: Welcome to the Beliefnet chat with Prof. Donald Lopez. Donald Lopez was born in Washington, D.C., in 1952 and was educated at the University of Virginia, receiving his doctorate in Buddhist studies in 1982. He is currently Carl W. Belser Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.
: Why does the Dalai Lama run from the Chinese? Shouldn't he take a stand against them?
: In March of 1959, there was a popular uprising in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, by the Tibetan people against the People's Liberation Army of China. It became clear at that time that the Chinese were planning to either capture or kidnap the Dalai Lama. And so he escaped into India. He's been living in exile since 1959, but has made numerous attempts since then to negotiate with China and has been willing to meet with them anywhere to discuss the future of Tibet. He has decided that he can best serve the cause of Tibetan independence in freedom, rather than living under Chinese rule in Tibet.
: What's the current situation like in Tibet?
: Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950. And during the past half-century, Chinese policies have fluctuated from periods of harsh repression to periods of a bit more openness, within the constraints of Chinese colonial rule. The past few years have seen one of the harshest periods of Chinese control, which has led to many nuns and monks escaping to India so that they can practice their religion freely.
: Do you think that the majority of Tibetans believe in the separatist agenda of the Dalai Lama?
: Yes. The majority of the Tibetan people remain Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan nationalists, and look to the Dalai Lama both as their religious leader and their national leader and look forward to the day when he can return under conditions of freedom. Despite 50 years of Chinese occupation, Tibetan Buddhism remains very strong within Tibet.
: What do you think about the flight of the Karmapa Lama to India? I've heard that he may become regent after the Dalai Lama's death? Is this possible?
: The flight of the Karmapa from Tibet to India last January was significant for a number of reasons. He was the last remaining leader of one of the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism who had remained in Tibet. And the Chinese had placed great hope in him. Hence, his escape marks a significant blow against the Chinese claim that Tibetan Buddhism may be practiced freely in Tibet. Regarding the question of the succession of the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama belong to different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, so it would not be possible for him to succeed the Dalai Lama in that role. However, there is every hope that he will become one of the leaders of the Tibetan exile community and a leading figure in the Buddhist world.
: Is there any hope they'll ever be able to return to Tibet?
: I think everyone continues to hope that the Chinese will see fit to negotiate with the Dalai Lama over the conditions for his return to Tibet. The Dalai Lama is no longer demanding complete independence for the Tibetan nation, but rather a cultural autonomy for Tibet within China. From recent indications, it seems as if the Chinese are simply waiting for the current Dalai Lama to pass away. However, this seems to be a shortsighted strategy on their part. And everyone is hopeful that they will decide to negotiate and find a way for the Dalai Lama and the exiled community to return.
: How far is the Dalai Lama willing to compromise politically with the Chinese before he is able in good conscience to return?
: The Dalai Lama some years ago dropped his demand for complete independence, and has presented the plan under which Tibet would be an autonomous region within China. Under this arrangement, Tibet would have religious freedom and cultural autonomy, but would leave matters of national defense and foreign relations to China.
: Why do you think Westerners have such a need to mythologize Tibet? shouldn't we be looking to our own traditions for answers?