Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review : Freedom in Exile

Title : Freedom in Exile - An Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet

Publisher : Hachette

ISBN : 978-0-349-11111-7

Born on 6th July, 1935 in an ordinary Tibetan home, a little boy at the age of 2 years in 1938, was recognized as the reincarnation of previous 13 Dalai Lamas based on the traditional process of discovering the spiritual and political ruler of Tibet. At that tender age he was taken away to a monastery and was educated, conditioned and groomed for the great responsibility of assuming the role of supreme leader of Tibet.

He was enthroned as the absolute spiritual leader at the age of seven and at fifteen, he was made the head of the state - the undisputed leader of 6 million Tibet people facing the threat of a full scale war with China. Yes, that was the period 1949-50 when China invaded Tibet and Tibetan people, their culture, religion, faith and even their existence came under direct threat of Communist Chinese Government. The era of troubled times began for Tibet.

The Chinese Government offered a 17 point agreement to Tibet in order to merge Tibet to China. This agreement was nothing but their evil designs in the garb of the philanthropic objective of uplifting the backward Tibet in tune with the main parts of China. What followed was a violent period of brutality and savagery and in 1959 Dalai Lama was forced into an exile with some Tibetan followers. Subsequently a spate of bereaved refugees were helped by the then Prime Minister of India - Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in settling them in one of the places - Dharamshala in Himalayan region and later near Mysore. Similar hospitality was offered by the next Prime Ministers and Presidents in India in helping and supporting the cause of Tibetans. It has been 51 years since the time when Dalai Lama opted for political exile but the pleasure of being in one's own land and own country is still eluding him and thousands of his countrymen who are scattered over many places in India and in some other countries too.

But all through his life he dedicated himself to the task of - guiding his people in this dark period that has dawned on their native land and keeping the faith and culture alive despite being in an alien land. Having deep reverence for Mahatma Gandhi, he has been instrumental in promoting world peace through the unmatched weapon of non-violence.

He is working towards the sole objective of preserving Tibet and his people otherwise 'Tibetans will soon be no more than a tourist attraction and relic of a noble past'. For this he offered a Five-point peace plan for Tibet to Chinese Government in 1987 which includes -

  1. The transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace.
  2. Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of Tibetans as people.
  3. Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.
  4. Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping the nuclear waste.
  5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between Tibetan and Chinese people.

He gives a sincere glimpse of his own life through this book right from the early days of his life when he craved for all those things that a regular child does, his experience of being revered by his own people, his understanding of the Tibetan Buddhist faith and how and in which terms is it different from other faiths of Buddhism. Being a well read and well travelled person, he offers his frank opinion about the different countries and their political systems - 'in some ways, the American political system does not live up to its own ideals'

His openness to travelling and meeting people and his strong faith in goodness of people is neatly summed up here 'I welcome the opportunity offered to travel to meet and talk with people from different walks of life - some poor, some rich, some well educated, some ill educated, some who are religious, many who are not. So far, I have received only support for my belief that wherever you go people everywhere are basically the same, despite certain superficial differences. They all, like myself, seek happiness : no one wants suffering. Everyone appreciates affection and at the same time has the potential for showing affection to others'

I do not want to miss quoting some pearls of wisdom which Dalai Lama (literally meaning Ocean of Wisdom) has shared with his readers through this book -

'pain is what you measure pleasure by', 'make friends not by force but by compassion',

'no matter how bad things become, they will eventually get better. In the end, the innate desire of all people for truth, justice and human understanding must triumph over ignorance and despair. So if the Chinese oppressed us, it could only strengthen us.

After reading this book, I could not help pondering over the fact that we indeed live in a very imperfect world and while leading our individual lives in a small sphere, we forget what magnitude of unjust and unfair elements coexist in this same world.


  1. A very well written review.. Its gives u ample food for thought..I liked the quotes u have cited from the book..

  2. Thanks Jyoti, I am glad you enjoyed the review.

  3. lovely review. I dont read enough of non-fiction and its books like these that make me feel guilty..

  4. You must pick this one up Bedazzled :)


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