Thanksgiving Day, the Dalai Lama and the United States
Bhuchung K. Tsering
November 25, 2014
Every November, Americans celebrate a noble occasion, Thanksgiving Day, when we are encouraged “to count our many blessings.” This year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 27, 2014.
Since the day comes a few weeks after yet another successful visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States (as well as Canada), I want to offer thanks to the democracy and freedom of this country that enables His Holiness to make his visits and the opportunity it provides to Americans to benefit from his wisdom.
Although we take visits by the Dalai Lama to the United States for granted today (compared to some other countries that have to capitulate to direct and indirect pressures from China) things were not always that way. His Holiness first began visiting the United States in 1979 but there were efforts many years before that for him to be in this country.
Some recently declassified United States Government documents that include communications exchanged between the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in India, way back in 1970, about a possible visit by the Dalai Lama gives us a taste of the decision making process then. Although it is unfortunate that His Holiness had to wait for nine long years following those deliberations, yet it is revealing to see how different organs of the United States Government approached the issue.
I summarize below the exchange of memos and cables between the White House, the State Department and the American Embassy in India between March and April 1970.
In a memo dated March 23, 1970 to President Richard Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, begins by saying “Tibetan representatives have informed us that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States and Europe this coming Autumn.” He then says the State Department is opposed to this as it “would create, gratuitously and without a compensating gain, a further point of friction between us and Communist China.”
However, Kissinger feels outright rejection is not the right response to the Tibetans and that they should be informed that “The visit would be inconvenient this year but we would wish to consider it seriously in 1971 (after the UNGA session is over).” UNGA is of course the United Nations General Assembly held every autumn in New York attended by many government leaders.
When the above guideline was conveyed to the Embassy in India, it responded to the State Department in a telegram dated April 8, 1970 requesting that “The Department revise its position to permit at least a private visit this year.” The Embassy’s view was that not allowing the visit would be seen by both the Tibetans as well as the Indian Government as “appeasing” China.
The State Department responded through a telegram dated April 14, 1970 from the Secretary of State to the American Ambassador in India saying, “I value your forthright discussion of Dalai Lama visit and have reexamined question in light of your recommendations. However, I must reaffirm decision, which was made by President, that we do not wish to have Dalai Lama come to U.S. this year and ask that you arrange to inform Tibetans of this as soon as possible, following guidance ref B.”
And that was the end of that endeavor, as it turned out to be.
It is interesting that the Secretary of State’s above telegram was followed by another dated April 15, which said: “In conveying U.S. views on Dalai Lama visit, you of course should not mention Presidential involvement in decision.”
Also interesting is the fact that Henry Kissinger, in his memo to the President, draws attention to the maintenance of principles by saying that while the United States need to consider Chinese sensitivity, “On the other hand, the Chinese have hardly abandoned their basic positions in order to talk with us and we should perhaps avoid precipitate decisions to abandon points of principle to accommodate them.”
Eventually, good sense prevailed in the United States Government, and the Dalai Lama has been able to visit this country many times since 1979. We in the International Campaign for Tibet have been privileged to have been involved in many of these visits. The Dalai Lama’s visits have enabled several thousand Americans to imbibe his message of compassion, peace and non-violence.
As a case in point, following the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Birmingham, AL, a journalist summed up his impression in an article headlined “What Alabama learned about the Dalai Lama.”( http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/10/what_alabama_learned_about_the.html) He wrote, “He had a very simple message, and he delivered it. He spoke out for peace, love, compassion and acceptance of others.”
In fact the simplicity of His Holiness and the practicality of his message have resonated well among the American public. The same journalist listed some of these in his article as being below:
“Peace must come from inside – not come from the sky.”
“Everyone wants happiness. Peace is the basis of happiness.”
“Monks, scholars should not accept my teaching by faith, but rather experience, investigation.”
“Modern science should involve more study about mind, emotion.”
“Love and kindness is the key to build happiness.”
“The education system is very oriented to material things. There is no compassion.”
“Healthy mind, very important for healthy body.”
“If our action really narrow-minded, one-sided, cheating others, you cheat yourself. Finally, you suffer. Make others unhappy, finally, you are lonely person, miserable.”
“Without other people, we cannot survive. Even morning tea, I cannot manage (by myself).”
“You have emotions. Me, too, with big name, His Holiness Dalai Lama. But emotions sometimes create difficulties.”
“I always emphasize oneness of humanity.”
“Out of seven billion human beings, more than one billion are non-believers. We cannot ignore these one billion. They also have right to be happy person.”
So, this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has been working tirelessly for the past more than seven decades in the service of humanity. I am also thankful to the United States, a country whose adherence to the fundamental values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law continues to provide hope and succor to the Tibetan people, including in giving a sense of belonging to thousands of Tibetan Americans.