Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Dalai Lama

The New Yorker carries Pankaj Mishra's essay -- a review, really, of Pico Iyer's The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama -- on the spiritual leader and his political burden.

None of his compromises, however, have aroused as much bitterness as his decision, first announced in 1988, to settle for Tibet’s “genuine autonomy” within China rather than press for full independence. As the Dalai Lama sees it, countries must pursue their interests without harming those of others, and Tibetan independence, in addition to being an unrealistic ideal, needlessly antagonizes Beijing. This stance has failed, however, to convince the Chinese that he is not a “splittist”; they have accused him of having “masterminded” the latest disturbances. It has also made many Tibetans suspect that what makes the Dalai Lama more likable in the West—mainly, his commitment to nonviolence, reiterated during the current crisis—makes him appear weak to the Chinese.

“The more he gave himself to the world,” Iyer writes, the more Tibetans have come to feel “like natural children bewildered by the fact that their father has adopted three others.” The Tibetan novelist Jamyang Norbu complains that Tibetan support groups and the government-in-exile have become “directionless” in trying to “reorient their objectives around such other issues as the environment, world peace, religious freedom, cultural preservation, human rights—everything but the previous goal of Tibetan independence.”

Avidly embracing the liberating ideas of the secular metropolis, the Dalai Lama resembles the two emblematic types who have shaped the modern age, for better and for worse—the provincial fleeing ossified custom and the refugee fleeing totalitarianism. Even so, his critics may have a point: the Dalai Lama’s citizenship in the global cosmopolis seems to come at a cost to his dispossessed people.

Then there's this short piece on the Dalai Lama by Outlook editor Vinod Mehta.

This 72-year-old celebrity priest has the innocence and enthusiasms of a four-year-old child. As he relates the brutal tales of "cultural genocide" in Tibet, he remains, miraculously, unemotional, devoid of bitterness or desire for revenge. I hope I am not trivialising my conversations because we were discussing matters of life and death and unspeakable violence by the Chinese. However, throughout my 90-minute chat with Tibet's supreme leader, I was constantly made aware that I was talking not to a religious-political saint fighting for basic civil rights for his people but to an ordinary human being simultaneously burdened by divine status and a Nelson Mandela-like mission.


  1. Anant said...

    I have written elsewhere that I know rather little about China and/or about Tibet. But I am always a little confused/bewildered/troubled by the fact that the only prism through which one is somehow asked to/allowed to/conditioned to look into the question of Tibet is through that of the Dalai Lama (D.L.). Is the D. L. the be all and end of Tibet? How would Indian people feel if the be all and end of India were the Kanchi Shankaracharya? Just using up the bandwidth here to share my anxieties on this question.

  2. Abi said...

    Point taken. However, isn't it also true that the Dalai Lama is not just another mutt-head, but also a legitimate political leader with an enormous following?

  3. gaddeswarup said...

    There is another recent article on Tibet by Pankaj Mishra:

  4. Anant said...

    Abi: no one has denied that the D. L. is a political leader. The operative article is the indefinite one! What are the other forces? Are there any? etc.? As I noted earlier, one knows so little.