Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Open Road

Came across this interesting review in Mint of Pico Iyer's new book on Dalai Lama - "The Open Road".

The Open Road
, Pico Iyer’s new book about the Dalai Lama, is less a biography than an extended profile. The Dalai Lama has used his prolonged exile to take Buddhism out into the world. He has promulgated a system of “global ethics” that does not rest on a foundation of religious belief or practice and allows the denizens of our shrinking global village to cut across their differences. Thanks to him, Iyer writes, “Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism have become a living and liberating part of the global neighbourhood.”

Iyer notes that the Dalai Lama takes as his political model the figure of Gandhi, a man whose commitment to non-violence and to peaceful resistance brought down a powerful empire. Just as Gandhi opposed British dominion without demonizing the British people, so the Dalai Lama has always emphasized forbearance and the need for Tibetans to look within. But, as Patrick French pointed out recently in The New York Times, “Gandhi took huge gambles, starting the Salt March and starving himself nearly to death—a very different approach from the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way,’ which concentrates on non-violence rather than resistance.” Iyer acknowledges that as the years roll by and Tibet’s situation remains unchanged, among Tibetans “there is less and less hesitation about criticizing his Middle Way policy and the government deputed to implement it.”

The Open Road closes on a cautiously optimistic note. Iyer observes that no one knew at the beginning of 1989 that by the year-end the Berlin Wall would have fallen, and the Cold War would come to an end, and suggests that something similar may happen with China and Tibet. It is to be hoped that this is so but, in the year of the Beijing Olympics, and at a time when paeans to China’s rising economic power are being sung in many quarters, the immediate future of Tibet appears to be a closed rather than an open road.