Vanishing act

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Vanishing act

The 1937 film about Tibet called “Lost Horizon” described a Shangri-la. In Tibetan, Shangri-la means “having the sun and the moon in your heart.” In the film, a girl slipped out of Shangri-la because she loved a British man who had fallen to the ground from a plane that crashed. Her face turned old the moment she left Shangri-la. Shangri-la reflects a fantasy that Westerners have been dreaming of since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The three million Tibetans who live in the mountains more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level are mostly sincere Buddhist adherents. Innumerable pilgrims make a religious tour to the holy Potala Palace of Lhasa in the most painful form: They step three times and bow once as they pray for their welfare in the future. The Potala Palace is a beautiful and remarkable attraction, with more than 1,000 gorgeous rooms, which serves as the official home of the Dalai Lama. The XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetans. He is worshipped as the loyal vassal of the goddess of mercy.
The title “Dalai” is a Mongol word meaning ocean, which refers to the depth of the title holder’s wisdom. The title was first offered in 1578, with great respect by Mongol Prince Altan Khan, during the Yuan Dynasty of China. Tibetans firmly believe in the transmigration and reincarnation of souls. After all, they believe the 14 Dalai Lamas all have the same soul, in different bodies.
The 72-year-old Dalai Lama has been treading a thorny path in life. He had been held in high esteem as the most influential spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, before Tibet was de-facto ruled by China. When he became impatient about the cruel rule of the Chinese, he was sent into exile in India at the young age of 24. He has spent 48 years in exile. However, he has been seeking ways for co-existence for the past several years, by asking the Chinese government to allow Tibet’s autonomy, not even its liberation. Still, China is not responding.
Recently, the Dalai Lama caused a sensation in an interview with a Japanese newspaper, by saying “I will designate my successor while I am alive.” That is, he is meant to change a 600-year-old tradition the “succession through reincarnation” to prevent the Chinese government from having a free hand in selecting his successor after his death.
British journalist Claire Scobie, in her book, condensed the present state of the Dalai Lama into two words frustration and a sense of urgency. In the era of Chinese power, Tibet is like a rearhorse standing in front of the big wheel of a wagon. It is deplorable that Shangri-la seems to be disappearing.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of JoongAng Ilbo.


By Lee Yang-soo [yaslee@joongang.co.kr]

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