Friday, December 1, 2023

Dalai Lama’s visit likely to irk Chinese

The world’s most famous political refugee and the man who brought Buddhism to Hollywood is expected to strain the relationship between Botswana and China when he visits the country in August at the invitation of the University of Botswana.

South Africa (the most powerful nation on the continent which is also a member of the G20) thrice in the past denied the Dalai Lama a visa for fear of angering China. As the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama wants greater autonomy for the country, an ambition China views as separatism. South Africa knew China would punish it badly if it allowed the Dalai Lama to visit.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Gaeimelwe Goitsemang told Sunday Standard that the Government Enclave has not deliberated on the Dalai Lama’s visit and have thus not taken a position. He referred all enquiries to the University of Botswana.

The Dalai Lama is both a spiritual and political leader. Six million Tibetan Buddhists look to him for religious guidance but he is also leader of 100 000 Tibetans living in exile in India. Since fleeing Tibet he has dedicated himself to campaigning internationally for his exiled homeland, but always stressing the need for non-violence ÔÇô a stance which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Dalai Lama has trod a careful line which has kept him spiritually pure but also politically crafty. He has come up with a “middle way” to resolve the status of Tibet ÔÇô autonomy for Tibet within China. He speaks differently to Tibetans and to Westerners.

With his own people he is, like previous Dalai Lamas, serious and directive about what they should do. With Westerners he does not pontificate from a high moral position but is an altogether more genial figure who talks with humility from his own Buddhist practice. He is warm and humorous. His medium is his message. But when he speaks to Western Buddhists he often warns them “to be interested in religion you have to be involved in politics”.

The Dalai Lama is the man who brought Buddhism to Hollywood. Buddhism is the fastest growing Eastern religion in the West. It is fashionable among the secular classes because it encourages enquiry rather than dogma ÔÇô offering all the joys of belief without the encumbrance of having to believe anything very much. Buddhist practices such as meditation have been taken up across the whole of the New Age movement. It is the latter-day astrology of the Western middle classes.

Ironically the Dalai Lama is not in search of converts. If people find their own culture’s spiritual traditions, he says, they should look into themselves to find out why. But his charisma and tolerance have made him one of the best-known religious figures alive today.


Read this week's paper