BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Dalai Lama ...

What can I say about this? Over the past 30 years, the biographical outline of the current Dalai Lama has been very familiar to me, so much of this was a "filling in the details". Of course, you (my intrepid readers, such as there are), may not be as conversant with the story, so I guess an over-view would be in order.

Freedom In Exile: the Autobiography of the Dalai Lama is just that, the current (14th) Dalai Lama's telling of his life story, from his birth in 1935 in the north-eastern provinces of Tibet through 1990 (when the first edition of this came out). In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, certain high Lamas (referred to as Tulkus) are able to re-incarnate in identifiable forms to continue their teachings, the Dalai Lamas are one such lineage, of which Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth manifestation. Over the past 400 or so years, the Dalai Lamas have been both the leaders of the Tibetan nation as well as the head of the Gelugpa order.

It was said that his predecessor had seen visions of the great trials that the Tibetan people would go through with the rise of Communism in China and had "died early" in order that his reincarnated form would have a chance to be ready for those events. As it was, the current Dalai Lama was only 15 years old (with the government being run via a Regency) when the Chinese invaded in 1950. The next decade was very turbulent, with the Chinese encroaching more and more on the Tibetan way of life. Finally, in 1959, the Dalai Lama had to flee the country, re-settling (eventually with many refugees) in India.

While the Chinese destruction of Tibet's unique culture is a massive tragedy, the Tibetan diaspora has resulted in the wide spread of their particular form of Buddhism, which might not have taken root all over the world the way it has were Tibet to have survived as it had been for the previous thousand years. Needless to say, I would have been very unlikely to have crossed paths with Vajrayana without it, rather than having had the opportunity to have taken five initiations from the Dalai Lama here in the U.S. between 1981 and 1991!

Freedom In Exile goes into the details of how the Dalai Lama dealt with this upheaval, and struggled with political structures that were willing to "throw Tibet under the bus" rather than challenge the Chinese. While, frankly, there was precious little The West could have practically done to keep the Chinese out of Tibet, it would have been nice had there been more willingness to stand up to the forces of evil rather than simply ignoring them (but what can you expect when the American Congress even now is wanting to hide under the covers and pretend that the whole world would be out singing Kumbaya if we quit fighting organized terror!). The Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989 hardly makes right the butchery of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and the wanton destruction of thousands of irreplaceable monasteries (and the centuries of learning/tradition that had been preserved in them) when the Chinese artillery came into play.

In any event, this is an interesting volume on several levels, there is the whole "Tibetan" historical angle, the coming of age of a young man in a very imposing role, and the global political tale that weaves through the narrative, with some fascinating observations made first-hand of Mao and other Chinese leaders, Nehru and other Indian leaders, etc.. Freedom In Exile is still in print, so should be available at your local bookstore, but Amazon has it for about $11 new, and "like new" copies from the new/used vendors going for about $5.00. If you have an interest in religion, in gripping autobiographies, and of modern socio-political history, this is certainly one to consider picking up!

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Tags: book review
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