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A Conversation with the Dalai Lama

Page 3 of 5

Do you worry that some people think your decision to retire is wrong?
Well, some Tibetans, particularly young Tibetans, are very critical.

Is that just fear? Or is it based on a legitimate concern for Tibet?
Some people think that these decisions are taken somewhat in a hurry. They don't know, you see, that I take these ideas step by step over the last few decades.

The Dalai Lamas have long relied on the state oracles for advice. Did you ask the oracles to go into their prophetic trance and advise on your retirement?
I did. They fully support my decision. I know these oracles. I ask them as a sort of adviser. They have observed the last four or five centuries of the Dalai Lama's experiences, so logically, as human beings, I felt they might feel a little bit uncomfortable with the decision. But they said it's very timely. The right decision.

So you feel good about your decision?
Oh, yes. The 19th of March, after I offered a more detailed explanation to the public about my retirement — that night, my sleep was extraordinarily sound. So it seems some relief.

Now we are completely changed from the theocracy of the past. Also, our decision is a real answer to the Chinese Communist accusation that the whole aim of our struggle is the restoration of the old system [in feudal Tibet]. Now they can't make that accusation. I am often saying that the Chinese Communist Party should retire. Now I can tell them, "Do like me. Retire with grace."

Why do the Chinese demonize you by calling you things like a "devil" or a "wolf in monk's robes"? Is there a reason they speak about you in such archaic language?
Generally speaking, such sort of expressions are childish. Those officials who use those words, I think they want to show the Chinese government that the Dalai Lama is so bad. And I think also that they are hoping to reach the Tibetans. They want 100 percent negative. So they use these words. They actually disgrace themselves. I mean, childish! Very foolish! Nobody believes them.

Usually, with human beings, one part of the brain develops common sense. But with those Chinese leaders, particularly the hard-liners, that part of their brain is missing. When I met with President Obama last year, I told him, "You should make a little surgery. Put that part of brain into the Chinese." [Laughs]

What do you think Tibet would be like today if you had been its leader for all these years? Some change, some reforms would have happened. But it would not be easy. There would be opposition from within Tibet. Some officials are more modern in their thinking. But there are also some who have an old way of thinking. And then with the Chinese "liberators," of course, there is no freedom at all [laughs].

I really feel that the last 52 years is very sad. Refugees. And the worst thing is the destruction inside Tibet. Despite some construction, some economic progress, the whole picture is very, very sad.

But I have no regret. The last 52 years, because of India's freedom, I really feel that I found the best opportunity to make my life meaningful, to make a contribution. If I had remained in Lhasa, even without the Chinese occupation, I would probably have carried the ceremonial role in some orthodox way.

When you were still a young man, the Nechung Oracle prophesied about you that "the wish-fulfilling jewel will shine in the West." Was the oracle right?
I think it seems that there is some truth. We escaped in 1959 and reached India. To Tibetans, that itself was the West. Then from India, mainly Europe and also America is our West. I have done one thing that I think is a contribution: I helped Buddhist science and modern science combine. No other Buddhist has done that. Other lamas, I don't think they ever pay attention to modern science. Since my childhood, I have a keen interest. As far as inner sciences [science of the mind] are concerned, modern science very young. In the meantime, science in external matters is highly developed. So we Buddhists should learn from that as well.

You have said that Tibet's survival will depend on China changing from within. Are you optimistic that will happen?
When President Hu Jintao expresses that his main interest is the promotion of harmony, I fully support that. I express on many occasions that real harmony should come from the heart. For that, trust, respect and friendship are all essential. To create a more harmonious society, using force is wrong. After almost 10 years of Hu Jintao's presidency, his aim is very good. But the method — relying more and more on force — is counterproductive.

The first important thing is transparency. I am saying that 1.3 billion Chinese people have the right to know the reality. Then 1.3 billion Chinese people also have the ability to judge what is right or what is wrong.

On several occasions, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has expressed that China needs political change. On some occasions, he even mentioned democracy. And around Chinese intellectuals and artists, more and more say they want political change, more freedom. So therefore, it is bound to change. How long it will take, nobody knows. Five years, 10 years, 15 years. It's been now 52 years. In the next 50 years, I think it is almost certain things will change. Whether I live the next 50 years, or whether I don't.

If you had President Hu Jintao's ear and could suggest how to deal with Tibet, what would you ask him to do?
I don't know. I think it's not much use to discuss such things [laughs].

Has there been any moment since 1959 when you thought the Chinese would leave Tibet? Oh, yes. The 10th of March, 1959 — the very day of the Tibetan uprising. I remember very clearly, there were a lot of Lhasa people who came to Norbulingka and blocked all the doors. They were shouting, "You should not go to the Chinese military camp!"

So Tibetans were afraid that an invitation from the Chinese at this tense time was a trick to imprison or assassinate you?
Yes. That day, the sun was very bright. I expressed to Mr. Phala, the Tibetan Lord Chamberlain, "Maybe this day, maybe this is a turning point in history."

"Turning" does not mean "hopeless." In spite of some difficulties, you see a long tunnel — at the end there is light. That feeling has sustained our determination.

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