‘Indians 'Responsible' For Suffering’
Interview with Prashant Varma
(The Nation, Thailand | October 1, 2001)
For almost half a decade, India has been home to the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, along with 200,000
Tibetan refugees. Two years ago a support group was formed by
young Indians who want to do more to help the cause.
Organisational Secretary of the Friends of Tibet (INDIA),
who was in Bangkok recently to exchange views and experiences with
Buddhist groups in Thailand about the role of Indian citizens in
helping to win Tibetan Independence from China. Excerpts follow:
What is the aim of your group, and how are you going to achieve it?
The Tibetans have been in India for 45 years. Until now there has
never been a Tibetan support group in India, even though Indian
communities have done so much. We have not really adopted a very
strong stance. India is such a diverse society that nobody bothers
to ask why such and such a person is in their country.
Secondly, India and Tibet have enjoyed close cultural and historical
relationships for thousands of years. Tibet got Buddhism from India,
and India has a responsibility for the suffering of its neighbours,
especially when the cause is just and the path is non-violent.
In March 1999, a few friends got together and decided that we should
publicly support the Tibetan cause. Indians should know what's
happening inside Tibet. We want good conditions where Tibetans can
lead their lives in a social and cultural context.
We don't have any membership fees. I don't work on a salary. Our
website is our office. The aim of our programmes is awareness of
Tibetan problems through arts, culture, seminars, photo exhibitions
etc. Most Indians don't know that we're spending more money guarding
the border with China than that with Pakistan.
Many think the Tibetan cause is futile because every government
wants to please China and penetrate its market.
No, it's not like that. To me it seems that the Tibetan struggle is
more like a pilgrimage. I am not confronting the Chinese people but
the government and Western multinational corporations whose views
are rooted in ignorance and greed.
It's not that all Chinese are bad and enemies to the Tibetans.
It's a struggle rooted in a spiritual consciousness. It's a struggle
about truth and justice. Policies are very relative terms:
they just pass away with time.
But Western governments, and even Thailand, won't discuss the
Tibetan issue when meeting their Chinese counterparts.
Even the Indian government won't officially bring up the issue.
But I feel our efforts are not to change the government's policies.
Our task is to transform the view of the common man.
What do you think of Tibetan youths who are increasingly calling
for armed struggle as they are disenchanted with the Dalai Lama?
Some Tibetan youths are critical of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
but they are sincere. I personally feel that if violence is used,
in the short term it will work but in the long term it will create
disharmony, because there's no genuine reconciliation. Looking
at it in a spiritual way, patience is a very important aspect of
spiritual struggle. The most important thing is that, if the cause
is based on truth and justice, non-violence is the only path.
Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch was once quoted in Vanity Fair magazine
as saying that the Dalai Lama is 'a very political monk running
amok in Gucci slippers'. How do you respond?
I have tremendous respect, devotion to and admiration for His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the question of Gucci shoes would
not arise if Rupert Murdoch had a chance to meet His Holiness,
because meeting His Holiness transforms one's inner conscious.
His Holiness is truly a bodhisattva.
What lessons have you learned from your activities so far?
It's very strange when I look back on it now. It was more like
external involvement as a student, as an activist. But over the years
it has become more like an inner journey to me. Tibetan people to
me represent a tradition which is very ancient and very reflective
of wisdom, compassion and humility, which sustains them through
all hardships. So I have personally gained a lot and feel more
strongly about the basis of this struggle. It is not just losing
their homeland but losing the past. As Indians, or as human beings,
we have responsibility toward other human beings, and we can't just
ignore others' suffering. Through learning about other people's
suffering, or helping them, we can also heal our own suffering.
Many who support the Tibetan cause seem oblivious to the fact
that traditional Tibetan culture is rather oppressive and centres
around the god-king figure of the Dalai Lama and that this is part
of the reason that the Chinese invaded Tibet and claimed they were
I am not very well read, but while there was some oppressive policy,
on the whole I think the people were very happy. People had a
lot of freedom, and I feel that His Holiness has been strongly
advocating and trying to bring about democracy. He's very clear
in his view that when they go back to Tibet it will be entirely
up to the people. He will stay out of politics. But a god-king,
or a dharmaraja? If he is very good, you cannot have a better ruler
than that. That's why His Holiness is constantly reminding people
that he's a simple monk and just wants to be a monk.