My wife and I recently watched a documentary titled, "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" and it was very moving. I've always found Buddhism a fascinating religion ever since I learned about it in my World History class when I was in high school. The Dalai Lama is also a fascinating man which makes the documentary we watched all the more fascinating.
Many of you probably know the story of the Dalai Lama's life. But for those who don't, here is a quick synopsis. Since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, they often look for signs that the next Dalai Lama has been born or reincarnated. They often give very small children tests to determine if they are the chosen one, so to speak. The previous Dalai Lama will always leave signs and point to areas where he will be reborn before he passes. It is among these circumstances that the current Dalai Lama was chosen, at the age of two. From the age of four, his head was shaved and he was intensely trained in becoming a Buddhist monk. At the age of fifteen, one month after China invaded his country, he was enthroned as the Dalai Lama. He was deceived by Mao Zedong, China's Communist ruler into thinking that Tibet would be allowed to keep its religious freedoms and cultural practices. He was pointedly told by Mao Zedong that, "Religion is poison." After this and after suspecting that China 's rulers were planning to kill him, he led a failed uprising. The Chinese army quickly dispelled it and left with nothing else to do, he fled to northern India, where he still resides today in a town called Dharmashala. In the wake of his exile, somewhere around 1,200,000 Tibetans were massacred by the Chinese army.
Watching the movie, I saw in him the same qualities I have seen in the greatest religious leader I have seen in my lifetime (Gordon B. Hinckley). The Dalai Lama is very smart. He enjoys learning about science and greatly enjoys the topics of astronomy and neurology. He believes there are sentient lifeforms on planets outside of our solar system. He often tinkers with things, taking apart and studying the inner workings of watches and cars. He is very humble. He is quick to say that he is no one special. He often gets bored when people praise him. And the quality that most reminds me of Gordon B. Hinckley, is that he loves to laugh. He is often making jokes about himself or the idiosyncracies that he observes in other people. He refuses to fly first class on airplanes saying that if people still wanted to see him , it wouldn't make any difference which part of the aircraft he sat in. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, which comes with a $1 million prize, he gave all the money away to charity.
The movie can easily make you angry at China (if you already aren't mad at them). The Dalai Lama, knowing that he is near the end of his life, in 1995, selected the next Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama is one of the key people who select the reincarnated Dalai Lama. A few days after the Dalai Lama selected this new Panchen Lama, the boy and his family disappeared. To this day, they have never been seen again in public. This boy is regarded as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". A few days after this boy's disappearance, the People's Republic of China announced their own Panchen Lama, who would select the new Dalai Lama. It seems as though China is adamant in squashing out the culture of the Tibetan people.
Though through all of this, the Dalai Lama remains calm. He wishes no ill-will toward China and even verbally chastises anybody who uses violence to promote the cause of Tibet. He says in the film that the only hope for his people and his culture to survive is for China to become democratic. I, too, hope that this will soon happen.
Many prophets have stated that Siddhartha Guatama or Buddha, Confucius, and even the prophet Mohammed were all inspired men who were directed by God to teach their people. I enjoy learning about this man and his people and echo the prophets of the Mormon church in saying that all religions offer insight into our own religion. This is not to say that we should forsake our own religion, nor to practice anything from another. But studying and understanding another's beliefs instills in us the viewpoint that all religion at one time came from the same source and that God uses different methods to reach different people and that anything that is done to make a person choose to live a better life and to better the world around him is good. The Dalai Lama is an inspirational man and the fact that he is not of your religion should not be reason to think differently.
I hope China one day sees what they have done. I hope one day the Dalai Lama can return to his homeland in his lifetime. It would be a very terrible thing if we were all witnesses to a cultural genocide but were powerless to stop it.