On Saturday afternoon at the India Habitat Center in New Delhi, the Dalai Lama spent an hour educating a packed house of some 1,500 people on the art of happiness in a lecture arranged by book publisher Penguin India.
But the event marked his third public appearance in India in a week at a time when India and China — a vociferous critic of the Dalai Lama’s ever since he fled to India from China-occupied Tibet in 1959 — are at increasing odds over border disputes and oil-and-gas exploration in the South China Sea. And while the lecture itself steered clear of political issues, the deeper significance of the Dalai Lama’s sudden increased public appearances has been the subject of much speculation. The Chinese government has reacted strongly to the Dalai Lama’s latest speaking engagements in India, canceling high-level talks after one appearance and sending missives to Indian officials not to attend another, despite assurances from New Delhi and from the Tibetan government-in-exile that they were not meant as an affront.
At the end of his appearance Saturday, the Dalai Lama took part in a Q&A with the audience although he avoided any questions “of a political nature.” Instead, he touched upon the much-debated issue of corruption in India — a topic that has captured the imagination of many Indians in recent weeks. “India is a very religious nation. Religious faith and corruption cannot go together,” the Dalai Lama said. “Each Indian has more responsibility to build a healthy India for it to make a significant impact.”
The Indian government has bowed to Chinese pressure in the past: in 2009, it refused foreign journalists entry in Arunachal Pradesh to cover the Dalai Lama’s visit. But recent incidents seem to indicate India is standing up to its neighbor a bit more, at least where the Dalai Lama is concerned. On Dec. 1, China sent a missive to the state secretary of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, asking officials to not attend a function celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth, in which the Dalai Lama was going to speak. The message went ignored as did Chinese complaints over his address at a four-day Buddhist conference in New Delhi on Nov. 30 — after which China postponed a round of upcoming border talks in protest. “The Dalai Lama is not a purely religious figure but one who has been engaged in separatist activities for a long time, under the pretext of religion,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei had commented a few days earlier, reasserting that China opposes “any country that provided a platform to the Dalai Lama.”