To China’s propagandists pushing the line that atheist Beijing is the true arbiter of Tibetan Buddhism, here’s a counter from none other than Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong or head of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala, India.
He told journalists in Delhi that “The Chinese government is trying to sell the propaganda that they have a role or that they will decide but the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is the Dalai Lama’s business. It’s up to him to decide whether he comes back or not and if he comes back, what form he comes back in.”
Dr Sangay pointed out that “We’re talking about his consciousness. It’s his body, his soul and his consciousness. It’s his business. So the Chinese government with all its rituals and explanations has no role (to play) whatsoever.”
“Look at their track record. They have destroyed 98 per cent of the monasteries, hundreds and thousands of monks and nuns have been killed (in Tibet). Who will accept it?,” he asked adding: “The Communist Party of China destroyed our religion and continues to kill and destroy our monasteries even now. Even if they appoint a Dalai Lama, who will follow their Dalai Lama? Tibetans will follow their heart and will follow a Dalai Lama who they recognise.”
Asked about the possibility of two Dalai Lamas, Dr Sangay said this was the plan the Chinese have “but it won’t work because Tibetans won’t follow that Dalai Lama.”
Which brought him to another vital point, India’s failure to use Buddhism’s soft power. “India is the birthplace of Buddhism. All the sacred sites of the Buddha or Buddhism are in India but as far as Buddhism development is concerned, India is far, far, far behind China. Every year, China organises the World Buddhist Congress. Leaders from around the world are invited and the Chinese spend millions of dollars to entertain them, feed them well, take them around.”
China organised Buddhist conferences are attended by leaders from India’s own neighbourhood as well as Asean member states. To restate a point, China an officially atheist state headed by the Communist Party, has assumed the mantle of leader of the Buddhist world.
Sangay believes that Buddhism for India “is the low hanging fruit. All it (India) needs to do is send an e-mail to the leaders of these Buddhist nations and say: ‘Hey, we’re having an event in Bodh Gaya, just show up’. And all the leaders will come. Bodh Gaya is the land of enlightenment,” said Dr Sangay.
Unlike China, India doesn’t need to spend big money to woo the leaders of Buddhist nations given its deep connect with Buddhism, Sangay argues. “They don’t have to spend millions of dollars to put them up in five-star hotels, give them the best food, best cars, nothing. All you need is, do something,” he said.
China doesn’t have Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon, Sangay pointed out. Rather China’s links with Buddhism are largely a modern construct. “What they have is the tallest statues of Buddha, they have the biggest Buddhist monastery, they have the deepest Buddhist cave…All the Buddhist leaders all over the world are amazed by China’s development and investment. You go to the tallest, highest, biggest, deepest…you find in China.”
Comparatively, the Indian narrative on Buddhism is tragic. “From Patna you go to Bodh Gaya, my goodness, the highway takes four hours!…The taxi driver says I’ll take you via a short-cut and takes you through gullies (by-lanes)…Why not make a two-way highway and all the Buddhists will come here,” Sangay said.
Drawing attention to the significant population of Buddhists in the world, Dr Sangay said if tourism to Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India was promoted, the earnings would be in millions of dollars. “UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar will prosper within 10 years…calculate, calculate, we’re talking about billions of dollars in the least developed areas like Gaya and Nalanda, where everybody wants to go. All you need is one billion in investment, you’ll have hundreds of billions in return,” he said.
Ruing the fact that India has been unable to promote Buddhism to its advantage, Dr Sangay remarked, “India’s largest, cheapest export has been Buddhism. Least investment, highest and longest return 2,500 years old–the dividends are still coming. What have you done? You send one tree to Sri Lanka, one scholar to….and look at the return.”
End result, India plays second fiddle to the Chinese in promoting a religion with deep roots in our country. Dr. Sangay is suggesting a way forward, but for that India needs to show political and administrative will. Faith is already on our side.