Dalai Lama, who was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, has been living in exile in India since 1959 as his life was in danger in his homeland Tibet.

    Reading Dalai Lama’s autobiography and his speeches over the decades has been quite fascinating for me. They not only gave me some awareness of how Tibetans chose their spiritual-political leader and called him Dalai Lama but also what Tibetans went through when they were attacked by the troops of Chinese People’s Liberation Army under the leadership of Chairman Mao and one his right hand men Chou-en-Lai. Dalai Lama’s life remains intricately connected with the lives of six million Tibetans and even after decades of being in exile, there are no signs of him returning to his homeland and leading a peaceful life as the spiritual leader of his people. There is increasing fear that as more and more Chinese men and women immigrate to Tibet, a time might come that Tibetans might become a minority in their own country and a tourist attraction for the rest of the world.

                Dalai Lama had always remained peace-loving leader and has never given blessing to violence. Some Tibetans have admired that attitude while there are others who have become part of armed struggle and have joined the ranks of freedom fighters believing that the only way for Tibet to get freedom and guide their national destiny is to overthrow Chinese dominance by power. They are afraid that Dalai Lama’s peaceful policy might become suicidal and pave the way for the extinction of the whole Tibetan nation. Dalai Lama never agreed with that philosophy and politics. Being a Buddhist monk he respects life and cannot give blessing to take any human life even if it is of his enemy. Whether Tibet will ever find freedom and independence and if she does would it be more likely with peaceful means of Dalai Lama or the armed struggle of the freedom fighters, is still an open question and only time can tell us the end result? Do ends justify the means; is a profound political and philosophical question for all those people who value freedom, independence, justice and peace?

    Dear friends, I found it quite fascinating to read that Dalai Lama was chosen as the spiritual and political leader of the whole nation when he was only three as he was believed to be the re-incarnation of 13th Dalai Lama. The Regent of Tibet, who was also a monk, had seen a dream and sent a search team, which found the home and identified the child. They went back to their monastery and brought some of the belongings of the deceased Dalai Lama and showed them to the child. As the three old child saw each item, he said, “It is mine”. Rather than interpreting it that the child wanted to have those items, the spiritual research team concluded that the child had the soul of the previous Dalai Lama and recognized his own belongings. After confirming such re-incarnation they told the good news to the parents that their son was the chosen one, gave them a lot of gifts and took the child to their monastery to train him.

                Dalai Lama writes in his autobiography how traumatic it was for a small child not only to be removed from his natural environment but also from his loving parents and family. It is amazing that since the parents received a lot of wealth, they did not object to such a separation from their beloved child. Because of their faith they might have even felt blessed believing that they had given birth to a god-king, Dalai Lama.

                Dalai Lama was given the best of education by the masters in Buddhist tradition. He not only learnt to meditate but also learned astrology, medicine and philosophy. Dalai Lama was being trained to have a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle. In spite of his excellent education, he felt alone and lonely, as he was not part of a regular school system where he could play with other children. As Dalai Lama was being groomed to become the head of the state, in his neighboring country China, Mao Tse Tung was planning a revolution and after his victory Chairman Mao decided that he and his army would also liberate Tibet from its imperialist powers. Finally China decided to send her troops to Tibet and attack the country.

                Dalai Lama, as a shy and naïve teenager, had to face the responsibilities to lead his people and defend his country against the Communist invasion. Dalai Lama was aware that being Buddhists, Tibetans hated war and bloodshed and the worst profession for them was to become soldiers, as soldiers were perceived as ‘butchers’ in Tibet. They did not believe in taking any human life as they considered it to be sacred. Dalai Lama realized that he had only an army of a few thousand and had no chance to face the onslaught of Chinese army that was far superior in number and training. He wrote, “Tibet was in grave danger for our army mustered no more than 8500 officers and men. It would be no match for the recently victorious People’s Liberation Army (PLA)” (Ref 1 p 51)

                Dalai Lama was shocked when he discovered that Chinese officials had bribed his brother to ask him to surrender, and if he refused, to kill him. Dalai Lama could not believe that Chinese authorities would contemplate asking one brother killing the other. He wrote, “They had a plan whereby they would set him [Dalai Lama’s brother] free to go to Lhasa if he would undertake me to accept Chinese rule. If I resisted, he was to kill me. They would then reward him.

                ‘That was a strange proposal. First of all, the idea of killing any living creature is anathema to Buddhists. So the suggestion that he might actually assassinate the Dalai Lama for personal gain showed how little understanding the Chinese had of the Tibetan character.” (Ref 1 p 55)

    Dalai Lama tried his best to have peaceful negotiations with Chinese authorities and tried to impress upon them that Tibetans were living happily following their own culture and tradition and did not need ‘liberation’ but Chinese were insisting that they wanted to reform them and get rid of all the evils of imperialism and religion. Dalai Lama even went to Peking and met with Chairman Mao to plead his case. Mao was quite friendly and courteous and reassured Dalai Lama that he need not worry about his people as Chinese were only trying to make Tibetans better people by helping them become modern and industrialized. He even told Dalai Lama that there would be no reforms for six years. Dalai Lama was quite pleased to hear that without realizing that it was an empty promise. The forces of the revolution, like a storm, were taking over the peaceful Tibetans. Mao even shared with Dalai Lama that Buddhism and Communism were not incompatible, as Buddha also believed in ‘anti-caste, anti-corruption and anti-exploitation’ philosophy. (Ref 1 p 91)  Dalai Lama was so naïve and innocent as a teenager that he became a member of Communist Party hoping that he would find some common grounds between Buddhism and Communism. But as time passed the atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party increased and Tibetans started to suffer.

    The more the Chinese soldiers came to Tibet, the more there was shortage of food and people felt frustrated and angry. “I now see the first five or six weeks after my return to Lhasa from Dromo as a honeymoon period. It ended abruptly on 26 October 1951, when 3000 troops of the Chinese 18th Route army entered Lhasa…following the arrival of the last consignment of 20,000 troops, a serious food shortage was developing.” (Ref 1 p 73) With passage of time the conditions worsened and finally it reached a stage where Chinese army was responsible for ‘famine and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans from starvation.” (Ref 1 p 80)

                While Dalai Lama was trying peaceful means to stop the onslaught of Communism, his brother was meeting with freedom fighters that were organizing guerrilla warfare to fight with Communists and get their freedom back. As Communist party discovered those guerilla soldiers there was violent confrontation in which there was a lot of bloodshed. In the beginning guerrilla warfare had some success, but then, Chinese army overcame them. Dalai Lama shares his feelings in these words, “The Khampa/Amdowa freedom-fighters’ alliance began to have considerable success. By May/June, numerous sections of the Chinese military road had been destroyed along with great many bridges. As a result, the PLA drafted in 40,000 troop reinforcements. This is exactly what I feared. No matter how successful the resistance was, the Chinese would overcome it in the end by sheer force of numbers and superior fire-power. But I could not have predicted the aerial bombing of the monastery at Lithang in Kham. When I heard of  it, I cried. I could not believe that human beings were capable of such cruelty to each other.” (Ref 1 p 110)

    Over the years the guerrilla war escalated and there were more and more Tibetans who were inspired to become freedom fighters. They kept on disturbing Chinese army with their ambushes and there were times they were successful. ‘The Chinese panicked and started shooting wildly in all directions, killing large numbers of their own troops. Meanwhile the horsemen, having escaped across the river, turned back and, approaching from a different direction, attacked again from the flank before disappearing into the hills. I was very moved by their bravery.” (Ref 1 p 127)

    Dalai Lama did not want to be part of such violent confrontation and his peaceful negotiations with Chinese authorities were falling on deaf ears, so he decided to leave Tibet. He had met Jawarlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, during his visit to Peking and India. In the beginning Nehru had told Dalai Lama that he could not help him because India had signed an agreement with China not to interfere with the internal political battles of each other’s country. Unfortunately, Chinese authorities presented the crisis of Tibet as their internal problem. Although Tibet had gained independence in 1912 Chinese were promoting the idea in the media that Tibetans were returning to their ‘motherland’.

                In 1959, after a decade of peaceful negotiations between Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities the condition deteriorated to a point that Dalai Lama lost all hope. On the other hand freedom fighters escalated their struggle. Finally a point came when Dalai Lama decided to leave the country secretly. He was afraid his presence in the country would make the confrontation worse and there would be more deaths on both sides. Soon after he left there was more bloodshed. He wrote, “ Just over forty-eight hours after my departure, the Chinese had begun to shell the Norbulingka and to machine-gun the defenseless crowd, which was still in place. My worst fears had come true. I realized that it would be impossible to negotiate with people who behaved in this cruel and criminal fashion. “ (Ref 1 p 141). Dalai Lama kept on traveling secretly with his family, friends and disciples. Just before they reached the border of India Dalai Lama took a bold step to “announce the formation of my own Government, the only legally constituted authority in the land.” (Ref 1 p 141). Dalai Lama sent some representatives ahead of him who shared their tragedy with the Indian Government who were sympathetic to their cause and offered them asylum. Dalai Lama wrote, “..I was not safe anywhere in Tibet…the Indian Government had signaled its willingness to receive me. I was very relieved to hear that, as I had not wanted to set foot in India without permission.” (Ref 1 p 142) Dalai Lama was not only received cordially by the Government but also with affection, respect and reverence by Indians. “Thousands upon thousands of people turned out and shouted their welcome Dalai Lama Ki jai ! Dalai Lama Zinda –bad (Hail to the Dalai Lama ! Long live Dalai Lama)

    Since 1959 Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government has been in exile. Indian Prime Ministers whether Jawarlal Nehru, Lal Bahadar Shastri or Indira Gandhi, have supported Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetan refugees over the decades by providing them shelter, education and a democratic environment to live according to their religion and culture. To survive Dalai Lama had to sell all his royal assets. “At first I had it in mind to sell the treasure directly to the Indian Government, a plan proposed by Nehru himself. But my advisers were adamant that the treasure should be sold on the open market. They were certain we could get more for it that way. So it was finally disposed of in Calcutta, where it fetched what seemed to me an enormous sum, equivalent then to $8 million”. (Ref 1 p 168) Since 1959, Dalai Lama and his followers have been hoping that with international pressure they would go back to Tibet and govern and serve their country but in spite of sympathy from different parts of the world there is no clear evidence of that happening. Dalai Lama might stay in exile for a long time to come.

    While Dalai Lama is struggling outside the country there are people inside the country who also want freedom and independence for Tibet. In spite of the same destination, they have chosen different roads because of their different philosophies of political struggle, one group believes in peaceful means while the other in armed struggle. While reading about the armed struggle inside Tibet I was quite intrigued by the role America and CIA played in the guerrilla war. Dalai Lama shares, “The other episode concerned the guerrillas, trained and equipped by the CIA, who continued their struggle to regain Tibetan freedom by violent means…. the guerrillas harassed the Chinese…87,000 deaths in Lhasa during the period march 1959-September 1960)…In the end, the Americans discontinued their backing for the guerrillas following their recognition of the Chinese Government in the 1970s---which indicates that their assistance had been a reflection of their anti-communist policies rather than genuine support for the restoration of Tibetan independence.’ (Ref 1 p 192)

                On one hand Dalai Lama was impressed with the courage and determination of the freedom fighters, which were willing to sacrifice their lives for freedom and independence, but on the other hand it was in conflict with his philosophy of peace and finding resolution with dialogue. He kept quiet for a while but then felt a moral duty to request freedom fighters to put down arms and stop the armed struggle, as he did not want any bloodshed even of his enemy.

    “Although I had always admired the determination of the guerrillas, I had never been in favour of their activities and now I realized that I must intervene. I knew that the only way I could hope to make an impression on them was by making a personal appeal…”(Ref 1 p 193) Since Dalai Lama was in India and could not meet them personally, so he sent them a message asking them to ‘lay down their arms and themselves settle peacefully…” Dalai Lama later on found out that “many of the men felt that they had been betrayed…a few of their leaders actually cut their own throats rather than leave. I was distraught to hear this. Naturally, I had had mixed feelings about appealing to the freedom fighters. It seemed wrong in a way to challenge such courage, such loyalty and such love for Tibet, though I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do.” (Ref 1 p 193)

    While reading the story of Tibetan freedom fighters, it became obvious to me that although Dalai Lama is trying to increase pressure on Chinese Government through world opinion, there are others who believe that while facing Communist party they should fight fire with fire and follow Chairman Mao’s philosophy that revolution can only come from the barrel of the gun. Dalai Lama believes in gaining peaceful ends by peaceful means. Speeches of Dalai Lama remind me of the speeches of Chief Seattle and sayings of Black Elk who believed in peaceful means for Native Indians to preserve their integrity and culture but Tibetans, like Native Indians, are also worried about their future survival and afraid for the whole race to get extinct. Is it better to get extinct pursuing peaceful means or fight for one’s culture and future by armed struggle? is one of the most profound questions for any nation in particular and humanity in general.

    In the last four decades there have been more and more people who are aware of the tragedies and struggles of Tibetans but are still unsure of their future. Dalai Lama has been traveling to different parts of the world pleading the case of 6 million Tibetans. In his speech in America in 1995, he stated, “An estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of the Chinese occupation, and more than six thousand monasteries, temples, forts and other historic landmarks, the repository of our ancient civilization, have been destroyed, desecrated and plundered.” (Ref 3 )

                Dear Friends, While reading Dalai Lama’s autobiography and his speeches, there were two things that impressed me the most: his compassion for his enemies and his philosophy of peace. Dalai Lama is not only against violence, he also sees his enemies as fellow human beings and hopes and prays that they would realize what destruction they are causing by their actions and hopefully stop that one day. He believes the oppressed have to rise above the feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness and revenge to be compassionate with their enemies. That is part of his Buddhist philosophy and tradition. He prays for the same Chinese who call him “A Wolf in Monk’s Robes”. He wrote, “To engender altruism, or compassion, in myself, I practice certain mental exercises which promote love towards all sentient beings, including especially my so-called enemies. For example, I remind myself that it is the actions of human beings rather than human beings themselves that make them my enemy. Given a change of behaviour, that same person  easily become a good friend.” (Ref 1 p 207)

                For Dalai Lama peace is more than absence of war. He hopes that people from different religions and secular traditions will adopt a lifestyle that will ‘help human beings live at peace with themselves, with each other and with the environment”. In his eyes inner and outer peace, emotional and social peace, spiritual and political peace are inter-related. For our evolution as human beings we cannot choose one and ignore the other.

                As far as the future of Tibet is concerned, Dalai Lama dreams of a day when he and 100,000 other refugees would go back to Tibet and live peacefully. He would like to declare Tibet a land of Ahisma, a land of peace and non-violence, with no army on the borders with her neighbours. In his 1989 Nobel Prize speech he stated that he would like to convert “the entire Tibetan plateau into a Zone of Ahisma, a sanctuary of peace and non-violence where human beings and nature can live in peace and harmony.” (Ref 2)

                Dalai Lama is hoping that human beings would learn from their past mistakes and experiences and find constructive ways to resolve personal, social, political and international conflicts. In his speech in Prague in 1997 he said, “ In some ways the 20th century can be called the century of war and bloodshed. The challenge before us, therefore, is to make the next century, a century of dialogue and of peaceful co-existence.” (Ref 4 )

    It is obvious that Dalai Lama wants a peaceful resolution and all the peace loving people admire his courage and determination but the final question is

    Is it realistic for a nation to win freedom without armed struggle? Nehru had made a profound statement to Dalai Lama.  He said, “You say you want independence and in the same breath you say you do not want bloodshed. Impossible! “(Ref 1 p 147)…On the other hand if peace is won after a lot of bloodshed is it worth it. Revolutionaries like Mandela and Castro say it is worth it, while peace loving people like Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu say it is not?

                After going to exile Dalai Lama has been delivering a speech on 10th of March every year. In his 2000 statement on the 41st anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising he stated that ‘ the worldwide support for our cause is increasing” (Ref 5)

    Dear Friends, Let us hope that one day Dalai Lama and his peace-loving followers would meet their freedom fighter brothers and sisters in Lhasa to celebrate their independence the same way Desmund Tutu, who believed in peaceful methods embraced freedom fighter Nelson Mandela who believed in armed struggle, in Cape Town, South Africa, and celebrated their freedom.                                                          

    Sep 2003 


    1. Dalai Lama
                Freedom In Exile
                            Harper Perennial Canada 1990
    2. Dalai Lama
    His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech
    University Aula, Oslo, 10 December 1989
    3. Dalai Lama
    Statement by His Holiness the X1V Dalai Lama on His Visit to the United States, September 1995
    4. Dalai Lama
    Speech of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the “Forum 2000” Conference
    Prague, Czech Republic, 3-7 September 1997
    5 Dalai Lama
    The Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the 41st Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising day on 10, March 2000