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The great diplomatic balancing act of dialogue: Dalai Lama and the Cardinal

by on Thursday, 04 March 2010 10248 hits Comments
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The Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan during August and September 2009 was ostensibly religious.  Accepting an invitation from the Democratic Progressive Party in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst typhoon in 50 years, he arrived and explicitly stated that while he admires Taiwan’s democracy, his visit was non-political. And it appeared that way.  The Dalai Lama conducted prayers for the hundreds who perished in the typhoon and offered comfort to their family members.  Twenty thousand people attended the prayer service in the southern city of Kaohsiung.  Furthermore, the Dalai Lama held a public religious dialogue with Catholic Cardinal Paul K. S. Shan.  They discussed the ever-relevant values of mutual tolerance and respect and the importance of using shared religious values to reveal the qualities of humankind.  Both leaders noted that the material development of nations should not occur at the expense of religious or spiritual values, whether by neglect or by suppression.

As representatives of organisations (the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Catholic Church) with strained relationships with Beijing, this final comment carries some weight.  Even more so given the Chinese government’s strongly worded condemnation of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan.  These statements are routinely issued whenever the Dalai Lama visits, or prepares to visit, a foreign country. Given Taiwan’s delicate relationship with China, visits by the Dalai Lama are especially controversial.  Ignoring any political statements that the Dalai Lama may make, and most seem carefully worded to avoid antagonising Beijing, his visits routinely involve dialogue with local religious leaders and often luminaries in science, business or human rights.  He has even gone so far as to declare that the 21st century should be one of dialogue so as to avoid the bloodshed that typified the 20th century.

The Dalai Lama acts as a catalyst for dialogue among local religious leaders.  For the most part, these leaders would not get together too often to discuss matters of faith, community and tolerance.  When the Dalai Lama juggernaut rolls into town, all of a sudden the media spotlight focuses on religion.  Beyond any sympathy that the general public might have for the plight of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has a huge following, both through those who adhere to Tibetan Buddhism and those who find solace in his advice on life as published in a large number of easy-to-digest books.  It can be easy to scoff at these events as feel-good hyperbole.  Nevertheless, they are an opportunity for local religious leaders, in the company of a global religious superstar, to search for universal truths, and do so in front of audiences of thousands of people.

In recent decades China has become indispensable to foreign countries, both as a consumer of raw materials and as the world’s factory of manufactured goods.  Somewhat mirroring this rise, the Dalai Lama’s constant foreign jaunts have increasingly become diplomatic issues.  Foreign governments do not wish to offend China, but at the same time, do not wish to be seen to be denying the Dalai Lama freedom of speech and as being bullied by Chinese threats.  Whether or not trade balances suffer will be of concern to leaders, however the civil benefits are also worth considering.  Inspiring local communities to seek and recognise commonalities in large public forums is a role that the Dalai Lama has evolved into being rather adept at and one that can offer much to communities across the world.

 

 
Last modified on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 16:51
Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University in Canberra. His primary research interests are new religious movements and religious innovation in China and Taiwan.

Website: twitter.com/paul_farrelly

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