Tibet -- Is Chinese rule softening after 30 years?
Hardly anyone quotes Mao Tse-tung these days, even in China. But the late Chairman has found an unlikely convert in the Dalai Lama. "If we look at the quotations of Chairman Mao on human service, they are filled with the teachings of Buddha," says the Tibetan god-king who lives in exile in India and travels occasionally to attend international conferences on Buddhism.Skip to next paragraph
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In yet another leap toward a synthesis of atheistic communism and religion, the Tibetan leader has declared: "Marxism in its original form, without power politics or nationalism, could coexist with Buddhism."
The Dalai Lama's friendly soundings, which come two decades after his abortive revolt against Mao's China in 1959, obviously are aimed at sustaining the hopes of returning to his homeland someday. While the post-Mao Chinese leaders have little time for Marxism in its original form and even less for Mao's sayings, they, too, have been waving the olive branch at the man who is revered as the 14th reincarnation of Tibet's god-king.
If the Dalai Lama were to return to Tibet, he would complete one more painful cycle in the history of this remote land of Lamaistic Buddhism, which has been a tale of a series of alien incursions forcing the ruling Dalai Lama to flee, followed by his return from exile and the resumption of the normal religious life of the Tibetans. Superimposed on the religious destiny of this Shangri-La was the formidable military and political weight of an imperial China.
In 1979 the post-Mao Chinese leadership launched a series of liberal measures. Even religious freedom was making a gradual comeback. If the prayer wheels were to turn, could the Dalai Lama be far behind? The cycle had been set in motion as Chinese authorities through intermediaries in Hong Kong invited Tibetan exiles to visit Lhasa.
Tibet was also opened up to a few select visitors and journalists. Seeing signs of Chinese conciliation, the Dalai Lama sent a delegation in October 1979. The group was carefully conducted by the Chinese through Tibet, and it returned with none-too-negative an impression, leading to the second delegation last summer.
The few remaining temples and shrines were reopened -- more than 99 percent of the 2,300 shrines in Tibet had been destroyed during the chaotic Cultural Revolution -- and Tibetans, young and old alike, began flocking to Lhasa to offer prayers and gain merit with the Buddha.
The Chinese thought a chance to worship might soothe the feelings of the people, but the resurgence of dormant religious expression was so fervent and spontaneous that it shocked the Chinese cadres in Tibet. In traditional Tibetan culture, almost every human action has a religious significance giving it a distinct Tibetan identity, whose symbol inevitably remains the office and person of the Dalai Lama. Even the liberal Chinese measures were attributed by the Tibetans to the grace of the Dalai Lama.
Small-scale demonstrations in favor of the Dalai Lama occurred last April, and wall posters critical of the Chinese government began appearing on the streets of Lhasa. The outside world got a glimpse of such dissent in late July when visiting reporters saw a rousing demonstration in support of the second group representing the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan craving for the Dalai Lama was such that the crowds literally mobbed their god-king's delegates to snatch a lock of hair or a piece of clothing, which they could take home to worship, a practice quite common in the old days.
When the delegates went to the Gadden monastery outside Lhasa to offer prayers, Tibetan drivers commandeered more than 80 trucks, loaded their families into them, and drove off to the monastery to offer prayers in the rubble of that religious relic. The offending drivers were warned by the Chinese authorities, and four persons were arrested as ringleaders, according to Tibetan sources.