People who follow Tibetan issues are pondering the news of the Dalai Lama’s July 6-16 visit to Washington, D.C., the principal purpose of which is to preside at the Kalachakra Initiation, an important religious empowerment for Tibetan Buddhists. The magnificent sand mandala created then destroyed as part of the Kalachakra ceremony is dedicated to world peace, and producers of the 10-day teach-in were therefore determined that the karmic effect of the Kalachakra be launched in the Super Power capital city.
However, bringing the Dalai Lama to Washington, D.C. as spiritual master has some heads spinning. After all, official Washington is generally credited as the foundation of support for the Dalai Lama’s efforts to secure a negotiated solution for Tibet. His official agenda is taken seriously here where official meetings with the Dalai Lama cause consternation in Beijing. The Chinese government has elevated Tibet to a “core issue” of sovereignty and territorial integrity and roars against any official who is want to meet with him. Yet political support for Tibet runs deep in Washington. During his previous visits, the Dalai Lama was honored, for example, with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Democracy Service Medal, and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize, each recognizing his vital voice as spokesman for the Tibetan nation.
The Dalai Lama’s recent decision to devolve his authority over a Tibetan system of governance that has endured since the 17th century to an elected head of government contributes to a prevailing confusion about the timing and goals of this Washington, D.C. visit. Whither the Dalai Lama? Is it his intention to step back from his Middle Way advocacy in national capitals? Will he cease to use his international platform to further the Tibetan cause?
I am betting against a substantive political retrenching by the Dalai Lama and believe he cannot cleave his embodiment as national leader from that of spiritual leader. Should His Holiness have the opportunity to meet with President Obama, Secretary Clinton and congressional leaders as has been the case in a more typical Washington visit, the issue of his role will be self-evident.