An exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama
The Drum has teamed up with the Financial Times to run a series of articles giving you a flavour of what you might have missed in the FT in recent weeks.
‘I always pray the Chinese leadership should develop more common sense’
I arrive in Dharamsala, the Indian home of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, groggy after an overnight train journey from New Delhi and a two-hour drive into the Himalayas. The weather is grey and drizzly but the mood is festive as crowds flock to Tsuglagkhang Temple, where the Dalai Lama is giving a three-day public teaching on a 14th-century Buddhist text about the path to enlightenment.
Stopping briefly at my hotel, I hear the voice of the world’s most famous Buddhist monk echoing over loudspeakers from the temple nearby. Typically when he speaks to audiences in English, the Dalai Lama is light-hearted, chuckling in the midst of sentences. But today the 78-year-old, who fled to India in 1959, nine years after China’s People’s Liberation Army occupied his homeland, is speaking in his mother tongue. His tones are hushed and serious, though gentle.
Soon, I am among Tibetan refugees, Indians and westerners – the devoted and the curious – thronging towards the temple through an alley strewn with reminders of Tibet’s discontent under Chinese rule. A huge banner – emblazoned “Sacrifice of Life for Tibet” – honours more than 100 Tibetans who have immolated themselves in the past two years in despairing, solitary protests in their repressed homeland, many using their final moments to call for the Dalai Lama’s return.
Photos of each – with their names, ages and dates when they set themselves ablaze – are surrounded with images of flames. Another banner has grisly photos of Tibetans allegedly shot by police in China’s Sichuan province while celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6. A black marble triangle is engraved with the words “Tibetan National Martyrs Memorial” and a museum details Chinese human rights abuses.
But politics is not the sole offering. A Tibetan man in a Brazilian football jacket is selling the Dalai Lama’s books, including his Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (2011). A monk from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives appeals for donations to translate and preserve sacred Buddhist texts. A flier touts “Tibet Power Healing”, promising to “free your mind from stress and worry” in 30 minutes of “Chakra Healing”. A table is laden with lemon tarts, brownies and carrot cake.
Inside the temple, the 14th Dalai Lama, revered by many Tibetans as a living god and a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, sits atop an elevated throne, a large golden Buddha behind him and a sea of humanity around him. Maroon-robed monks, shaven-headed nuns, weathered elders fingering prayer beads and families with children in traditional dress, as if for a school pageant, sit cross-legged on the floor. Those without a direct view watch their spiritual leader on flat-screen TVs.
Foreigners, including Americans, Europeans, Koreans and Japanese, round out the crowd of thousands, a reminder of how the Dalai Lama – who went into exile as the virtually unknown leader of an isolated country – has become a global household name, with more than eight million Twitter followers and celebrity acolytes such as the actor Richard Gere.
Analysing the “Song on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment,” the Tibetan spiritual leader offers a taste of the universalism that has made him a popular prophet for a secular age. He urges avoidance of Buddhism’s 10 specified non-virtuous acts – killing, lying, stealing, divisive talk among them – but then observes that shunning such actions is not exclusively Buddhist.
“If people are Christian, it can be a Christian practice; if they are Muslim, it can be a Muslim practice, and if they are Buddhist, it can be a Buddhist practice,” he says. “I respect other traditions for the help they bring their followers.”
At noon, he ends the day’s session, apologising, “I feel exhausted if I teach too long.” Leaning on two aides, the Dalai Lama follows a monk – who carries a brass bowl of billowing incense – down a flight of stairs to the temple courtyard, where a car waits to ferry him to his adjoining residence. He blesses a few devotees and eases into the car. Then, the vehicle pulls away, and His Holiness is gone.
For the rest of this article visit ft.com/life-arts
Senior Marketing Manager
Financial Publishing & B2B
Industry Insights features highly accessible and practical content from experts in the marketing services sector providing you with tools and resources to improve your business performance. If you would like to submit a report to the section contact firstname.lastname@example.org