Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, England, around 40 kms south of Bristol. With just a population of around 9,000 people, Glastonbury is deeply related with various legends of Christian mythology. In the year 2002, the ‘Glastonbury Goddess Temple’ was founded as a place of worship, marking it the first non-Christian ‘Pagan’ temple to exist in Europe in over a thousand years.
But this small British town is known for its unique summer festival, the ‘Glastonbury Festival’, founded in 1970, the largest open-air music and performing arts festival in the world. Around 135,000 paying ticketholders are attending this five-day festival, this year.
The latest big news from Glastonbury is that: Lionel Richie has had an upsurge in music sales since he played at Glastonbury last Sunday. After a triumphant performance at Glastonbury, Richie has soared to the top of the ‘Official Albums Chart’. His single ‘Are You With Me’ has stormed to Number 1, soaring an astonishing jump in popularity! This feat also marks Richie’s first UK Number 1 album since ‘Back to Front’, 23 years ago.
The other big news was the presence of Dalai Lama at Glastonbury Festival. Here the benign religious leader came with, with the message of “compassion, non-violence and the oneness of humanity.”
According to a report in the local newspaper, ‘Central Somerset Gazette’: The crowd gathered to listen to his words, some moved to tears as he spoke about how he felt the world could be made a better place”.
But China, which is fervently posing in its apparent next super power image, was allergic, as usual to this harmless occasion. It termed the event, as one of his “separatist activities”.
Dalai Lama at Glastonbury
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang has said in his press briefing: We oppose any organisation using any means to offer a platform for the Dalai Lama to conduct anti-China separatist activities.”
Dalai Lama has turned 80, on this July 6. A three-day celebration marking his 80th birthday was kicked off on 5 July, 2015, as thousands gathered in Anaheim, California to hear the spiritual leader speak. H.H. Dalai Lama was the Guest of Honour at the ‘Global Compassion Summit’ at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, speaking on “Awakening Compassion.”
Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the founder of ‘Friends of the Dalai Lama’ organisation, commented on the occasion: On this very special birthday we will have a chance to celebrate his accomplishments in many areas and hear his exciting view for the years to come.”
Chinese Backed Protests!
But there were protests too. Protests were staged outside the conference center by Shugden Buddhists, an organisation, suspected of having the Chinese backing.
Shugden practitioners oppose Dalai Lama and say that he is practicing religious discrimination and abusing his power.
“The false Dalai Lama… changes Buddhism into political gain through lying,” said one of the placards hold out by protesters.
Earlier too, during Dalai Lama’s UK visit, the Buddhists in Britain urged the people not to respond to ‘provocations’ planned by the allegedly Beijing backed religious organisation.
From some years now, Dalai Lama is under continuous assault from a toxic campaign against him, ever suspected, being encouraged by the Chinese authorities.
It became clear, when Chinese official in charge of Religious Groups and Ethnic Minorities Yu Zhengsheng had commented in Tibet, sometimes back, “For the sake of national unity and the development of stability in Tibetan regions, we must take a clear-cut stand and deepen the struggle against the Dalai clique.”
At least 147 Tibetans have set themselves in fire in protest against Chinese rule since 2009, when the count began, mostly in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, what China terms the Tibet Autonomous Region. Most have died from their injuries.
China has responded to this wave of protests and self-immolations in recent years by tightening its control over the areas. With the implementation of elaborate surveillance networks and massive resettlement programmes.
While, the exiled spiritual leader spent 6 July in the United States, after attending the Global Compassion Summit in California, in his homeland of Tibet, which is governed as an autonomous region of China, and Dalai Lama’s birthplace Taktser, Chinese officials have stepped up security and surveillance, to discourage and disallow any open festivities.
Since the eve of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, China had taken every measure to stop Tibetans celebrating. There were arrests and police announcements.
Hongai, a small village (Tibetan name of the village is Taktser) stood on a hill overlooking a valley. It is a typically poor outpost in China’s vast and sparsely populated west, in Qinghai province. Dalai Lama was born here as Lhamo Thondup, 80 years back, He was taken to Tibet from Hongai and enthroned before he turned four. He was recognised as the 14th Dalai Lama in 1950, at the age of 15, but was forced to flee Tibet nine years later.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born as Lhamo Thondup, at a Chinese village, in Qinghai province
His ancestral home is now out of bounds for anyone. No foreign tourist or journalist was allowed nearby. There is a police post inside the place.
According to an eyewitness: The situation in Tibetan areas was tense. Since March there are all sorts of checks, restrictions and random arrests of Tibetans far making preparation to celebrate Dalai Lama’s birthday. Most severe control was on Lhasa. And for the Tibetans from other provinces, it was hard to reach Lhasa”.
Tibetan communities in China however have been marking the birthday since the Tibetan New Year in February, in defiance of Chinese authorities. In May this year, a 35-year-old father of four in Sichuan province immolated himself to protest against the crackdown on birthday celebrations.
Dalai Lama Turns 80
Dalai Lama celebrating 80th birthday, at Global Compassion Summit in Anaheim, California
Apart from the public appearances, Dalai Lama has already marked his official 80th birthday celebration, privately last month. On June 21, according to the Tibetan lunar calendar–in Dharamsala, India.
Last year, the Dalai Lama had told German newspaper ‘Welt am Sonntag’ that doctors had told him he could live to 100.
He told that, the first Dalai Lama was 80 years old. His disciples said to him that he was ready to move on to a heavenly level. The first Dalai Lama replied that he had no desire to move to a heavenly level. He wants to be reborn in a difficult place where he can be useful.
And he added smilingly,” In my dreams I will die at the age of 113 years” (“In meinen Träumen werde ich 113 Jahre alt”).
In his interview with the Sunday edition of German newspaper Die Welt. Dalai Lama’s frank comment has caused quite a stir in the media and in Tibetan communities across the world.
“We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries,” the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying. “The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama.”
The present Dalai Lama was recognised at the age of 15
In this interview Dalai Lama had also said: The institution of the “Dalai Lama” became something important because of the political power. This no longer exists today. I am fully retired since 2011. This ends almost five centuries of the Dalai Lama tradition – and voluntary. Politically minded people therefore need to understand that the 450-year-long institution of the Dalai Lama should have had their day”.
He has written elaborately four years back: When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision.
If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this”.
Enter The Dragon
What may seem strange is the way that reincarnation, an esoteric concept that can’t be proved scientifically, has become a political matter in the Chinese-Tibetan context. And the Communist China has become a strong exponent of reincarnation after Dalai Lama’s interview.
Zhu Weiqun, the senior Communist Party official who has long dealt with Tibetan issues, told reporters in Beijing that the Dalai Lama had, essentially, no say over whether he was reincarnated. That was ultimately for the Chinese Government to decide, he said.
“Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China,” said Zhu.
Before Chinese Takeover of Tibet, Dalai Lama met Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, in Beijing on 13 October 1954:
The reincarnation issue had become politicized when in 2007 China’s State of Religious Affairs Bureau issued its Decree No.5, ruling that reincarnations of all tulkus or living Buddhas were only valid once approved by the State of China.
China had to issue this decree to ensure that something like the controversial succession of the Panchen Lama in 1989 could not happen again.
The tradition has been that when the Dalai Lama dies, the duty falls on the Panchen Lama to find his new reincarnation. Also a new Panchen Lama has to be recognised by the Dalai Lama.
Due to strategic importance of the two Lamas, following the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, Beijing quickly moved to recognise Gyancain Norbu as his successor. In protest, the Dalai Lama declared a six-year-old boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be the true reincarnation, in the following year.
In the characteristically Chinese fashion, the six-year-old boy suddenly disappeared from public view and is still thought to be under arrest in China!
Religious affairs have traditionally been under State patronage in China. During the imperial period, all Taoist deities had to be officially recognized by the emperor Under the Qing Dynasty.
In the Tibetan context, Beijing has also sought to justify the 2007 decree through legal precedent, arguing that in the past reincarnations of the Dalai and Panchen lamas had had to be approved by Qing Emperors.
The decree also means that following the current Dalai Lama’s death, only a Beijing-backed candidate will be recognised as 15th Dalai Lama.
This is perhaps why, back in 2007, the Dalai Lama publicly suggested that he might not want to reincarnate. In 2014, the Dalai Lama, in his interview with Welt am Sonntag, implied that he had decided against reincarnating after all.
Once in the past, Dalai Lama himself had also told the US author Matteo Pistono that he would like to “be reborn outside of China’s control”.
Jamyang Norbu a former associate of Dalai Lama has said: “The ideal place for the (next) Dalai Lama to be born is in the Himalayas on the Indian side of the border, where the people are ethnically Tibetan, where there are Tibetan Buddhists, (and) they’re very loyal to the Dalai Lama, to the Tibetan spiritual world.
What will be India’s role after fourteenth Dalai Lama?
“So if he’s born there, it would involve the Government of India. And they would be obliged to protect him”. He said.
Uncertainty After Him!
As the Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th birthday, China’s growing economic clout, added by its military prowess is gradually making the movement for Tibetan independence, even Tibetan Autonomy within China, a next to impossible proposition.
And despite its public denial, the Tibetan spiritual leader, with all the respect, love and popularity (According to a poll, in the USA he is the top admired foreign personality) he gets, is feeling ignored at the global scenario.
Compelled by Chinese economic concerns and pressure tactics, Britain has now changed its compassionate policy towards Dalai Lama and Free Tibet movement.
After David Cameron met Dalai Lama, during his 2012 visit to London, the British Prime Minister was forced to abandon a visit to China in April, 2013, after Beijing indicated that the top Communist leadership were unlikely to be available!
South Africa had officially denied Dalai Lama a visa to attend a gathering of Nobel laureates. Pope Francis, who is too concerned about the Chinese Catholics, had also declined to grant him an audience in December, last year.
The nearly one lakh Tibetans living in India, who for many years have dreamt of freeing Tibet, are now gradually losing hope and leaving for greener pastures in the West. Also the Tibetan people in exile are getting increasingly out of touch with the 6 million Tibetans living in China, due to strict border control and immigration policies.
And it’s not to be denied solely as a Chinese propaganda, that a new phenomenon is now a reality. Attracted by Tibet’s new acquired prosperity and development a growing number of exiled Tibetans is quietly applying for Chinese papers to go back to Tibet, clearly accepting the Chinese rule over their homeland!
Exiled from his birthplace since 1959, the Dalai Lama, who has now taken a ‘middle path’ to forfeit independence and accept ‘Autonomy’ instead!
But China is adamant. To them, Dalai Lama is always a persona non grata, and the policy has not changed.
At the Lama Temple in Beijing, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist temples outside Tibet, the priests are reluctant to talk about Dalai Lama. There is heavy presence of Chinese security personnel, and monks are too scared to speak.
China has a clear interest, when it comes to the succession. It wants to use the authority of the next Dalai Lama for strengthening its own position.
In his interview to ‘Welt am Sonntag’ Dalai Lama has said: The Chinese have not been able to destroy our culture, which is 3,000 to 4,000 years old. Those who only criticise our beliefs and culture, our dissent, only make us stronger. Deep down their thoughts and feelings, 95 percent of Tibetans are very much Tibetan – and are strongly connected to their roots and culture. This also applies to those who now work for the Chinese”.
Dalai Lama and this institution is still a much venerated reality in Tibet, specilly in its interiors. It’s foolish to ignore this reality. It’s not just a spiritual reality, but its political too. And China, despite its denials, knows this crucial fact, by heart.
“The Tibetan Version of’ Shājié. Sishi nian de jiyi jinqu’ (‘Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution’) by Tsering Woeser
The Tibet born Chinese author Tsering Woeser, whose books are mostly banned in China, has aptly made a comment: The Chinese Government deeply believes that if it can control the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, then it can control the whole of Tibet.”
By Deep Basu
Images were supplied by author.