The 14th Dalai Lama has been winning hearts ever since he arrived in India in 1959, after fleeing persecution in Tibet in the aftermath of the Chinese occupation. The Tibetan spiritual leader, who is regarded as a symbol of Tibetan struggle for political autonomy from Beijing , has been one of India’s greatest ambassadors on the global stage.
A recent push by veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian, Shanta Kumar, to award him India’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna would be the government’s acknowledgment of his spiritual contributions to Indian society. Conferring the top award to the Dalai Lama may also send a strong diplomatic message to China which would enhance India’s diplomatic stature, in standing up to the ‘regional bully’.
The Dalai Lama’s contribution to Indian society is manifold.
- Bringing Buddhism back to India
No other person has been a better ambassador of Buddhism and Buddhist values in India than the Dalai Lama, who is constantly seen reminding Indians about their rich cultural heritage that gave birth to different religions including his own.
The Dalai Lama has been a strong proponent of peace and compassion in India and around the globe, the same values he says the religion of Buddhism promotes. He says he believes in practicing the religion right.
However, the 81-year old monk also emphasizes respect for others’ religion, which he says is also a core tenet of Buddhism.
“When I visited different countries in these years, I have not promoted or propagated Buddhism as said by many, but harmony, humanity and spirituality,” he was quoted as saying at an event.
2. Spreading ‘Indian’ values of non-violence and peace
“I am Tibetan in appearance, but an Indian in spirituality.” These remarks of the Dalai Lama at a conference in 2010 sum up his love as well as the respect he has for India.
He has been heard on many occasions calling himself the “son of India”. The spiritual leader is of the belief that India has a lot of things to teach to the world, a view he isn’t shy of promoting at international conferences.
His praise for India hasn’t been received well by authorities in Beijing for obvious reasons.
3. Giving India diplomatic capital against China
The cause of Tibetan refugees is one of the major thorns in the flesh of India-China relations. The Tibetan community in India maintains a government-in-exile in the hill town of Dharamshala, from where it coordinates its political activities towards the cause of a free Tibetan homeland.
China sees India sheltering Tibetan refugees and allowing them to conduct political activities against the Communist Party-controlled government as impinging on their internal matters.
The Dalai Lama was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1989 for leading the Tibetan freedom movement in 1989, which made him an international icon.
For India, this providing refuge to the Dalai Lama gives them bargaining political capital against China, which sees its diverse society’s internal cohesion as a major challenge.
A Bharat Ratna to the Dalai Lama would send a strong message to China which it won’t be able to ignore.
4. An advocate of interfaith dialogue
He is a strong advocate of interfaith understanding, which he says can help in solving religious differences that’s the root cause of many wars and violence in general. He believes that Buddhists should take the leadership in this area, as their religion is premised on respect and secular values unlike any other world religion.
In India, which sees its share of communal discord every now and then, his idea of secularised religion may just be the path ahead.
He has also advocated for more of secular ethics in the education system, while speaking at a conference on BR Ambedkar. Ambedkar was one of the main writers of the Indian constitution who converted to Buddhism in the last year his life in 1956.
5. Fighting for women’s rights
The Dalai Lama calls himself a “feminist”, a trait hard to spot in other religious leaders. His influence and vision of gender equality can do wonders for a country like India where gender inequality runs deep in society.
He surprised many when he said he was open to handing the baton of his school of Tibetan Buddhism to a woman candidate if he found a suitable one.
Awarding him a Bharat Ratna will be an acknowledgment of the values he stands for by the Indian government.
6. Animal welfare and vegetarianism
The Dalai Lama has endeared himself to many Hindus, who form around 80 percent of India’s population, by shunning non vegetarian food. A large chunk of practicing Hindus frown upon meat. His vegan lifestyle is all the more commendable given that he grew up in an omnivore family.
However, the Dalai Lama’s reasons for quitting meat have more to do with animal welfare.
7. His views on corruption
The Dalai Lama has described corruption as form of violence “eroding the cultural heritage of India”. A Bharat Ratna for him would serve to make his views more well-known among Indian public. India fares poorly on world corruption rankings, including on Transparency International’s Corruption Index.