Interview with the Dalai Lama: Lien-Ho Pao
(Ch'en Yu-hui | Taipei | December 6, 2002)

His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama

Article by Lien-Ho Pao special correspondent Ch'en Yu-hui: "Dalai Lama: Seeks Autonomy for Tibet, Not To Separate Tibet from China"

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet recently said that to create a favorable atmosphere for holding talks with China, he would not be visiting Taiwan in the near future. Moreover, he had dispatched a special delegation to Beijing and Tibet in September this year, which marked the beginning of the initial establishment of mutual trust channels between the two sides. He believes that "the coming year would be a fairly critical year" and peace talks between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese government would most probably yield concrete results.

Dalai Lama stressed that what he seeks is autonomy for Tibet, not to separate Tibet from China as it is only through autonomy that Tibet would have the foundation for its unification with China. He said that in this context, whether he himself would return to Tibet or not is not at the top of the agenda. Dalai Lama pointed out in the interview that Samdhong Rinpoche has been elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in popular voting, and he "would no longer take part in any political affairs in the future," but this does not imply that he does not wish to hold himself accountable for the future of Tibet, but instead shows that the Tibetan government-in-exile has taken a huge step forward in its democratization.

Unification Possible Only If Tibetans' Well-Being Taken into Consideration and Tibet's Autonomy Granted
The 14th Dalai Lama was interviewed during his recent visits to European countries by our special correspondent Ch'en Yu-hui in his room at the Bavaria Hotel in Munich. The following is an excerpt of the interview:

Reporter: In my several interviews of Your Holiness in the past in northern India, you kept saying that in your remaining years, you would continue to seek your return to Tibet; now, are you moving a step closer?

Dalai Lama: It is still too early to say so. After we have established dialog channels of mutual trust with the Chinese officials, the next thing to do is to look at the significance of the dialog. Personally, whether I go back or not is not that important; what is more important is the well-being of six million Tibetans. I believe that the Chinese government also hopes that there will be peace and stability in Tibet, and only if it is so will unification be possible. Therefore, we must also make it clear that the aforesaid unification would only be made possible by first granting autonomy to Tibet, which will then bring prosperity to Tibet. In the long run, an autonomous Tibet would ensure that Tibetan religion and culture would not die out. In other words, we can only seek the possibility of autonomy for Tibet, a new road, and only after that would it be possible for me to go back.

Several days ago, when I was on my way to Europe from northern India, I came across a highly educated Tibetan woman in Dharamsala, India. Surprisingly, she advised me not to go back. This is an issue of reason. Of course, I have often wanted to return to my homeland where the palace stands and where there is Chinese food (laughs), the conditions of the people's livelihood there may be a lot better than in the mountains of northern India, but if you have no freedom and no prospect of improving the situation, then going back would be even worse than not going. Therefore, returning is only a matter of time. If, like what we have done, the Chinese government also demonstrates its sincerity, I would ask them to release as many political prisoners as possible, not just one or two. Then it will be even more desirable.

But the present dialog has only just begun and I believe that maintaining a favorable atmosphere for the peace talks is essential. From now until 2003 is a very important year, as by then, we may probably see results. I wish with all my heart that there will be good results.

Q: On the premise of maintaining the appropriate atmosphere for the peace talks, Your Holiness will most likely not visit Taiwan this year.

A: Thank you for your suggestion. I have been to Taiwan twice and I have an excellent impression of Taiwan. The Tibetan Government-in-exile and Taipei have originally consulted each other and agreed that I should visit Taiwan once a year on a regular basis, but since we now have the opportunity to engage in dialog with China, it would not be appropriate for me to visit Taiwan. I originally planned to visit Taiwan next year, but I am afraid I will have to postpone the visit. As a matter of fact, my visits to Taiwan have all along been religious in nature, but China does not think so.

Q: But Your Holiness has a huge following in Taiwan; if you don't go, it is not difficult to visualize how disappointed they would be?

A: With regard to this problem, the Chinese officials are extremely sensitive. There is definitely some difficulty in my making the trip at present.

Q: Your Holiness was seriously ill last year. How is your health now?

A: Very good. In January last year, I came down with a serious case of intestinal disorder. When I was being treated in the hospital in India, the doctor told me that I was in danger of dying.

Q: But you are presently looking radiant and healthy.

A: I consider myself very lucky to have survived the illness, but I have not completely recovered physically. Therefore, I must be extra careful with myself.

Q: Your Holiness once told me that you are keen on solitary meditation [pi-kuan]. Do you still do so frequently?

A: Yes, frequently, whenever I have the time to. Since I fell ill last year, I have cancelled a large number of visits, including visits to countries such as those in Europe. Relatively speaking, the time I spend on solitary meditation has increased.

Q: But after emerging from solitary meditation, do you find that there is more work waiting to be done?

A: No, since Samdhong Rinpoche was elected by popular voting as the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile last year, I have gradually handed over to him my responsibilities in political affairs and at present, he is in charge of most of these matters. Of course, he often asks me for advice and I am willing to share my experience and views with him. I think this is one big step towards the democratization of the Tibetan government-in-exile. I have absolute trust in our prime minister who was elected by the people. I declare that I am retiring from politics, but this does not mean that I am uninterested or do not have to be held accountable. This is only a decision that I made to support democratization.

Q: By doing so, does it mean that the future 15th Dalai Lama would also not be involved in politics?

A: The future succession of the 15th Dalai Lama is a different issue. During my term as the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile has been moving towards politicalization. In other words, the Dalai Lama would no longer be involved in political affairs, but would purely assume the role of religious leader. As for the political affairs of Tibet, they would be attended to by a government organization elected by the people. In addition, the issue concerning the succession of the 15th Dalai Lama is a rather thorny one, but according to how things are going as mentioned above, it is highly probable that in the future, we may no longer need any reincarnated Dalai Lama to take charge of Tibet's affairs. Or there may not be any more reincarnated Dalai Lamas at all.

Q: How about Karmapa, who fled to northern India from Tibet over two years ago? Do you often see each other?

A: Yes, we do. He spends most of his time studying, but sometimes he goes abroad on visits and he has also started officiating at religious rites.

Q: Your Holiness mentioned a while ago that you have been gradually handing over politically-related matters to the elected prime minister. Could you tell me what your present responsibilities are?

A: The main idea of Buddhism is the unification of the body, mind, and spirit, and it is only by attaining such a state that man could find happiness in life. When I was lying in bed in the hospital last year, I could do nothing but pray. I prayed for myself and also for mankind, and this is precisely my job. I frequently travel around India and have come across a lot of people who led a very impoverished material life and whose health was worse off than mine, but they were living a far happier life than the wealthy people whom I had met in Europe and the United States. Such an attitude toward life touches me and has made me more eager to pass on the spirit of Buddhism to more people. I am not particularly referring to faith. Most probably, it will inspire man to develop various aspects of life, bring his wisdom and compassion into full play, develop his personal spirit, and take interest in the well-being of other regions. All living things are connected and ultimately inseparable and we should learn to listen and communicate with each other.

It is only by so doing that we may be able to seek out the way to peace together. Whoever it is or whichever country it may be must not adopt extremist or violent approaches: helping others is helping oneself. I am not what the Chinese call the "living Buddha"; I am just a guru, but I am most willing to influence more people favorably in my remaining years and contribute to religion.

Q: It can be said that you are the ambassador of peace. How do you apply your wisdom and compassion to the Chinese government?

A: It is my belief that there are no such things as unresolvable disputes in this world. With regard to the Tibetan issue, what we want to talk about is the issue of legitimacy. When confronted by a problem, everyone tends to steer clear of it, but this will not help in resolving the problem at all. China has become a powerful country and will certainly grow to be more powerful, which is precisely the reason why it does not have to use force to resolve a problem. We are prepared to sit down and talk with the Chinese officials. My feeling is that China is also changing. In the past few years, the Chinese officials have as always directed personal attacks at me and exhibited no desire to talk about peace; but recently, the state of affairs has changed and we have been in contact with each other. In September this year, we dispatched an official delegation and its members had the opportunity to engage in a constructive and open dialog with the Chinese officials. We hope that based on the mutual trust between the two sides, such a channel of dialog would be established, and it is only through dialog that misunderstandings and suspicions could be resolved.

Q: But the outside world does not know much about the September dialog; could you please talk about the content of the dialog?

A: To establish a channel of mutual trust, a dialog-friendly atmosphere must first be created, and this is also the reason why it is inappropriate to disclose anything to the media before and after the talks. The important point is to allow the members of the delegation and the Chinese officials to communicate directly.

Q: What was the outcome of the talks?

A: I was not present and my impression of the occasion has been formed by accounts provided by the members of our delegation. My impression is a most favorable one as there have been significant changes in the attitude of the Chinese officials. In the past, Chinese officials had always adopted a condescending attitude, like teachers lecturing their students, which is why I used to say that our Chinese friends had only a mouth, but no ears (laughs). It is not the same now because the Chinese officials are at least trying to listen to our voices. I believe this is a good beginning and contact in such a context is very important, as once a dialog channel has been established, we would be able to further sit down and communicate. After the September talks, I also notified my Tibetan compatriots in distant lands urging them not to launch any demonstrations or protests during Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States. Of course, it is impossible for us to restrict the personal freedom of our Tibetan compatriots, but we have demonstrated our sincerity by doing so. Anyway, the opportunity that we have today to keep in touch and engage in dialog with the Chinese officials has been made possible by the support rendered us in the past by the governments of various countries. They have kept the Tibetan issue alive and governments and political bodies such as the United States and European Union have in the past also urged the Chinese government to start a dialog with us.

Q: What are your views on the personnel arrangement within the Communist Party of China after its 16th National Congress?

A: For the time being, there won't be too many changes in the basic policies, but I believe that in the future, China may possibly develop into a society which gives greater emphasis to democracy, human rights, and freedom.

Friends of Tibet (INDIA)
Friends of Tibet (INDIA), PO Box 16674, Bombay 400050