ON THE WEB, 1 July 2015
6 July is the official birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, referred to as Kundun by Tibetans. The mega- celebration of his 80th birthday has already begun, and continues across the continents in different forms including offering of long-life prayers (Tenshug) by Tibetans and non-Tibetans. The Himalayan Buddhist Culture Association, representing people from different Himalayan regions, will offer Tenshug on 20 July in Dharamshala. This year, during one of the Tenshug ceremonies in Dharamsala, Kundun again confirmed that he will live another 20-plus years, which is great news for his followers.
On 16 March 2011 in Dharamshala, after a morning sermon to Buddhists from Thailand, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma, Kundun in an hour-long interview to Suthichai Yoon said “Forty years ago there, I was predicted to live to 113. One Tibetan writing dating back 100 years describes a person in today’s world who will live through 113 years. That person is thought to be me because I share his qualities. In my dreams, I am 113 years old. I’m quite sure of my age. You can extend your life. I’ll live long enough to see a free Tibet in my lifetime. If I’m still alive then, I’ll choose the next Dalai Lama on my own.”
Can the Communist Party of China survive another 30-35 years to continue preventing Kundun from visiting China and Tibet? This is a real challenge to the Communist leadership. China today is considered a middle-income country, and its rapid growth over the decades has pulled hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty, which also means from Communism to their traditional root in Buddhism. These days already 80% to 90% of Chinese identify with Buddhism as one of the several faith traditions they observe. Some recent studies indicate that as much as 98% of Chinese consider themselves as Buddhists, but indicate that they also subscribe to several other Chinese spiritual traditions.
Whether China wants it or not, Kundun will reincarnate and China has to wait. It will be too naive to think that the Chinese Communist autocracy will survive the winds of democracy that long. Nowhere in the world has a Leninist party retained its power after the economy ceased to be state-directed. One of the greatest spectacles that the world will witness, sooner or later, will be when Kundun actually sets foot on Chinese soil and meets one billion Buddhists in China, including 6 million Tibetans. This then will be the real greatest show on earth, the “Brilliant Civilization” and “Glorious Era” (slogans used during the 2008 Beijing Olympic celebration). The Buddhist philosophy of impermanence is an eternal truth, and cannot be wished away however powerful one may be. Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that we’d only be talking about five states that have any official adherence to communism? Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that it would be China to take trade and commerce to the world outside and not Marxism? It’s all happened so very, very quickly.
While mentioning the achievements of Kundun, we often take things for granted, and forget to mention some contributions that have far-reaching effects. One of his greatest achievements, I believe, is the practical implementation, as “universal responsibility”, of the ancient Indian philosophy Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, that the whole world is one family, sharing and loving.
Hinduism and Buddhism
Kundun’s visit to the Kumbha Mela in 2001 was the beginning of a coming together of India’s two great indigenous spiritual traditions so that both Buddhism and Hinduism can flourish side-by-side in the land of their birth. In fact during the Kumbha Mela, according to sources, for the first time three Shankracharyas met physically, when they all came to see Kundun. Following that visit there have been regular interactions in private and public with respected Hindu spiritual leaders such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, Swami Prakasananda of Sree Narayan Dharma Sanghom Trust, Dada JP Vaswani, 105-year-old Swami Shivakumara ji, and many others. Never before have such gatherings happened.
Science and Buddhism
Bringing the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism out from the cocoons of the Tibetan monasteries and initiating a dialogue with cognitive scientists of the West in 1987 was a major challenge, especially when religion itself was branded by some westerners as “unscientific” and by communists as “poison”. While the wisdom of both Buddha and science aspire to understand the true reality of nature, the former believes in training the mind and the later believes in providing mankind with material comfort. After 28 years of constant engagement and discussions with physicists, psychologists, brain scientists and clinicians, and philosophers, Buddhism is getting accepted the world over as the way of life of intelligent people in the third millennium. Today both Buddhist and scientist believe that their knowledge is necessary for the well-being of human beings. Kundun brought them together.
Leader of the Tibetan people
As political leader of the Tibetan people, when Kundun came to exile one of the first things he did was unite the people of the three regions of Tibet. The inconvenient truth is that prior to the occupation of Tibet by China in 1949, Tibet was not a united country. Some writers make a difference between the political Tibet (today’s so-called TAR) being the area under administration of the Gaden Phodrang, and ethnographic Tibet consisting of the frontiers between China and Tibet (the east side of the Drichu river), which was dominated by chieftains and warlords, sometimes in zones of conflicting interests.
On 3 February 1960, high-ranking personnel and spiritual masters from across the Tibetan areas, civil servants of the Tibetan government, and leaders of Chushi Gangdruk who had fled into exile, all assembled at Bodh Gaya, India, and took the Oath of Allegiance called “Na-gan Thuwoche”, affirming the unity of all the Tibetans under the leadership of Kundun. This was a historic moment and today’s spirit of Middle-way policy of the exile administration is a reflection of that affirmation and the pragmatic policy. The Middle-way approach towards dealing with Tibet’s situation has brought the Chinese and the Tibetan people closer and put the CPC rulers on the defensive side.
Different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, plus Bonpo
Another inconvenient truth, prior to the occupation of Tibet by China, was the factionalism between different schools of Buddhism. Kundun’s singular effort to bring all the schools of Buddhism together including the pre-Buddhist tradition of Bonpo is a historic achievement. The 12th Conference of all the heads of Tibetan Buddhism including Bonpo, held with great success in Dharamshala this year, is a living testimony of harmony.
Another historic step has been the unanimous condemnation of Dholgyal worship by all the heads of Tibetan Buddhism during the 12th Conference in June in Dharamshala. Dholgyal followers are often seen leading anti-Dalai Lama protests in the West, which is seen as an attempt to create disunity in Tibetan Buddhism.
In his lifetime Siddhartha Gautama Buddha extended his influence throughout the four kingdoms of Kapilavastu, Magadha, Vesali, and Kosala. Guru Padmasambhava, the second Buddha, as he is generally known in Tibetan Buddhism, extended his influence within the borders of northern India, then to the kingdoms of Sikkim, Nepal, and Tibet, and to what is today’s kingdom of Bhutan.
The occupation of Tibet by China has made Kundun into a global leader with influence in 65 countries and awards of honorary doctorates from almost all the major universities, as well as citizenship and peace awards. And the tradition of honouring Kundun has not stopped. Kundun will soon set a new Guiness world record for the highest number of awards/honours received by an individual in his lifetime, if he has not already. His influence transcends all geographical borders and he is today the true messenger of Buddha, a living Buddha, a Yug Purush of this millennium.
About the author
Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar is a former senior civil servant of the Government of Sikkim, and Regional coordinator of the Conservancy for Trans-Himalayan Arts and Culture (CTAC). He can be reached at [email protected]