The Smiling Spirit of Tibet

Pico Iyer, who has written a new book on the , The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth , has a long profile piece of the exiled Tibetan leader in last weekend’s Financial Times:

Last November, travelling across Japan with the 14th Dalai Lama, I soon discovered that even dawn-to-dusk surveillance of the man meant missing one of his important daily activities: by 7.30 each morning he had already completed four hours of meditation, reflecting on the needs of the people around him, on his “Chinese brothers and sisters” occupying Tibet, and on his death.

The days got more fast-paced from there. One morning in Ise, after meetings with Japanese monks and a shy young woman running a youth magazine, we drove down to the nearby train station and set off for Nagoya. Upon arrival, we were greeted by five young Tibetans studying abroad and eager to talk to their exiled leader. After that brief encounter, we boarded another train and met two journalists waiting to question the Dalai Lama on the political complications associated with his freedom struggle and the refusal of Japan’s leaders to meet him. We lunched with a Japanese politician and then went upstairs to a suite in a Yokohama hotel to meet a full roster of supplicants: scientists keen to share the results of research they’d done on compassion; the heads of a Buddhist organisation hosting the Dalai Lama at a conference with 5,000 guests the next day; emissaries from Japanese high society, offering him a book from the Empress Michiko; and a young television crew. Finally, he walked along a corridor at the top of the glossy hotel, strode into a conference room and found 60 people waiting for him. As soon as he entered, all of them began sobbing and prostrating themselves before him. Every one of the devout was, remarkably, a Han Chinese from the People’s Republic of China.

By the end of the day – by the end of every day of the trip, in fact – I was exhausted. But for the 72-year-old Tibetan leader, this was the life he has known for six decades – and the life, I think, he will be leading on his next visit to Britain a few days from now.



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