Dalai Lama: Man, Monk, Mystic An Authorised Biography
by Mayank Chhaya. Mapinlit, Ahmedabad. Pages 342. Price not stated.
WHAT is it like to be born into a poor family in a small village of Tibet, and then to be catapulted to the heights of spiritual power even before you are not old enough to know the significance of it? This has happened many times in the past, and it happens all the time in Tibet, which is known for a long tradition of its spiritual heads called the Dalai Lama. When a reigning Dalai Lama dies, the search for his successor begins based on several clues given by the seers. Lhamo Thondup was one such child who would be the chosen one.
In 1933, Choskyi Gyaltsen, the ailing 13th Dalai Lama, knew that his time was over. Soon after his death, monks began to look in all corners of Tibet for their new spiritual leader until they arrived at Tengster, a village in northeastern Tibet. "My memory of that day is quite clear," recalls the present Dalai Lama, "I remember that so many people came to our house. I recognised many of them although I had never met them. I don't want to make it sound dramatic but it was as if I had never left the scene for a long, long time."
Mayank Chhaya paints a vivid and touching picture of Thondup's childhood: his training in monasteries, his installation as the 13th Dalai Lama and his life in exile in Dharamshala, India. The author says he has had a persisting interest in the Dalai Lama since his childhood, and that fascination has endured. Dalai Lama: Man, Monk, Mystic is a labour of love that is based on several interviews that he has had with the spiritual leader over the years. The love seems to have been reciprocated as, according to the publishers, this is the only authorised biography of His Holiness.
To put things in context, Chhaya begins by briefly outlining the history and geography of Tibet as these have a strong bearing on its unique spiritual culture. The Chinese would like to say that it is part of their main culture, but the Tibetans assert that they are distinct from them. As we read along, we learn about the conflict between these two cultures, especially after Mao took over the reigns and unleashed a ruthless campaign of suppression and subjugation of the Tibetans. Hundreds of them were imprisoned, tortured, killed, and dozens of monasteries razed to the ground. The sinister plans of the Chinese did not stop here, they approached Thubten Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama's brother, and offered to make him the governor general of Tibet, if he overthrew and killed his brother.
Chhaya laments that the India factor in the destiny of Tibet has not been looked into seriously by politicians and scholars. "The two nations have been brought together not just by their shared spiritual traditions but also by something more elemental in geological terms. They are as geologically connected as they are spiritually joined."
But things are rather complicated for India. Though it has a soft corner for the Tibetans, it cannot earn the wrath of China. Way back in March 1963, when the Dalai Lama announced the promulgation of a democratic constitution to coincide with the anniversary of the 1959 revolt, China was furious and it accused India of a "serious provocation" in not stopping the Dalai Lama from doing so.
Among the Tibetans themselves, there are many challenges from outside as well as from within. Being the head of a religion based on non-violence, it is certainly not easy for the Dalai Lama to keep up the non-violent struggle, and yet keep the young from taking to violence.
Repercussions of events that take place in Tibet and China can be felt in Dharamshala. On September 21, 1987, Lhasa witnessed street demonstrations, violence, and arson. The Han Chinese in Lhasa were targeted and attacked, and Chinese vehicles and buildings destroyed. The Chinese on their part arrested monks and tortured them. This violent struggle continued for 17 months forcing China to impose martial law in March 1989.
Chhaya covers nearly all the major personal, religious and political events that have happened in His Holiness's life. There is a discussion about religious issues, on Tantra, and on modern-age psychological problems.
After reading the book, the Dalai Lama emerges as a man full of life and hope for everyone, not just for the Buddhists. Chhaya desrves qudos for portraying the life of one of the most lovable persons in the world.