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SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 12

LHASA: A Spiritual Leader Flees His Homeland, 1959
Long Trek to Exile For Tibet's Apostle

Department of Information & International Relations/Tibetan Government in Exile
The Dalai Lama and escorts en-route to India.
As a child, I spent a lot of time in Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace in Lhasa. It was very pleasant there, and I was very happy. I remember everything was fresh, calm and peaceful. There were lots of flowers. But when I remember these things, it makes me very sad to realize that it has all changed. Even if I were to return, all of that is permanently gone. It has been destroyed. Older Tibetans used to say that the communists were destroyers of dharma (divine law). Perhaps, in the end, they were right.

I was very young when I first heard the word "communist." The 13th Dalai Lama had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member.

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Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.

Instead, the Chinese communists brought Tibet a so-called "liberation." These people were not implementing true Marxist policy. If they had been, national boundaries would not be important to them. They would have worried about helping humanity. Instead, the Chinese communists carried out aggression and suppression in Tibet. Whenever there was opposition, it was simply crushed. They started destroying monasteries and killing and arresting lamas.

In the beginning, I had hoped that we could still find a peaceful solution. I even went to China to meet Chairman Mao. We had several good meetings. In 1955, as I was returning from China, I met a Chinese gentleman along the way. He was returning from Tibet. I recall telling him sincerely, "While I was coming on this road to China, I was full of suspicion. Now I am coming back, full of hope." But soon, that disappeared.

Until the summer of 1956, the Chinese had some level of trust in me. Then I had the opportunity to visit India to take part in the Buddha Jayanti ceremony to celebrate the Buddha's birthday. I wanted to visit the sacred land of Buddhism, but the Chinese authorities were against my leaving Tibet. I decided to go anyway. In India, I met many of the country's leaders and freedom fighters. I was very happy. But in one way, I think, that visit spoiled my good relations with China.

Trouble had already started inside Tibet. There was open revolt and bloodshed. It spread from village to village. While I was in India, some of my officials advised me to remain and take care of the freedom movement from India.

Another group, including Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, advised me to return. He said it is better to struggle from within Tibet.

I met Premier Zhou Enlai in New Delhi. He was very suspicious. One of his entourage came to Hyderabad House where I was staying in Delhi and told me, "If a lion remains in the mountain, he is a lion. If a lion goes down into the plains, he is a dog." He was warning me. Zhou promised that China's reforms in Tibet would be postponed for six years. And even after that, if people were not happy, they could be postponed further. I consulted the state oracles. Finally I decided. In an atmosphere full of suspicion, full of mistrust, we returned to Tibet.

By then the crisis had spread inside the autonomous region. Things were becoming very serious. When the Chinese came to receive me in Lhasa, they said that I should tell my people not to join the rebels. It was very difficult. On one side there were the Tibetans who were at the end of their tolerance and patience. On the other, the Chinese attitude had hardened--even toward me, personally. Month by month, the possibility of a Tibetan clash with the Chinese authorities was increasing. In 1957-58, I devoted myself to academics. I finished my final examination in religious studies in 1959. By then the crisis had almost reached Lhasa. I had to leave. Accompanied only by my closest advisers and my immediate family, I began my journey into exile. We had to cross high passes and cope with blizzards. By the time we reached the border, we were exhausted and sick with fever and dysentery. I was too ill even to ride a horse. I was put on the broad back of a hybrid yak to be carried out of my native land.

For the past 40 years we have lived as a refugee community. That is very sad. I always notice that people who come from Tibet, despite all the suffering, have cheeks that are bright red. But although we Tibetans in India have complete freedom, our faces are yellow. We miss our climate. But spiritually and mentally, we are very happy. We have been successful in showing the truth of the Tibetan cause to everyone, including many Chinese intellectuals, thinkers and writers. Tibetans are scattered all over the world--in India, America, Australia and Europe. We have been fortunate. Wherever we go, smiles and goodwill surround us.

Because we are refugees, we have also had a lot of contact with the outside world. The concept of Tibet has become much clearer. Earlier, partly because of Chinese propaganda and also because we were so isolated, people thought of Tibet as a mysterious Shangri-La. Now, after 40 years, that misconception has been cleared. Since we are all struggling together, there is much more unity among Tibetans. Earlier, people living in different areas did not have a sense of national unity. It is much better now because we are all together. Tibet has also become much less conservative. Old Tibet was very backward in its customs and habits. But Tibetan masters had very sharp minds when it came to the preservation and propagation of Buddhism. They were always creating new commentaries and books to clarify the essence of the religion. As a refugee community, we have been able to continue our Tibetan study. The purer form of Tibetan culture and Buddhist teachings is now available only outside Tibet.

That is why I still have hope. The Chinese people, too, have a rich culture and a long history. For thousands of years the Tibetans and the Chinese have lived side by side. Sometimes there were very happy moments. Sometimes there were very difficult moments. But one day, they will see that my middle approach will bring us all genuine stability and unity. I am sure that a day when good things, full of friendship, mutual respect and helping each other, will come. Then we will go back. But even if I return, I may not remain. For the rest of my life, I want to travel around like a beggar. I have received many invitations. Monks come here from monasteries all over Tibet, and they invite me to come and stay with them. But I feel it's better just to visit these places. So I will wander about. And from time to time, I will even come back to see my friends outside Tibet. Some genuine friendships have developed during this very difficult period. That is really precious. I want to keep these friendships till my death.

The 14th Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in Dharamsala, India, is spiritual leader of the Tibetans

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