The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, quickly established his rapport with the Jewish people in accepting the Peace Award of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.
“I am encouraged by the support of your community, which has had many difficulties and suffering. I feel like an elder brother and I easily understand the troubles of other brothers,” said the Buddhist holy man, who has known the subjugation of his people and exile by China for 37 years.
“Since I have been a refugee living in India, I have thought that the Jews must have some secret to survive in different countries, often in hostile communities, and have never given up,” he said.
“So we would like to steal some of your determination and the keeping of your tradition,” said the smiling Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama struck many in the audience as a kind of favorite, avuncular rabbi, swaying gently while listening to introductions, gesturing to emphasize a point, smiling frequently, playing a bit to the crowd, and lacing his talk with homely observations.
“Compassion is the crucial factor, it brings us inner strength,” he said. “The future of the individual and community depends on inner transformation. That is my basic belief.”
Yet his tranquillity stood in contrast to an eventful and even tragic life path, which started when he was enthroned as the 14th in the line of reincarnated Dalai Lamas at age 5.
In 1950, China invaded his mountain-ringed country. Nine years later, when the Communist regime annexed Tibet, the Dalai Lama and 100,000 of his followers fled and set up a government-in-exile in northern India.
Since then, he has led a non-violent campaign to end Chinese domination, which was recognized in 1989 with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, alluded to the Dalai Lama’s non-violent struggle, when he described the honoree as a “‘Rodef Shalom,’ a ‘pursuer of peace.’”
“He has been forced to endure much indignity, his countrymen have been maligned and violated by a Goliathlike neighbor state,” Hier said.
“He has had to remain at the helm amidst all the suffering and bloodshed and still turn his back on violence and war.”
The Dalai Lama made only a passing reference to his lifelong struggle.
“Sometimes, I feel I am an unfortunate person,” he said. “From 16 until now, when I am 62, I completely lost my freedom and liberty.”
But he quickly recovered his equanimity.
“Sometimes, I feel fortunate,” he said. “The purpose of human life is to help others. Genuine happiness comes if your existence is useful to others.”
At the post-ceremony luncheon, hosts and guests toasted each other with “l’chaim” and its Tibetan equivalent, “sheshe.”