Written by Kelsang D Aukatsang
As we approach the 151st birth anniversary of Gandhi, the father of the nation and one of the most inspirational and influential figures in all of world history, his philosophy and legacy are more relevant now than ever before. The world today does indeed need a Gandhi-like figure to help us overcome some of the profound challenges that we face.
Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and non-violent resistance as a power that can transform adversaries into friends and resolve issues of injustice and oppression has inspired an entire generation of world leaders and movements including Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States; the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa in Poland; Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa and the non-violent Tibetan freedom movement led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While some of these movements have succeeded, others are still in the process of being resolved. The Civil Rights Movement in the US has made great strides, but Martin Luther King’s dream is yet to be fully realised, as manifested in the current Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice. The world today is largely dominated by intolerance and extremism. The temptation to resort to violence to settle disputes is great as that is what garners news headlines. But as King, a disciple of Gandhi, stated: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
One of the strongest examples of the enduring influence and lasting legacy of Gandhiji and his philosophy is the Tibetan freedom struggle — a struggle for the rights and dignity of the Tibetan people from the brutal occupation and policies of the People’s Republic of China. His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama is one of the foremost disciples of Gandhi and a Satyagrahi.
At his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech on December 10, 1989, His Holiness said: “I accept the prize with profound gratitude on behalf of the oppressed everywhere and for all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace. I accept it as a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of nonviolent action for change – Mahatma Gandhi – whose life taught and inspired me.”
More than words, His Holiness is the leading practitioner of Gandhian values. His Four Principal Commitments — the promotion of peace and happiness; encouraging harmony among world’s religious traditions; preservation of Tibetan language and culture; and reviving awareness of the value of ancient Indian knowledge based on the Nalanda tradition relate to Gandhian principles and values.
The Dalai Lama has channelled those values and moulded the Tibetan freedom struggle where the principles of non-violence are built into the DNA of the movement. Despite the tremendous suffering and loss incurred with hundreds of thousands of deaths, destruction of most monasteries and nunneries, erosion of language and culture, destruction of the environment, the relegation of Tibetans as second-class citizens in their own homeland and over 150 Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest since 2009, Tibetans continue to wage their struggle for freedom and dignity non-violently as per the path laid out by Gandhi.
While Gandhi is no longer with us, the world and Tibetans are blessed to have his key disciple, the Dalai Lama, in our midst. He represents a beacon of hope and peace to all. “I am a true son of India, have survived on dal and rotis,” says His Holiness. There is no stronger ambassador for India. I had the good fortune of being present when the Dalai Lama met with US President Barack Obama for the third time at the White House on February 21, 2014. He could have used the precious time with the world’s most powerful leader on so many topics, but His Holiness spent almost a good third of his time extolling the virtues of India, its diversity and how grateful he is to India. He genuinely cares about India and its people.
As we commemorate the birth anniversary of a giant who left an indelible mark on this planet, it is time the government and people of India recognised another giant in our midst. His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama is 85 years old. Now is the perfect occasion to confer upon him the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the Republic of India. India should confer the award not because he needs it, as he has received all the major global awards, but India needs to do this for herself. His Holiness is always thanking India. It is now time for India to thank His Holiness and to celebrate his presence in India which he has called his home since 1959. The world will not see the likes of him again. Such a gesture will forever cement the special and centuries-old ties between the people of India and Tibet. Also, this is what Gandhi would have done.
The writer is a Special Advisor to the President of the Central Tibetan Administration and former Representative of HH the Dalai Lama to North America.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines