The Dalai Lama is the most influential person in the world, according to Time magazine. He draws crowds that no other spiritual leader or politician could hope to match, and sits there laughing, exuding an infectious joy, despite the suffering that he and the Tibetan people have known. Unique, celibate, idealistic, compassionate, exotic - he seems to look at life in a different way to everyone else. What is his secret? According to these two books, it lies in the fact that his mind was trained from an early age in an abstruse religious tradition that makes no distinction between the spiritual and temporal worlds.Unlike the plethora of Hollywood meditators and their celebrityappendages who claim friendship with the Dalai Lama, Alexander Norman has known him well for two decades.
As the ghostwriter of his autobiography, Freedom in Exile, and the ethical guidebook Ancient Wisdom, Modern World, he spent more than 250 hours interviewing him. In the eccentric world of Tibetology, it may not be strange that Norman also happens to be a practising Roman Catholic, a former British Army officer and a vintage-aircraft enthusiast.Starting from the first principle that the Dalai Lama is a series of reincarnations of the Bodhisattva Chenrezig, his book sets out to examine the historical roots of the lineage. It is not always a pretty story. Several Dalai Lamas were murdered at a young age, and one was a notorious seducer who drank hard, wore his hair long and refused to take monastic vows. Norman seems at times to be shocked by the fruits of his own research.
point is the savage murder in 1997 of one of the Dalai Lama's closest
allies in a doctrinal dispute, which he calls “a case of hitting the
goat to scare the sheep”. Delving into Tibet's past, he examines a
complex interplay of sorcery, reincarnation, divination and the
assertion of worldly power. The establishment of the institution of the
Dalai Lamas in 1578 arose out of a rivalry between monasteries,
regional warlords and the Mongolian descendants of Genghis Khan, who
all needed spiritual sanction for their actions.
The story that follows is
some distance from what we are used to in contemporary political
discourse: we meet a protector deity who emerges from a lotus flower,
“his mouth open with warm blood bubbling at the corners”, a key
religious text that has been hidden under a rock for several hundred
years, and agrou......
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