Saturday, January 7, 2012

The 14th Dalai Lama

by Tetsu Saiwai

A friend suggested that I read The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography and I'm glad I did.  I've always had a passing interest in Tenzin Gyatso and the struggle of his people, and I was familiar with his story, but I'd never read a biography of him before now.

Tetsu Saiwai's manga begins with the death of the previous Dalai Lama, and the search for his resurrected spirit.  Once he was recognized as the new Dalai Lama, Gyatso was moved to Lhasa where he began a life of study.  Unfortunately, world events did not allow the young Dalai Lama time to ease into his role, as at the age of fifteen, he had to begin to deal with the expansionism of neighbouring China, which was undergoing the Cultural Revolution, and set its eyes on Tibet.

This book follows the Dalai Lama through a period of attempting to appease and work with Mao's China, until the sad realization that were he to stay in Lhasa, he would surely be held prisoner or killed.  He and a small group of family and advisers escape to India, where they continue to act as the legal government of Tibet, although they have no say over what has happened at home.

The book covers its material quickly (it didn't take very long to read this), but with enough detail that the reader can walk away from this book with a good understanding of what has happened.  Saiwai tells his story simply, but very effectively.  This is a good place to start a study of the current, post-anti-Olympics demonstrations in Tibet, and raises the question of what will happen to Tibetans, and Buddhism in general, when the aging Gyatso passes.

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