Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, in Barcelona at Last

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The present Dalai Lama’s visit was expected in Barcelona a few years ago, at the time of the Forum Barcelona 2004. At the end of the Rambla de Santa Mònica, Tibetan monks had erected a large tent and were busy for several days creating a massive Sand Mandala, the largest one that I have ever seen, in eager anticipation of their leader’s sojourn. It was not to be, then. The Sand Mandala had to be brushed into oblivion.

 

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Last Sunday, three years later, it finally happened. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in Barcelona at last, for a brief three day visit. By the time you read this he will be on his way to Lisbon, Portugal, and after that to California, New Zealand, Germany, London, UK and Washington DC. After that, Canada. The Dalai Lama is a very busy man.

His Holiness had come to Barcelona for the first time in 10 years, to officially inaugurate the new headquarters of the Tibet House Foundation Barcelona. For those in need of enlightenment He also gave a public talk about The Art of Happiness at Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi. I believe that 14,000 tickets were sold out well before the beginning of this public appearance. That’s a lot of people seeking either enlightening or happiness, or both, at 20 € a go.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the laureate of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

I once had the good fortune to attend the closure of a Tibetan Thangka paintings exhibition, celebrated by the Dalai Lama in Mallorca, Spain. Tibetan monks had again created a Sand Mandala, albeit much smaller in size, inside Pollença’s church of Santo Domingo. At the closing ceremony, this small, but impressive Sand Mandala, was brushed away by the Master. I stood perhaps one metre away from him, being saddened about the willful elimination of this beautiful, if only temporary Mandala artefact. The finissage ceremony was followed by a public discourse held by the Dalai Lama at the cloisters of Santo Domingo. My personal enlightenment then was admission free.

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One can not talk about the Dalai Lama without talking about Tibet.

Tibet, according to Wikipedia, is a plateau region in Central Asia and the indigenous home to the Tibetan people. With an average elevation of 4,900 metres, it is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the Roof of the World.

Tibet was occupied and annexed by the People’s Republic of China in 1959, with this incorporation into China being disputed under international law.

Earlier, Tibetan King Songtsän Gampo united many parts of the region in the seventh century. From the early 1600s the Dalai Lamas, commonly known as spiritual leaders of the region, are believed to have been the emanations of Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan), the Bodhisattva of compassion. Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lama and his regents were the predominant political power administering religious and administrative authority over Tibet from the traditional capital Lhasa, regarded as Tibet’s holiest city.

The British Empire had a role in Tibet as well, beginning in 1865. After some clandestine dealings and some trickery, a treaty was signed between lay and ecclesiastical officials of the Tibetan government and the British, before the British forces left the city of Lhasa in 1904.

The treaty made provisions for the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet to be respected, for free trade between British and Tibetan subjects, and for an indemnity to be paid from the Qing court to the British Government for its expenses in dispatching armed troops to Lhasa. It also made provision for a British trade agent to reside at the trade market at Gyangzê (the position of British Trade Agent at Gyangzê was occupied from 1904 until 1944). The provisions of this 1904 treaty were confirmed in a 1906 treaty signed between Britain and China, in which the British, for a fee from the Qing court, also agreed “not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet”.

 

Instead, Tibet was annexed by China, in 1959.

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When China took Tibet, the then (and present) Dalai Lama emigrated to Dharamsala in India. He has since ceded temporal power to an elected government-in-exile.

Only last week, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to allow the use of the US Capitol rotunda for a ceremony next month to bestow US Congress’ highest civilian honor on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The resolution also would permit the International Campaign for Tibet to sponsor a related ceremony for Tibet’s exiled spiritual head on the Capitol grounds on October 17th. The House voted last year to award the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal. The congressional ceremony will no doubt rankle China, whose government has increasingly sought to steer Tibetan Buddhism, for centuries the basis of Tibet’s civil, religious, cultural and political life.

China denounced the House vote last year to bestow the gold medal on His Holiness the Dalai Lama and condemned His receipt in 1989 of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mary Beth Markey, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet, called the congressional award the most significant international tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since the Nobel Peace Prize nearly 20 years ago. Good.

Wrong must be allowed to be called wrong. And what has happened to Tibet in 1959 was wrong.

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