The Dalai Lama is not only the worldwide spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism; as TODAY’s Ann Curry pointed out to him in an interview posted exclusively to TODAY.com, he also has some 2 million Twitter followers and 1.7 million fans on Facebook.
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So when Curry asked him if he felt the Internet represented an opportunity for change, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner was quick to agree: “Oh yes. Because [through it people can] very easily reach new ideas, new information. So, very very helpful.
“Things [are] rapidly changing, but our concept ... still remains the old thinking,” he told Curry. “That creates unnecessary problem. So we must catch up: New ideas, new [out]look according to new reality. This I feel.”
“And so you think the Internet, this way of communicating, is part of the new reality?” Curry asked.
“Oh yes. Very helpful,” the Dalai Lama replied.
Message of hope
The 76-year-old spiritual leader also had a message of hope and encouragement for recession-battered Americans.
“You must keep your spirit, your determination, and hard work, so that way you can overcome these economic problems,’’ he said. “In spite [of] difficulties, you must keep your self-confidence.’’Story: Dalai Lama: ‘21st century will be much happier’
He also urged Americans to rise above the partisan rancor over the debt ceiling. “Naturally, you have some different interests regarding your own different party,” he said. “But when the nation is facing crisis, those different views of political parties [are] secondary ... This economic problem is not an interest on this party or that party. It’s a national sort of interest. So we must work together.”Video: Dalai Lama to US: ‘Keep your spirit’ (on this page)
Over the weekend, the Dalai Lama met with President Obama, arousing the ire of China’s government, who warned that the meeting would harm American-Chinese relations. But the Dalai Lama insisted that China will eventually be caught up in the spread of democracy throughout the world.
“China, sooner or later, will learn these things,’’ he told Curry. “[The] world [is] turning one direction. China cannot go against that way. Have to go along [with] that trend. That’s logical.
“The voice of openness, or voice of democracy. Freedom of speech. Now growing. Even, month by month, growing in China.’’Slideshow: The Dalai Lama (on this page)
The Chinese government objected to the meeting with Obama because it regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist intent on ending China’s rule of Tibet. But the Dalai Lama told Curry that he was simply offering support to Obama.
“It is my duty to call him, show my respect,’’ he said. “The president has some sort of difficulties, so I want to show an old friend’s face ... a feeling of reunion.”
The spiritual leader, who has been in a 52-year struggle for freedom in Tibet since China’s Communist invasion, said he was glad about the radical decision to end Tibet’s four-century-old system of a religious monarchy. The change allowed for the first democratically elected prime minister-in-exile of Tibet, Dr. Lobsang Sangay.
But while the 14th Dalai Lama may have relinquished his political power, he remains a spiritual leader to Tibetans. “I deliberately, voluntarily, happy, proudly end,’’ he said about the change. “That night, unusual sleep. So that means I really felt some kind of release.’’
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The soft-spoken 76-year-old also addressed the search for his replacement. In 1995, a 6-year-old Chinese boy was designated by the Dalai Lama as the latest incarnation of the Panchen Lama — the highest-ranking lama after the Dalai Lama himself. Shortly after, the boy was taken into custody by Chinese authorities, and hasn’t been seen since. Meanwhile, the Chinese designated another boy as the Panchen Lama.Video: Dalai Lama: Humanity is getting better (on this page)
“The several years of some kind of house arrest [are] not his mistake,’’ the Dalai Lama said. “Every week some people [are] arrested and [there is] severe torture in Tibet. Very sad.’’
As for the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, he said that is under his control. China’s government cannot play a role in choosing his successor as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
“It is my business, not others’ business,’’ he said. “My next life, ultimately, I will decide. No one else. Recently, they [China] have some kind of policy or certain policy, but that is quite ridiculous.’’
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