Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tibet to study rare Buddhist leaf scriptures

Xinhua, Lhasa, July 28, 2006

Tibet has launched a two-year project to study and preserve a bundle of Buddhist scriptures that were written on leaves more than 1,000 years ago and brought to the region from India.

There are some 4,300 pages of the rare tree-leaf Buddhist Sanskrit scripture in 426 volumes, said Hu Chunhua, a top official of the region quoting figures provided by the local cultural heritage administration.

The documents were brought to Tibet from India between the 7th and 13th centuries and have remained quite well preserved, said Cewang Jinme, president of the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences.

The scriptures are inscribed on stripes of leaves of the 'pattra' tree, which is native to tropical climates and similar to a palm tree. The tree's leaves are easily transportable and durable.

A steel pen was used to etch the Sanskrit words directly on to the leaves, which themselves became a Buddhist symbol of brightness as the scriptures brought enlightenment.

The inscribed strips contain narratives of ancient Indian literature, legal codes and classic Buddhist writings.

Most of the leaf-inscribed scriptures are stored in major monasteries, museums and research institutes in Lhasa, Xigaze and Shannan, said Hu, adding that they are better preserved than others that remained in India where many decayed in the hot, humid climate or were lost in wars.

Hu said Tibetan researchers would carry out a thorough survey of all the scriptures written on 'pattra' leaves.

"Some of the pieces are in the hands of private collectors and smaller monasteries and remain undocumented," said Hu.

They will also make photocopies of all the documents to facilitate their study by Sanskrit specialists, he said.

"It's important to train more Sanskrit professionals in order to preserve the ancient documents," said Lhagba Puncog, secretary-general of China Tibetology Research Centre.

He said only 10 people in Tibet can read the language. Four Tibetan specialists have enrolled in Beijing University to study Sanskrit and they are expected to later train more language professionals.

The preservation project is jointly sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China Tibetology Research Centre.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Buddhism reflects many perspectives

by Alfred Bloom

The fundamental message of Buddhism is the truth of suffering and release from suffering here and hereafter.

There are said to be 84,000 teachings or paths to communicate its message. This numerical symbol suggests that there is, in effect, a way for everyone to gain spiritual liberation, despite their limited capacities or defilements.

Hence, we see a great diversity of beliefs, concepts, literature, myths, legends and practices in Buddhism that have developed in its 2,600-year history in response to the needs of the people of many cultures. For early Western observers it seemed a "veritable jungle of superstitions." For those who came to understand it more deeply and accurately, it was a creative faith that adapted to varying environments wherever it spread. This explains the wide variety of religious styles of Buddhism over the world.

While there is a unified perspective on life among Buddhists, it can be viewed as a diamond that has many facets, each gleaming according to the angle of light. Each facet glows at the appropriate time. It is notable that while Buddhist philosophy can be quite complex, it has developed a wealth of stories, parables, doctrines, poetry, symbols and rituals to enable ordinary persons to grasp its insights.

Consequently, we find, even in Hawaii, a diversity of Buddhist traditions and sects which serve the many peoples who have come here. Yet, all these groups maintain their universality and commonality, coming together to commemorate important events in Buddhist history such as Buddha's birthday and the day of his enlightenment, as well as his first sermon, which launched Buddhism into history.

The figure of 84,000 teachings is also applied beyond Buddhism, recognizing that any faith or teaching that brings consolation and significant spiritual insight is ultimately an expression of the highest truth of Buddhism. Over history Buddhism has been a tolerant, accepting tradition, often absorbing native religions into itself.

The Buddhist view of reality distinguishes the inconceivable dimension of cosmic truth and the sphere of conventional truth of everyday experience and language. On the conventional level everything is seen as relative, subject to causes and conditions. The Buddhist understanding of reality and human knowledge transforms all religious teaching to symbols as expressions of belief but not in themselves necessarily the final truth.

Everything is a finger pointing to the moon, pointing to something beyond itself.

As a consequence of this view, Buddhism has had little conflict with other religions through its history, and there have been no Buddhist religious wars. Buddhism itself has been persecuted and constrained because of its egalitarian implications and its implicit criticism of contemporary societies by its offer of a brighter world beyond this life.

Buddhists have advocated peace by first encouraging people to become peaceful within themselves through the practice of reflection or meditation in some form.

Presently, many temples observe Obon in our community, reminding us, whatever our ethnic or historical descent, of our debt to our many ancestors who shared their wisdom with us. The gala festive music and dancing should not obscure the depth and meaning of the spiritual tradition that inspires it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Buddhism revives in Mongolia's grasslands

By Lindsay Beck

KHARKHORIN, Mongolia (Reuters) - When Gendenjav Choijamts thinks of praying, he thinks of vodka.

The 62-year-old monk at Mongolia's oldest Buddhist monastery remembers when his father and his friends had to pretend they were gathering for a drinking session to hide the fact they were gathering in prayer.

"My father was a monk but because people were persecuted for that; it wasn't widely known," he said in the lush green grounds of Erdene Zuu, which dates from the 16th century.

"He was a herder. He hid his shrine and would chant in secret in the evening," he said.

Monastic life, which took hold in Mongolia in the 1500s, was nearly wiped out within 15 years of communist rule, mostly during Stalinist purges in the 1930s when an estimated 17,000 lamas were executed.

But since the country emerged from decades of Soviet dominance, the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism -- also practiced in Tibet -- is making a comeback.

In 1990, three monasteries were allowed to reopen. The number quickly mushroomed to 170 across the country.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has visited Mongolia five times since the early 1990s, most recently in 2002, when he delivered religious discourses to thousands of followers.

The word 'dalai' itself means 'ocean' in Mongolian, and the title of Dalai Lama, or "Ocean of Wisdom" was bestowed in the 1500s by Genghis Khan descendant Altan Khan, who ordered Mongols to practice Buddhism.

Traditionally many Mongolians have practiced Shamanism, which still has a strong following in the north of the country.


Erdene Zuu monastery, in the grasslands on the edge of the ancient capital of Kharkhorin, some 230 miles southwest of Ulan Bator, housed 1,500 lamas before it was destroyed in 1936.

But on the vast plains and valleys of the world's most sparsely populated country, the traditions survived.

"We used to hide the shrine in a big chest. When it was dark we would light the butter lamps," said Baasan-Suren Khandsuren.

At 27, he is head lama at the monastery, whose grounds are marked out from the surrounding grasslands by a border of 108 stupas, which managed to survive the purges.

When he came to the monastery in 1991, shortly after it reopened, there were just 17 monks. Now there are 65.

At the time, Baasan-Suren was 12 years old.

"In Mongolia, there are very old monks and very young monks," he said, alluding to the generation raised during the communist era, when gatherings of prayer were replaced by meetings of the state cooperative.

When Baasan-Suren entered the monastery he was following the footsteps of his grandfather, who managed to salvage religious artifacts from the grounds after it was closed.

"When I visited my grandfather's home, I looked at the Buddhist statues and had a very warm feeling about those items," he said, interrupting an interview to fish into his robes to answer his mobile phone. "It took a lot of courage to keep all those things during communist times."


At 12, Baasan-Suren had to forsake standard education for religious teachings. Now, he has established a religious school to allow the 33 boys currently taught there the privilege of both.

As he speaks from his office, housed in a ger, the traditional round tent of herders, little boys run wild around the grounds, playing and pushing and hiking up their maroon robes to show off on a chin-up bar as they wait for the morning chanting to begin.

Among the tourists milling around the grounds are visitors from Ulan Bator, some are also devoted Buddhists.

"I always have my prayer beads with me," said 50-year-old Tserendulam Tserennad-mid, her sunhat and sweatsuit marking her out as a city-dweller in the country where nearly half the 2.7 million population are nomadic herders.

Next to the monastery's main shrine, a monk staffs a small table where adherents come to order chantings.

As the sun burns off the night chill, a boy blows a conch shell and the monks begin their morning prayers.

Gendenjav Choijamts is glad to be among them.

"This is a good change," he said of the renewed traditions.

"When you don't have religion, you lose your compassion."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Offering a Buddhism for everyone

A Lutz practitioner brings the ancient faith's tenets and beliefs to those seeking greater peace.

Published July 7, 2006

LUTZ - In a quiet lakefront back yard, a small group learns and meditates with the sweet smell of incense wafting through the air.

Every Wednesday evening for the past 20 years, Dr. Lucjan Shila has led a sangha, a Buddhist meditation group, in Lutz. Buddhist tenets are shared, chanting is heard, meditations are experienced.

Shila, 55, a natural medicine practitioner, was raised in the Catholic Church, but says he had great difficulty accepting things on blind faith.

"You know, it was that blessed-are-those-that-don't-see-but-still-believe traditional education," Shila said. "It wasn't that I was a doubter. I just felt compelled for myself to know it was so."

When he was 12, Shila picked up his first books on Buddhism and found a sacred system based on acquiring spiritual experiences for oneself. For the first time a theological path made perfect sense to him, and it stayed with him until he left home at 17 and joined a Buddhist retreat in New York.

Buddhism is an ancient set of philosophies and life practices that originated 2,500 years ago with Siddhartha Gautama, the son of a king in Lumbini, India. After many years of meditation, contemplation, and often existing under very austere self-imposed living conditions, Siddhartha eventually reached a state of enlightenment, wherein he became "the Buddha," the awakened one.

For the next 40 years, the Buddha taught thousands of followers those tenets that became a part of his being while meditating, such as compassion and moral actions. He told them to not simply accept his visions of truth, but rather to go and experience his teachings for themselves.

Over the centuries many versions of Buddhism have evolved. Shila learned and now practices a form called Vajrayana, and within that, a rare system called Dzogchen.

"It's an entirely nonsectarian way of practicing Buddhism," Shila said. "It's not that it's a departure, but it dispenses with a lot of the ritual and cultural elements and directly approaches the core issues of Buddhism."

Shila noted that two general forms of Buddhism are practiced worldwide: the monastic form, where practitioners live together in retreats and monasteries away from secular society, and the nonmonastic form, where believers live integrated into everyday society. Shila and the other members of the Lutz sangha fall into the latter group, and Shila said it is that form of Buddhism that is in fact more difficult to practice.

"It's difficult to maintain the purity of your ethics while engaged in daily life, so that's why a lot of people go to monasteries" he said. "In many occupations you can do it. You just need to be clean and honest in what you do."

John Geders, a business consultant from Brandon, had attended many meditation and chanting services at other Buddhist temples in the past. But because of the language barrier, he often could not experience the full impact of the service.

At Shila's meditation and teaching group, Geders, 58, made an instant and transforming connection.

"It's really turned me around," he said.

Before he was able to employ the Buddhist concept of compassion for all, Geders said he was often angry, which then led to depression. Now, he said, he sees the world with more "loving kindness and joy," which has brought him closer to family and friends.

Geders said he also has benefited enormously from the actual meditations that go on during the sangha, as well as those he does alone at home.

"I feel very settled now, peaceful," he said. "It's just this calm inside."

Meditation, Shila said, is a fundamental ingredient in the Buddhist concept of experiencing intrinsic awareness. When meditating, the practitioner is narrowing the mind's attention to a very focused point.

"We practice meditation to train the mind to do what we want it to do, even when there are distractions," he said.

Shila's sanghas are open to the public, and while donations are welcome, there is no charge to attend. For more information, see the sangha's Web page at

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Buddhist says study and meditation lead to clarity

First published: Saturday, July 15, 2006

David Rook: Teacher at Shambhala Meditation Center and former Buddhist representative at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at the College of Saint Rose.

Background: 49, born in Oakland, Calif. Moved to the Capital Region when he was 3 (his father was an appointee of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller). Majored in biology at University at Albany, worked for state Department of Social Services in Buffalo, received an MBA from University at Buffalo, returned to Albany in early 1990s, graduated from Albany Law School and now is an attorney with Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Johnson and Butler in Albany. He and his wife, Ellen, live in Slingerlands and have three daughters: Sonya, Maya and Tara.

What was your religious upbringing?

I was christened Unitarian. From the time I was 7 or 8, my family did not relate to any church. When I was 13, my mother embraced the Catholic religion and I did, too. She had brain cancer and suffered and faded away. However, when I asked the priests for answers, they were very nice but were ill-equipped to answer the questions. I became a scientist.

How did you encounter Buddhism?

I had a friend at UAlbany with whom I ventured to a Buddhist retreat center in Vermont. Intuitively, meditation seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I met the religious leader there, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

When I was in Seattle in 1979, someone gave me meditation instruction and Trungpa's writings. Gradually, I engaged in more rigorous Buddhist training in America and Canada. They were long periods of study combined with meditation practice. I am an American Buddhist.

What does Shambhala mean and how was the center formed in Albany?

The vision of Shambhala is to enable men and women to express the dignity of human existence and to lead meaningful lives within a flourishing culture. It involves meditation, Buddhist studies and contemplative arts. It is an international organization of Tibetan lineage. In this area, the chapter was formed in 1981, and we met in people's homes. The Shambhala Meditation Center of Albany has been at the Holy Names Campus Arts Center since January 2003. We offer regular sitting meditation every Thursday night. Richard Reoch, president of Shambhala International, is scheduled to visit us Nov. 1.

What distinguishes Buddhism from other religions?

In Buddhism, nothing is accepted as faith, including the notion of "me" or "I." The No. 1 concern is to be fully present with the suffering and chaos in the world rather than viewing it as a problem. Buddhism addresses suffering and death straight on. It basically says we are confused and it tries to reduce confusion a little bit.

At its fundamental level, Buddhism is meant to look at the nature of your mind. From that perspective, meditation is a tool and it is neutral. The practice of meditation brings you back to the current moment.

-- Azra Haqqie

Rainbow warrior


Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama was recognised at the age of three as the reincarnation of his predecessor.
Picture: Phil Wilkinson

IT IS day two of the Dalai Lama's week-long visit to Belgium, and the cramped smile on his face speaks volumes. Would he please pose in front of a colourful - and rather dreadful - mural? For a moment he seems on the verge of moving, but then he shakes his head and replies that the painting is too ugly to pose in front of. He continues with a tale of how he was once speaking to a Japanese friend about tasteless paintings such as this one, and "that friend later had to spend the night in a room with monstrous illustrations," he laughs. "He didn't sleep a wink."

The security guards and his entourage stand around the Tibetan leader, waiting, shepherding him along and only just stopping short of tugging on his sleeve. "Your Holiness, it is time to go," he is told softly, but decisively. The Dalai Lama is in his element. His programme includes an interview with yours truly and a meeting with representatives from the Catholic, Islamic and Jewish faiths, but the jack-in-the-box, as the security guards call him, still finds time to jump out of the car to say hello to some passers-by.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (Mongolian for 'ocean of wisdom'), was recognised at the age of three as the reincarnation of his predecessor. At four he was crowned in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to be the leader of his people. By six he was a monk, being educated with a view to helping his country through difficult periods of political conflict. Then, on March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama, regarded as the most eminent authority in the Buddhist world and the head of state of Tibet, was forced to flee his beloved homeland. A Tibetan uprising had brought about a crackdown by the Chinese, which left the 24-year-old holy leader and his entourage running for their lives. They escaped to India, where the country's first prime minister, Pandit Nehru, offered political asylum to the Dalai Lama and 80,000 other Tibetans. The exiled leader was also given a place to live, in Dharamsala, which has remained his home to this day.

Now the Dalai Lama spends his time travelling the world. He has been to Scotland twice in the past two years. On his most recent visit, last November, he praised the Scottish Parliament and devolution as well as discussing personal ethics for modern life. He says that the purpose of his international tours is to draw attention to his philosophy; the Chinese say it is to promote Tibetan independence.

He has written dozens of books on the themes of a balanced life, compassion, universal responsibility and accountability, world peace and religious tolerance. His most recent book, however, fits into an entirely different discipline. It debates the beginning of the universe, genetic manipulation and the evolution of species. Entitled The Universe in a Single Atom (Lannoo, 2005), it delves into the common ground between spirituality and recent discoveries in physics, biology and even quantum mechanics.

The Dalai Lama admits that he is a soul in search of the truth - which, he says, owing to new scientific insights, may turn out to be different than originally thought. "Buddhism is based on discovery and experimentation," he says. "Buddha himself taught us that we should have the freedom to experiment, and it is important how we view the reality all around us. From one perspective you only see a limited view of reality, which changes completely when you look at it from another angle. So what is reality? Yet in both cases we are discussing the same universal reality. Now that concept becomes complicated if I view that reality from my Buddhist state. But it differs from other traditions and cultures, where other philosophies prevail. That, too, is reality."

The Dalai Lama stands by the concept of 'one truth, one religion', saying, "For me, Buddhism is the only truth and the only religion. But my Christian brothers and sisters say the same about Christianity. Result: different truths and different religions. That makes things difficult. Therefore we should try to operate from only one religion or truth."

This may seem like a strange pronouncement, but the Dalai Lama believes that we in the West are better off sticking to our own religion rather than shopping around. "As a Westerner, you have a culture of your own. That culture is heavily influenced by Christianity. For that reason it is healthier to continue in the same tradition. Otherwise frustration will result," he says.

"Some people have a different opinion or look towards other traditions. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you are convinced that your own religion has no more effect on you. But I would hope that one does not criticise one's own traditions. You have to keep showing respect, because religion is good and a source of inspiration to many people."

But the Dalai Lama's favourite topic is science, sparked by his discovery as a child, more than 60 years ago, of a copper telescope, a wind-up clock and illustrated books about the First World War, which had been hidden at his official winter residence, the Potala Palace. For the last 20 years, he has brought Buddhism into line with modern scientific thinking."We don't discuss reincarnation, karma or nirvana with scientists. That is a different area. We talk about cosmology, psychology. Those are themes that Buddhism covers, and it is useful to learn about the most recent scientific findings. It enlarges our knowledge. It is not that we want to convert scientists or non-believers to Buddhism, or that scientists are trying to make non-believers of us," he laughs.

"Modern scientists are starting to realise that life is fed by constructive and destructive emotions, so now they are studying emotion. Experiments are being done with students meditating for half an hour every day. After three weeks a difference can already be observed in their behaviour. That knowledge serves humankind," he says. "In our institute we have introduced science as a subject for a select group of monks. In the end we hope it can become a full-time study. We need that type of knowledge."

He accepts the view that the human race, while materially successful, is failing spiritually. "We are capable of much, but when something goes wrong it leads to catastrophe, depression, suicide... Despite our intelligence, we have a tendency to concentrate on one point. For example, if your mother were to die, for a whole day you can think of nothing else. And you grow towards depression. But when you take into account the fact that your mother died without pain, or in a happy way, and that you have many friends who can offer support, that should be a consolation and cause for new inspiration."

The Dalai Lama also believes that we lack balance as a result of too much stress, emphasising the importance of education. "From pre-school onwards, people have to learn to stay balanced. Many direct all their hope towards making money, but when something goes wrong in that regard they get depressed and can end up homeless or frustrated," he says.

Buddhism also has its conservative side, and sex is a thorny issue. I ask him why religions often have so many problems with sexuality and expect their followers to lead celibate lives. His Holiness's entourage look a bit startled at the question, but the Dalai Lama answers with almost visible pleasure. "Buddhism and Catholicism have reasons for preferring celibacy. One of those is that we can practise detachment. You see, desire and attachment can be obstacles for our spirituality. We need to watch out for that."

And homosexuality? He laughs. "All forms of sexuality are viewed as undesirable behaviour for monks and nuns." Why? He laughs loudly. "The goal of sex is reproduction."

My comment that it may be pleasurable all the same is met with a sharp giggle. The entourage giggle along, albeit a little uncomfortably. Then he says, "The point is that when you decide to take your religion or tradition seriously, you should follow its principles. But if you do not have that interest it is up to you to decide what you want to do. I think anything can be done then, as long as it is consensual. Then there is no problem if men do it with men, women with women."

The conversation moves back to the topic of Tibet. Last year the Dalai Lama was not welcome here in Belgium. The Chinese were being difficult, and to avoid a political row Belgian officials chose the easy option. "It was clear to me that it was not a good moment for the government," he says with a shrug, "No problem, I thought, I'll go there next year."

Meanwhile, he remains hopeful about the Chinese attitude towards Tibet, suggesting that the country will have to go along with the international trend of increasing openness, human rights and religious freedom. The Dalai Lama is sure about it: the regime is changing. "Very, very slowly," he emphasises, "but change it does." He says that many Chinese these days show respect, admiration and interest in Buddhism, and he is sure that the government will too. It is only a matter of time. He also believes that there are already changes within the government. For the first time in 60 years, there was a conference on Buddhism and there is even some talk of opening Buddhist schools. "That makes me happy. It is a clear sign that China may be striving towards a more open, more democratic society, even if it is a slow process. I am not seeking separation, I am only looking for a solution for us and the Chinese. Distrust is the biggest obstacle between any two parties."

One area of regret for him is in the gradual disappearance of the Tibetan language. "In that sense there is definitely a cultural genocide in progress, intentional or not. Naturally, the Chinese population is growing very quickly, and they are looking for areas, such as Tibet, that are suitable for the Chinese," he says.

He takes hope from talks that have taken place with Chinese government officials in the last four years. "Formerly, contact and communications with them were officially denied. Those talks are still being held. They help ease the distrust," he says. "We will see where it leads."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Awaken the Sleeping Buddha Within

by M N Kundu

When the Buddha announced his impending exit from the sphere of mortality, his dear disciple Ananda burst into tears. "Lord, you have been the polestar of our spiritual path so far.

Whom should we contact for guidance and higher instructions when you will not be there in the land of the living?" he asked. The Buddha replied: "Atmadeepo bhava" — Be light unto yourself.

Your wavering, questioning self must be silenced at the still point of concentrated consciousness. Amidst the darkness of worldly delusion only the emanation of radiance from within — like the full moon — can bring enlightenment.

Guru Purnima symbolises emanation of inner illumination, the awakening of the sleeping Buddha within. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advised his dear disciple Arjuna: "Lift yourself up with the help of your self".

You are your best friend, philosopher and guide, at the same time you can be your worst enemy as well. Arjuna was never advised to seek refuge in a guru.

Rather, he was advised to rise above all religious rituals and seek refuge in Him, the embodiment of eternal Being, the pure Consciousness, and real Self behind the apparent ripples of delusion.

The concept of seeking the light within is perfectly in tune with scientific spirituality. Whenever we sincerely seek intuitive guidance from within we create a magnetic pool to attract the requisite energy vibrations of infinite potentiality hidden within us.

Each soul is potentially divine and we need to awaken this divinity through concentrated efforts and continuous aspiration. This is spirituality. No one else can make us gain the same; we need to source it from inside.

In the Mahabharata, when Dronacharya refused to accept Eklavya as his disciple, the boy made an image of Dronacharya and started practising archery in front of the image.

Consequently, he mastered the art of archery as good as Arjuna who was the best direct disciple of Dronacharya, through assiduous practice and intuitive skills

The secret lies in intense aspiration leading to requisite release of the potential hidden within through the psycho-logy of faith in a guru despite the physical absence of the guru in the learning process.

Aurobindo had an experience in cosmic consciousness due to his intense aspiration and soul searching. He never had a guru. Although he received instructions on yoga from Bhaskar Lele, he never accepted him as his guru and his teachings did not lead him to self-realisation.

A true guru can be instrumental in transformation of our ego into divine self and release of divine consciousness through the mechanism of faith.

But the dogmatic claim of the essentiality of a guru in the spiritual path falls apart on closer scrutiny. The life of the Buddha, Christ, Ramakrishna, Auro-bindo, Ramana Maharshi and others bear ample testimony to the fact.

Guru Purnima, therefore, is an occasion for awakening of our inner illumination in full beam for manifestation of the divinity already within us.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I am a simple Buddhist monk: Dalai Lama

by Percy Fernandez, TIMES NEWS NETWORK, July 6, 2006

Dharmsala, India -- As a young boy of 25, the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso arrived in India 46 years ago. He turned 71 on the July 6, 2006. Last year, three days after his birthday he delightfully spoke at length on Mao, his boyhood memories, his commitment to spreading human values and his admiration for the Chinese people in an exclusive interview.

Contrary to rumour mills that the Dalai Lama is ailing, this reporter found the spiritual leader hale and hearty, strong and robust and with a firm grip. He is swift, full of life, and laughs his heart out. He is undoubtedly awe-inspiring, yet most humble. Most importantly he has a great sense of humour.

Much has changed since 2005. Early this year, the Dalai Lama expressed his desire to visit China on a 'pilgrimage' and wanted to observe the changes from the time he fled Tibet as a young boy.

He was really happy with the Berne round of talks between Tibet and China in Switzerland last June since the resumption of direct contacts since 2002.

But he continues to be problematic for the Chinese leadership. They are irritated whenever he travels to the US or incensed whenever he visits Japan, China's historical enemy. Hundreds of students from Taiwan and other countries descend to McLeodganj, above Dharamsala to receive his teachings and blessings. Recently, India's foreign secretary Shyam Saran called on the Dalai Lama at his official residence and not much is known about what transpired between them.

Because of his peripatetic schedule his doctors have advised him rest and hence the Dalai Lama has cancelled his European tour beginning from Helsinki next week. Later this year, in September the Dalai Lama will attend the largest gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Denver alongside Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Aung San Suu Kyi among others.

Curiously, the tickets for the Denver gathering will go on sale on the July 6 and so is the reopening of Nathu La. And it happens to be the birthday of the Dalai Lama.

Many many happy returns of the day. You have just completed 70 years. How does it feel to look back?

Like any other human being, some painful experiences and some satisfactory. But it has been more of satisfaction even in a life of exile that has brought me and my people a lot of opportunities.

I have had a chance to meet so many people from various walks of life. It has been very helpful in enriching my own way of thinking. I think I have made a little contribution to the Tibetan issue, its people and Tibetan culture. These are sources of my satisfaction.

Promotions of human values, religious harmony and peace have been my three commitments to humanity. I have been able to promote them through my writings, lectures and speeches.

I carry different names like counterrevolutionary, god king, Nobel Laureate and splittist among others. In the sixties, the Chinese media described me a wolf in a Buddhist robe, a great honour for someone who practiced tolerance and patience.

Tibetans think that you are also a political leader apart from their spiritual head.

It is almost 400 years after the Dalai Lama became the spiritual and temporal head of Tibetans. In my case, at the age of 16, I took the responsibility of both.

After we came to India, during the early sixties, we adopted a draft constitution which says that the Dalai Lama's powers can be abolished by two-thirds of majority in the assembly.

Three years back, we already established an elected political leadership. Since then my position is one of semi-retirement. May be, I am an ex-politician. But you don't mix the kind of politics which I involve with party politics. My politics is one of nationalist struggle.

What lies at the core of your identity?

A simple Buddhist monk. In my dreams, I feel that I am a Buddhist monk, not the Dalai Lama. Most people describe me as a Nobel Laureate. Many invite me because I am a Nobel Laureate and not because I am a monk or the Dalai Lama. They do that may be to ward off the Chinese pressure.

Once Bishop Desmond Tutu told me that it was difficult for him to reach the White House and after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, the path was cleared for his visit. (Laughs)

The life of late Pope John Paul II and yours have been compared. The Pope fiercely campaigned against the Communist empire. Did your find similarities in the cause both of you were pursuing?

His Holiness Pope John Paul II was a man I held in high regard. His experience in Poland and my own difficulties with communists gave us an immediate ground.

The Pope was very sympathetic to the Tibetan problem. Of course, as the head of an institution trying to establish good relations with China and seriously concerned about the status of millions of Christians in china he could not express this publicly or officially.

But right from the start of our friendship he revealed to me privately that he had a clear understanding of the Tibetan problem because of his own experience of communism in Poland. This gave me great personal encouragement.

Do you think tolerance and non-violence succeeds in this world?

Ultimately yes. It depends on situations. It will take time. In spite of taking time, it is the only way. Every issue is a complex one. There is no easy solution.

In the twentieth century leaders like Stalin, Hitler or Chairman Mao, took the simple method of elimination but never achieved their goals. It is impossible to eliminate all your enemies because you eliminate one, another will be born. It is possible may be in animals, but not with human beings.

If a father is eliminated, his children and grand children may carry those memories.

They will carry a sense of revenge. Bin Laden, if we handle him with hatred and handle violently, there will be 100 Bin Laden in ten or twenty years. It is possible.

Gandhi's idea of non-violence was not only morally correct but also practically realistic.

This violence somehow has to stop. From where should it stop? It is very difficult to expect from the other side to stop. This side, we should create some positive atmosphere.

In our own Tibetan case, we are fully committed towards non-violence and the middle-way approach. Even though we have been victims, we have created a conducive atmosphere. Now the powerful side, the Chinese side, has to act.

The Chinese say development inside Tibet is necessary because of globalization. What are your views?

Whether you call it globalization or economic development, some form of development is necessary. We need development and it is most welcome. But the Chinese way of development is concentrated only in pockets, like in India. Everybody is concentrating in Bangalore.

The rural India is still undeveloped. India is predominantly agriculture based. I have a strong feeling that rural India must transform.

In Taiwan, the farming and agriculture is mechanized, all of them have good education and health and the standard of living is good. India should also develop in this manner.

This reminds me of one conversation with one Chinese leader in 1954-55 in Shanghai, then Mayor and later the Foreign Minister.

He told me one late evening that he has no interest in further developing Shanghai. The countryside is not developed in Tibet.

Skewed development may create a gap between the rich and poor which is not good. I was told by a Tibetan recently the present population in Lhasa is 300,000 and according to a plan, Lhasa city should expand to 800,000. Out of the 300,000, only 100,000 are Tibetans and the rest are Chinese.

The real economic development of the local Tibetans and their economy is really in question if you analyze in depth and look at the picture carefully and closely. The real picture will emerge when people will be able to speak without fear.

In a recent televised interview, you said you liked Chairman Mao, what made you say that?

Yes. He is quite calm and composed. When he speaks, each word carries some weight. Some people talk a lot and convey little. Each word of Chairman Mao's carried some meaning.

I was impressed with him. Though my knowledge of Chinese was limited, I could understand the importance of what he said through a good Chinese interpreter. Mao considered me almost like my son.

He was very close to me. I was impressed by his simplicity. He used wear worn-out clothes. Not like Zhou Enlai who looks to be very honest.

Later several books and documents have portrayed a different picture of Mao as a tyrant and one who was responsible for 800,000 deaths of Chinese in the recent book Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday....

Do you think the current Chinese leadership has acquired a forward looking policy to find a solution for the Tibetan issue?

I think the Chinese policy on the Tibetan issue is linked to their overall policy. The current leadership has changed and the situation is different than what it used to be thirty years before.

Much has progressed. In the early fifties, they just emphasized the importance of ideology regardless of the reality. After Deng Xiaoping, reality has become more important, which I think has been a remarkable change.

It has been like two steps forward and one step backward, though I am not a specialist on China. On the Tibet issue, there has been no clear policy by the Chinese government. They also know 99% of Tibetans are against Chinese rule.

I think the Chinese government eventually will realize this. But then they themselves don't know how to tackle it. So the only way out for them is to politically tighten the grip and sanction lots of economic incentives.

They think this is the best policy. I don't think this will work. People in Basque (Spain) are economically well off but politically not satisfied.

Similarly in Quebec (Canada) in spite of a separatist movement, people want Quebec to remain in Canada. And also the case with Scotland.

They would want to remain with Great Britain provided they are satisfied. if people are satisfied, they would want to remain within Great Britain.

Political dominance will not succeed. Tibet will remain within People's Republic of China, that's my middle way of approach.

Give us meaningful autonomy, give us respect and trust us. In the meantime, economic development can continue and we will see what will benefit us. It is important a nation handles its citizens with respect.

The Chinese leadership seems to be unhappy because you keep meeting world leaders and going to countries who they don't like, for example Japan and Taiwan?

(Laughs) In that case, India should get protests on a daily basis. I am a guest of the Indian government for the past 46 years. (Laughs) The Indian Government has been taking care of the Tibetan community in the maximum possible way, including preservation of Tibetan culture.

The preservation of Tibetan culture, particularly Tibetan spirituality is quite successful. I think the most important part is Buddhist study and knowledge, it has been fruitful particularly in south India. They have major Buddhist learning centres. I gave some teachings last year to 12000 monks. Most of them were students which was very encouraging.

Do you think time is on your side when it comes to the Tibetan issue?

Oh.I don't think. I don't think. It is difficult to say although people from China as a whole are changing. In the transformation takes place quite rapidly, it will lead to a more positive outlook.

It will take time. May be 5 years, 10 years, or may be 20 years. If it should take 20 years then the survival of Tibet itself is in question. In Lhasa, the local population has become a minority.

The Tibetan language is not in use. Chinese is used in the shops, restaurants and everywhere. The official language is Chinese. Those students who have scored well in Tibetan are not promoted.

Only those Tibetans who speak Chinese get jobs easily. The present generation of Tibetans prefer to speak Chinese because of their job prospects.

Do you have something to say to the Chinese people?

Some of our Chinese brothers, even if they have a big letter in front of them can't read if they don't want to. Also they will only listen what they want to hear. Strange.

I have always admired the Chinese people and respect them. China is a great nation, the most populous nation and a very important member in the global community. They have an important role in the world.

Their 5000 year old history and civilization is equally important. There have been lots of ups and downs in the 20th century for them. Since 1949 there has been some stability.

But looking at stability alone is not sufficient. They must bring more openness, rule of law, democracy, religious freedom, human rights; these are important for their own interest and to be respected as important members of humanity. A closed society always creates fear amongst themselves and outside.

Take for example India and her big neighbour. It is a closed society, a nuclear power. Nuclear power is fine, but there should be freedom. It will be much better if it had religious freedom, transparency and rule of law, isn't? Perhaps I am conveying on behalf of India. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Annie's sweet dreams of new temple

SCOTS singing star Annie Lennox has given her backing to plans to create a Buddhist temple and cultural centre in Edinburgh. The singer wrote to a Buddhist friend to support the idea of a city temple. Ani Rinchen Khandro, has known the songwriter for 12 years. She said: "Annie's in town to receive a doctorate so it's good karma that I happen to be in [Edinburgh] at the same time. We're meeting to talk about the plans." The idea first surfaced late last year when Tibetan monks set their sights on converting a derelict church in Edinburgh's Old Town into a Buddhist temple and cultural centre. Blackfriars Street United Presbyterian Church was put on the market after lying empty for more than a decade. Although an anonymous Scots philanthropist submitted an offer for the building on behalf of the group earlier this year, the sale has been delayed. In her letter, the 51-year-old pop star wrote: "A facility such as this - a veritable peace centre - in the capital city of Scotland would be so appropriate, bearing in mind that culturally Edinburgh is regarded as a groundbreaking, finger-on-the-pulse, kind of place. "It would be a valuable asset to the local community, giving people the opportunity to join together in a positive and helpful way."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Lesson of the Sand Mandala

By DAVID WATERS, Scripps Howard News Service, June 28, 2006

Memphis, TN (USA) -- A few years ago, my wife and I took our two American sons to see 11 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Not since Gulliver sailed to the land of Lilliputians has there been the potential for such a culture clash.

The nuns, driven from Tibet by Communist Chinese, live in exile at a nunnery in Nepal, but they were touring North America. When my sons arrived, exiled from the TV, the nuns were demonstrating the meditative ritual of making a sand mandala.

A sand mandala is a sacred masterpiece, a large geometrical design created meticulously with millions of grains of hand-crushed, vegetable-dyed marble.

The nuns sat silently and still for hours, leaning almost prostrate over an elaborate blueprint as they applied several grains at a time. The nuns said they don't worry that a sneeze or breeze will turn their design into dunes. They had yet to meet my 4-year-old son, Luke.

If the world were a chair, Luke couldn't live in it. His boisterous little body seems finely tuned to the fact that he's living on a rotating rock hurtling through space.

As Luke bounced precariously around the edge of the most amazing sandbox he ever saw, I was sure I was about to witness my first international incident. The nuns didn't seem to notice. Buddhists believe that practicing proper forms of concentration is the final step on the path to nirvana - perfect peace and happiness.

Apparently, these nuns are well along Buddha's path.

Buddha gave up a life of luxury to follow his path to enlightenment 2,500 years ago. He taught that people could find perfect peace and happiness by breaking attachments to worldly things.

This was long before the Home Shopping Network. And Buddha never encountered Zach, my brand-name-wearing, high-tech-craving 15-year-old son.

I thought Zach would be enthralled by the mandala. He's a talented artist. He's also the creature of a blockbuster, theme-park culture that turns beanbag toys into icons and religious objects into knickknacks.

So when he saw the mandala, he was a bit disappointed. "That's it?" he said. He figured something that takes days to construct at least would be something he could walk through. Then he found out what the nuns were going to do with the mandala when they finished it. Disappointment dissolved into disbelief.

Tuesday afternoon, after spending hours carefully constructing the mandala, the nuns swept the sand into a bowl and tossed it into a nearby lake. That's part of the ritual of making a mandala, a final act of letting go of the material in favor of the spiritual.

"But they could frame it and keep it," Zach said. "They could sell it and make some money."

I was a bit confused, too, at first. Why destroy it? But as I concentrated on the mandala, I felt a peace about it.

Someone somewhere still believes that beauty is a creation, not a collection. That holiness is a process, not a product. That what is sacred is not for sale.