Tibetean Spiritual Leader Meets Influential US Lawmakers on Capitol Hill
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, July 7, 2011 – With his predilection for freedom and democracy, the Dalai Lama frequently goes on record to laud India, and he did just that Thursday, on Capitol Hill. Emerging after a meeting with influential bipartisan House leaders to address a jam-packed press conference, the Nobel Peace laureate marveled at the Indian system of democracy which, he noted, allows for “freedom of speech, freedom of thought”.
He recalled how, in 1954, he went to the Chinese Congress which he described as “silent”. Some two years later, he went to the Indian Parliament and, to his pleasant surprise, “found it very different”. It was “full of noise, no discipline in Parliament”, he said, adding that the opposition was very fast to criticize the government. There was “freedom of speech, freedom of thought. I was very impressed”, said the Tibetan leader.
In 1959, he went to India and has lived there ever since. “Our small organization, in-exile community, is fully democratic”, he said.
Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama stepped down as the day-to-day political leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile. Lobsang Sangay, prime-minister-elect of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was present at the press meet.
The Dalai Lama told reporters, “I have handed over all my political authority. This present Dalai Lama voluntarily, happily, proudly” has relinquished political power. “The main reason, I believe, a country ruled by kings or queens or religious leaders is outdated. In fact, religious institutions and political institutions must be separate. It is hypocrisy if I say this and do something else”, he said.
The Tibetan spiritual leader is on a 10-day visit to Washington, his longest, where he is leading an ancient, powerful Buddhist ritual for world peace. He was invited to the Capitol to meet with key members of the House including Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican-Florida), Nita Lowey (Democrat-New York), Frank Wolf (Republican-Virginia), Christopher Smith (Republican-New Jersey) and Howard Berman (Democrat-California). These bipartisan lawmakers rallied together to support the Tibetan spiritual leader, who they hold in the highest regard, and lauded his commitment to spread freedom throughout the world.
At the joint news conference after the meeting, Boehner hailed the Dalai Lama’s “tireless dedication to the values we all cherish. He makes them apparent and he makes it a bit contagious”, he said. “His example humbles nations such as ours that work to spread freedom, tolerance and respect for human dignity, and it sustains those who struggle to secure these universal values for themselves and for their families”.
The influential lawmaker appreciated that the Dalai Lama visited Capitol Hill and spoke to House leaders “about how we can spread our shared values, not just in Tibet and China, but the Middle East as well. We extend to you, your Holiness, on behalf of the people that we serve our solidarity, our support and our hope that you’ll come back soon”, he said.
The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying he seeks autonomy for Tibet within China. Referring to the Tibetan struggle for autonomy within China, Boehner noted, “In Congress, our commitment to the Tibetan people has always brought the two parties together. And I expect it will continue no matter how long it takes”.
Both Boehner and Pelosi highlighted the Dalai Lama’s unique historical relationship with the United States. “It’s truly an honor and a privilege to welcome the Dalai Lama to the United States Capitol”, Boehner said. “The bond between the Dalai Lama and the American people has been strong for so long that it’s no surprise that his visits are highly anticipated, and I think rightly so”.
Pelosi, a long-time supporter and admirer of the Tibetan spiritual leader, noted that he is “a source of understanding in bringing the two parties in the House of Representatives together … I’m very proud of the fact that we have come together under the dome of the Capitol a number of times to honor His Holiness”, she said.
She recounted that in 2007, President Bush presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, honoring his commitment “to peace, to non-violence, to human rights, and to religious understanding”. A couple of years later, President Obama welcomed him to the White House. But, his association with America dates back to the time when he was a little boy and President Franklin Roosevelt sent him a watch, recognizing his love for science and technology. “And it is always a source of great pride to us that this relationship between our two countries and leaders goes back so far”, Pelosi said.