Two years after he was taken in a car with darkened windows and no personal aide to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence in New Delhi, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest leader, the Dalai Lama, is being given pride of place at an international Buddhist conference to be held in March in Rajgir-Nalanda, Bihar.
Equally significant, Delhi has finally come around to accepting that the Karmapa Lama, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect, is “not a Chinese spy” 17 years after he fled from the Tsurphu monastery in Tibet, but a genuine leader.
These moves are being quietly welcomed by the large Tibetan community as well as the influential strategic affairs establishment which believes “there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about” publicising the Dalai Lama’s activities even if it bothers Beijing.
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Delhi, highly placed sources said, has come to the realisation that the Dalai Lama is an “asset, not a liability”.
As China exercises its muscle vis-à-vis Buddhist leaders living in India or those visiting abroad — for example, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia in November was so heavily criticised by Beijing that the Mongolian foreign minister has since promised it will never happen again — Delhi has taken the decision to nevertheless allow Tibetan Buddhism’s two most senior monks to increasingly move into the public gaze.
The Dalai Lama will travel to Arunachal Pradesh from the Buddhist conference in Rajgir-Nalanda, which takes place from March 17-19.
Beijing had objected to the visit at the time it was announced in October last year. It will be the Tibetan leader’s fourth visit to that state.
While the Karmapa is expected to soon visit Sikkim — the only state in the country from which he had been barred for the last 17 years, because the Rumtek monastery located there contains the ceremonial “Black Hat”, said to be the ultimate adornment of the rightful heir of the Karma Kagyu sect — although not yet to Rumtek, because a case against his presence there is still valid in court.
The Nalanda conference, called “Buddhism in the 21st Century”, is being formally hosted by the Ministry of Culture. The presence of the Dalai Lama for two whole days at Nalanda, along with all the top Buddhist monks, especially from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar — as well as, possibly, Richard Gere, who is attending the ongoing Kalachakra celebrations in Bodh Gaya and may or may not be able to come back to Bihar so soon — is certain to draw international attention.
Government sources said it is one way of returning the compliment to the Dalai Lama, who has always said that as a “son of India,” he owes a great deal of his learning to the “Nalanda masters”.
But in the new year, Delhi wants to take a leaf from Beijing’s book — as well as its calendar, which has marked 2017 as the Year of the Rooster — and hopes to crow about its own strengths as well. “Buddhism took birth in India, so we must use it as our soft power,” the sources said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is leading the charge on the invocation of Buddhism as strategic gain. Minister of State (Home) and MP from Arunachal Pradesh Kiren Rijiju has been the public go-between the Dalai Lama’s people and the government. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who wears a Buddhist rosary since he went to China as ambassador just under a decade ago, is brushing up his contacts with the Tibetan community in India.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs is carefully watching the unfolding spat between Mongolia and China, in the wake of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Ulaanbaatar.
After a Chinese paper called it “politically hare-brained” for Mongolia to seek help from Delhi at the same time it has asked for a cash loan from Beijing, Mongolian foreign minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil told the local ‘Onoodor’ newspaper that he “feels sorry” for allowing the Dalai Lama to visit and that he “probably wont be visiting Mongolia again during this administration”.
The Dalai Lama’s emergence from purdah in recent weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary. He was seen at Rashtrapati Bhavan, sitting beside President Pranab Mukherjee, only a few weeks ago. During his visit to Mongolia, he announced that the Jebtsundama Khutuktu — the third most important leader in the Gelugpa school, after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama — had been reincarnated. And his teachings, in Dharamsala and Delhi, in several languages including Russian, have only grown.