Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama called on Tibetans this week not to lose heart amid harsh COVID restrictions imposed by China in the formerly independent Himalayan country.
Speaking on Tuesday in Dharamsala, India — seat of Tibet’s exile government the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) — the Dalai Lama said the Tibetan people are now suffering under measures imposed by China to slow the spread of the disease.
“The public are facing great difficulties amid harsh COVID restrictions in Tibet,” the 87-year-old Dalai Lama said on the second day of a program of religious teachings requested by a visiting group of Buddhists from Taiwan.
“You do not need to feel disheartened when faced with temporary difficulties. What is most important is that you should feel at ease and trust that the truth will eventually prevail.”
“China is changing, and the day will come when we Tibetans in exile and Tibetans in Tibet will be reunited,” the Dalai Lama said.
Chinese state media have reported 18,343 cases of COVID-19 infection as of Oct. 5, with at least 60,507 people now held in quarantine in conditions described as harsh by sources inside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
In a Sept. 26 statement, the Central Tibetan Administration said Chinese authorities are holding Tibetans in quarantine camps without adequate food, water or medical care. Camp managers have routinely placed infected persons with others still uninfected, resulting in a further spread of the virus, the CTA said.
At least 5 Tibetans in the regional capital Lhasa have jumped to their death from tall buildings to escape lockdown conditions, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
US promises support
US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Uzra Zeya in a Tweet on Tuesday expressed continuing US support for the Dalai Lama’s role as spiritual leader of the Tibetan people both in exile and in Tibet.
“We will continue to support members of the Tibetan community’s religious freedom, including the ability to choose their own religious leaders,” Zeya wrote following a meeting on the sidelines of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
In a statement, Kate Saunders — communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) — said ICT is urging the UN and member states of the European Union to adopt language joining the United States in supporting the Dalai Lama and protecting Tibetan national identity.
”Tibetans just like the Ukrainians are fighting to protect and defend their religious civilization, their unique identity, and they are facing great danger,” Saunders said. “Tibetans have been showing remarkable resilience, subtlety and sophistication in protecting this great religious civilization.”
Dispute over succession
The question of who will select the Dalai Lama’s successor is a major point of friction between China, which insists on its right to choose the religious leader’s reincarnation, and Tibetans inside their homeland and around the world.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die. The Dalai Lama has said that if he returns, his successor will be born in a country outside of Chinese control.
In the 1990s the exiled Dalai Lama and the Chinese government each selected their own Panchen Lama, another senior Buddhist teacher, with Beijing’s anointed lama now widely rejected by Tibetans.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of fomenting separatism in Tibet.
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