Newsweek, 6 March 2017
“I practice taking others’ suspicions and distrust and giving them patience, tolerance and compassion,” the Dalai Lama told John Oliver.
To give viewers a break from the Donald Trump news cycle, John Oliver spent the latest episode of Last Week Tonight focusing on the oppression of the Tibetan people. According to Freedom House, Tibet was rated the second-worst nation in the world when it comes to political rights and civil liberties. Only Syria scored worse, which means countries like Somalia and North Korea are considered better off in this respect. To better understand what is happening in Tibet, Oliver traveled to India to sit down with its spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama.
China invaded Tibet in 1950, and has been repressing its citizens and controlling their religious practices ever since. Tibetans have been known to set themselves on fire in protest: Since 2009, 146 Tibetans have self-immolated. The Chinese apparently don’t have much sympathy. On one occasion, Chinese police grabbed and beat a Tibetan who set himself on fire—and then charged his family for their uniforms after they caught on fire as a result.
The Dalai Lama explained to Oliver why it is hard for him to discourage Tibetans from self-immolating. “This is a very difficult situation,” he says. “If I say their action is wrong, then their family will feel very sad, that one of their family members did something against the Dalai Lama’s wish. [But] I cannot support that, because from the Buddhist viewpoint, self-killing is not good.”
As little regard as the Chinese have for Tibetan self-immolators, they may have even less for the Dalai Lama himself, having demonized him as a “wolf in monk’s robes.” So far-reaching is their hatred for his Holiness that they banned Lady Gaga from entering China because she merely met with the Dalai Lama to discuss yoga. They’ve also sabotaged the sacred process by which the Dalai Lama’s successor would have been found.
The Dalai Lama is 81 years old. According to Buddhist belief, when he dies, he will be reincarnated in the form of a child. The Panchen Lama is traditionally tasked with finding this child. Unfortunately, the current Panchen Lama, who was chosen by the Dalai Lama, hasn’t been heard from in over 20 years. This is because he was kidnapped by the Chinese. Meanwhile, Tibet’s oppressor has chosen its own Panchen Lama, who is likely to choose a new Dalai Lama who will be far more sympathetic to the China. This is infuriating to the Dalai Lama, but, being the Dalai Lama, he’s handled it pretty well. “I practice taking others’ suspicions and distrust and giving them patience, tolerance and compassion,” he told Oliver.
The Dalai Lama does, however, acknowledge that he may be the last one. “If I become the last Dalai Lama, I feel very happy,” he said before discussing how foolish it would be for the Chinese to appoint their own Dalai Lama. “It’s short-sighted,” he said. “Without using human brain properly. It’s harmful.”
“That’s a guaranteed way to calm the Chinese government down,” said Oliver with a laugh. “To tell them that they’re not using the human brain properly.”
“I told them our brains usually have the ability to create common sense,” the Lama continued. “The Chinese hardliners, in their brain, that part is missing.”
“Zing,” said Oliver.