How I Got The Dalai Lama Into The U.S.
The Tibetan Holocaust
Unbelievable as it may seem, there was a time when His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet, a truly peaceful and very spiritual person, was not permitted to enter the United States. The Chinese had invaded Tibet and were massacring tens of thousands of Tibetans, destroying its culture, its beautiful monasteries and temples, even attempting to wipe out all vestiges of the Tibetan language. I firmly believed it was urgent that the Dalai Lama come to America and inform Americans of the horrifying plight in Tibet where a virtual genocidal holocaust was being perpetrated by the Chinese against the Tibetans. Shockingly, the Carter administration feared repercussions in Beijing so much that they would not permit His Holiness to visit here. Today, that status has changed, and the Dalai is free to come here as often as He wishes, to be received as an honored guest, even visit with the President and address Congress, but, in order for all of that to finally become possible, I had to spend two years working tirelessly to finally get the Carter administration to change course. Here, then, is the story of what led to that very first historic visit.
It all began in the summer of 1976 with an innocent read of a very fascinating book titled, “Magic and Mystery In Tibet,” by Alexandra David-Neel. I had just celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday in June, and my love of reading had led me to perusing the shelves of a local college library. There was the book by Ms. David-Neel, an adventurer who recorded some truly out-of-this-world experiences as an explorer into what was then thought of as Shangri-La, the mysterious land of Tibet. So impressed by what she had encountered and described in those pages, I went back for more, thus reading “My Seven Years In Tibet” by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer. This one was another powerfully intriguing book detailing an outsider’s journeys through Tibet and his chance involvement with the boy king who was the 14th Dalai Lama. These two books propelled me to want to read more concerning this strange land, even more so, since Heinrich Harrer left his book’s ending with a cliff-hanger...Tibet was about to be invaded.
Thus, maybe it was destiny, but I found the book, “My Land and My People,” written by none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and I began to learn the rest of the story. In 1948, Communist Chinese spies were sent into Tibet to find out how strong the Tibetan army was and to see if Tibet was receiving military aid from any foreign countries. They cannot have found it very hard to discover the facts they wanted. Far from receiving any aid, Tibet had only six Europeans in the country at that time. Three of them, one missionary and two radio operators, were British, and of the other three, two were Austrians and one White Russian, all of whom had been refugees from British internment camps in India during the war. None of them had anything to do with military matters. As for the army, its strength was only 8,500 officers and men. There were more than enough rifles for them, but only about fifty pieces of artillery of various kinds - 250 mortars and about 200 machine guns. The purpose of the army was merely to stop unauthorized travelers and act as a police force. It was quite inadequate to fight a war.
Soon after the first signs of impending trouble, more serious news was heard from the eastern parts of Tibet. The governor of eastern Tibet was stationed in the town of Chamdo, close to the frontier, and he had one of the British radio operators with him, the other being in Lhasa, the capitol city. Soon, coded messages began to come in from the governor reporting that the Chinese were moving up strong forces and massing them along the eastern border. As soon as this alarming information reached the Cabinet, they convened a meeting of the National Assembly. In past centuries, there had always been some religious sympathy between the two countries of
Tibet and China, but now Tibetans were threatened not only with military domination, but also with the domination of an alien materialistic creed which, so far as those of Tibet understood it, seemed totally abhorrent - Communism! The Assembly agreed unanimously that Tibet had neither the material resources, nor the arms or men, to defend its integrity against a serious attack, and they, thus, decided to make an urgent appeal to other countries in the hope of persuading the Chinese to halt before it was too late. Four delegations were appointed to visit Britain, the United States, India and Nepal to ask for help. Before the delegations left Lhasa, telegrams were sent to these four governments to tell them of the apparent threat to the independence of Tibet and of the government’s wish to send delegations.
The reply to those telegrams was a gross error in the policy of humanity on the part of all involved. India told Tibet not to offer any armed resistance, and the United States and Britain bluntly refused aid, nor to even allow the delegations to visit, for that matter. Tibet was thrown to the dogs, left to stand alone in their darkest hour of need!
The Invasion Begins
On October 7, 1950, Communist Chinese troops invaded Tibet. The eastern region was the first part of the country to be taken over, including the Chamdo radio transmitter and its British operator; thus, for a time, no news of what was happening reached the government. Then, two officials arrived in Lhasa, sent by the governor with the Chinese commander’s permission, to tell the Cabinet that he was a prisoner, to ask for authority to negotiate terms of peace, and also, to give the Cabinet an assurance from the Chinese commander that China would not extend its rule over more Tibetan territory. This was only the first of the many lies that China put forth in order to deceive Tibet and the rest of the world.
It was at this time that the National Assembly of Tibet felt it was necessary for the Dalai Lama to assume the role of Divine Ruler of their country. Although he was only sixteen years of age, he had been trained since the age of four by strict tutors, and this under extreme conditions of security and seclusion in monasteries. He was mentally prepared to negotiate with his conquerors, but with no military strength, due to the peaceful nature of his country, he could only surrender and hope to negotiate some degree of independence for his people. At about the same time, the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama arrived in Lhasa from the east. He had returned, as Abbot, to the monastery of Kumbum, near the village where he had been born. In this Chinese-controlled territory, while he was Abbot, he had been witness to the downfall of the governor under Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, and the advance of the armies of the new Communist government. He had seen a year of confusion, oppression and terror, in which the Chinese Communists had claimed that they had come to protect the people, and had promised them freedom to pursue their own religion, and yet, at the same time, had begun a systematic undermining and destruction of religious life. He, himself, had been kept under a strict guard and subjected to an almost continuous course of Communist argument, until, finally, the Chinese had explained to him that they intended to claim the whole of Tibet, which they insisted was part of China, and to convert it all to Communism. Then, they tried to persuade him to go to Lhasa as their emissary and to persuade the Dalai Lama and his government to agree to their domination. They promised to make him governor of Tibet if he succeeded. Of course, he refused to do anything of the kind, but he saw that his life was in danger if he continued to refuse. He also saw his duty to warn his brother, the Dalai, of the Chinese plans. Therefore, he pretended to agree, and thus managed to escape from Chinese supervision and reached Lhasa with detailed warnings of the dangers the Tibetans were facing.
Immediately, the Cabinet took steps to put the Tibetan case before the United Nations. While the Tibetan delegation was at the U.N., the Dalai Lama tried to negotiate peaceful terms with
the Chinese commander who had led the takeover of the eastern part of Tibet. However, the Chinese were now making plans to march onward and take the capitol city of Lhasa, and no amount of negotiating was going to deter them. Notice how China lied to the world, though, when suspicion abroad began to mount. On October 27, 1950, a quote from “The Indian Express” read: “Communist China has admitted to India that ‘certain troop movements’ are under way in the disputed territory along the eastern border of Tibet, official sources said today.” Now, simultaneously, the reply came back from United Nations that the General Assembly of the U.N. had decided NOT to consider the question of Tibet. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “This filled us with consternation. We had put our faith in the United Nations as a source of justice, and we were astonished that it was on British initiative that the question had been shelved. This was a worse disappointment than the earlier news that nobody would offer us any military help. Now, our friends would not even help us to present our plea for justice. We felt abandoned to the hordes of the Chinese army.”
In 1951, the Dalai Lama appointed four assistants and one delegate to go to Beijing to open negotiations with the stipulation that during these talks, the Communist troops would go no further in Tibet. When the representatives arrived in Beijing, they were invited to a party by Chou En-Lai. At the party, they were formally introduced to the Chinese representatives, but as soon as the first meeting began, the chief Chinese representative produced a draft agreement containing ten articles ready-made. This was discussed for several days. The Tibetan delegation argued that Tibet was an independent state, and produced all the evidence to support their argument, but the Chinese would not accept any of this. Finally, the Chinese drafted a revised agreement with seventeen articles which was presented as an ultimatum. The Tibetan delegates were not permitted to make any alterations or suggestions. They were insulted, accused and threatened with personal violence, as well as with further military action against the people of Tibet. They were not allowed to refer to the Dalai Lama, or his government, for further instructions. Furthermore, the Chinese forged the necessary seals to represent the Tibetan government in order to validate these documents, and under the threat that they would be held prisoners until they signed the agreements, the delegates finally succumbed to the pressure.
In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Neither I, nor my government, were told that an agreement had been signed. We first came to know of it from a broadcast which Ngabo (the main delegate) made on Beijing Radio. It was a terrible shock when we heard the terms of it. We were appalled at the mixture of Communist cliches, vainglorious assertations which were completely false, and bold statements which were only partly true. And the terms were far worse and more oppressive than anything we had imagined. The preamble said that ‘over the last one hundred years or more, imperialist forces had penetrated into China and Tibet and carried out all kinds of deceptions and provocations,’ and that ‘under such conditions, the Tibetan nationality and people were plunged into the depths of enslavement and suffering.’ This was pure nonsense. It admitted that the Chinese government has ordered the ‘People’s Liberation Army’ to march into Tibet. Among the reasons given were that the influence of aggressive imperialist forces in Tibet might be successfully eliminated, and that the Tibetan people might be freed and return to the ‘big family’ of the People’s Republic of China. That was also the subject of Clause One of the agreement: ‘The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet. The Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland - the People’s Republic of China.’ Reading this, we reflected bitterly that there had been no forces in Tibet since we drove out the last of the Chinese forces in 1912.”
In this agreement, written by the Chinese, were clauses which made the following promises:
Not to alter the existing political system in Tibet; not to alter the status, functions, and powers of the Dalai Lama; to respect the religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people; and to protect the monasteries; to develop agriculture and improve the people’s standard of living; and not to compel the people to accept reforms.
To show how absurd these Communist promises were, history stands to show the reality of these false promises. Without regard to the violations of their own agreements, the Chinese began a systematic domination of Tibet. They were met with a constant refusal on the part of the Tibetans to cooperate, since the Tibetans were strict Buddhists, regarding the Dalai Lama as a living god, and he was all they needed, or wanted, for spiritual and temporal guidance. Communism was a creed totally unconscionable to these peaceful people. In 1959, growing impatient and realizing that the greatest obstacle was the life of the Dalai Lama, the Communists decided to kidnap him and either use him as a political prisoner, or kill him. When word of this plot leaked out, alarmed Tibetans surrounded the Potala, the palace in which the Dalai Lama resided, and they blocked all entrances and exits. By the thousands, they used their bodies to form a human barricade that they felt would keep their god-king safe from the pagan hands of the Communist army.
The Dalai Lama wished to avert any more bloodshed, but he had been negotiating for nine years, things were only getting worse, and now he was faced with an impasse of staggering consequences. His advisors told him that the people would only disperse if they felt that no harm would come to him. The safety of the Dalai Lama would have to be assured to the people, otherwise, they would not leave, and the Chinese would gladly open fire. Therefore, against his desire to stay, they advised him to leave his beloved country of Tibet and flee to the safety of India. The Dalai, however, did not want to leave Tibet, and wanted rather to go personally to the Chinese and throw himself bodily at their mercy, if they would just stop the torture of his people. Fortunately, he acquiesced to the wise advice of his advisors, and through a very complicated and secretive arrangement, they were able to secretly take the Dalai Lama out of the Potala and flee that night for India. The next day, fighting broke out in what has been termed by Chinese propaganda as a “revolt against Beijing.” Thousands of innocent and helpless Tibetans lost their lives as they were horribly massacred when the Chinese army shelled the palace with heavy artillery. They went to their deaths protecting their dignity and their god-king. When word reached the Chinese that the Dalai Lama had escaped, they sent soldiers, even bomber planes, to search for his caravan. The long, arduous trek across the mountains, some as high as eighteen-thousand feet, took its toll on the Dalai, who was already crushed by the events forced upon his beloved people and country. The Chinese slaughtered Tibetans mercilessly, killing these innocent people anywhere and everywhere they suspected anyone of having knowledge of the Dalai Lama’s whereabouts. The death toll was staggering, and had it not been for the unusual occurrences in the weather, which provided cover from the search planes, the Dalai Lama and his party might never have reached the border, since the Communists were only a few hours away when he came to the moment of crossing into India.
Immediately upon seizing the reigns of the government, the Chinese began rounding up Tibetans by the thousands and sent them off to forced labor camps where many died pitifully from the terrible and ghastly privations of harsh treatment and slow starvation. Although suicide was against the spiritual beliefs of Tibetans, many were driven to commit suicide in their deep misery and despair. Thousands of Tibetan children, from the ages of fifteen down to infancy, were inhumanely taken to China to be indoctrinated in Communist thought and ideology. Those unfortunate parents who protested the loss of their children were either mercilessly shot in public
executions, or sent to concentration camps. Tibetan women and men were systematically sterilized, while other Tibetan women were forced to bear children by Chinese. Because they refused to give up their religion, many Tibetans were selected to be buried alive, drawn to pieces, crucified, burned at the stake, drowned, scalded, hanged and shot in unbelievable numbers. In some instances, parents were forced to dig their own graves, then their children were given guns and forced to shoot them. In one village, twenty-four parents who refused to send their children to be indoctrinated were ordered put to death. The method of execution was having spikes driven into their eyes.
Help From Abroad
There are some who cannot, or will not, believe the incidents that I report here, and these are only a few of the tens of thousands of atrocities committed by the Chinese against the Tibetans, but the International Commission of Jurists was so appalled by the reports they obtained, that they declared the actions of the Communist Chinese to be worse than genocide, with the intent to completely destroy the race, its culture and its religion. The Communists had promised to protect the religion of the Tibetans, and their methods still dumbfound me. They began to desecrate and destroy the monasteries, turning some of them into stables for their horses and barracks for their soldiers, taking sacred scriptures and using them for toilet paper. The most elderly of the monks were saddled like horses and ridden, tied to plows and whipped in public for the humiliation such a display would invoke, all while taunting them with such statements as “Now you can really be useful to the people.” Slaughtered by the thousands, the monks were decimated, and their monasteries were destroyed.
The list of horrible atrocities committed by China against the people of Tibet is too lengthy to detail here, but, in August of 1976, having found that these horrific events were still ongoing, I wrote a letter to the Dalai Lama. His government in exile was located in Dharmsala, India, and in my letter, I asked how I might be able to help the Tibetan people. I was sent a reply, dated September 30, 1976, by Mr. Tenzin Geyche, Secretary, Office of H. H. The Dalai Lama, and one of the humble statements read: “I am directed to thank you for your kind letter. The sentiments you have expressed for the Tibetans is much appreciated. It has always been a source of encouragement to us to know that we have friends throughout the world. His Holiness and the Tibetan people firmly believe in the triumph of our just cause. It is only a matter of time.” That latter phrase, “It is only a matter of time,” was a haunting one for me. How had these people held out under such duress? How had they maintained hope? The world, it seemed, had turned a blind eye. Where was the help?
More correspondence was to follow, since I was becoming more and more concerned that the Chinese would succeed in completely erasing the Tibetans from the planet while the rest of the world stood by unawares, or unconcerned.
In October of 1977, the representatives of the Dalai Lama applied for visa permission to come to the United States. Disgracefully, the response from the Carter administration was that they were “... anxious not to offend China. The administration generally has eased restrictions on travel to the United States by foreigners, but has made an exception in the Dalai Lama’s case. The Dalai Lama, if granted entry to the United States, would use the opportunity to allege massive Chinese violations of Tibetan human and political rights. The administration does not want to criticize China’s record on human rights.” Reading this, I was aghast!
It was time to stop waiting for governments to do the right thing. If the people were asleep, then the government could brush this all under the rug... and who would care? On November 21, 1977, I wrote a letter to President Carter. I was trying to be gentle and perhaps provide a means to excuse his ignorance of the Tibetan situation, thinking, naively, that if he knew what
was happening there, surely he would do more. I wrote:
“This letter is being sent to you as my personal request regards the situation in Tibet. I am sure that, since you have not studied the atrocities committed against the Tibetans by the Communist Chinese since their invasion in 1950, and their takeover in 1959, you cannot fully understand why we feel saddened that your State Department has politely denied permission to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit this country.”
I lectured the President with these words:
“...but when you can impose economic sanctions against South Africa, badger Russia about treatment of Jews, and campaign at home for equal rights, you cannot afford to deny His Holiness a visit due to fear of reactions in Peking.”
I closed that letter with this admonition:
“Let me remind you that we, America the Great, were once a very small nation, very far away. We cried for help to those big nations across the seas, and some of them helped us in our hour of crisis. We must not forget this debt of mercy, and especially now when Tibetans have been undergoing genocide basic for twenty-five years. They have held out this long only because they have prayed so desperately for help. Please allow the Dalai Lama a visa and all necessary freedom to come to this great nation of ours.”
On December 14, 1977, I received a letter from Hodding Carter, III, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Department Spokesman at the State Department. It read, in part:
“Your message to the President has been referred to the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Department of State for a reply. You will be hearing from them in the near future.”
This letter gave me false hope that we were about to affect tangible change, that we would immediately get a visa for His Holiness, and the rest would just fall into place. But, nothing could be further from the truth. On December 18, 1977, I fired off another letter to President Carter in which I wrote:
“To say that I feel America’s good name is being shamed is close to the full truth, since we do stand for world justice, Peking’s reaction or no. I cannot believe, with all the Sinologists at your disposal, that you can honestly say that it is necessary to drop the Tibetan issue. And in light of the South African economic sanctions, I am even further bewildered.”
Practically a week later, I received a letter from the White House that really showed me how significant the Tibetan cause was. Dated December 27, 1977, and signed by staff assistant Landon Kite, the message was as follows:
“Thank you for your recent message to President Carter and for taking the time to share your thoughts with him. Your views are most welcome and appreciated.”
What!? I was stunned. Instead of hearing from someone in the State Department with a response that would at the very least be deemed respectful and cognizant of the dire circumstances the Tibetans were undergoing, I was receiving what I perceived as a patronizing “kiss off.” Naturally, this prompted a very tart letter back to the White House. I must have begun to be a pain in the backside, or maybe letters were simply crossing in the mail.. I soon received a letter, dated December 20, 1977, from Peter Lande, Country Director for India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He wrote”
“The President has asked me to reply to your letter of November 21 concerning a visit to the United States by the Dalai Lama.
The possibility of a visit to the United States by the Dalai Lama has been raised with the Department of State at various times by several interested persons, including representatives of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, however, has never applied for a visa to enter the United States. The question of a visa for the Dalai Lama has therefore never arisen.
On several occasions, in discussions with individuals who have made inquiries on behalf of His Holiness, the Department has informally conveyed its views concerning the advisability of such a visit in the light of the international situation at the time. The decision to apply for a visa is, of course, one for the Dalai Lama himself to make.
The President has a strong commitment to human rights and its important role in our foreign policy. I may add that our views on human rights reflect the fundamental values of the American people and a desire to see these rights extended to all peoples.”
I read the letter more than once to see how artfully the Department of State was skating around the issue with non-commitment. They were playing semantics, word games...with a degreed linguist, me! Naturally, the Dalai Lama had not personally applied for a visa. He was a king to his loyal subjects, and a proper representative of the Dalai Lama would have made the application for a visa. But, I had to be sure of my presumptions. On January 1, 1978, I sent a letter to His Holiness, and I sent along a copy of the letter that I had received from Peter Lande. I knew Tibetan protocol dictated that no one spoke directly to the Dalai Lama, but instead, spoke to one of his assistants, who then, in turn, would translate to the Dalai what the visitor had just said, even if the Dalai happened to be able to speak the language of the visiting dignitary. He was a god-king to his people, and sacred respect dictated these things. So, it would be inconceivable that the Dalai would actually make a request for a visa personally, and I wondered if the State Department was aware of this, or feigning ignorance and hoping I was unaware of this. Regardless, I wanted to make sure I knew what method the Dalai Lama’s officials had used to apply for the visa. I wrote in my letter to His Holiness:
“I am aware, after some more studies of recent, that you have officials who speak to you and for you, and that there is a matter of protocol involved in the personage of the Dalai Lama personally making a request for a visa. If your permission for a visa has been denied, and if it was on the grounds that you personally did not make the request, but was made instead by one of your representatives, then I will explain the situation to the State Department.”
I received a letter from Lobsang Rabgay, Deputy Secretary of the Dalai Lama’s office in India, dated February 3, 1978, in which he wrote:
“Regarding your query about the application for a visa by His Holiness to visit the United States, no such application was made. What happened was The Office of Tibet in New York approached the U.S. State Department to find out their reaction to a possible visit by His Holiness to the U.S.A. The response, as you may have read in the papers, was that such a visit would not be convenient at the moment.”
On February 9, 1978, I sent another letter to Peter Lande at the State Department in which I wrote some rather scathing comments. Here is a sample:
“I must say firstly that I was dismayed by the lack of originality on the part of your reply to the situation. The wording strikes me as that of a reply to some wide-eyed country bumpkin, not one that I am sure would have shown dignity to your position as a spokesman for our government. I cannot assume that you are as ignorant of Tibetan protocol concerning requests of the Dalai Lama as your letter suggests. The thought would be entirely too ludicrous, yet you are trying to have me believe that, due to the fact that you have not received a direct, personally autographed statement from His Holiness, himself, that he therefore has no desire to visit.
I cannot assume you to be an ignorant man, and I would have you not assume the same of me. Let us, therefore, in the future, save ourselves from wasteful communications by assuming the situation will be forgotten or dropped by the adroitness of our semantics.”
On February 17th, Mr. Lande fired back with a letter in which he wrote:
“The issue is not whether I or any other United States Government official is informed that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States. As I said in my previous letter, several persons have raised this possibility. However, in accordance with U.S. law, there is nothing that can be done unless the Dalai Lama applies for a visa. If he wishes to do so, he should contact the consular section of the American Embassy in New Delhi and his application will be considered.”
Talk about “double-speak”! The White House had created a conundrum that could not be answered. If the Dalai Lama applied for a visa, it would be denied on grounds that it was inconvenient for the U.S., and he was made totally aware that this was how the White House viewed any such attempt. Ergo, go away and be quiet, all while your Tibetan people are dying. But, the White House would continue to publicly say that the Dalai Lama had not applied for a visa, therefore, they had not denied him one. And only an idiot would buy this subterfuge! This was tantamount to saying that the Jews in Auschwitz never sent a request for help, so we didn’t send any.
Later that month, I received a letter, dated February 21st, from Tenzin N. Tethong, Acting Representative of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, who was headquartered in New York at the Office of Tibet, in which he stated: “I sincerely hope that we can work together and bring about ‘a great American awakening to the situation in Tibet.’ as you so well stated.” Tenzin Tethong went on to inform me that there would be a rally in front of the U.N. on March 10th to commemorate the March 10th Uprising of the Tibetan People in 1959. “If you can participate in any way,” he wrote, “it will be most welcome.” There would be simultaneous rallies held the same day in London, Tokyo, Montreal, Toronto, India and Switzerland. Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union would be addressing the rally, and an appeal was going to be given to U.N. Secretary Kurt Waldheim. Naturally, I was not going to miss the opportunity to help bring attention to this noble cause, so on March 10, 1978, after having spent weeks soliciting support from all of the major networks, i.e., NBC, CBS and ABC, as well as Newsweek magazine and others, I spent the day in New York at the rally hoping that the media would descend with cameras and news crews eager to cover this major event. I even tweaked the nose of Peter Lande by sending him an invitation to attend. But, the rally was somewhat disappointing. The Tibetans monks who were there seemed to be expecting to manifest positive change by means of a peaceful rally that was anything but reminiscent of the earth-shaking event that had happened on that fateful day in Tibet so many years earlier. Had they given in? Had they lost all hope? They did not look like they were expecting anything as they chanted and prayed. I expected so much movement, and I was beginning to realize more and more that, without a visit to the U.S. by His Holiness, nothing was going to happen, because nobody was going to pay attention. Universal apathy reigned supreme. Things needed to change.
On March 13th, a few days after returning from the rally in New York, I decided to turn up the heat on the President and his bunch of stalling nitwits. I fired off a letter to President Carter, and the opening line was addressed to those staffers who would open the letter and dare send me a form letter response. I no longer had time for their interrupting and delaying tactics, as well as their total ignorance and lack of concern for what was happening in Tibet. I wrote:
“I first of all will address this opening sentence to your hideously mentally inadequate answering service and staff. This letter is not for you to answer, as it concerns matters of high import.” I let them know that none of their actions “will help to save a life in Tibet, nor help discussions concerning human rights,” labeling their prior actions as “ignorance” and “effrontery.” I went on to warn them that, if they repeated this behavior, I would make “a national spectacle of the manner in which humanitarian appeals are handled by the White House.”
Then, I addressed President Carter: “Are you aware, Mr. Carter, of the custom of traditional greetings in Tibet? Whenever someone greets a guest, it is done by exchanging a white scarf. Are you aware that in the centuries of Tibetan culture, the color has always been white? It has never been dyed any other color, not even sent to an enemy of Tibet with a significant color change. Are you aware that on your recent trip to India, during which you refused to meet with, or hear from, Tibetans, for the first time in Tibetan history, the traditional white greeting scarves were dyed black? Are you aware that they were dyed black to greet you, Mr. President? It is a fact!”
After a lengthy lecture, I ended with these words:
“In closing, let me say this, it will be a disgrace if an American organization such as the American Society for the Release of Tibet has to turn to another nation for help in its cause, solely for the fact that the President of America refused to hear.”
The same day, I fired off a letter to Edward M. Mezvinsky, United States Representative, United Nations Economic and Social Council. While I was at the U.S. Mission, I had read one of Mezvinsky’s statements:
“The Human Rights Commission, and the whole human rights apparatus of the United Nations, is on trial this year before the court of world public opinion.”
“...rights are not the gifts of the state to be offered and taken away at will. Freedom of expression requires no investment of natural resources, no capital investment, no five year development plan. They are inalienable rights of the individual which are not altered when the state
is created and which cannot be infringed upon by the nation state.”
“...no member of the United Nations should consider itself exempt from scrutiny of its human rights record.”
After reminding Representative Mezvinsky of his statements, I expounded on the situation in Tibet. I sincerely hoped that I might have found a genuine person, someone truly honest and compassionate, someone with whom we might somehow do an end run around the White House, since, by now, I was growing tired of the games the State Department was playing. But, like all of the politicians I was dealing with, I found no one willing to buck the White House. In late May, in a letter dated May 23, 1978, Mr. Mezvinsky wrote to me and said, “I am deeply concerned about the situation in Tibet and appreciate having your candid comments. As long as I am on the Human Rights Commission, I will closely monitor the developments in Tibet and will welcome your further thoughts.” What Mr. Mezvinsky did behind the scenes to help, I may never know, but many government people with power to change the situation in Tibet... simply slept. Most people would have given up, and that is what they wanted me to do. You can be worn down, if you don’t believe in what you are doing. You can be stopped from doing good, if you don’t see the suffering that will continue without your involvement. By now, I had read enough first-hand horrifying accounts from the refugees who were fortunate enough to escape Tibet, that there was no way I was going to give up. I would bring the Dalai Lama to the United States, or die trying.
In a letter to the Dalai Lama, dated March 28, 1978, I wrote:
“I am greatly concerned at the length of time that has passed in which nothing constructive has happened for the cause of Tibet. It is time that something happened on an international scale that will awaken the world to the plight of you and your people.” I went on to explain to His Holiness that “...we have to do something, besides exist, that will make” the national media “ stand up and take note. There is only one thing right now that can be done peacefully, yet still cause a stir around the world, and that is for you to visit America.”
Time For Action!
No one at the official offices of the Dalai Lama had given me what I needed, and that was written proof that they had been turned down for a visa for the Dalai. I wrote:
“I have nothing yet to tell the news media here, since your office has failed to supply me with the item I need most, written proof that you were turned down by the State Department for a visit to the U.S. All I have, at present, are statements to the contrary from the State Department. They can lie their way out of the situation, because they know I have no tangible proof of any of my claims that they have denied you this right. If we are to get anything done, then I must have the following things done as soon as possible:
1. If Your Holiness has been denied permission to visit the U.S., a copy of this denial must be sent to my office so that I may contact the appropriate channels for the announcement of the same to the American pubic.
2. If no copy of a denial exists, then Your Holiness must now apply at the office in New Delhi for a visa, and plan for a visit to the U.S., immediately.”
Yes, I underlined the word “immediately” in that letter. As far as I was concerned, not even the representatives of the Dalai Lama should be sitting still. I wanted to save lives, and I felt as if the approach everyone had taken thus far was falling on deaf ears. Time for action!
Late in April, I received a response from Tenzin Tethong, The Office of Tibet in New York, dated April 25, 1978. He wrote:
“I have also been directed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Private Office to refer to your recent letter concerning the difficulties about a possible visit by His Holiness to this country. Although we do not have anything in writing, the State Department has indicated in very clear terms that they do not think it is wise to consider a visit. In view of this, I do not think it is wise to suggest that His Holiness go ahead and actually apply for a visa.”
At about the same time, I received a letter from India, dated April 13, 1978, written by Doboom Tulku, Secretary of the Dalai Lama. He wrote:
“While we are aware of the procedure of applying for a visa, we feel that in the case of a person of His Holiness’ stature, it would be the right thing to first find out from the government of the country to which His Holiness wishes to visit, how they would view such a visit. This was what was done during the European tour in 1973.”
Sadly, since the State Department was letting the Dalai Lama know that he was persona non grata, the Communists were given carte blanche to do as they pleased in Tibet, and the holocaust continued while Carter Played footsie with the Chinese.
While waiting for a reply from the Dalai Lama, I had decided to resort to “subtle extortion and blackmail.” On March 28, 1978, I wrote the following to President Carter:
“I have recently been informed that the Russian submarine pen is either completed or nearing complete installation at Cienfuegos in Cuba. I was proud of the tough policies presented to the Soviets under Kennedy and Nixon, but the way you have not even made your constituents aware is beyond me.”
Smart people can read between the lines. This must have helped to turn the thumb screws a little tighter. Was I going to go to the press and expose a dirty little secret about the Soviets building a nuclear submarine base right under our noses in Cuba? Nobody was covering this story, and it certainly was not something the Carter administration would have wanted them to publicize, either. April 4, 1978, Landon Kite, Staff Assistant at the White House, sent me the following:
“In acknowledging your message to President Carter, I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your views. We find it helpful to know the frank and candid opinion of all of our citizens. You may be sure that your remarks have been carefully noted and that your interest is appreciated.”
Really!? Mr. Kite must have had a change of heart, because on May 1, he sent me another letter in which he stated that he was forwarding my letters to the State Department. Makes one wonder.
May 2, 1978, Harry E. T. Thayer, Director for People’s Republic of China and Mongolia Affairs, wrote to me and said:
“I have been asked to reply to your recent letter to Mr. Edward Mezvinsky concerning human rights in Tibet. The commitment of this Administration and of the President personally to promote human rights throughout the world has been stated clearly. The People’s Republic of China understands that we are committed to human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy. Circumstances obviously differ from country to country, and there is no hard and fast rule that will determine when and how we speak out with respect to human rights in a particular area.”
So many parrots and so few words to pick from! If preponderance of verbosity would suffice to make me go away, these blabbering effete Janissaries speaking without true and genuine compassion for the Tibetans would have won.
Everybody was definitely attending the cocktail parties in Washington, and how people can put a letter out like that and think their work day is over most definitely puzzles me. Tibetans are being tortured to death in ways that are unimaginable, and you write a letter like this and think you are done with me? You trot off to your social functions without so much as a second thought about these poor Tibetans who are being slaughtered as you dally, and you haven’t even so much as a flicker of remorse that you could do more and are not? Your duty was not done, Mr. Thayer, nor was anyone else’s at the White House.
In hopes that there were more concerned people elsewhere, I turned abroad for help, sending letters to various organizations that I thought might help take up the cause and use their power, prestige or money, anything, to get attention to this plight of Tibet. The Club of Ten in London was the only one that hinted of any interest in helping.
May 3, 1978, I wrote to Peter Lande at the State Department. Sparing no harshness, I wrote:
“Since my last letter to you, I have been busy gathering the facts in the case concerning the State Department’s denial of a visa for the Dalai Lama, ruler of Tibet. It is my conclusion that the State Department is guilty of abetting genocide in Tibet at the hands of the People’s Republic of China.
While it is true, as you stated, that the Dalai Lama has not personally submitted an application for a visa, His representatives did ask for your opinion concerning how you would view a visit by His Holiness. This question was first asked of you more than five years ago, so I am appalled that you continue to prolong the agony of these humble and spiritual people.”
What followed that opening barrage was my threat of organizing a national rally in Washington and firing off to the media.
At the end of May, I received a letter from Peter Lande at the State Department, in which he wrote:
“This is in reply to your letter of May 3, 1978, to me and your letter of March 13 to the President. As I have said in previous correspondence, we do not consider either granting or denying a visa until an application has been submitted. The decision to apply for a visa is one for the Dalai Lama to make. I hope this clears up any misconceptions you might have.”
That last line, among others, was laughable. Misconceptions? It does not take a lot of intelligence to figure that whoever was behind Mr. Lande’s statement thought I only had at my disposal what pre-digested garbage the State Department was ladling out for my consumption, or
that constant denial of the truth made their lies reality. And I had warned these nitwits not to waste my time, or theirs, with assumptions that I was going to go away simply by the self-assured smugness of their semantics. This was verbal chess, and I was playing against a handicapped person. The decision to apply for a visa “was one for the Dalai Lama to make?” Absurd! The Dalai Lama was not free to make such a decision when the Carter administration was holding a gun to his head. I was not giving up. There had to be a way around this impasse.
June 7, 1978, I fired off a pointed letter to Peter Lande. I opened with this salvo:
“Why don’t you get off your rhetorical rear and quit making me ashamed that we have people of your caliber working for our esteemed government! Your statement that ’we do not consider either granting or denying a visa until an application has been submitted...’ is ludicrous in view of the fact that you told representatives of His Holiness that you do not want them to apply for one.”
With that, I listed all of the statements I had received from the representatives of the Dalai Lama, after which I continued:
“Repeatedly, representatives of His Holiness have appealed to your department for permission for a visit by this peaceful man. To top it all off, there have been institutions of great dignity and worth that have invited him to come speak, American institutions! How can the murderer of American POWs, Wilfred Burchett, be allowed to conduct a speaking tour here, and a man of peaceful intent, who has harmed no one, be denied? Would you please explain your logic, as it defies my understanding. If it will make matters easier, will you please give them your permission to apply for a visa. Since you cannot consider an application until they apply for one, then for God’s sake, remove the asinine blockade which you or Carter have put there.”
Former KGB Agents
For the uninitiated, Wilfred Burchett was a former KGB agent who had tortured American POWs in North Korean concentration camps... and he was given a visa to come speak in America! Stranger than fiction, and I brought up his name to insinuate that the White House knew about this, and further, to hint, ever so subtly, that this information could end up in the press. More extortion and blackmail without actually committing it. Two can play the game of double-speak.
In my letter of April 28, 1978, to President Carter, I had demanded the following:
1.) Ambassador Andrew Young’s hands must be untied by you. He must be free to state at the United Nations that Red China’s continued use of genocide in Tibet will harm U.S./China relations.
2.) An international plebiscite must be allowed to inspect Tibet on an uninterrupted basis so that Chinese propaganda and Tibetan claims might be verified.
3.) Mr. Brzezinski must not be given permission to indicate a willingness on the part of the U.S. to relinquish Taiwan to the “liberating” Communist Chinese.
4.) The Dalai Lama must be free to travel to visit the U.S. now.
The Dalai Lama had been invited to attend the conference of the Japanese Buddhist Association for Attainment of World Federation which is held every year from October 1 to October 6 in Japan. Just a few days before the conference, September 28 to be exact, the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr. Sonuda, announced that they would not grant a visa to the Dalai Lama. Their objections were two-fold. The first related to the new found love of the Japanese for Red
China with whom they had also signed a treaty. The government thought that by inviting the Dalai Lama, they would be annoying China; Teng Hsiao Ping was scheduled to visit Japan during this period. The Chinese embassy in Japan had called and stated that permission to enter Japan for the Dalai should not be given. Reverend Hakudo Gnuji, President of the Japanese Buddhist Association for Attainment of World Federation, and certain other Buddhist leaders were called to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and were told that the Dalai Lama would be allowed to enter Japan on three conditions: the Dalai Lama would not talk about politics; He would hold no press conferences during that period; and, He would go back by October 5th. If any year looked bleak for any hopes of bringing attention to the plight of the Tibetan peoples, it was 1978.
I may have been a small flea, but I knew how to bite. I had become a thorn in the side of an administration that wished I would shut up and go away. Who knows what lists my name ended up being on, but I had no concern for my safety or well-being. As long as Tibetans were being tortured and wiped off the map by the Communist Chinese, I was not going to stop fighting for the right of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to come to the U.S. I knew that his visit to our country would be a huge win for exposing what the Chinese were doing in Tibet. 1978 came and went, and I felt that we were no closer to getting the desperately needed visa for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In January of 1979, we were still fighting the semantics games of the State Department, as well as the road blocks put up by the Carter White House at the continued insistence of Communist China. I was asked to write a speech to be published in the Tibetan Souvenir magazine that was going to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the March 10, 1959 Tibetan National Uprising Day. Flattered and humbled at the same time, I wrote my little speech and sent it to the office of His Holiness, and I was very impressed with the company I was keeping when the magazine was printed, and my personal copy made it to my address here in the States. Heads of state, ambassadors and major movers and shakers were included, and there was my speech prominently displayed with honor. It was very humbling, because I simply thought of myself as one small stone in David’s sling. Some of what I wrote:
“Too often, it seems that there are few people who care about what happens to this people or their nation, that since the horrible tragedies that have been going on there are so far away, there is no need to concern oneself with the situation. Many excuse themselves from this ‘Tibetan problem’ saying that, even though it is saddening to know the terrible details of their plight, this once spiritual nation will just have to settle its own problems as best it can. But I say we cannot forsake fellow human beings in their hour of need. Never before has Tibet needed a friend more than now, especially when their hopes seem darkened by the continued destruction of their beautiful culture and their inability to stop the heartless destroyer.
We have seen twenty years go by, and the world has shown that it may never become sufficiently concerned to amass the people needed to force the Communist Chinese to return freedom to Tibet. We are learning more and more each day that it may be more up to the Tibetans than anyone else to get the job done; however, this does not mean we must stop trying. When every man and woman realizes the value he or she has as a human being, that man, or that woman, and any group they comprise, becomes a force so strong and so powerful that they cannot be overlooked, they cannot be turned away, and they cannot be forgotten.
No man has died in vain in beloved Tibet, for each time someone fell, there was someone else to remember, and those memories will fuel the fires that burn within us in the days ahead, the fires that will burn in our hearts until we sing the songs of victory in Lhasa.
Dreams do not have substance until we give it to them. The dream we have of a free Tibet, a Tibet where children speak their home language instead of that of another nation, a Tibet where religion is again practiced without fear of death, a Tibet where one sees the war machines of the conquerors no more, can become a reality, and this dream must become a reality, before another twenty years has passed. Every man, woman and child must be aware of who they are, how important they are, and most of all where they are, for they are Tibetans, they are human beings, and they are not home.”
China's Propaganda Machine
Even as I was trying to encourage the Tibetan people, the Chinese propaganda machine was in full force. Newsweek magazine published a pro-China article which favored Teng Hsiao Ping’s overtures toward taking Taiwan. By now, anyone reading this article can read between the lines. The Newsweek article wrote that “Teng...started dropping hints (about normalization) by telling foreign newsmen that Taiwan could retain its economic and social system. ‘China has no intention of bringing down Taiwan’s living standards,’ (quoting Teng).” I wrote to Edward Kosner, Editor of Newsweek and said, “The People’s Liberation Army of Communist China invaded the peaceful and spiritual country of Tibet, a country that had nothing to do with the rest of the world and merely wanted to be left alone, to remain neutral in a world of unrest. Tibetans were so unprepared for the invasion, due to their spiritual nature as a nation, that they became easy prey for the Communists. When questioned by certain interested nations concerning the invasion, China denied any such goings on and stated that they were merely conducting army maneuvers near the Tibetan border. All during the stalling tactic, China, by use of the People’s Liberation Army, was committing mass murders on an unimaginable scale in Tibet. The Chinese read a proclamation to the conquered Tibetans stating that they were there to free the Tibetans from the influence of foreign aggression, that imperialist forces in Tibet might be eliminated, and that the Tibetan people might be freed and return to the ‘big family’ of the People’s Republic of China. The promises made to the Tibetans were that: China would agree and promise not to alter the existing political system in Tibet; not to alter the status, functions, and powers of the Dalai Lama (the ruler of Tibet); to respect the religious beliefs, customs, and habits of the Tibetan people; to protect the monasteries; to improve the people’s standard of living; and not to compel the people to accept reforms.”
I proceeded to give Mr. Kosner a brief history lesson, and wrote: “China said it would not alter the existing political system in Tibet, and immediately insisted on the most cruel installment of Communism ever known. Children from the ages of fifteen down to the cradle were taken away from their parents and sent to China for a new life which would deprive them of their language, brainwash them into acceptance of the Communist ideal, and convince them to turn against those who remained true to old Tibet. Parents who protested were either murdered in public example executions, or sent away to concentration camps for the remainder of their days. Many Tibetans were sterilized, and Tibetan women were forced to have children by Chinese soldiers.” I educated Mr. Kosner to the facts that the Chinese had promised not to alter the status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama, yet the fallacy of that was revealed by the very fact that His Holiness had to flee Tibet for His life. The Chinese had promised to respect the religious life of Tibet, then proceeded to murder monks by the tens of thousands and destroy all of the monasteries and temples. I wrote: “I remind you that these were promises made in writing to the Tibetans from those in authority in China. President Carter is willing to trust in China’s ‘good intentions and hopes for a better relation with the U.S.’” I quoted William Loeb: “When a nation sells out its ally for a price, it earns mistrust. When it sells out its ally for nothing, it earns contempt.”
The false parade continued. Teng Hsiao Ping was coming to the U.S. to personally meet with President Carter. It was January 1979, and the last person the President would want at that State dinner would be me. But, uninvited or not, I was going to be in Washington to make my voice heard somehow. January 19th, I sent a letter to His Holiness informing him that I would be in Washington to see what I could do to get Teng Hsiao Ping’s attention. I prepared a hand-written note that read:
“Vice Premier Teng Hsiao Ping, While you are here visiting in America, will you please address the question of what you plan to do about the situation in Tibet. By your orders, the destruction of Tibetans and their culture can be brought to an end. Please help my society to support a U.S.-China accord by saying you will remove this hindrance to our trust in your intentions.” The note was dated January 29, 1979.
Looking back, I remember it was a very cold night. I delivered the note to Blair House, which is across the street from the White House, and where I knew Teng Hsiao Ping would be spending the night. Then, I took a picket sign that I had made for the occasion and placed myself in front of the White House to wait for his arrival. The sign read “Tibet ?” in Chinese characters on one side, and in English on the other, and my goal was to make sure Teng saw the picket sign when his motorcade approached the driveway. Unbeknown to me, the Maoists had planned a major, and I mean a major, disruption for that same night... and that very same spot. As I was waiting for Premier Teng to arrive, my attention was drawn to this noise to my left, and when I turned to see what it was, I immediately saw this immensely huge mob of nearly one thousand red-jacketed people turning the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue and heading toward the White House. They were carrying their “little red books” of Chairman Mao and large, blazing red banners with Communist symbols on them. They were chanting, “Mao Zedong did not fail. Revolution will prevail!” I had noticed a large police presence outside the White House earlier that night, lots of them on horseback, but I had innocently thought that it was for the motorcade. Then, like a cannon shot, the crowd roared, an indescribable fusillade of soda bottles and other missiles hurled forward into the air at the police, and the mob shot forward at a full run like an attacking army. It was unnerving! The police had been expecting them, and it quickly became apparent that this was why they were there. Utter chaos ensued, a genuine battle between the Maoists with their improvised weapons and the police with their batons and teargas. Right beside me, I saw some Maoists with flares taunting a police horse attempting to dislodge its rider. The officer fell, and madness prevailed. The Maoists were everywhere, the situation was ugly, and the police looked outnumbered, but batons were swinging, and people were being injured. Everyone was running and fighting. I knew instinctively that this did not make me look too good, and I made sure to put immediate distance between me and the Maoists. They were swarming into Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House, and I was retreating to Blair House, where there was no action going on. The fighting between the cops and the Maoists went on even in the hospital where both sides were taken for their injuries, such was the violence of that event. Naturally, I think they had a bigger impact on Deng Hsiao Ping’s visit than I did.
As I mentioned to Tenzin Tethong in a letter dated February 13, 1979, I was “glad that I kept my plans small scale. There was quite a bloody confrontation when the Maoists arrived.” That was an understatement. Had I involved a group of people to come with me that evening, I
would have been embarrassed to have had any of them innocently caught up in the carnage I witnessed. The Maoists stole the show that night, but I had at least spoken with several members of the media, handed out some literature, and passed a note to Premier Teng. Maybe I would be the thorn in the lion’s paw. I could at least hope that I had not wasted the effort. Before I left, I watched as Premier Teng was greeted at the front door of the White House by President and Mrs. Carter. Dismayed that it was not the Dalai Lama instead of Teng Hsiao Ping, I left and went home.
All of these events were before the invention of the internet and email. All correspondence required patiently waiting weeks and even months for replies. Sometimes His Holiness would be away on spiritual visits for weeks at a time, and responses were slow in coming. But, I eventually got the State Department to “double-speak” their way out of the impasse and get rid of me. They said His Holiness had never applied for a visa, so they could not issue something that was not requested. When I finally got them to state that they would consider issuing a visa if His Holiness applied for one, I immediately sent a letter to the Dalai Lama and told him to apply now, underline that word now. Permission to apply for a visa was, at long last, given! Victory! However, while I was rejoicing that we had finally won, I was not going to settle for a half victory. I would not have President Carter put the same restrictions on the Dalai Lama that Japan had placed on his cancelled trip to Japan the previous year. No, we had not fought so hard and so long to have the Dalai Lama muzzled by puppets of China. On July 25, 1979, I sent a letter to President Carter, in which I wrote:
“After some time and much hard work, it has finally been seen to that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be permitted to visit the United States. However, the sad thing is that you are responsible for an abrogation to human rights in that you are not going to meet with this great religious and political leader, nor will you allow him to tell the truth to the press. I find it hard to believe that, in this land of freedom, we will not only deny them to a friend, such as His Holiness, but go out of our way to suppress the extension of those rights and, in thus doing, will aid and abet the continuation of genocide on a holocaust scale in the country of Tibet.
When His Holiness arrives here, if he is not given freedom of speech, if he is treated as a second-class tourist, then you will be scathed severely by the American press and public. My organization is not treating this effrontery with silence, and we are hoping that you can, and will, change the conditions imposed by your spokesmen at the Department of State. Might I suggest having Mr. Peter Lande personally issue a statement permitting the Dalai Lama to speak his mind with the press.
When you were in India last year, and refused to meet with any of the Tibetan organizations, you drew a tremendous negative response from many world organizations who will be watching this time with more intent. If you permit Red China to blackmail your human rights policy this time, I am afraid you will be in for foul weather ahead. Tibet watchers are waiting for your response, and I sincerely hope it will be one worthy of a President and of the great nation of ours.”
In a letter from the Department of State dated August 20, 1979, William J. Dyess, Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, wrote to me and said:
“Your message to the President has been referred to the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs in the Department of State for reply. You will be hearing from them in the near future.”
Victory At Last!
And I did. In a letter dated August 28, 1979, Mr. Don Paarlberg, Jr., Country Officer for Nepal, wrote:
“The White House has requested that I respond to your letter of July 25 concerning the visit of the Dalai Lama to the United States.
The Dalai Lama and his party applied for visitor’s visas to the U.S. Consulate in Zurich on August 21, and the visas were promptly issued. The Dalai Lama applied for the visas for a purely private and religious visit to the United States September 3 through October 16.
You’ll be glad to learn that your apparent concern that the U.S. government may intend to impose conditions upon the Dalai Lama’s visit is unfounded. During his visit to the United States, the Dalai Lama will enjoy the same full freedoms -- including speech and travel -- accorded by the U.S. government to all visitors; specifically, we understand that the Dalai Lama intends to hold press conferences at most of his major stops within the U.S. In applying for his visas, the Dalai Lama requested no more than such treatment; the visas have been issued, and the U.S. government will accord him no less.”
More than two long years of hard work and mental chess ( along with threats of rallies, press leaks, and some mild extortion and blackmail) had finally achieved the conclusion I had always prayed for, to be able to bring the Dalai Lama to the United States so that we could let the world know what was happening to Tibetans under the ruthless hands of the Chinese invaders. I fired off letters to all of the major media, from the New York Times to NBC Television. And amazingly, when the Dalai Lama landed, he was besieged by major press from around the world. On September 10th, a few days after he landed, I met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C. I remember the Ambassador to India was waiting his turn as I was asked to come in. There before me was one of the Dalai Lama’s representatives, and suddenly, from across the room, the Dalai Lama, himself, was walking to a position facing me just beyond the representative. Protocol in Tibet for the god-king had always been that no one’s head could be higher than the Dalai Lama’s. Whenever the procession that transported the Dalai Lama from the Potala (the royal palace) to the Norbulingka (the summer palace), all of the citizens of Lhasa would come down out of their homes to make certain that they were not higher than the Dalai, and as the sedan chair was carried past them, they would all bow their faces to the ground in deepest awe and respect to the god of Mercy, Chenresi, as he is known. Further, those who were granted royal audiences with the Dalai would be ushered into his presence, where the Dalai Lama would be seated on a high throne of splendid cushions. The visitors would bow and present a white scarf, a kata, to one of His Holiness’ representatives as a Tibetan symbol of greeting. Any speaking directly to the Dalai was forbidden, and all conversation was to one of the representatives who then translated directly to the Dalai and back to the visitor. No one would dare speak to, or touch, the Dalai Lama. Having studied the customs of Tibetan protocol to make sure that I acted properly during my private visit with the Dalai, I hoped that I would not forget anything when the time came.
However, I had heard that he had dispensed with much of this traditional royal protocol, so I was not certain what to expect, but nothing prepared me for the shock of what was to come. As I bowed low to keep my six-foot tall frame from placing my head higher then His Holiness, I turned to his representative and prepared to place the white scarf over his extended arms. But, to my consternation, as I bowed before the representative and said, “Would you please present this greeting to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the representative did not raise his arms to receive the scarf. As I stood momentarily waiting and wondering what I might have done wrong that his arms were not raised for me to drape the scarf across them, he spoke. “You may give it to him yourself,” and gestured toward the Dalai Lama, who by now was standing less than ten feet away and staring silently right at me. Needless to say, having read much about the god-king of Tibet and the extreme reverence his people hold for him, I was concerned that I might still make a mistake. I so wanted to demonstrate that same reverence his people had shown him in Tibet. Turning humbly toward him, and keeping my head respectfully low, I walked slowly toward our inevitable meeting. When I was close enough, and without saying a word, he raised his arms, much to my relief, and held them forward for me to drape the scarf over them... which I did with utmost care NOT to touch him. Almost instantly, the Dalai Lama threw the scarf over one arm, stuck out his hand, took my hand in his, and, with a deep voice, said, “Come!” I think at this point, I was so instantly dumbstruck by his incredible gesture, that I was quite literally speechless. With his other hand, he motioned toward the other side of the room, and without letting go of my hand, he then led me to where a sofa and an armchair awaited us and said very simply, “Sit.”
Two difficult, work-filled years from the time I read those marvelous books about Tibet had all come down to this incredible moment, here in this private room at the Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C., as we both sat and conversed about progress of the Tibetan cause and what was to come. A journey had begun, and a journey had ended. What would come next? So much swirled through my head as we conversed. I marveled at his intense intellect, his extreme humility and kindness, and one would have to admit that there is a tangible sense of very high spirituality when in his presence. He literally radiates an energy that inspires. All too soon, the meeting was over, and we both said our good-byes and went our separate ways.
I have often wondered since that meeting how anyone in our government could have ever denied a visa to this epitome of a spiritual being. I even wonder at the Chinese leaders who continue to call him a traitor and someone who deserves to die. Such hypocrisy on their parts. I will never forget the great kindness shown to me by the Dalai Lama, ruler of Tibet, for making the time in his extremely busy schedule for the little American gadfly who had refused to take no for an answer from the White House. All that mattered to me was that I finally got him here... and that was “The Beginning.”
Brian Wayne Gray
The American Society for the Release of Tibet