The 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the traditional religious leader and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists. The Tibetan Buddhists believe that Dalai Lamas are the manifestation of the reincarnated Buddha, who has appeared again to serve humanity with compassion and enlightened understanding. The very first Dalai Lama appeared in the 15th Century. The current Dalai Lama (the fourteenth one), Tenzin Gyatso, was born on the 6th of July, 1935, in Amdo, Tibet. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama when he was just two years old.
When China invaded Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama was forced to assume political power, though he was just a teenager. In 1959, after fleeing to India, the Dalai Lama became the highest-profile global advocate for Tibet and a highly respected moral and religious leader. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to travel the world teaching on ethical and spiritual issues. He has met with many influential people in the world, political leaders as well. China strongly objects to any influential people meeting him, but particularly when political leaders do so. The leaders of many countries have avoided meeting the Dalai Lama, but US presidents, for instance, have always received him. Beijing sees his meeting with world leaders as a political action, which attempts to prejudice the world against China and in favor of Tibet. China is a strong critic of the Dalai Lama, accusing him of separatism and seeking independence for Tibet, which is not necessarily true.
Understanding the Problem
The Dalai Lama’s image cannot be shown anywhere in Tibet. Anybody who praises him publicly in Tibet or China risks being arrested and jailed. In religious institutions and jails, Tibetans are always ordered to denounce the Dalai Lama. After the Tibetan community in exile democratically elected a Prime Minister and parliament, the Dalai Lama passed all his political power to them. The Dalai Lama advocates for the preservation of Tibetan culture, religion, environment and language, although he doesn’t entirely support independence for Tibet. The Dalai Lama would like China and Tibet to compromise in solving all their problems, whereby Tibet remains part of the PRC but retains control of its own affairs.
Tibetan issues of helplessness and isolation have a broad historical basis, dating back to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when many African and Asian nations were aspiring to be autonomous states, after the end of European colonization. When China’s Liberation Army first occupied Tibet, many small countries were suffering a similar fate. In Tibet, Chairman Mao’s portraits took the place of the Dalai Lama’s portraits in Potala Place, Lhasa. The Chinese Communists claimed that, historically, Tibet was a part of China. China’s rulers and Tibet’s Dalai Lamas have always had a compromising, fluid relationship over Tibet, which led to the current Dalai Lama pushing unsuccessfully for independence from China.
The Dalai Lama in Exile
In 1959 the Dalai Lama established a Tibetan government in exile and adopted Mahatma Gandhi as a source of inspiration. Tibet’s troubles have never been of great enough significance to world powers for there to be any talk of military intervention, though abuse of human rights has been well-publicized. It is reported that 1000000 Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese and 6000 monasteries have been destroyed since 1950. In 1995 the Chinese authorities seized a boy who the Dalai Lama had identified as the next Panchen Lama. The Chinese installed their own choice instead, arguing that Beijing’s leaders had come up with a more suitable system of selecting religious leaders in Tibet. The whereabouts of the boy who was seized has never been disclosed.
What Angers China about the Dalai Lama?
Although the Dalai Lama heads a Tibetan government in exile that is not recognized anywhere in the world, the hospitality and warm reception offered him by influential people is what angers China most and prompts its stern condemnation. China believes that, when the Dalai Lama meets foreign leaders such as President Obama, it gives him the political credibility he doesn’t deserve. Tibet still remains a sensitive issue in China. The Dalai Lama’s VIP treatment, and particularly his reception as a political figure, is viewed as a threat to China’s national sovereignty and claim over Tibet.
China’s Response to World Leaders Meeting the Dalai Lama
For months China gave Germany the cold shoulder after Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, received the Dalai Lama. Sino-EU relations were on the go-slow after the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, held a meeting with the Tibetan leader. Every nation whose leader meets with the Dalai Lama is penalized in some way. For instance, when former US Presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, met with the Dalai Lama, it prompted very strong protests in Beijing. Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister cleverly found the right compromise in 2008, by meeting the Dalai Lama in a religious environment and not politically or publicly.
Clearly, China views the Dalai Lama as a political threat. They are less concerned about the practice of Tibetan Buddhism than about Tibetan separatism. Although it’s true that the Dalai Lama has officially abandoned the idea of Tibetan independence, most of his followers have not. Up to this day the International Tibetan Independence Movement continues to thrive. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama keeps campaigning for greater Tibetan autonomy when he’s very aware that Tibet is a designated autonomous region within China. It doesn’t help that Tibetan separatism has garnered such positive press in the West. Hollywood has put out successful, pro-Tibet films like ‘Kundun’ and ‘Seven Years in Tibet’.
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