Many years back I remember watching a film of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia and the republics of Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia in the Russian Federation. I was amazed by the intensity of the devotion of the people of Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia towards His Holiness. I still remember one footage shot from the window of the plane, in which His Holiness was travelling, (I think) that showed a panoramic view of the ground where countless people had gathered in great anticipation of the Dalai Lama.
Just some days back, I had the opportunity to watch the recording of a function held in New Delhi on July 6 to celebrate the 74th birthday of the Dalai Lama.
What was special here was that this function was held by representatives of the peoples of the Himalayan region in India. In attendance were the chief ministers of the state of Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh (who took the opportunity to announce an important conference on the environment in August), ministers from Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir, prominent lamas from these regions (including the Jangtse Choeje who is from Ladakh, Tsona Gontse Rinpoche who is from Arunachal Pradesh, Lochen Rinpoche who is from Himachal Pradesh. These are some of the lamas that I could recognize but there sure were more than them in attendance.), etc. Also in attendance were Members of Parliament from these areas as well as many people from throughout the Indian Himalayas. Former Indian President A.B.J Kalam presided over the function and gave a thoughtful address.
I was again struck by the devotion of these people, whether they were politicians, members of the clergy or the several performing artistes who made musical offerings to His Holiness.
A similar scene prevailed in late 1985 when I was on duty in Bodh Gaya where His Holiness bestowed the Kalachakra Initiations. I could see people from Bhutan, Nepal, the Indian Himalayas as well as the many foreigners who had gathered there to get blessings from this one individual, the Dalai Lama.
These developments made me, an ethnic Tibetan, take a deeper look at my identification of the Dalai Lama. We Tibetans have rightfully been claiming the institution of the Dalai Lamas as ours without any second thought. There is basic truth in this because the institution took birth in Tibet. However, what many of us may be overlooking is the undeniable fact that the Dalai Lamas, specifically the present 14th incarnation, have grown beyond their Tibetan identity. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism wherever they may be residing or whatever their nationality have some claim, if not equal to the Tibetans, towards identifying the Dalai Lama with their own communities.
For example, I have read reports of the people in the Tuva Republic organizing prayer ceremony or carving the sacred six-syllable mantra on a mountain in Tuva (The mantra took one month to build and is 120-metres-long, 20-metres-high), for the long life of His Holiness.