Pope Francis’s first failure

On Thursday, December 18, 2014, in A Free Tibet in a Free World, by Matteo Mecacci
[caption id="attachment_5584" align="alignright" width="300"]The Dalai Lama with Pope John Paul II The Dalai Lama with Pope John Paul II, Vatican City,
June 14, 1988. (Photo: www.dalailama.com)[/caption]Last week His Holiness the Dalai Lama participated in the Nobel Peace Prize Summit in Rome, which had initially been scheduled to take place in South Africa. This plan was scrapped after the South African government failed to grant His Holiness a visa under Chinese pressure. His Holiness was very much welcomed in Rome where the audience gave him a standing ovation at the venue of the Summit. At the same time, in what was the biggest public relations failure by Papa Bergoglio since he ascended to the seat of San Pietro in Rome in 2013, the Vatican did not grant to His Holiness a meeting. Instead he issued a public statement saying that the Pope holds the Dalai Lama “in very high regard”, in a recognition of the high opinion that hundreds of millions of Catholics all over the world have for the Tibetan spiritual leader. So why not meet him? The answer is simple. The Chinese Government uses the “Dalai Lama card” to put pressure on all its international partners, both to put them on the defensive (typical behavior of aggressive negotiators) and most importantly because it fears that the moral authority and legitimacy that His Holiness has gained worldwide might be transformed in pressure to implement much-needed political reforms in China and Tibet. Contrary to China’s calculations - betting that isolating him politically will resolve the Tibetan question - the Dalai Lama anticipated China’s aggressive campaign by voluntarily and willingly choosing to abdicate his political authority in 2011. This, among other long-term factors, including China’s bullying, has not undermined, but rather increased the popularity in the west of the 14th Dalai Lama. With this decision and a step forward to dedicate himself to promote peace and interreligious dialogue, the Dalai Lama had hoped to facilitate a meaningful political dialogue between the Tibetan and the Chinese sides. Unfortunately, China continues to act aggressively, hoping that the problems in Tibet will be solved through their current policies. Certainly, as a Tibetan, the Dalai Lama remains concerned with the deterioration of human rights and individual freedoms in Tibet, but it must also be noted that the he tries all the time to highlight potential positive developments that are taking place in China. Furthermore, in regards to the foreign leaders who have stopped meeting him in Europe, he continues to repeat that he does not want to create any inconvenience to the countries that are eager to make business or have good relations with China. The problem is, clearly, what kind of long-term relations can be established with an authoritarian country that does not apply the rule of law and whose judicial system is highly corrupt? With this in mind, the way China continues to pressure everybody in the world not to meet His Holiness tells us a lot on how insecure Beijing is about its policies in Tibet, and shows its failure to grow as a responsible partner for democratic governments on the world scene. Getting away with bullying the Tibetans is only going to encourage the hardliners in Beijing to do this on other issues and to other peoples and countries. For Pope Francis, who has courageously challenged the Vatican bureaucracy on many fronts (from its shadowy finances to the cover up of sexual abuses within the Church, from a renewed dialogue with Muslims and the Russian Orthodox to recommit the Church to help the poor and shelve luxury living styles), to give up on the promotion of interreligious dialogue with the Dalai Lama is a striking contradiction with what he has been preaching from the pulpit. While tactically this move might bring some benefits to the Vatican in its dealing with China – the Vatican has been trying hard for decades to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing and the Chinese Foreign Ministry had a positive comment regarding the Vatican's attitude – this choice makes clear that the promotion of religious freedom for all in China is not a priority for this papacy. This is a stain that will not fade until urgent remedial measures are taken. Matteo

Why did Pope Francis not assert himself in enabling his meeting with the Dalai Lama

On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, in Recent, by Bhuchung K. Tsering
It was a scene familiar whenever the Dalai Lama travels; The La Stampa footage showed the Dalai Lama’s car arriving at a venue in Rome on December 11, 2014 and a group of people, including media personnel, surrounding him as he alights. As the Dalai Lama proceeds through the crowd, someone is heard shouting “Welcome to Rome”. A bespectacled journalist with Italy’s TG1 TV’s mike in hand asks, “Will you meet the Pope, His Holiness?” The Dalai Lama responds, “This time the Vatican administration seems a little inconvenient. So I always avoid causing any inconvenience to anybody, like that. Of course, I admire this Pope, I really admire.” The media query was topical and pertinent. The Dalai Lama was in Rome where the Vatican, home of the Pope, is located. Given the personality of Pope Francis, there was widespread assumption that he would lose no opportunity of meeting his fellow “simple monk”. Both seem to have mutual admiration: the Dalai Lama mentioning to the media in Rome how much he admired the Pope’s simplicity as well as his campaign against immoral actions in the Church; and the Vatican’s spokesman saying the Pope “holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard". A cursory look at their lives also shows that they seem to share so much philosophically. So why couldn’t these two amiable individuals meet? The Vatican's spokesman was quoted by NPR as saying the meeting would not take place "for obvious reasons concerning the delicate situation.” The chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, “declined to say whether the pope had personally turned down a request for a meeting with the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists,” Religion News Service reported. The “delicate situation” is obviously a reference to the Vatican’s own effort to normalize its relationship with China and its concern about the welfare of the Catholics in China. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang confirmed this when responding to media query on December 15 saying,” …we have noted the remarks by Vatican. The Chinese side is always sincere about improving and developing relations with Vatican. We are willing to continue constructive dialogues with Vatican based on relevant principles. It is hoped that Vatican will work with China in the same direction and create conditions for the improvement of bilateral relations.” The Vatican’s stand is troubling on at least two counts. First, it unfortunately supports the Chinese Government’s charge of the Dalai Lama being a negative factor (NPR report says: “China views the Dalai Lama as a troublemaker” while BBC says “China describes the Dalai Lama as a separatist and reacts angrily when foreign dignitaries meet him.”). Over the years the Chinese Government has had a strategy of undermining the Dalai Lama’s peaceful efforts by requiring governments to isolate him. If indeed the Dalai Lama is a trouble maker, a divisive force, or advocates the use of violence, etc., then the Vatican or governments may have a point in trying to avoid meeting him. But since Pope Francis holds the Dalai Lama in “very high regard” he obviously does not look at the Dalai Lama as a negative individual. Therefore, by this non-meeting, the Vatican has only furthered the Chinese myth about the Dalai Lama. Secondly, unlike government leaders, the Vatican has moral and spiritual principles to uphold. Particularly, Pope Francis has established himself as being different from others, including championing a very pro-active inter-religious dialogue. Addressing Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See in March 2013, Pope Francis said, "My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced". A meeting with the Dalai Lama would have provided a very meaningful dialogue between the two. The Vatican’s action has not been received well by the moral voices in the world. For instance, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was quoted by South Africa’s Cape Times saying he was “deeply saddened and distressed”. “Had I been fit enough to travel to Rome to attend the Nobel Peace Laureates summit, and had the opportunity arisen to meet the pope, I would not have been able to do so in solidarity with someone held in such high regard by so many people across the world,” Archbishop Tutu added. I am still wondering why Pope Francis did not assert himself in wanting a meeting with the Dalai Lama. The Vatican could certainly have found ways for the two spiritual leaders to meet. Politicians are known not to uphold moral principles when it comes to their parochial interest, but no one expected the Vatican to be doing this, not during the reign of Pope Francis. As the Bible says in Mark 8:36 “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

The Dalai Lama and 25 years after the Nobel Peace Prize

On Wednesday, December 10, 2014, in Culture & History, by Bhuchung K. Tsering
On December 10, 2014, lovers of peace, friends, well-wishers and followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrate the 25th anniversary of the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize to him. His Holiness is of course is in Rome to participate in the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit, which has now been relocated there. It is a cliché to say what a difference 25 years can make. But in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, these two and a half decades have indeed cemented his place as a statesman and a conscience of the world. Today, the Dalai Lama and peace/compassion have virtually become synonymous. In 1989, I was working in Dharamsala and so was part of the collective Tibetan rejoicing of the event. We, at least I, then interpreted the prize solely in the context of Tibet, and Tibet alone. We saw this as Tibet’s day in the sun. Fast forward to 2014 and I reread His Holiness’ acceptance speech (of December 10, 1989) as well as his Nobel lecture (of December 11, 1989), and the Presentation Speech by Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. I now have a fresh perspective of the expanse of the Dalai Lama’s impact. His Holiness’ remarks in Oslo in 1989 appear to me as the germinating ground for the philosophy for which he has become well-known today. This includes his dialogue with the scientific community, his adherence to nonviolence, and, above all, his three main commitments: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of Tibetan culture. Let me expand. By the very awarding of the prize to him, the Nobel Committee acknowledged the Dalai Lama as a proponent of peace and nonviolence. In his Award Presentation Speech, Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said, “In view of this, fewer and fewer people would venture to dismiss the Dalai Lama's philosophy as utopian: on the contrary, one would be increasingly justified in asserting that his gospel of nonviolence is the truly realistic one, with most promise for the future. And this applies not only to Tibet but to each and every conflict. The future hopes of oppressed millions are today linked to the unarmed battalions, for they will win the peace: the justice of their demands, moreover, is now so clear and the normal strength of their struggle so indomitable that they can only temporarily be halted by force of arms.” In the Tibetan cultural context, the Dalai Lama is also referred to as Zamling Shidey Depon (“pilot of world peace”) and he continues to be one today. The Dalai Lama’s stress on the need for religion to have dialogue with science can also be perceived in his Nobel remarks. In his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech on December 10, 1989, the Dalai Lama said, “With the ever growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives us valuable insights into the other. Both science and the teachings of the Buddha tell us of the fundamental unity of all things. This understanding is crucial if we are to take positive and decisive action on the pressing global concern with the environment.” Today, the Dalai Lama has established a strong foundation for dialogue between religion and science through the Mind & Life initiative. In the process, he has had an impact on the thinking of the scientific community, particularly those working in the field of neuroscience, through his sharing of the Buddhist perspective. I also want to believe that through his Nobel remarks, the Dalai Lama was also crystalizing his now well-known three commitments. His Holiness began his Nobel lecture, delivered on December 11, 1989, by saying, “Thinking over what I might say today, I decided to share with you some of my thoughts concerning the common problems all of us face as members of the human family. Because we all share this small planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature.” He continued, “The realisation that we are all basically the same human beings, who seek happiness and try to avoid suffering, is very helpful in developing a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood; a warm feeling of love and compassion for others. This, in turn, is essential if we are to survive in this ever shrinking world we live in. For if we each selfishly pursue only what we believe to be in our own interest, without caring about the needs of others, we not only may end up harming others but also ourselves.” In another words, His Holiness was stressing on the fundamental human values that all human beings share. The Dalai Lama was addressing the issue of religious harmony when he said in the same lecture, “As a Buddhist monk, my concern extends to all members of the human family and, indeed, to all sentient beings who suffer. I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and com-passion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.” As for Tibet, the Dalai Lama said this in December 1989, “The awarding of the Nobel Prize to me, a simple monk from faraway Tibet, here in Norway, also fills us Tibetans with hope. It means, despite the fact that we have not drawn attention to our plight by means of violence, we have not been forgotten. It also means that the values we cherish, in particular our respect for all forms of life and the belief in the power of truth, are today recognised and encouraged. It is also a tribute to my mentor, Mahatma Gandhi, whose example is an inspiration to so many of us. This year's award is an indication that this sense of universal responsibility is developing. I am deeply touched by the sincere concern shown by so many people in this part of the world for the suffering of the people of Tibet. That is a source of hope not only for us Tibetans, but for all oppressed people.” So, 25 years later what is the lesson that we can take from the bestowal of the Nobel Prize to the Dalai Lama. I can only repeat what the Nobel Committee Chairman said in 1989, “ In awarding the Peace Prize to H.H. the Dalai Lama we affirm our unstinting support for his work for peace, and for the unarmed masses on the march in many lands for liberty, peace and human dignity.”
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Thanksgiving Day, the Dalai Lama and the United States

On Tuesday, November 25, 2014, in Culture & History, by Bhuchung K. Tsering
Every November, Americans celebrate a noble occasion, Thanksgiving Day, when we are encouraged “to count our many blessings.” This year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 27, 2014. Since the day comes a few weeks after yet another successful visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States (as well as Canada), I want to offer thanks to the democracy and freedom of this country that enables His Holiness to make his visits and the opportunity it provides to Americans to benefit from his wisdom. Although we take visits by the Dalai Lama to the United States for granted today (compared to some other countries that have to capitulate to direct and indirect pressures from China) things were not always that way. His Holiness first began visiting the United States in 1979 but there were efforts many years before that for him to be in this country. Some recently declassified United States Government documents that include communications exchanged between the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in India, way back in 1970, about a possible visit by the Dalai Lama gives us a taste of the decision making process then. Although it is unfortunate that His Holiness had to wait for nine long years following those deliberations, yet it is revealing to see how different organs of the United States Government approached the issue. I summarize below the exchange of memos and cables between the White House, the State Department and the American Embassy in India between March and April 1970. In a memo dated March 23, 1970 to President Richard Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, begins by saying “Tibetan representatives have informed us that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States and Europe this coming Autumn.” He then says the State Department is opposed to this as it “would create, gratuitously and without a compensating gain, a further point of friction between us and Communist China.” However, Kissinger feels outright rejection is not the right response to the Tibetans and that they should be informed that “The visit would be inconvenient this year but we would wish to consider it seriously in 1971 (after the UNGA session is over).” UNGA is of course the United Nations General Assembly held every autumn in New York attended by many government leaders. When the above guideline was conveyed to the Embassy in India, it responded to the State Department in a telegram dated April 8, 1970 requesting that “The Department revise its position to permit at least a private visit this year.” The Embassy’s view was that not allowing the visit would be seen by both the Tibetans as well as the Indian Government as “appeasing” China. The State Department responded through a telegram dated April 14, 1970 from the Secretary of State to the American Ambassador in India saying, “I value your forthright discussion of Dalai Lama visit and have reexamined question in light of your recommendations. However, I must reaffirm decision, which was made by President, that we do not wish to have Dalai Lama come to U.S. this year and ask that you arrange to inform Tibetans of this as soon as possible, following guidance ref B.” And that was the end of that endeavor, as it turned out to be. It is interesting that the Secretary of State’s above telegram was followed by another dated April 15, which said: “In conveying U.S. views on Dalai Lama visit, you of course should not mention Presidential involvement in decision.” Also interesting is the fact that Henry Kissinger, in his memo to the President, draws attention to the maintenance of principles by saying that while the United States need to consider Chinese sensitivity, “On the other hand, the Chinese have hardly abandoned their basic positions in order to talk with us and we should perhaps avoid precipitate decisions to abandon points of principle to accommodate them.” Eventually, good sense prevailed in the United States Government, and the Dalai Lama has been able to visit this country many times since 1979. We in the International Campaign for Tibet have been privileged to have been involved in many of these visits. The Dalai Lama’s visits have enabled several thousand Americans to imbibe his message of compassion, peace and non-violence. As a case in point, following the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Birmingham, AL, a journalist summed up his impression in an article headlined “What Alabama learned about the Dalai Lama.” He wrote, “He had a very simple message, and he delivered it. He spoke out for peace, love, compassion and acceptance of others.” In fact the simplicity of His Holiness and the practicality of his message have resonated well among the American public. The same journalist listed some of these in his article as being below:
"Peace must come from inside - not come from the sky." "Everyone wants happiness. Peace is the basis of happiness." "Monks, scholars should not accept my teaching by faith, but rather experience, investigation." "Modern science should involve more study about mind, emotion." "Love and kindness is the key to build happiness." "The education system is very oriented to material things. There is no compassion." "Healthy mind, very important for healthy body." "If our action really narrow-minded, one-sided, cheating others, you cheat yourself. Finally, you suffer. Make others unhappy, finally, you are lonely person, miserable." "Without other people, we cannot survive. Even morning tea, I cannot manage (by myself)." "You have emotions. Me, too, with big name, His Holiness Dalai Lama. But emotions sometimes create difficulties." "I always emphasize oneness of humanity."
"Out of seven billion human beings, more than one billion are non-believers. We cannot ignore these one billion. They also have right to be happy person." So, this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has been working tirelessly for the past more than seven decades in the service of humanity. I am also thankful to the United States, a country whose adherence to the fundamental values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law continues to provide hope and succor to the Tibetan people, including in giving a sense of belonging to thousands of Tibetan Americans.