``I have waited for the Dalai Lama for one generation,'' the maroon-robed Tibetan lama said softly as he gazed at an altar lined with photogaphs of the exiled ``god-king'' of Tibetan Buddhists. ``We all want the Dalai Lama to come back. We want Tibet to be independent,'' said the elderly lama from his ornate-walled temple in the ancient Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
Thirty-seven years since Peking launched a military occupation of the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet, many Tibetans interviewed in Lhasa yesterday voiced deep opposition to communist Chinese rule.
Despite widespread fear of Chinese reprisals for the violent pro-independence demonstrations that have swept Lhasa since Sept. 27, the Tibetans said they hope that protests will inspire greater foreign support for their decades-old goal of religious and political freedom.
``We know that Tibet is not as strong as China, so we hope maybe other countries can help us,'' said a Tibetan worker.
``Now the situation is not so good, so everyone is very, very afraid,'' he added.
A young unemployed Tibetan said, ``What I feel inside, I can't tell you now. They would call me a counterrevolutionary and put me in jail.''
Members of a 1,000-strong, heavily armed Chinese militia have killed at least seven Tibetans and detained more than 110 monks and other Tibetans during demonstrations spearheaded by monks loyal to the Dalai Lama.
The protests, actively supported by a broad segment of Lhasa's population, underscore the failure of China's nearly four decades of propaganda and social coercion aimed at eradicating the Tibetans' religious fervor and independent spirit.
``The people who eat tsampa [Tibet's staple of roast barley flour] are all the Dalai Lama's people,'' the lama said smiling as he drank the favorite Tibetan brew of tsampa, yak butter, and strong tea.
Sitting cross-legged on a rug flanked by younger monks, the lama recounted how China's invasion of Tibet devastated his own life and those of his fellow Buddhist clergy.
``In 1951, when the Chinese soldiers captured Lhasa, they said Tibet was backward. They said they would give us better food and clothes,'' said the lama, his leathery hands holding a string of wooden prayer beads.
But after China's occupation forces crushed an armed Tibetan rebellion in 1959 and the Dalai Lama and 100,000 followers fled to India, Chinese troops massacred thousands of lamas and lay Tibetans.
``They [Chinese troops] came to our temple and shot more than 30 lamas,'' said the lama, whose identity is withheld for his protection.
``After that we were not allowed to pray anymore,'' he said in a hushed tone.
Chinese forces destroyed all but 13 of Tibet's 20,000 monasteries and sold overseas many priceless cultural and religious relics during the 1960s and 70s.
Like other surviving Buddhist clergy, the lama said he was forced to work at hard labor such as road construction until the early 1980s, when China eased its ban on religious worship and allowed the renovation of a handful of Tibetan temples and monasteries.
Yesterday, the lama said that he hoped other nations would come to the aid of the Dalai Lama as the Tibetan spiritual leader travels to the United States and elsewhere seeking support for his government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, and his ``five-point plan'' for Tibetan autonomy. The Dali Lama's plan would remove the 350,000 Chinese troops now stationed in Tibet and safeguard Tibetan human rights.
``When we heard the broadcasts that the Dalai Lama was in the United States, we were all very happy,'' said the lama, revealing the ineffectiveness of the recent barrage of Chinese propaganda attacking the Dalai Lama and his ``evil, separatist clique.''
All of the Tibetans interviewed but one 21-year-old soldier said they believed the Dalai Lama would someday come back to Tibet. But few ventured to say how or when.
Even children express strong reverence for Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
``We children all really love the Dalai Lama,'' an 11-year-old schoolboy said.
He said that he often visits the temple to spin the hundreds of golden-colored prayer wheels and listens to Buddhist scriptures read by his mother.
At the temple entrance the lama said, clasping his hands and bowing his graying head, ``Please help the Dalai Lama to return.''