Dalai Lama back in public eye, prepares for first tour outside Dharamsala since 2020

Buddhist monk-turned-globetrotting icon of peace, the Dalai Lama, the face of Buddhism for 60 years, last week encouraged the audience to pledge that from today they would do no harm but would only offer help to others.

After a long hiatus, the Dalai Lama started his frequent live public appearances at the Tsuglagkhang, the main temple close to his residence, for delivering a public talk on topics close to his heart, teaching and participating in religious activities.

His Holiness on March 18 made his first public appearance since leaving Bodh Gaya in January 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

“His Holiness will certainly start travelling abroad, but no plans at the moment,” a spokesman told IANS, saying the 86-year-old pontiff has been invited to several countries but he has cut down public engagements owing to the pandemic.

“In July, he is making a trip to Ladakh,” the spokesman, said, adding, “this will be his first public visit out of Dharamsala since the pandemic outbreak”.

Amidst the pandemic, the spiritual leader, who loves to explain that science and faith can co-exist, had granted teachings and accepted talk invitations virtually only.

In 2021, the Dalai Lama, who is known worldwide as a statesman, spiritual teacher and theologian, had no public events, while it was just one in 2020, nine in 2019, 10 in 2018 and nine in 2017.

In 2018, the Dalai Lama, feted alike by influential people like Barack Obama, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Richard Gere, had public events in seven countries, with five in 2017 and 12 in 2016.

But foreign leaders do make the pilgrimage to visit him amidst the pandemic, as US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Uzra Zeya, did in May at his official residence in McLeodganj — a small and quaint hill station in the suburbs of this northern hill town of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh close to the border with his homeland Tibet.

On his first public appearance, His Holiness remarked: “I had thought to go to Delhi around now to have a medical check-up. However, I don’t feel unwell, in fact I feel fit for anything, so I decided not to go.”

“Usually, during the winter, I go to Bodh Gaya, but again, this year I decided to relax and take things easy here in Dharamsala.”

According to a post on his office’s website, the Dalai Lama gives teachings throughout the year at various times and in different places.

His Holiness also gives public talks. In India, teachings and public talks are usually free and open to the public. However, to attend teachings and public talks outside of India one is usually required to purchase a ticket. The proceeds from the ticket sales are used to cover the costs of the venue and other expenses related to his visit.

His teachings at the main Tibetan temple in Dharamsala several times a year are officially translated into several languages, including English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi and Japanese on FM channels.

In 1967, the Nobel Peace Laureate made his first visits abroad since going into exile, visiting Japan and Thailand. In 1973, he made his first visit to the West, visiting 12 European countries in a record 75 days. His first visit to the Americas was to the US and Canada in 1979.

Officials of the Dalai Lama’s office say the spiritual guru visits places only on invitation. These include invitations for various religious, social and cultural events.

And he prefers visiting universities and educational institutions to speak on peace, non-violence, environment, promoting human values and Buddhism.

What is a Dalai Lama?

As per his office’s website, the Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.

The present Dalai Lama, who along with many of his supporters fled his Himalayan homeland and took refuge in India when Chinese troops moved in and took control of Lhasa in 1959, believes in three commitments: The promotion of inner values as the source of real happiness, the fostering of inter-religious harmony, as exemplified in India, and the preservation of Tibet’s language, culture and environment.

He believes in a ‘middle-way’ approach, meaning greater autonomy for Tibet rather than outright independence.

Beijing regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous “splittist”, or separatist, and frowns on any engagement with him.

A representative from the spiritual leader told IANS that since George H.W. Bush (1991), the Dalai Lama has met all the US Presidents, including Barack Obama on four occasions: February 18, 2010, July 16, 2011, February 21, 2014, and June 15, 2016.

Likewise, he met Bill Clinton and George W. Bush several times.

Every time the meetings prompted a sharp reaction from the Chinese government.

The 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, in a small village in the remote Amdo region of Tibet.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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