He’s the exiled leader of Tibet, and in the West his pacifist teachings have come to symbolise wisdom in the face of brutality. On the eve of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Scotland, we invite experts on China and Tibet to assess his importance, starting with Kate Saunders, who met him in India.
s our taxi rattles up the steep dtrsty roads of llirnachal Pradesh. India. past stalls selling fresh mangoes and water-melons. Joanna Lumlcy is sitting next to me
talking about her personal connection with Tibet. Iler
grandfather. (‘olonel Leslie Weir. worked as a British trade agent in the town of (iyantse. west ofTibet‘s capital. Lhasa. at the time of the Raj in India.
‘I wonder if the Dalai Lama has seen .-l/rsolulr'/y Iii/minus] I muse to Lumlcy. We are on our way to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader who is revered by millions the world over as the incarnation of (‘henresig. the bodhisattva of compassion. ‘You know. I rather hope he hasn‘t.’ says Lumlcy. ‘It just might convey the wrong impression.‘
This meeting is to he the fullilment of a long-held dream for Lumlcy. who has supported various I'K—based Tibet charities. notably the I‘ree Tibet Campaign. for many years.
Lumlcy"s grandfather. who learnt Tibetan and studied Buddhism. became close to the previous incarnation of the Dalai Lama. the 13th. advising him on how to prevent (‘hinese incursions into Tibet. Lumley's grandparents were among the first Westerners to visit the 'I'orbiddcn (‘ity. of Lhasa. Tibet's capital. At the time of (‘ol Weir‘s posting in the Ilirnalayas. Tibet was regarded by Britain as de facto independent. until
the invasion of Tibet in I‘)—l‘)-—-5() following the foundation of
the People‘s Republic of (‘hina by Mao Zedong. Tibet has been under (‘hinesc control ever since. The l4th Dalai Lama. Ten/in (iyatso. is a spiritual leader with a complex political role at a time when the fate of his homeland hangs in the balance. In the last year and a half. the Dalai Lama's envoys
14 THE LIST 2" Ma,
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have visited (‘hina and Tibet. breaking more than a decade of diplomatic stalemate between the (‘omrnunist Party leadership in Beijing and the Dalai Lama in exile. At the time of writing. the Tibetan government in exile was waiting to hear whether a third visit would take place.
At the gates of the Dalai Lama's temple. we are instructed to leave our mobile phones and cameras with Indian security personnel and Tibetan officials. and are led tip a steep incline bordered by orange and yellow flowers. We are escorted into the Dalai Lama's presence in a simple room. adorned by a golden Buddha at a shrine. Tibetan religious paintings and a large map of Tibet.
The l-lth Dalai Lama. Ten/in (iyatso. whose title means ‘()cean of Wisdom’ in Mongolian. may be regarded by millions as a divine being. but he is no ethereal figure. This incarnation of the bodhissatva has the energy and build of a man rntrch younger than his ()8 years.
Lumlcy tells the Dalai Lama about her grandfather‘s friendship with his previous incarnation. She says: ‘I know that if my grandfather was still alive today. he would be very sad about the Chinese repression in Tibet —- and ashamed that Britain stood by and did nothing when (‘hina invaded. Now that you are coming to the [K in May. what are your hopes today of the British gmernment'."
The Dalai Lama tells us: 'My visit to the [K is spiritual. of course. and there is some renewal of contact with otrr supporters in Parliament. and Prince (‘harles [a close friend of the Dalai Lama]. Right now we need support from the West. but we are turning our faces towards Peking. If you look at the situation of