Dalai Lama: Committed To Promoting Human Value Though many around the world revere him, Chinese officials regard the Dalai Lama as a separatist. But the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader says he is committed to the promotion of human value and religious harmony. He shared this and other views with NPR's Renee Montagne on Saturday.
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Dalai Lama: Committed To Promoting Human Value

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Dalai Lama: Committed To Promoting Human Value

Dalai Lama: Committed To Promoting Human Value

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Whenever the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, comes to the West, his trips are fraught with political implications.


That's because China, which claims Tibet as part of its territory, is especially sensitive to Western leaders greeting the Dalai Lama as a political leader.

MONTAGNE: So, when he met last week with President Obama, the White House was careful to describe it as a meeting with a religious leader. But that didn't stop China from lashing out at a man that they've called a wolf in monk's robes -and warning of possible negative consequences, suggesting a spring meeting with Chinese Premier could be cancelled.

INSKEEP: Now, part of what exiled Tibetans are asking for is what the Dalai Lama calls The Middle Way. That's a measure of political autonomy and greater protection for Tibet's culture and religion.

Yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles, the Dalai Lama spoke to thousands of admirers about what he calls the Buddhist way.

MONTAGNE: He was the guest of a group called Whole Child International, which works with orphanages to foster more nurturing environments for institutionalized children. It's something the Dalai Lama has experience with, though in his case, the institution was a grand palace outside Tibet's traditional capital, Lhasa.

When I joined him, he sat cross-legged on a chair, arranged his saffron robes around him and leaned back, happy to share some memories from his childhood.

You were enthroned when you were four years old, away from your family, your mother and your father, for most of the time. And while you were attended to and revered, in a way, your story sounds almost like a childhood spent without parents. But I know your mother was very close to you. And I'm wondering, 'cause I think people don't quite realize that she was even there. What was she able to give to you?

His Holiness TENZIN GYATSO (14th Dalai Lama of Tibet): Actually, I came from central Tibet at the age of four. My mother, not with mother together, but daytime, my mother always used to come. Then some months I lived in Potala.

MONTAGNE: Potala Palace.

DALAI LAMA: Potala Palace. Then my mother lived in town.


DALAI LAMA: Yes. Big distance but occasionally my mother come. But however, my childhood, like any other child, I loved play. I very much reluctant for study.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DALAI LAMA: Only play, play. No other small children, but adult people, including those sweepers.

MONTAGNE: The sweepers, like the people who are sweeping outside the palace?

DALAI LAMA: Yes. And also gardener. Of course, they put me on throne or high seat. But besides that, they play with me very equally. Sometimes they found defeat me.

MONTAGNE: Defeated in, like, a game?


(Soundbite of laughter)

DALAI LAMA: Sometimes even I cry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: And this playtime with the workers around the palace who treated him like they might have their own children gave the young Dalai Lama, he says, a sense of the home that he had lost. And he laughed, that losing at games also taught him a key tenet of Buddhism - humility.

From his mother, he learned a different lesson. This peasant woman, elevated to the mother of a holy being, as he remembers it, always shown brightly as a beacon of compassion. Her first impulse was to help anyone in need.

Do you think you would've been a different person in the world if your childhood had had less love and affection? Do you think you would be different?

DALAI LAMA: That I dont know. Of course, generally speaking, the affection at young age, compassionate atmosphere, is very, very essential. Of course, my family, my mother, a villager, had no education - was illiterate but very kind, very, very kind mother - to anybody. So, that's how I feel, fortunate, very fortunate, to see that compassion come from my mother. There's no question.

MONTAGNE: Tibetans in northwest China, this past week, near where you born, set off fireworks to celebrate your visit with President Obama. How much is the future of Tibet riding on a meeting like that?

DALAI LAMA: Of course, initially they a little bit sort of excited. I don't know. Not only Tibetan but also number of Chinese also I think feel happy. Then, of course, official level - inside what is that real feeling, Chinese, Chinese come - they have to express negatively.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Which they did. They expressed a great deal of negativity. When the president was making his first official presidential visit to China last fall, he did not meet with you in a visit where he could have. At the time, you said publicly that you supported his decision.

DALAI LAMA: Yes. I know his thinking, naturally, if before that meeting if our meeting take place, then Chinese may (unintelligible). So, (unintelligible) postponed, and he can engage more effectively.

MONTAGNE: With China.

DALAI LAMA: That's our opinion.

MONTAGNE: And of course in January, under some pressure from the Obama administration, China resumed talks with representatives of Tibet.

DALAI LAMA: Yes. That means our contact still continue. I think my whole case, my daily life, almost 90 percent spent on spiritual things.

MONTAGNE: Spiritual.

DALAI LAMA: Promotion of religious harmony, that's all my life, 'til my death.

MONTAGNE: You're 74 going on 75, and I gather that you are openly talking about the succession, the 15th Dalai Lama, whoever he or she might be. There are fears that China would choose their own candidate. What would be your preference of how this comes about?

DALAI LAMA: Ultimately, up to the people. I make clear. Whether this very institution should continue or not.

MONTAGNE: The very institution of the Dalai Lama.

DALAI LAMA: Yeah. If the majority of the Tibetan people feel the Dalai Lama institution is no longer much relevant, then this institution would cease. That's no problem. It looks as the Chinese more concerned about this institution than me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Of course, at this moment in history, the majority of the Tibetan people have made it clear they very much do want the institution of the Dalai Lama to continue, which is likely to keep the man revered by millions as His Holiness traveling the world for some time to come.

The 14th Dalai Lama spoke to us here in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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