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April 26, 2001
The Rediff Interview/ His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Sidbhari, district Kangra, Himachal Pradesh: For the first time after his escape from Tibet over 15 months ago, the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinle Dorje, will address a press conference on Friday, April 27. The press has been requested to arrive two hours before the scheduled time due to the 'sensitive situation' around His Holiness and the ensuing tight security.
March 27, 2001, Dharamsala: HP: The Little Lhasa in exile. For the past two weeks a colourful crowd of more than 10,000 devotees has followed the Dalai Lama's teachings on the Graded Path of Enlightenment. They have come from the Himalayan regions of Ladakh, Lahaul, Spiti or from the refugee settlements of South India and even from Tibet. A contingent of a few hundreds westerners have also joined in.
The day's Buddhist teachings are over and what better way to relax and recover from these intense days of concentration and prayers, but to attend the annual Tibetan opera festival at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, a mile away from McLeod Ganj, the Tibetan village with a British name.
It is here that the Dalai Lama receives Claude Arpi, a couple of days before leaving for another hectic 12 day journey to the Chinese 'rebel' island of Taiwan. He also explains the dichotomy between the real Karmapa and his rival. A Rediff exclusive.
Your Holiness, can we first go into the past? Fifty years ago, in May 1951, your government was forced by China to sign an agreement known as the '17 Point Agreement'. In this agreement it was stated that Tibet was part of China, but your government could retain a very large internal autonomy. Looking back, do you think that things could have been different?
From the late 1950s, till now, let us say for the past 45 years, whether there was a 17 Point Agreement or not, it made no difference. The agreement has not been relevant. I should put this way, as a result of signing the 17 Point Agreement, for few years, Tibet enjoyed some benefits in the sense that a certain autonomy in our way of life (for example in the fields of culture, religion) was granted. It was guaranteed by the agreement.
Later, in the late fifties, all these guarantees were disregarded and the agreement became worthless.
I want to further clarify that when the Tibetan delegation was negotiating in Beijing they were reluctant to sign, but the Chinese told them clearly: "If you do not sign, it is very easy for us, we just have to give a signal to the army and the army will march into Tibet."
For us it would have been worse. It is clear, there were only two choices: either to accept the agreement or to go through what they called a military 'liberation'.
For some years, we derived some benefit, but later, it became plain military occupation.
Though on paper you were granted a wide autonomy which gave you control over culture, religion, education etc.. the terms of the agreement were not implemented by the Chinese and you lost your autonomy. Now, let us come to today's situation. You are asking for 'genuine autonomy', is it different from what you got (on paper) from the Chinese government in 1951?
It is the same principle, it is the same spirit. Usually I described what we want as "one country, two systems'. But there is a big difference: In the 17 Point Agreement, there were some clauses about the status of the Dalai Lama's institution. (According to these clauses, the Dalai Lama was able to retain his status and power within an autonomous Tibet).
Today, I am not demanding anything for the Dalai Lama. I do not want any special status.
In the event of an agreement, are you confident that this time the Chinese will keep their word?
Today, I am only asking for the Tibetans -- that they should have full power in the fields where they are capable of managing their own affairs.
In these fields, they should be given full authority. In the case of defence or foreign affairs, the Chinese can manage (our affairs). We are not asking for a separation (from China), therefore logically they could handle matters like defence.
About the guarantees, in 1950 Tibet was very isolated, Tibet was not very well known to the outside world. Today, everybody knows about Tibet. Any agreement will have the world community as a witness, that is a guarantee. There will be an universal awareness about the agreement and I also believe in the international concern for justice and rightfulness; all this added, can give us a guarantee.
I think it will be difficult to have to have a third party (as a guarantor).
What about India as a guarantor? In 1914, after tripartite talks in Simla (between British India, Tibet and China), you had a treaty with India. The objective of this treaty was to guarantee Tibet's independence. Could you again think of India as a guarantor?
Theoretically speaking, yes, it should be, because Tibet has a long border with India. Traditionally, that has happened in the past. But practically today things are very complicated, so I do not know.
Some pundits think the ideal and the most sustainable solution for Tibet would a condominium between India and China with a large autonomy for Tibet (something similar to the constitution of Andorra). Can you envisage such a solution in the future?
You are aware that China still claims Sikkim as part of its territory. With this background, it is still felt by some people that if the Karmapa is permitted to go to Rumtek, he could be a danger for India's security. What would be your answer to that argument?
Danger? I do not think so. Now, the Karmapa is no longer a Chinese citizen. Furthermore, Mr Jaswant Singh, the external affairs minister, has very recently mentioned in the Indian Parliament that after the Indian government had granted a refugee status to the Karmapa, his ministry had not received any objection from the Chinese government.
But a visa is one thing, and going to Rumtek is another?
What I have to say is that firstly, now the Karmapa is a refugee like any other refugee. He is no more a Chinese citizen. Secondly, according to Mr Jaswant Singh himself, the Chinese government has not raised the problem of the Karmapa's status with the Indian government, therefore, I feel that there should be no problem for him to go to Sikkim in the future.
A rival Karmapa recently visited India. Can there be two Karmapas?
No, I don't think! But like in the case of the late Panchen Lama, there can be one Panchen Lama and 'candidate' Panchen Lamas. In the case of the (previous) Panchen Lama, there is still today a 'candidate' Panchen Lama alive, he is living in Ireland. So Thargye Dorjee (the rival Karmapa) is one 'candidate', just that.
Recently, George Fernandes, who has been one of your most faithful supporters, had to resign as defence minister of India. Did you hear about this episode?
Not in detail, but I felt very sad because George Fernandes is one of my old friends.
Regarding corruption in general, which is a big problem in India, what do you see as the best way to tackle it?
In India and elsewhere. Corruption is everywhere. In India, it is a serious problem. Here I feel that the Indian media has a role to play. They should carry out their responsibilities fearlessly. They should do their duty objectively, without bias, without any favour to anybody. They should be honest and truthful. It is very necessary.
The press and the judiciary have the most important role to play in the process?
First the press, then the judiciary. The press should first expose corruption, and later on the judiciary should take over. The press should even keep a check on the judiciary to see if they function properly or not. But if the press is corrupt, who will check? (laughs). It is like a circle. Perhaps the public?
I do not know if you are aware, but N Vittal, the chief vigilance commissioner, has put down the names of many charge-sheeted officers on the Vigilance Commission's web site.
It is good, very good!
Some thinkers in the West believe that the 21st century will see a second Renaissance: An explosion of art, culture, humanism like in the 15th, 16th century and this Renaissance would be based on Indic traditions (traditions originating from India). Could you comment?
I do not know. I believe in universality without borders. Our conception of the world should become more universal, more global. Whether it (a Renaissance) comes from Western civilisation, or Christian, Indian or Chinese culture, it does not matter. I believe in human culture. We need to think about humanity as a whole.
The reality is that the world is becoming smaller, totally interdependent. For example, the fact that the weather is changing is no more the concern of one nation or one continent. The whole world is concerned about these dramatic changes. Reality itself forces on us to think more globally rather than in terms of 'my nation' or 'this nation', because we cannot solve these problems, except by a global movement (approach).
But is it not a fact, that Buddhist teachings or techniques like yoga, meditation, etc which originated from the Indian subcontinent are becoming more and more popular?
Let me put it in another way, when you speak of human civilisation, you cannot pinpoint the Indian civilisation, the Egyptian, Chinese European or Latin American civilisation. Anyway, it is true that in the philosophic field, perhaps the Indic tradition is more profound, it is deeper, more sophisticated, it has more variety.
And more tolerance?
Maybe it is also a factor, thanks to religious tolerance, many other traditions could develop here. In this huge Indian subcontinent as well as Central Asia, many traditions like Buddhism, different forms of Hinduism, Jainism and later Christians, Muslims, Jews could flourish. India is very rich in the philosophical field.
Do you see a spiritual Renaissance in the coming years?
Let me put it differently. Till the end of the 20th century, people emphasised more on sensorial and physical satisfaction, and as a result, material development became the prime goal.
In the 21st century, the goal of material comfort is already achieved in many areas (countries). When you have already achieved material comfort, you want to get to another experience. You have material comfort, but mentally you are not happy. That is what is happening today. In order to satisfy your mental level, spirituality becomes very important. That is why I feel that today, in Europe or in America and China there is a movement (towards spirituality).
Like the Falun Gong?
Do you feel that after 20 years of Deng Xiaoping's motto 'To become rich is glorious,' China is also aspiring to something different?
That is true.
Will the 21st century will be a century of synthesis between the material and the spiritual?
I think so. I think so. That would be healthy. We need physical comfort, but we also need mental comfort and this without drug or alcohol.
Some people after they retire, they find it difficult to pass their time. If they have money they go travelling around the world. They cannot stay happy in their own houses. If they could find a deeper understanding or experience, they would be happier. The body may not move anymore, physically you might be weak but mentally you can be happy.
If I retire at around let us say at 70, 75 or 80, I wish to live leisurely in a quiet place, read if my eyes are still okay and then think. I feel that that is the best source of satisfaction, even if your body cannot move, you can still think and meditate.
Tibet is the best place for meditation. Will you retire there?
(Laughs) This, I do not know. When I visited Spiti last year, I got some blood pressure. So, I have some problems (with the altitude) now. In this new situation, I do not know.
Your Holiness, you have postponed your visit to Taiwan twice before, does your visit mean that for the time being the negotiations with the regime in Beijing are blocked?
I do not see it necessarily that way. Of course, I always try to help the Tibetan people, today there is a situation inside Tibet which is neither good for Tibet, nor for China. Sooner or later, the Chinese government has to find new ways to handle the Tibetan problem.
In my case, I am always ready to help both the Chinese government and the Tibetans. That is why I believe that my middle path approach is the best. Though I am always ready to help, and though for the last few months I have tried my best to have a dialogue face to face (with Beijing), for the time being there is not too much hope. So I decided to go to Taiwan.
I do not want to disappoint both sides, Beijing as well as Taiwan. As there were no results to my efforts (towards Beijing) and at the same time, I did not want to disappoint my friends in Taiwan who are very spiritual minded, I decided to go.
It also proves that I can be friends with the Chinese people. Though some Taiwanese do not consider themselves Chinese, there is a large Chinese community with a Chinese culture in Taiwan. But my main object is to give the teachings to the Buddhists. At the same time, I can show I am not anti-Chinese, that I respect Chinese people, and have a great admiration for Chinese civilisation.
If I had the choice, I would like to go to mainland China first. But today, there is no possibility and at the same time, Taiwan is a large area where the Chinese culture and civilisation is flourishing.
Could you envisage a day when you will perform the Kalachakra puja in Tiananmen Square?
Do you think lakhs of Chinese would come to listen to Buddhist teachings?
Yes. In fact, after the events in Tiananmen Square (in 1989), I felt that one day in the future, I would like to perform one Kalachakra initiation on Tiananmen in order to purify the area and help the people who died. This desire or vision is still there with me.
When you read the recently released the Tiananmen Papers, you see the leadership living in constant fear. Is it why they do not want to handle the Tibetan case?
More than 15 years ago, I met an old French diplomat, a friend of mine, he told me the Chinese Communist leaders fear religion, they fear Buddhism.
There is some substance in this and, of course, with the public interest for Marxist ideology decreasing, and the interest for spirituality (including the Falun Gong) increasing, naturally, the fear increases. Though (religious) practice is prohibited, it is today spontaneously increasing (in spite of the ban), so it is obviously causing fear.
Some sources say the Chinese leadership has no confidence in you. Is it true?
Yes, they think I am a very cunning, a very clever man. And on top of that they believe I am colluding with the Western powers to 'split' China. (Laughs).
The Graded Path to Rumtek
Design: Dominic Xavier
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