[FOUNTAIN]Friends few and far between

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[FOUNTAIN]Friends few and far between

In 1578, the Tibetan monk believed to be the reincarnation of the Buddha, Sonam Gyatso, traveled to what is now China's Qinghai province on the invitation of the Mongolian leader, Altan Khan, who bestowed the title of Dalai Lama on Sonam Gyatso.

Dalai is Mongolian for "ocean" and Lama is "spiritual teacher."

That was the origin of the title Dalai Lama, used to refer to the leaders of Tibet since 1642 who are believed to be successive reincarnations of the previous lama. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th such leader.

But it was Sangye Gyatso, a regent to the fifth Dalai Lama, who consolidated the rule of Tibet by the spiritual leader and gave the position political legitimacy. He laid the foundation for the rule based on the theory that Tibet was the land chosen for the reincarnation of the Buddha of compassion and that the reincarnation is the Dalai Lama.

The political struggle of Tibet with China began when the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911) tried to drag the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsang-yang Gyatso, to Beijing, and the Tibetan public put up a fight to block it. The selection of the Dalai Lama then became looser under Qing oppression. The ninth to the 12th Dalai Lamas were chosen when they were still boys, making the position a victim of power struggles. The 10th Dalai Lama attempted to regain Tibet's independence from China and modernize the country, with little success. The 14th Dalai Lama, the current one, fled to India in 1959 to establish a government in exile, which continues to this day.

The Dalai Lama has traveled the world, preaching the legitimacy of Tibet's independence and the teachings of his religion. His work won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But with China's influence in the international community growing, the Dalai Lama's scope of activities has narrowed rapidly. An invitation to him to come to Korea was suspended after he was refused an entry visa to the country. The Chogye order of Buddhism here has vowed to step in to help, but their success is questionable.

There have been daily demonstrations in front of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow; protesters want Russia to reverse its decision to deny him a visa for a visit scheduled for early September. There had been a similar rejection last September.

The Dalai Lama has visited Moscow five times, the last in 1991. Those were the days of the atheist Soviet Union. For the Tibetan leader, the change of regime in Russia has brought only rejection.



The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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