|The Dalai Lama in 1972 in Dharamsala|
Can you find a world leader who has met generations of Indian politicians, most US Presidents, European head of States, several Popes, celebrated cricketers, Hollywood and Bollywood stars, some of the greatest scientists and many ordinary people, including what he calls, 'Chinese brothers and sisters?'
Claude Arpi salutes His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he turns 80.
Nothing speaks more about the Dalai Lama's predicament than his recent visit to the UK. WantChinaTimes, a Taiwanese publication, reported rumours in the Chinese media: Chinese President Xi Jinping's UK visit scheduled for October may be cancelled or delayed as an echo of an earlier controversy in which British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to delay a planned trip to China.
In May 2012, Cameron had dared to receive the exiled Tibetan leader in London. The Taiwanese Web site explains: 'The Chinese government is vehemently opposed to the religious leader's political and religious authority; it cannot tolerate any challenge to its power.'
This time, the Dalai Lama did not meet any British political leaders. London was not ready to spoil the grand reception planned for the Chinese president later in the year.
The other side of the coin is that the Dalai Lama received an ovation at the Glastonbury music festival, where he spent an hour telling the large crowd of tens of thousands waiting under the rain, how the world could be a happier place if human beings were more compassionate.
The Tibetan leader also called for a more 'holistic education' which should bring 'a sense of care and human love.' To the delight of the festival-goers, he asserted, 'Everyone has the right to achieve a happy life.'
The crowd wished him, 'Happy Birthday' for his 80th year; he responded by asking everyone 'to think seriously about how to create a happy world.'
On one side, you have London's changed attitude towards the Dalai Lama, mainly due to the heavy (economic and political) price paid earlier, and on the other side tens of thousands of 'common men,' cheering one of the most charismatic leaders of the planet, a man who speaks of human values such as compassion, non-violence and the oneness of humanity.
What can one conclude, except that there is a serious widening gap between the political leadership (anywhere in the world) and ordinary citizens.
My first encounter
This reminds me of the first time I met the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (of course, at that time, there was no question of a Nobel Prize).
It was in 1972, at the hill station of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama had been relocated by the Government of India after his flight from Tibet in 1959.
The Lama was truly a 'simple' monk. I remember him, walking from his 'Palace' to the School of Buddhist Dialectics to check on the ongoing construction. He was accompanied by one or two attendants and a security officer. No advance notice, no heavy security, just a smiling monk, looking after the rehabilitation of his people, particularly his monks.
Everyone could approach him and bow down to receive his blessings. Over the years, his popularity increased. He still smiles, but he is now under Z+ security cover, making him more difficult to approach.
In 1974, I was at Geneva airport when he landed in Europe for the first time; here too, no special fuss over the monk. Switzerland had been the first country to grant him a visa, despite Beijing's protests. Over the years, China's muscle power grew stronger, so did the Chinese 'orders.'
Sometimes, I am nostalgic of those old days, when he was so approachable, though he did not have the world dimension he has today.
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