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Dalai Lama, Bush and Nancy Pelosi
The Dalai Lama is arguably the world’s longest ruling ruler. He took spiritual power when he was four in 1939 and temporal political power in Tibet when he was 16 in 1950 and is still regarded by many Tibetans as their leader. Even today, from far away India, without the of use of traditional media, the Dalai Lama is able to issue orders and requests and have them immediately acted on in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama won 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, which helped focus international attention on the Tibetan cause. The Dalai Lama's efforts has helped reframe the Tibetan struggle from a regional problem in a remote part of the world into a moral and ethical issue worthy of international attention because of the injustices and human rights violation that have been committed in Tibet. But looked at in another way, the Dalai Lama has received awards and recognition but has made little progress in solving the Tibet problem.

The Dalai Lama has been steadfast in his commitment to non-violent protest. He promotes the “middle way” and encourages protesters to be “practical.” In 1969, he said: “In Buddhism, you should not mind those who make you angry. You should love those people who irritate you because they are your gurus. In that sense the Chinese are our gurus." In 1997, the Dalai Lama said: “It is my belief that the lack of understanding of the true cause of happiness is the principal reason why people inflict suffering on others.”

The Dalai Lama has said that he never is involved in exile Tibet elections. He told the Yomiuri Shimbun , “If I favor one person, then I think many people go that way, so it would not be pure democratic...It is entirely up to the Tibetan people. Political leadership is quite well-established, so its not my concern.”

As a political leader the Dalai Lama’s job was mostly ceremonial. He signed resolutions, swore in the cabinet and occasionally attended parliament. Despite 50 years of lobbying, the Dalai Lama has little to show for his efforts yet he has prevented Tibetans from being forgotten or ignored like other ethnic groups such as the Chinese Uighurs, the Middle Eastern Kurds and the Nordic Sami people. Thanks to the Dalai Lama, as of Robert Thurman, the Columbia professor and former monk, put it Tibetans became "the baby seals of the human-rights movement."

Dalai Lama, the Politician

Pico Iyer, the author a book on the Dalai Lama, wrote: “When most people think of the Dalai Lama, they think of his saffron and maroon robes...his puckish smile and cosmic insight. He is after all the incarnation of the god of compassion. Yet...for more than half a century his feet have been planted firmly on the unforgiving realm of realpolitik..The Dalai Lama is one of the most realistic, far-sighted politicians in the world.”

Soon after he left Tibet the Dalai Lama began working on a new constitution that among other things sets up a procedure for his own impeachment, He also has been trying to eliminate the needlessly ritualistic aspects of the Tibetan system, to pave the way for women for receive advanced degrees and become abbots, and to makee science part of the monastic curriculum.

The Dalai Lama once said, "to be interested in religion you have to be interested in politics.” But that wasn’t always the case. During his early years in exile the Dalai Lama spent much of his time studying and meditating and staying aloof from politics. In 1979, after six-year embargo on his travel to the United States was lifted, he began traveling more and spreading the word of Tibetan culture and Tibetan problems.

The Dalai Lama now works tirelessly for the Tibetan cause, traveling the world, giving speeches and meeting with world leaders. The major world powers would probably do more to help the Tibetan cause if they weren't so interested in sucking up to China because of its rising economic and political influence.

The main issue that the Dalai Lama is interested is more political and cultural autonomy for Tibet from China. But that is not the only issue on his agenda. He has also called for the end of sectarianism among Tibetans and encouraged unification among the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. On the issue of terrorism, the Dalai Lama said in 2002: ‘so long as people remain on the planet, I think this will remain.”

Dalai Lama, Politics and Democracy

In 1987 the Dalai Lama proposed a five year peace plan with five points: 1) making Tibet a zone of peace; 2) the end of China population transfer policy to Tibet; 3) respect for the human rights of Tibetans; 4) protection of Tibet’s environment; and 5) negotiations about Tibet’s status.

In a speech marking the anniversary id the failed 1959 uprising he said, “I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader elected freely by the Tibetan people...My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with shirking responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run.”

Love of the Dalai Lama in Tibet


Support of the Dalai Lama among Tibetans remain strong despite decades of exile. If you were to ask most Tibetans what they would wish if they could wish for anything in world, many of them would ask for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. One monk told Newsweek, “He is our sun." In Qinghai in 2006 there were rumors that the Dalai Lama was coming. Within days thousands began heading to the large monastery in Kumbum to greet him.

Glasses like those worn by the Dalai Lama are worn by monks not only in Tibet, but throughout the Buddhist world. A Swiss optician once was surprised to find a bunch of Tibetans in his office demanding glasses like those of the Dalai Lama even though they had 20/20 vision. The optician gave them glasses with clear glass. The Tibetans wore the glasses on Sunday when they dressed in their traditional Tibetan robes and walked in the hills with their family.♣

Even though they are banned by the Chinese government many Tibetans keep portraits of the Dalai Lama hidden in their homes and secretly pray to them. Many foreigners bring such portraits to Tibet as gifts. Tibetans given them accept them with "great gentleness and reverence." They usually touch them to their forehead before tucking them away in their coats. During periods of openness, Beijing is more tolerant of Tibetans carrying pictures of the Dalai Lama more openly. Truck drivers have them and pictures of the Panchen Lama rucked in the sun visors of their trucks.

Dalai Lama Retires from Politics

In March 2011, the Dalai Lama said he planned to formally step down as the political leader of India-based Tibetan government-in-exile, arguing it will help the Tibetan community to become democratic, while keep his more significant role as Tibet’s spiritual leader.

The Dali Lama pleaded with the exiled Tibetan government to accept his resignation as their political leader, warning that a delayed handover could pose "an overwhelming challenge". In a letter read out to the exiled parliament, he said, "If we have to remain in exile for several more decades, a time will inevitably come when I will no longer be able to provide leadership," he said in the letter read by the speaker. "Therefore, it is necessary that we establish a sound system of governance while I remain able and healthy, in order that the exiled Tibetan administration can become self-reliant rather than being dependent on the Dalai Lama," he said. [Source: AFP]

The Dalai Lama also said he would not be withdrawing from public life and remained "committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet". It is not the first time the Dalai Lama has asked to be released from his ceremonial political responsibilities, and the parliament has rejected similar requests in the past, arguing that there was no replacement of equal stature.

But leading political figures in the exile movement, including the Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche, suggested that lawmakers would accede to his wish this time. "This decision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is final. There is no going back," Rinpoche told reporters. Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the government in exile, stressed that the move would affect all future Dalai Lamas, who are appointed according to the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism by senior monks. "Having to take this decision is a grave matter for all of us," said Gyari.

Meaning of the Dalai Lama’s Retirement from Politics

The Dalai Lama retired from political duties in 2011 and has upgraded the role of prime minister of the Tibetan exile community. But he is still the most powerful rallying point for Tibetans, both in exile and in their homeland, and remains the universally recognised face of the movement.

Analysts say relinquishing his political title would be largely symbolic, with the Dalai Lama remaining the global figurehead of the Tibetan movement and key arbiter on important policy. "One thing is sure that even if there is a new political head, because of the standing and the reputation and the respect with which the Tibetans treat the Dalai Lama, he will continue to have a say in political matters," said H.H.S. Viswanathan from the Observer Research Foundation.

Whoever takes over the Dalai Lama's temporal functions, it is hard to imagine China's more than 5 million Tibetans developing the same attachment to a new political leader, particularly a secular one, as they have to him. Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan poet and activist, said: "I think most Tibetan people can understand his decision. As long as he is always Tibetans' religious leader, now, in future and the next life, other things are not important." Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet said he would continue to be regarded by the Tibetan people as their free spokesperson. "In a sense, the Dalai Lama cannot retire," she added. Qiangba Puncog, formerly the region's governor and now head of the National People's Congress, said the exiled leader retained religious but not political influence in the Tibet. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, March 19, 2011]

Supporters suggest the retirement may, paradoxically, increase the Dalai Lama's influence on behalf of his community. China has repeatedly warned leaders of other countries against meeting him. "Up until now [foreign governments] have often sought to overcome the perception of dealing with him as a political leader ... There's a possibility that they may find it easier to have a formal relationship with him as an eminent religious leader," said Saunders. Some Beijing officials called Dalai Lama's retirement a trick. "The Dalai Lama uses religion as a disguise and he is a political exile who has been carrying out separatist activities for a long time," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu."For years he has been expressing his intention to retire. We think these are tricks to deceive the international community."

Dalai Lama and International Relations

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Dalai Lama in Russia

The Dalai Lama has met with many world leaders and is major proponent of globalism. He is friends with Czech president Vaclav Havel and greatly admired by Desmond Tutu. When he meet swith leaders of other countries such as the Prime Minister of Australia he does so unofficially, for about 10 to 20 minutes. The leaders often represent countries that do a lot business with China and receive a sharp rebuke from the Chinese government.

Beijing was very angry with French President Nicolas Sarkozy for meeting with the Dalai Lama in December 2008. At that time Sarkozy was also the acting EU head and China cancelled out of an an important China-EU summit meeting during the 2008 financial crisis meeting because of the Dalai Lama meeting,

The Dalai Lama spent most of the duration of the Beijing Olympics in France, where most of his time was taken up with religious matters. A few days before the start of the Olympics he offered prayers and good wishes to the people of China.

In 1997, the Dalai Lama made a controversial visit to Taiwan, where he was welcomed like a head of state. During his visit to Taiwan in April 2001, he met with the Taiwanese president and was accused by Beijing of using Buddhism as a "guise" to divide China. He also stirred up trouble during a visit to Taiwan in 2009.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “In recent years, China has declared Tibet a "core interest" of national importance, and has been remarkably successful in lobbying foreign governments to refrain from meeting with the Dalai Lama: since 2007, the leaders of Australia, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, as well as the Pope, have declined to see him. Between 2005 and 2008, he met with twenty-one national leaders; in 2009, that count dropped to two, according to Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia. In 1998, Apple annoyed the Chinese government by featuring a photograph of the Dalai Lama in a series of ads that included Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, and Picasso. These days, the online store for Chinese iPhone users does not offer such applications as "Dalai Lama Quotes" and "Nobel Laureates." ("We continue to comply with local laws," an Apple spokesperson said.)

In October 2011, the Dalai Lama canceled a trip to South Africa in which he was scheduled to attend the 80th birthday celebration of fellow Nobel-Prize-winner Archbishop Tutu's because South Africa, which has had his application paperwork for weeks, had not issued him a visa on time. The move appears to have been made to placate China, which had agreed to $2.5 billion in investment projects with South Africa the week before. Tutu was particularly upset. He accused the South African government of conduct "worse than the apartheid government."

In 2014, citing 'delicate situation,' the Vatican rejects a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis.

Dalai Lama, Elie Weisel, Washington and China

In the late 1970s, the Dalai Lama asked for a meeting with Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor. According to Wiesel, the Dalai Lama said, “I’m familiar with your work, what you wrote about the Jewish people losing a homeland two thousand years ago, and how you’re still here. Mine has just lost its homeland, and I know it’s going to be a very long road into exile. How did you survive?”

Wiesel replied, “When we left Jerusalem, we didn’t take all our jewels with us. All we took was a little book. It was the book that kept us alive. Second, because of our exile we developed a sense of solidarity. When Jews left one place for the next, there were always Jews to welcome and take care of them. And, third, good memory. Survival takes a good memory.” Then Wiesel took the Dalai Lama to Washington, where he met Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress and a vocal human-rights advocate. Lantos introduced him to other lawmakers... At the time that he was exploring Washington, the Chinese leaders were experimenting with a more relaxed policy in Tibet, and they opened talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Privately, some Tibetan officials argued for a bargaining strategy of demanding independence from China, even if they never expected to get it, as a means of obtaining at least some concessions. But the Dalai Lama rejected that idea, saying the approach was morally flawed. “They’re saying something, but their real hope is for something different. It’s wrong,” he told me. The talks failed, and, in the years since, many Tibetan leaders have looked back regretfully. “I think those of us serving His Holiness maybe could have been a little bit more bold,” Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s envoy in Washington, told me recently. He added, “Many decades later, with more gray hair, I sometimes pinch myself to say, “Maybe . . .” — He trailed off.

Dalai Lama and the United States

The Dalai Lama appeals to both liberals and conservatives in the United States and supporters in Democratic Party and the Bay Area and the Republican Party and the Bible Belt. The Dalai Lama's visits to the United States are often orchestrated in such a way as to give him support but not anger Beijing too much. When he visited the White House in the 1990s, U.S. President Bill Clinton "dropped in" for 10 minutes while the Dalai Lama was meeting with Vice President Al Gore. Similar visits took place with former president George Bush at the White House. These meeting inevitably enrage Beijing.

Clinton had turned down a request to meet formally with the Dalai Lama in Washington because he did not want antagonize the Chinese government but he was criticized by China for "gross interference in Chinese internal affairs" because of the 10 minutes visit.

In October 2007, the Dalai Lama was presented with the highest U.S. government civilian honor — the Congressional Gold Medal. It was given to him personally by U.S. President George Bush and his wife Laura along with two of the highest ranking members of the U.S. Congress in a special ceremony in the U.S. Capital Rotunda. Few world leaders have been so honored. Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Tony Blair are among those that have. The ceremony was the first time the Dalai Lama appeared in public with a U.S. President. He also met privately with Bush for half an hour. Beijing was outraged.

On U.S. President George Bush, the Dalai Lama said, “To be honest, some of his policies have been a disaster, but as a person I love him. He is open, very truthful. At the first meeting, we were very close.”

Before the U.S. presidential election in 2008 the Dalai Lama met with both candidates: John McCain and Barrack Obama. After becoming president Obama avoided an opportunity to meet with the Dalai Lama to avoid stirring up trouble with Beijing but denied accusations that he was kowtowing to China. It was the first time since 1991 that the Dalai Lama had come to Washington without meeting the U.S. President.

Beijing was angered when the U.S. House of Representatives gave the Dalai Lama the first Latos Human Rights Prize in October 2009. The Chinese government was also furious when the city of Paris have him an honorary citizenship in June 2009.

Dalai Lama and Obama

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “The Washington Post broke the news that Obama would delay his White House meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the President's official trip to China. It was the first time since 1991 that the Dalai Lama would come to the U.S. capital without seeing the President. Tibet supporters were taken aback and critics of Obama said he caved in to Chinese demands. "We all had the first initial reaction: How could you possibly do that?" Richard Gere said. Vaclav Havel, the former Czech dissident and President, said of Obama, "With these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.'' [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]

“At the time, the White House was seeking China's support on North Korea, Iran, climate change, and other issues. The experience hurt the Obama government. The Dalai Lama eventually visited Obama in February 2010. The 70-minute meeting in the Map Room was longer than any previous Presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama, the White Hose said. The Chinese complained that it was "seriously damaging" ties between China and the U.S., and summoned the American ambassador to lodge a formal complaint.

In July 2011, the Dalai Lama met with U.S. President Obama in the White House Map Room despite strong and conservative, Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner and liberal Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stood at his side while he gave a speech in Washington. San-Francisco-area-based Pelosi is a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama. Boehner said, “His example humbles nations such as ours that work to spread freedom, tolerance and respect for human dignity.” The Dalai Lama was in Washington for an 11-day spiritual kalachakra ritual. Thousand flocked to a Washington arena to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

In February 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama in Washington. Obama vowed "strong support" for the protection of Tibetans' human rights in China, Beijing had urged the US to cancel the meeting, saying it would "seriously impair China-US relations". [Source: BBC, February 21, 2014] The BBC reported: “During their meeting in the White House Map Room, Mr Obama and the Dalai Lama reportedly said they hoped talks would resume between Beijing and the Tibetan spiritual leader's representatives. The two men last met in 2011, in talks that angered China. Chinese response to the meeting was swift, with the nation's Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoning US charge d'affaires Daniel Kritenbrink to protest against the encounter. "China expresses strong indignation and firm opposition," Mr Zhang said, according to the Xinhua news agency. "The Tibetan issue is the domestic affair of China, and the United States bears no right to interfere. Such a move will gravely sabotage China-US co-operation and relations, and will definitely undermine its own interests."

In February 2015, speaking before an audience of 3,000 at the national prayer breakfast in Washington, Obama called the Dalai Lama “a good friend” and described him Lama as “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion”. The Guardian reported: The Dalai Lama was seated at a table in the front row across from the US president. Obama nodded and smiled at him, waving after clasping his hands together in a bow-like gesture toward the Buddhist monk as the event began.[Source: Dan Roberts in Washington and agencies, The Guardian, February 5, 2015]

Image Sources: White House, Dalai Lama com

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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