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Peace practitioner

Dalai Lama is truly a unique apostle of peace in an era of strife and hegemony, writes Abhishek Singhvi.
None | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON APR 01, 2008 11:18 PM IST

Recently, for the first time, I met the Dalai Lama. To be correct, it was the first one-on-one meeting, with only my wife accompanying me. Our earlier meetings — mostly at conferences or functions — never went beyond a casual exchange of pleasantries. At my wife’s initiative, we requested an appointment and despite his busy schedule, it was cleared in 48 hours.

We were 15 minutes early for the appointment and the Dalai Lama’s representative, Mr Tshering, met us on the seventh floor of Hotel Ashok. Tshering turned out to be an extremely polite person and an efficient manager and soon we started chatting. According to Tshering, the Chinese were already a majority in Tibet, approximately seven million out of the total population of 12 million. He feared that very soon, the Chinese would outnumber the Tibetans 2:1 in their own homeland. He explained how Buddhism had travelled from India to China and then again from India to Tibet.

After some time, we were ushered into the Dalai Lama’s room. The first thing that struck me was a child-like simplicity in his eyes, in the way he listened and spoke. Everything he said and did came from the heart. There was no premeditated strategy, no glib talk, no posturing and no flamboyance. Ours was a private visit with no agenda, we only wanted to be blessed by his noble presence.

I told him that even Gandhiji had said that non-violence might not always be a virtue. Even non-violence, rarely, might have to give way for a higher public cause. Gandhiji, I added, practised non-violence against the British, who could be considered relatively benevolent oppressors and imperialists. Would Gandhiji, I asked the Dalai Lama, have advocated the same steadfast adherence to non-violence, as was being practised by the Dalai Lama, in the face of a more aggressive oppressor like the Chinese?

The Dalai Lama listened intently and, with a benevolent smile, said that the true test of steadfastness to the principle comes in the face of the greatest provocation. He believed that no other path was possible. He added that for him, violation of human dignity, whether of the Chinese or of the Tibetans, was equally reprehensible and that is why he had specifically mentioned the Tiananmen Square massacre in his statements.

He said he was also concerned that the tiny Tibetan community would end up with massive casualties if they confronted the infinitely larger Chinese army. What really worried him was the Chinese influx into Tibet, particularly ahead of the Beijing Olympics. He feels that probably a million more Chinese would permanently move into Tibet. He was fearful of the impact of this on Tibetan culture, language, dress, habit and so on. He added that Tibetans always looked up to India as their guru because this was the land of the Buddha. He added that there was a natural affinity, a spontaneous empathy and a special emotional bonding between India and Tibet, which India sometimes forgot or ignored.

As he autographed two books for us, I saw how calligraphic his writing was: neat, precise and beautifully-formed. His English was heavily accented but adequate. Sometimes his secretary helped out with appropriate English words after the Dalai Lama used its Tibetan original. He explained how the Tibetan alphabet resembled — phonetically at least — the Hindi ka, kha, ga etc. He explained how the uprising in Tibet was spontaneous and a reaction to the increasing Chinese presence in the region.

Why did he agree early on to Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and only asserted the right to an autonomous region? I did not get a detailed or satisfactory answer to my question. He suggested that the Chinese control of the region was a fait accompli and he had to ensure the safety, security and survival of the tiny number of Tibetan people against a billion Chinese. Without him saying so, I got the feeling that he had no other option.

It was evident the Dalai Lama’s soul is steeped in spirituality and austerity is a way of life for him. His entire being radiates benevolence, compassion and equilibrium. In that sense, he truly exemplifies Buddha's teachings and way of life. To be always in sync, in harmony and never to take or allow his followers to take extreme positions is his sincere conviction and continuous effort. Sometimes onlookers feel frustrated with his steadfast insistence on non-violence and even deem his stand counterproductive given the nature of the adversary. But the Dalai Lama believes and practises Gandhian non-violence and Buddhist equanimity. He is truly a unique apostle of peace in an era of strife and hegemony.

The author is an MP, Congress National Spokesperson, and senior Advocate. The views expressed are personal.

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