Q&A: Dalai Lama

Spiritual messenger with his heart in Tibet

October 13 1980
Q&A: Dalai Lama

Spiritual messenger with his heart in Tibet

October 13 1980

Spiritual messenger with his heart in Tibet

Q&A: Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, was born in the small farming village of Takster in the province of Amdo on July 6, 1935. At the age of 2, following a nation wide search, he was declared to be the reincarnation of his predecessor, the great Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He spent his childhood in the company of monks and attendants, with rare visits from his family. As he grew older his curiosity concerning the world beyond Tibet led him into a round of self-assumed research, including the study of English, science and mathematics. In his own Buddhist studies, he was recognized by his tutors to be unparalleled. On Oct. 7, 1950, Communist China invaded Tibet. For nine years thereafter, the Dalai Lama—recognized by Tibetans as their secular as well as religious leader—sought compromise with the Communists, believing that he alone could assuage the effect of their occupation upon his people. In March of 1959, however, a popular uprising against the Chinese erupted in Lhasa, the capital. The Dalai Lama escaped to India, fol-

lowed by more than 100,000 refugees fleeing a brutal suppression; one that eventually was to claim more than half a million lives and result in the almost complete destruction of the traditional Tibetan culture. More recently, Peking has announced major reforms in its colonial regime, hoping to woo the refugees home, and representatives of the Dalai Lama have been allowed to visit their homeland—with a view to eventually returning for good. From his residence in India, the Dalai Lama has tried to rally the spirits of Tibetan refugees resettled the world over. He will meet with refugees living in Canada on a visit Oct. 10-27. The Dalai Lama was interviewed for Maclean’s in New York by writer John Avedon.

Maclean’s: What were your first feelings on being recognized as the Dalai Lama ? Dalai Lama: I was very happy. I liked it a lot. Even before I was recognized, I often told my mother that I was going to go to Lhasa.

Maclean’s: When you were a little boy, how did you feel about being treated by

adults as an important person? Were you apprehensive or even frightened at being so revered ?

Dalai Lama: Tibetans are very practical people. Older Tibetans would never treat me that way. Also, I was very selfconfident. When I first approached Lhasa on the Debuthang Plain, the Nechung Oracle came to further verify that I was the correct choice. With him came an old, very respected and highly realized geshay [elder] from Loseling College of Drepung Monastery. He was deeply concerned whether or not I was the correct choice. To have made a mistake in finding the Dalai Lama would be very dangerous. He came into the tent where I was in a group audience and determined that unquestionably I was the right choice. So you see, though there were certain very proper old people who wanted to be sure, I apparently put on a good performance and convinced them (laughter).

Maclean’s: OK. Not asking you about your own deepest experience, but in terms of the course of your life—the events of your life—how have these affected you as a man? How have you grown through experiencing them?

Dalai Lama: Being a refugee has been very useful. You are much closer to reality. When I was in Tibet as the Dalai Lama, I was trying to be realistic, but somehow because of circumstances there was some distance, I think. I was a bit isolated from the reality.

Maclean’s: Only a few people in history have been considered, in one way or another, divine. Is the role a burden or a delight?

Dalai Lama: It is very helpful. Through this role I can be of great benefit to people. For this reason I like it; I’m at home with it. It’s clear that it is very helpful to people and that I have the karmic relationship to be in this role. Also, it is clear that there is a karmic relationship with the Tibetan people in particular. Maclean’s: How do you deal with your personal limitations, your limits as a man?

Dalai Lama: Again, as it says in Shantideva [Buddhist scripture], “If the blessed Buddha cannot please all sentient beings, then how could I?” Even an enlightened being, with limitless knowledge and power and the wish to save all others from suffering, cannot eliminate the individual karma of each being.

Maclean’s: Could you describe current conditions in Tibet, as far as you are aware of them ?

Dalai Lama: Each day the labor period is 10 or 12 hours, sometimes 14. Therefore, the Tibetans say there are only three things to see. In the morning you see the stars, during the day the locks on the houses, and at night, returning from work, the moon. After work they must

remain another two or three hours at political meetings.

Maclean’s: Is proper education


Dalai Lama: In central Tibet, two or three years back, we heard on Radio Lhasa propaganda that there were more than 3,000 primary schools and a few middle schools. Recently, the Chinese said that there are 6,000 primary schools in central Tibet. No doubt there are several thousand. The real standard of education, though, is very, very low. In China itself, in the past two or three decades, there has been more emphasis on ideology than education. The food conditions for schoolboys and girls are also bad. Due to that food, most of the students got very sick. Many of them have said that they never want to be born again in such a place.

Maclean’s: How about medical care? Dalai Lama: There are many clinics. There are also the famous barefoot doctors. One good thing is that the Chinese respect traditional Tibetan medicine. They have actually built factories to make Tibetan medicine. This is very good, but the actual health conditions among the masses are different. The real benefit they get from these health centres is very little. Also you might know that they have just changed the head of the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region, the leader. The new person is a Tibetan, which the Chinese make a big point of for propaganda purposes. I knew this person very well. He is a very good man, a very nice man, but, unfortunately, when we spoke we needed an interpreter. He didn’t speak Tibetan. When he was a very small boy, he was taken by the Red Army during their Long March. He was from then on completely cut off from any contact with Tibetans. His wife is Chinese. He spent his entire life in the Red Army. Maclean’s: Is the country very much an armed camp? After 30 years, is it still occupied by Chinese troops?

Dalai Lama: Practically wherever there is a Tibetan population, there also is a big Chinese military camp. In the border area it is understandable to have large military camps, but inside, if things were quite normal, then why would it be necessary to station large numbers of soldiers everywhere? In Lhasa alone, the Han population is more than the Tibetan population. Maclean’s: I know it is hard to say at this point, but under what conditions would you go back to Tibet?

Dalai Lama: My general explanation— our general aim—is that the people be happy. Now that is the main point. In detail, I don’t want to say at the moment—and it is difficult to say. At the moment there is no question of returning. First, things must change inside; then, we’ll see. lt;£?