World Watch: The Dalai Lama, science, and politics
Resplendent in a maroon and gold monk's robe, the Dalai Lama opened a high-profile conference on the scientific and clinical applications of meditation in Washington yesterday. The three-day conference at Constitution Hall features neuroscientists, philosophers, and leading practitioners of meditation, and it will be followed by the Dalai Lama's appearance at the annual convention of the Society for Neuroscience on Saturday.
The anticipation of his speech is generating a lot of controversy, with opposition from some Chinese scientists and from others who contend that a religious figurethe 70-year-old Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhismhas no place in a scientific gathering.
But at least equal attention will be paid to his political role as the leader of Tibet's government-in-exilea legacy of Chinese troops moving into the scenic, high-mountain region in 1959. As the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso became a world-renowned symbol of peacefully striving for freedom. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and the gates of power are opened for him just about everywhere he travelssave for China. Indeed, say aides, he is to meet with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during his week-plus stay in Washington. He will also give a speech on "global peace through compassion" in Washington on November 13.
Bush is viewed as sympathetic to the Dalai Lama on the Tibet issue. The Dalai Lama is expected to ask Bush, who will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao this month in China, to raise the Tibet issue with his Beijing hosts. Just the fact of the Dalai Lama's high-level reception in Washington, no doubt, will ignite Chinese criticism; Beijing takes the view that the Dalai Lama is a separatist who should be ignored. As for Tibet, Hu calls Tibet an "inalienable part of Chinese territory."
And yet a few, modest signs of hope have emerged in the long stalemate over Chinese control of Tibet. That's why the International Campaign for Tibet says the Dalai Lama's U.S. visit comes at a "key moment."
In the early years after he fled the Tibetan capital of Lhasa for an exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama advocated outright independence; he now favors a type of autonomy that ensures the survival of a distinct Tibetan culture and spiritual life, and, not surprisingly, he rules out any armed struggle.
After a decade or so of silence, Chinese officials are now occasionally meeting with representatives of the Dalai Lama. The talks resumed in 2002, with their fourth round staged in the Swiss capital of Berne in July.
Yesterday the Dalai Lama seemed at ease, joking with reporters in some of his responses. But on the talks with Beijing, he could only refer to "some progress," suggesting that things will continue to move slowly.
"Up to now our main emphasis is to try to build confidence," he said. However, he cautioned, on the ground in Tibet people are seeing "no sign of improvement... So far, things are very, very repressive."
Even to an optimist by nature, it seems, prospects for settling the Tibet question once and for all look poor, at least for now.