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Trouble In Tibet

Trouble In Tibet

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The Dalai Lama. Giulio Napolitano/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Giulio Napolitano/AFP/Getty Images

In 1997, Martin Scorsese released Kundun, a biopic about the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. (I was one of a handful of people who saw it, I think; the movie wasn't a commercial success.) The plot is mostly chronological. We follow the Dalai Lama from his birth and discovery to India, where has lived in exile since 1959, after the Tibetan National Uprising. In that quarter century he became a political figure when the Dalai Lama was called upon to lead Tibet. In 1954 he traveled to Beijing to meet with Mao Tse-tung. Since then, he has traveled the world, lobbying for a solution to the disagreement between the Tibetan people and China over their homeland. One of his three commitments is to "the Tibetan issue," as he calls it.

His Holiness has a responsibility to act as the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice. As far as this third commitment is concerned, it will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and Chinese.

In the last few week, tensions and violence in China have showed us (as much as we've been able to see) how strong the disagreement over the territory is. (Very few Western journalists have been able to enter Tibet.) An estimated 150 people died in protests, which resulted in some 400 arrests.

In our second hour, we'll get an update on the political and social situation in Tibet as we get nearer and nearer to the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. And we'll try to find out more about who the Dalai Lama is as a religious and political leader. We'll talk with Pico Iyer, who wrote The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. An excerpt from his book, with some beautiful photographs by James Nachtwey, is available here. Iyer has known the Dalai Lama for more than 30 years. If you have a question for him, please leave it here.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

What is going to happen when the Dalai Lama passes away? Are any plans in place or are the Chinese simply going to choose their own, like they did with the Panchen Lama?

Sent by Sam Roberts | 3:13 PM | 3-31-2008

I know the Dalai Lama has a commitment to non-violence, but I have recently heard him admit to eating animal flesh, including veal. Given the violent nature of eating meat in the industrialized world, I was wondering how he reconciles his decision to eat animals.

Sent by Campbell | 3:23 PM | 3-31-2008

It is difficult presenting an issue objectively when the NPR has all but presumed the Dali Lama to be the rightful "spiritual" and "political" leader of Tibet - when complex socioeconomic issues are trivialized simplistically as "Tibetans" vs. "Chinese" - and when A broad outpouring of suppressed fury is always assumed, with the Dali Lama depicted as in the "right" and the Chinese gov't depicted as the "oppressor."

Sent by Allen Yu | 3:30 PM | 3-31-2008

Could someone please explain why Tibet was invaded; and how this all started?

Sent by jm fay | 3:31 PM | 3-31-2008

I would like to hear what are the Dali Lamas thoughts on the tragic results of the American invasion of Iraq?

Sent by Jerry Loranger | 3:32 PM | 3-31-2008

The core issue here is that the Tibetan people are not happy under the Chinese rule. China is like the bully and we should not forget it. China is also trying to have both ways. If China wants the respect that it so desire in the world arena, it should try to practise the basic human rights, respected and upheld around the globe. Sheer force and intimidation can not change people's mind. Empire's have come and gone, China's turn to fall is round the corner.I hope that the Chinese leader's will come to their sense and act with cautious and restraint with the peaceful Tibetan demonstrator. They are only just asking human right and return of Dalai Lama to Tibet. May peace Prevail every where.

Sent by Chemay & Tsering | 5:02 PM | 3-31-2008

Other than the eating violence suggested in this blog, I think the Dalai Lama is mostly insulated. My understanding is that throughout history the Dalai Lama has been insulated from the violence monks and other Tibetans have used to 1) control the population in Lhasa (for allegiance and tribute), and 2) wage war on neighbors.

[To my knowledge, Tibet has never been ???democratic.???]

Btw, quite a one-sided, pro-Tibetan independence approach to this topic by NPR.

Sent by Tom | 5:06 PM | 3-31-2008

If he is a good person, why he use different word to make an annoucement:'An Appeal to the Chinese People' to cheat international society?
The English version is as following:
"I believed that this would best serve the long-term interests of both the Tibetan and Chinese peoples."
However, chinese version is "I believed that this would best serve the long-term interests of both the Tibetan and Han peoples". (note: Han means Han race)Please give me a reseable explaination.

Sent by vivienne | 9:31 PM | 3-31-2008

I am a Tibetan man, and I want my Chinese brothers and sisters read this article.

Sent by Lobsang | 12:54 AM | 4-1-2008

to know more about Tibet and its people, please visit

Sent by nyim | 1:19 AM | 4-1-2008

Dear Camphell,

Tibetan diet consist of meat as Tibet is situated at very high altitude of over 12000 feet msl. Most of valley are higher the many peaks in north America. Very little vegetation and plant can grow in Tibet. For thousands of years Tibetan have been eating meat for survival even before Buddhism came to Tibet.

Sent by Ngawang Pema | 1:33 AM | 4-1-2008

I am a frequent listener of NPR and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with regard to NPR's coverage of the recent events in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. Virtually all points of view presented on NPR came from the supporters of Dalai Lama and his followers. There has been no presentation from the other side of the dispute. After all, there are a good number of non-Tibetan Chinese scholars and experts who live in the west that have intimate knowledge and personal experience with Tibet. NPR's coverage of Tibet is like China's official coverage of Tibet in the sense that only one side's point of view is presented whereas the other side's point of view is completely ignored.

Sent by David | 12:17 PM | 4-1-2008

To be fair to NPR, I must also point out that its policy differs a great deal from China's state media in the sense that NPR frequently posts it listeners criticism and complaint whereas China's state media rarely allows such posting.

Sent by David | 1:16 PM | 4-1-2008

I am not surprised to see NPR is doing the one side of PR. Just like quite a lot people who didn't realize abc news, CNN news, are using quite a lot pictures showing Napal policemen dealing with protest, referring to the Chinese. I guess we just cannot distinguish Chinese from Napal or Indian police and are played as a fool by the media like quite a lot hot topics here. I feel shamed for the journalists who have no moral in their profession to manipulate with the news. That is not called the freedom of speech. That is called corruption.

Sent by Ted | 7:00 PM | 4-1-2008

To Jim: Google the map of Qing Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, you will see Tibet is always part of China

Sent by Su | 11:00 PM | 4-1-2008

I can understand why Beijing still insists on Dalai giving up on independence not only in words but more importantly, in action.

Dalai says "No independence", his followers shout "Free Tibet";

He says "autonomy", his followers shout "China out of Tibet";

He says "support Olympics", his followers shout "Boycott Olympics";

He says "non-violence", while his followers were looting and killing in Lhasa, and charging Chinese embassies abroad.

Even though Dalai said those words, but he didn't mean it and his followers understand that, the Beijing leadership understand that too.

Right after the worst rioting happened on March 14th, Dalai said he would "not stop the protesting" in Tibet. Clearly he's either been insincere along, or unable or unwilling to influence his followers. In either case, he doesn't make a good negotiation partner.

The Chinese aren't fools, least President Hu and Premier Wen.

Sent by Bingster | 2:26 AM | 4-2-2008

I heard Dalai Lama is a Live God in Tibetan Buddist religion, worshiped by a Tibetan Buddist Branch. Everything from him even his excrement are sanctified and eaten by his followers. To Christian religion, he is definite a fake God, can Christian bow to him and support him? He may be wrapped well with all the shinny coat, but he is still a fake God!

Sent by Yeshe | 2:43 PM | 4-2-2008

Yeshe-Christianity is NOT the only religion on Earth. Not eveyone on the planet believes in it. Also,even if you don't particularly care for Bhuddist philosophy,the Dalai Lama himself is still an interesting and well spoken man. Every answer I've heard him give to questions in interviews has been insightful and filled with wisdom. My favorite,though,was when Micheal Palin spoke with him on his travel show about the Himilayas several years ago. Palin seemed to bring out a less serious side,and the Dalai Lama actually joked around a bit with him.

Sent by P Miller | 11:47 PM | 4-2-2008

It is scary to see how much dalai lama resemble osama bin laden in a way. Both used religions as their main source of power.

Sent by Lilith | 4:02 AM | 4-3-2008

Dalai Lama used to treat his servants like dogs and pigs when he ruled Tibet before 1959. Under his rule poor people
had no rights at all, and some were even killed live by pilling their skins. Do we want these happen again in Tibet? I am sorry that he is on the wrong side of history.

Sent by Nathan | 5:18 AM | 4-11-2008

A lot of the comments here do not make any sense.

Nathan: No one is promoting a return to such primitive conditions. The Dalai Lama has said the next leader should be elected democratically.

Lilith: That makes as much sense as saying Chairman Mao is like Hitler because they were both rulers of nations. I don't see the Dalai Lama encouraging the mass slaughter of "infidels" that don't accept his point of view.

Yeshe: There may be a problem with translation. A buddha is not a "God" (especially a capital-G God). Look up the term Bodhisattva, who is said to return to life again and again for the benefit of all.

Bingster: If the Dalai Lama says something and someone ignores his advice they can't be much of a "follower".

It seems most of these comments are spouting the Chinese nonsense about the Dalai Lama and the "Dalai-clique" (I am still not sure what that means. Maybe the millions of people world-wide who agree with what he says?)

Maybe this should be called "Blog of the World" because anyone from anywhere can comment? If people gave their real names would the names on these comments be in Chinese?

Sent by Tim W. | 11:37 AM | 4-16-2008

Your comment does not make sense.
The Tibetan government in exile is not a secret organization.
The purpose of his organization is not destruction, killing and violence.
The Dalai Lama does not need to hide.
The real source of his power is compassion.

As I understand it, the peaceful protests became violent because of the reaction of the Chinese police using force to put down any form of protest.

The Dalai Lama in no way supports such violence, and has advocated understanding and reconciliation in the face of the brutal killing of innocent Tibetan people.

What is more "scary" to me is that someone would even think of such a comparison.

Sent by Tim W. | 6:04 AM | 4-17-2008

what did dali lama do.
thats all i wont too no

Sent by simone | 5:33 AM | 6-16-2008