In recent years I have taken up a new hobby. I collect heroes and heroines. Not just anyone. I am very discriminating. Quality not quantity is the hallmark of my collection.
I had heard of the Dalai Lama. I vaguely knew that he is supposed to be the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas and was found at a very young age. This being the way Tibetans choose their leader. I knew that the Chinese had taken over Tibet and pretty much destroyed their spiritual culture and heritage. But that was about all.
Then last year I read Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer. A Nazi officer, he escaped from a British POW camp in India in 1944 and ended up in Tibet where he became a tutor of the then young Dalai Lama. A rattling good yarn (couldn’t resist that, sorry), and a fascinating insight into Tibet before the Chinese invasion.
I still didn’t make much connection with the Dalai Lama as he became after the invasion.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the majority religions in Nepal. The Lord Buddha was born in Nepal. One of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world, referred to as the Buddhist Vatican, is Boudhanath in Kathmandu. A World Heritage Site. The Nepal government welcomed the Tibetan refugees when they fled Tibet and built a camp for them which is still occupied by the Tibetan refugees today. We visited it. Here you can see some of the houses and the monastery. It is all very well kept, neat and tidy. There is a gift shop, plus a lot of stalls selling touristy stuff. Also a large carpet shop which also sells traditional handbags.
India also took in Tibetan refugees and became the permanent home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.
But the world generally and also India and Nepal found it politically inconvenient to give too much encouragement to theTibetans, or show too much partisanship, preferring not to put relationships with China at risk.
Our guide and minder was a Nepali Buddhist and we heard a lot about the history and political situation. The tourist shops are full of books about Buddhism, Tibet and about and by the Dalai Lama. I have been reading: “The Art of Happiness” A record of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr Howard C Cutler. Also ‘A Policy of Kindness’ an anthology of writings by and about the Dalai Lama. I also have, but have not yet read, ‘Advice on Dying and Living a Better Life’ by the Dalai Lama.
The gift shop in the Tibetan Refugee Centre gives out free copies of the Dalai Lama’s Address to the Plenary Session of the European Parliament, Dec 2008 and the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People. I was very moved by the shop person’s insistence on giving me several copies of these to give to my group members. Sadly only one person took them.
The reason he has joined my company of heroes is that, in the vernacular, he has walked his talk. His religion preaches non-violence and kindness and compassion to all sentient creatures. And this is how he has led his people in responding to the appalling actions by China.
He believes that we can and should be happy and that the practice of Buddhist spiritual principles in our lives, especially kindness, compassion and service to others will result in an increase in our happiness. I think that is a reasonable summary. His photographs often show his face smiling and alight with joy. Religion is not a grim thing for the Dalai Lama. I think he could teach us Christians a few lessons here.
He lives a life that exemplifies his monastic vows. He eats frugally. He lives modestly and frugally. He has few, if any, personal possessions. He does not travel first class.
In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in recognition of his leadership of his people and his contribution to world peace.
How easy it would have been to give way to actions of violent resistance and revenge as in so many other places of conflict. All the while protesting a desire for peace and an end to conflict. He has certainly come under pressure to sanction such things from younger Tibetans as time has gone on and the Chinese occupation and depradations continue.
Not the way of the Dalai Lama. It is thought that he may be the incarnation of the bodhisattva of infinite compassion, Avaloketeshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezi) although I do not think he claims this for himself. His daily prayer, with which he ended his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, is:
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Amen to that.
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