Pico Iyer on Dalai Lama, Tibet, China and Communism

By • Sep 16th, 2009
Category: Bangalore, Books and Authors, Diaspora, Entertainment, Featured, India, People, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, USA
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Pico Iyer

March 9, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary since the Dalai Lama left China and came to India. After a failed uprising against the Chinese Government the young Dalai Lama along with his followers left Lhasa in 1959 and travelled to India and settled down in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, India.

Pico Iyer is a well-known  author and essayist. His book about the 14th Dalai Lama The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama published in 2008 has received excellent reviews.

“In The Open Road, Pico Iyer transcends his celebrated excellence as a travel writer,” comments Peter Matthiessen, while the Economist writes that Pico has “an access and insight into the Dalai Lama that lifts his writing above the clichés that normally surround him.”

Pico has been in constant touch with the Dalai Lama for about 30 years. Pico first met the Dalai Lama through his father Prof. Raghavan N. Iyer, who taught at Oxford and University of California in Santa Barbara. In  1960 Prof. Iyer sailed from England to India to meet with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

In the midst of his hectic book tour schedule Pico graciously made time to do an hour-long interview where he spoke about his new book, writing process, travels and growing up in England and California and about life in Japan. Pico has been living in Japan for the past several years.

In Part-1 of the conversation Pico talks about his new book about the Dalai Lama, his perceptions of Buddhism and Communism, and how this book is a homage to the memory of his father. How did Pico come up with the idea of writing a book on the Dalai Lama?

What does the Dalai Lama have to say about Tibet and Tibet’s future? Is there a happy ending to the Tibet question? Tune in to find out what Pico has to say.

This interview was recorded in 2008.

Photo: Courtesy Knopf Publishing

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8 Responses »

  1. I found this a very interesting interview with Pico Iyer and it has given me a new way to think about the situation between Tibet and China. It also gave me a little more insight into the Dalai Lama. I shall now be reading Mr. Iyer’s book. Kamla Bhatt has done a fine job asking pertinent questions that draw Mr. Iyer out.

  2. Thank you Anusuya for your lovely comment. I was a bit nervous when I did the interview with Pico since he is so meticulous and methodical in his work.

    You will love the book.

    Thanks for listening and sharing your thoughts.

    kamla

  3. Hi Kamla, this is wonderful. Pico Iyer is one of my favourite writers. His Video Nights in Kathmandu is an all-time classic. But a few questions:

    a) India has played host to the Dalai Lama for over 50 years now. Given India’s own political and economic situation in the decades gone by, this must not have been an easy thing to do for India. However, I find that this issue is generally ignored in all writings about the Dalai Lama. What does the Dalai Lama think about India and its people?

    b) In addition, there are Tibetan colonies all over the country. The people growing up in India speak the local language and are increasingly becoming more Indian than Tibetan. Over time, the Tibetan Buddhist faith might also disappear replaced by the faith in Mammon. What does the Dalai Lama think of this?

    c) The Dalai Lama is a political leader in as much as he’s a spiritual one. Therefore what role has the West played in keeping alive the idea of Tibet (as opposed to, what I think, is the purely romantic notion of a millions of people living in exile dreaming of Tibet sustained only by the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama)?

    Will be interesting to get Pico’s views on the above.

    Thanks
    Sanjay

  4. Hello Sanjay:

    Really glad to know that you enjoyed listening to the interview, and yes, Pico is a wonderful travel writer.

    About your questions…some of the answers can be found in Dalai Lama’s autobiography, Pico’s writings and other places. My sense is that it depends where you are looking for this information. I think quite a bit has been written on this topic. In fact Pico writes about how the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa dressed as an ordinary soldier etc.

    About Tibetans in India and Buddhism…Pico talks quite a bit about it in the interview. He talks about the notion of Tibet etc. As he stresses over and over again the Dalai Lama is very practical and a hyper realist, who says change is constant (Pico puts it far from elegantly than I am doing) and how things constantly change.

    About your last question…I think once again Pico has answered that question quite eloquently in his writings and in the interview.

    Thanks for asking those questions.

    Kamla

  5. Kamla, thanks.

    But am not sure I heard about what India has done for the Dalai Lama in both the temporal and spiritual sense. The fact is that the Dalai Lama was given a home in India when it was itself under severe political and economic pressure but but I never hear this part of the story. It is one thing to talk of how the Dalai Lama escaped to India but another to understand what role India played in his escape, and what role did India play, if any, in the development / modification of any of his views, and what does he think of India in general for having hosted him inspite of many troubles of its own? Did India influence the Dalai Lama in any way at all? If so, in what way? If not, why? After all, India is the land of the Buddha and Gandhi and he’s spent 50 years in India!

    Secondly, the role of the West in keeping alive the notion of Tibet via the Dalai Lama has not been addressed. While hat will happen to the Tibetans / Tibet/Tibetan Buddhist after this Dalai Lama has been talked of by Pico, the role of the West by way of funding, publicity, political pressure etc is something that needs perhaps deeper understanding.

  6. [...] you missed Part-1 of the conversation  with Pico you might want to listen Pico talk about his new book, the Dalai [...]

  7. [...] for example, a conversation with Pico Iyer, on a wide ranging [...]

  8. This comment is strictly in response to comment no : 3 by Sanjay jee…
    Although I am not an expert or for that matter a politician but being a Tibetan man born and brought up in India..I feel it’s my duty to clear some air regarding Tibetan People and their thoughts about India….

    a) India has played host to the Dalai Lama for over 50 years now. Given India’s own political and economic situation in the decades gone by, this must not have been an easy thing to do for India. However, I find that this issue is generally ignored in all writings about the Dalai Lama. What does the Dalai Lama think about India and its people?
    ans:India and Nehru jee was kind enough to let us all in amidst all the economic choas as India was just a decade old as an independent nation, for this act of atithi dewo bhawa we will ever remain in depted to India-thank you and we feel proud to be called “tibetan indian.”however nehru jee made a blunder and was quick enough to admit that tibet was an integral part of china…i don’t know the exact reason but i am sure he must have been put into lots of pressure by chinese and more so because of the national interest. Soon a slogan was followed..hindi chini bhai bhai..where does this put Tibet into…? But in other word this proved India was not in a position to annoy china ….if india had acted tough right from the beginning atleast i believe 1962 war would have never happened….believe me too giant never fights each other…there always has to be a weak side.
    Now..as India prosper into millennium, it’s outlook towards tibetan living in india has been changing a lot…not for the best though.we are not allowed to publicly outcry our nations plight..as it might anger china … c’mon India is a birth place of Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi…what did he taught India??? He taught us to be honest,self reliant,brave and follow non violence. is India doing that now….no… India has been ignoring tibet issue for a long time now and when ever any delegates from india visits china , india is quick enough to say…that tibet is an integral part of china…what imprints will this remarks leave on our mind?
    We expect more from India as Tibet is connected to india culturally and religiously-KAILASH SHIVAS ABODE SECRED TO TRADITIONAL INDIAN.
    India has been my second home ever since my parent’s fled tibet….we are more dis heartened when india looses cricket and specially against pakistan…believe me..i could not eat my food so many times when india lost…. I hope this silly points proves my feeling for india and indian people…

    b) In addition, there are Tibetan colonies all over the country. The people growing up in India speak the local language and are increasingly becoming more Indian than Tibetan. Over time, the Tibetan Buddhist faith might also disappear replaced by the faith in Mammon. What does the Dalai Lama think of this?
    Ans: I feel proud when anyone address me as tibetan indian….nothing to be embarrassed…
    India is supposed to speak hindi…but this are followed only in rural india.turn on any tv channel ..you will probably find more channels in english rather than the other way round. even the politician has started speaking in english…see any interviews in talk shows and you will notice that..go to any malls,university,joggers park in india you will notice yougsters (yougisthan) they prefer speaking in english but these does not prove the fact that hinduism is loosing it’s grip india.

    c) The Dalai Lama is a political leader in as much as he’s a spiritual one. Therefore what role has the West played in keeping alive the idea of Tibet (as opposed to, what I think, is the purely romantic notion of a millions of people living in exile dreaming of Tibet sustained only by the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama)?
    Ans: Dalia lama is respected and known world over because of his buddhist preachings mostly…Politically i would not accept that.
    free tibet dream is not merely sustained only by his holiness….there’s always someone to replace him…and once that happen..young tibetan might follow the path of blood…even i have a guts to take on china but i fear not for myself but for the innocent ..and specially the children……….this is my take on buddhism and it refrain me from using weapons as a mean to settle the score…
    Gandhi jee has rightly said ” eye for an eye,makes whole country blind.”

    having said it all…..I still love india ….and I hope India will love me as well……

    Will be interesting to get Pico’s views on the above.

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