans. More here.

The question of who succeeds the Dalai Lama as spiritual leader will come to a head when he dies. Read here

Who is the Dalai Lama? Read here and here.

Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight from Tibet

Mark O’Neill in Asia Sentinel:

At 1 pm Beijing time on the afternoon of March 17, 1959, two meetings took place in Lhasa and Beijing that would change the history of China.

In the Norbulingka palace, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, the 23-year-old leader and his advisors were debating whether to leave Lhasa, minutes after two artillery shells had landed 200 meters away, causing a huge explosion. A monk entered into a trance, his body swelled and he screamed in a loud voice: “leave quickly, leave quickly, leave tonight.”

At the same moment, in Zhongnanhai, Premier Liu Xiaoqi was chairing a meeting of the Politburo to discuss the same issue.

“The best outcome would be for the Dalai Lama to stay,” they concluded. “But, if he goes, it would be no big deal. The focus of our work does not depend on the feelings of Tibet government leaders but is our determination to put down the rebellion and reform everything.”

So reads a dramatic new account of the most important event in Tibet of the last century — the decision by the Dalai Lama to leave his homeland. It appears in ’1959 Lhasa’, published in Chinese language in Hong Kong and Taiwan and written by Li Jianglin, a Chinese historian. The daughter of a Communist Party official, she is a graduate of Fudan and Shandong Universities who went on to study at Brandies University and lives in New York. The book has the great merit of using material from both sides. Li interviewed more than 200 Tibetans in 14 places of exile and also quotes widely from material from the Chinese side.

The book’s conclusion challenges Beijing’s version of history – that the Tibetan nobility and clergy led their people in an armed rebellion against the Chinese state and that the Dalai Lama had planned the rebellion from early 1957, with support from the CIA, which trained 170 guerillas and supplied them with weapons from the air, including anti-aircraft machine guns and 10,000 rifles. According to this version, the Dalai Lama was forced to leave Tibet against his will. More:

The indispensable incarnation

Talk of the Dalai Lama’s “retirement” shows how much Tibet still needs him. Yet so does China. In The Economist:

Enthroned in a maroon and saffron pavilion, the 14th Dalai Lama chuckled often as he preached to the football stadium, though his text was not taken from the jolly slogan behind him: “Play soccer for world peace”. Ringed by snowcapped Himalayan peaks in Gangtok, capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, which borders Tibet, tens of thousands basked in midwinter sunshine—local Sikkimese of Nepali and ethnic-Tibetan descent, visitors and, of course, Tibetan exiles. The Dalai Lama may exaggerate a bit when he says that 99% of Tibetans trust him. But not by much. So his recent talk of “retirement” has unnerved many.

In November he said he was seriously thinking of retiring. An election in 2001 for his government-in-exile had already ended the 400-year tradition of Dalai Lamas as both spiritual and political leaders. After an election in March this year, he would discuss with the new parliament when to give up his remaining “temporal” role. He expected to retire in the “next few months”.

The Dalai Lama has long stressed his work not as a political leader but as a scholar and guardian of the Buddhist tradition he embodies. In Gangtok he attended a seminar on spirituality and science. His lecture on the soccer pitch was on a rather abstruse commentary by a second- or third-century Indian philosopher, Nagarjuna (“The form particle does not produce sense-consciousness because it transcends the senses.”). The Dalai Lama turned it into an accessible sermon on how to live your life.

Politics, however, will not let Tibet’s spiritual leader go. His presence in Sikkim was in itself a measured gesture of Indian defiance towards China. India annexed the former kingdom in 1975. China long refused to recognise Sikkim’s incorporation into India, though since 2004 Chinese maps have shown it as an Indian state, and in 2006 a modest border trade began. The Dalai Lama’s eight-day tour of Sikkim was pointedly timed to come just after Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had been in Delhi, discussing how to improve ties. Tibet remains one of the strains. The Dalai Lama, with some 100,000 followers, has made his home in India since fleeing Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, in 1959. More:

Goodbye Dalai?

From Asia Sentinel:

The Dalai Lama’s recent announcement that he would give up his ceremonial role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile and retire next year in favor of a simpler life away from politics has sent a wave of concern through Tibetan exiles and supporters across the globe.

The 75-year-old head of Tibetan Buddhism, who his followers believe is the 14th in a line of reincarnated religious leaders going back hundreds of years, talked about his desire to retire from public life in a recent interview with an Indian news channel. He has already transferred most of his political powers to prime minister-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, whom he has addressed as his”boss.”

“In order to utilize full democracy,” the Dalai Lama said, “I feel it is better if I am not involved and I am devoted to other fields, promotion of human values and peace and harmony. But firstly I have to discuss, to inform members of the Tibetan parliament.”

The declaration has again raised the question of who might lead the Tibetan movement and spread the message of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide. The Dalai Lama himself has often suggested that he is a simple monk and that his successor could be democratically elected — and could even be a woman. More:

Dalai Lama to shed Tibet leader’s role

Associated Press

New Delhi: The Dalai Lama wants to give up his lesser-known role as the ceremonial leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, an aide said Tuesday, in what appeared to be another step in the aging leader’s efforts to prepare his people for life after he dies.

However, he will remain the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the focal point of Tibetan national aspirations, said spokesman Tenzin Taklha.

As head of the dominate Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is the top religious leader for Tibet. Many of his predecessors also served as Tibet’s political ruler, and the Dalai Lama served as head of government there after Chinese troops marched into his Himalayan homeland in 1950.

Beijing claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries. Amid increasing tensions with the Chinese, he fled to India in 1959 and set up a government-in-exile. More:

Also here

Tibetan Spirit Is Very Strong:

On being asked if he is serious about his retirement plans, His Holiness said: “Oh yes, of course. Since 2001 we have put in place a political leadership in exile. So theoretically the more than 400-year-old tradition of the Dalai Lama institution as head of both the temporal and spirituality has ended. Since then my position is something like a semi-retired position. The major decisions are taken by the elected political leadership. So in order to utilise fully democracy, I felt better not to involve myself in any sort of these works. Of course, I can devote my efforts in other fields like in the promotion of human values and religious harmony. So I am thinking about retirement.” Read here

The Dalai Lama: A thoroughly modern monk

John Walsh in The Independent:

He is, without any doubt, the only incarnation of the Buddha who has ever guest-edited Vogue Paris.

He’s the only spiritual leader of millions who has ever flogged a 1966 Land Rover on eBay and appeared in an advertisement for Apple. He is probably the only Nobel Prize winner on the planet who has Sharon Stone and Richard Gere on speed-dial. He must be the only “simple Buddhist monk” (his description) who sends daily bromides to a million followers on Twitter. Nobody in the world so bizarrely conjoins the spiritual and the material, the sublime and the ridiculous, dangerous politics and trivial celebrity, as the 14th Dalai Lama.

Wednesday is the 60th anniversary of his accession to the title, which means “Ocean of Wisdom” (the full version is Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, which translates as “Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom”). To almost all Tibetans, even those who criticise his stance over China, he is an object of reverence. But to many in the West he is a sneaky diplomatic strategist, a star-struck terrestrial and a turncoat Buddhist. To Rupert Murdoch, he could be “a very political old monk, shuffling about in Gucci shoes”. As we shall see, there’s a considerable list of complaints levelled against him. But after 60 years as a human bridge between East and West, do his virtues outweigh his shortcomings?

He was born Lhamo Dondrub in 1935, to a farmer and horse trader called Choekyong Tsering in the Chinese village of Taktser. When he was two, he was discovered, by a method that may not impress the sceptical, to be the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. A search party was sent out, headed by a Tibetan “regent” or senior holy man. All they had to go on was the fact that the head of the recently embalmed Dalai had mysteriously turned north-east, so that’s where they went. At a sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, the regent had a vision of a one-storey house with distinctive tiling and guttering in the district of Amdo. They found the mud-and-stone house, and the child inside it. To settle any doubt about his identity, they’d brought some of the 13th Dalai Lama’s old toys, and some toys that had no connection with him. Young Lhamo confidently picked out all the Lama’s belongings, shouting: “That’s mine!” More:

A little like Lhasa

A Tibetan refuge in the mountains of north India provides an opportunity to talk politics with the Dalai Lama. Tahir Shah in The National:

“The Chinese are diluting our culture,” he said once I had finished. “It’s as simple as that, and it is a very grave problem. Every day, Tibet’s ancient society is eroded a little more.”

I asked how to counter such a terrible predicament. The Dalai Lama thought hard before answering, his hands clasped together at his chin. “We do not use weapons,” he said. “We don’t believe in that. But we do believe in talking about what is going on.

“You are a writer and a man in the media,” he said, leaning forwards, “and so I ask you and others like you to keep the struggle of my people in the news. Talk about us, and tell people of the things you yourself have seen in my homeland. Describe the details to people. Tell them not just how Tibet looks, but how it sounds and how it smells.”

In the three-quarters of an hour we spent together, chatting about the Tibetan situation, the Dalai Lama struck me as someone utterly at peace with the world around him. Unlike anyone else exiled from their country, his pacifist approach was downright astonishing, as was his dignity. These are, of course, qualities that have captured the world’s attention for five decades.

Shortly before it was time for me to leave, there was a pause in the conversation. I filled it by asking what he missed most from Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s eyes seemed to glaze over. He smiled, a smile that blossomed into a grin, and then erupted into a resounding laugh.

“How can I begin?” he said, wiping a hand over his mouth. “I miss so much. But you are asking for a single thing. Well, it’s easy. I miss the freedom of my people.” More:

An interview with the Karmapa Lama

Saransh Sehgal interviews the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. In Asia Sentinel:

Q: There has been great interest in your study of environmentalism, psychology and foreign languages. Is it because the restrictions on your overseas travel prompted you to spend energy on these subjects? What relations do you see between Buddhism and these subjects?

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa: Generally, there are many people using different languages and studying different languages is to overcome the lack of language skill and have clear communication when interacting with some of those people who come here; it is sad when misunderstandings remain with those people who come here from faraway places.

Therefore, I put my best efforts into having, at the least, formal conversations with them. Studying modern psychology and Tibetan Buddhism, with ancient and modern going hand in hand, is to deepen and brighten my knowledge. In the case of environmentalism, the environment has become an important issue and therefore it is important to understand it. I do all this voluntarily to fulfill my personal and social responsibilities of leading a society. It is not at all a new topic I had begun because of overseas travels.

Q: You have been handling an environment protection group. What has the group actually done- what are the findings?

A: This environmental protection group we have here deals with basic issues such as raising environmental awareness, discussing environmental issues, finding and propagating the means and methods to protect the environment, waste management, cleaning the environment, the use of solar power for conservation of energy and planting trees. Generally speaking, we are able to raise new environmental awareness amongst our Tibetan community. What we have been doing deals with very basic issues; we have not yet reached a very high standard concerning protection of the environment. More:

Tibet’s next leader?

From AFP:

Dharamshala: For those looking for the next spiritual leader of Tibet after the Dalai Lama, the ageing monk’s 75th birthday ceremony last week offered some clues.

Sat next to the Nobel laureate at the front of the stage was the imposing figure of the Karmapa, a thick-set, 26-year-old with the highest profile among a cast of young lamas who might fill the void that will one day be left.

Separated by two generations, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa share a particular bond as Tibetan figureheads who both fled their homeland for an uncertain life in exile.

The Karmapa, who made the perilous journey in 1999, is now 26 — the same age as the Dalai Lama when he escaped in 1959 following a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

“You could say he’s like a father figure to me. I look at him as my teacher and my guide,” the Karmapa said of the Dalai Lama during an interview with AFP the day before the celebrations on July 6.

Both monks live in Dharamshala, the northern Indian hill town that serves as the base of the Tibetan government-in-exile. More:

Dalai Lama is 75

Ceremony to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday held at the Main Tibetan Temple in Dharamsala, India, on 6 July 2010. (www.dalailama.com)

In The Independent, The Dalai Lama at 75: the story so far, in pictures

One more for the path

John Kenney in the International Herald Tribune:

By now it was late and we were at Pastis and His Holiness was trying to get the bartender’s attention. The place was crowded and His Holiness seemed annoyed.

“What does a guy have to do to get a beer around here?” he said, more under his breath than to anyone in particular. Then he started laughing. “Patience, right? Let’s live in this moment. It’s just that it would be a better moment if we had beer.” Then he started laughing again.

I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I grew up on the farm next to his family’s in Tibet. I still knew him as Lhamo Dhondrub, his birth name, and I said, “Do you mind if I call you Lhamo?” And he smiled and said, “Yes, I do mind. Call me Mr. Dalai Lama.” I thought he was serious but then he laughed but I got the sense he was kind of serious. That’s the thing about the Dalai Lama. He loves practical jokes but is also touchy.

We were both seated cross-legged at the bar and eating hard-boiled eggs, one after another. We talked about Siddhartha and his search and the bodhi tree and the Four Noble Truths and also the Noble Eightfold Path and how it’s really badly organized and why didn’t the Buddha just make it simpler? More:

Many faiths, one truth

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in the New York Times:

When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions. More:

Spying on the Internet spies

A Chinese cyber spy ring hacked the computer systems of Indian embassies, defence establishments and corporate bodies, as well as the email account of the Dalai Lama. A Canadian cyber security team hacked the hackers and monitored the ring — the Shadow Network — for eight months.

From International Herald Tribune:

Turning the tables on a China-based computer espionage gang, Canadian and United States computer security researchers have monitored a spying operation for the past eight months, observing while the intruders pilfered classified and restricted documents from the highest levels of the Indian Defense Ministry.

In a report issued Monday night, the researchers, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, provide a detailed account of how a spy operation it called the Shadow Network systematically hacked into personal computers in government offices on several continents.

The Toronto spy hunters not only learned what kinds of material had been stolen, but were able to see some of the documents, including classified assessments about security in several Indian states, and confidential embassy documents about India’s relationships in West Africa, Russia and the Middle East. The intruders breached the systems of independent analysts, taking reports on several Indian missile systems. They also obtained a year’s worth of the Dalai Lama’s personal e-mail messages.

The intruders even stole documents related to the travel of NATO forces in Afghanistan, illustrating that even though the Indian government was the primary target of the attacks, one chink in computer security can leave many nations exposed. More:

Why does the West love the Dalai Lama?

From BBC News Magazine:

A US president is again choosing to meet the Dalai Lama despite Chinese opposition. But why is this Tibetan spiritual and political leader such a popular figure in the West?

To the Chinese government and to many of its people he is an inciter of violence and a defender of a brutal, backward, feudalistic, theocratic society.

But to many politicians and people in the West, the Dalai Lama is a kind of smiling, spiritual and political superhero.

His monastic robes, beaming countenance and squarish, unfashionable glasses are the stuff of a thousand photo opportunities. To some he is in a league of international personalities that contains only one other person – Nelson Mandela.

He is well-known for his contact with Hollywood supporters like Richard Gere and Steven Segal. More: