The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 14, 2000
Great Minds

H. H. The Dalai Lama
( July 6, 1935)
Tenzing Norgay
(1914 — 1886)
Swami Chinmayananda
(May 8, 1916 — August 3, 1993)

H. H. The Dalai Lama
( July 6, 1935)

THE search party looking for the child believed to be the reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama finally, following certain signs and omens, reached the home of the three-year-old Lhamo Dhondrub (Thondup). The little boy recognised them instantly and called out 'Sera lama, Sera lama’. Sera was Kewtsang the dead Lama, Rinpoche's monastery. To make sure they hadn't got the wrong boy, the party left and returned a few days later with a number of personal effects of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, together with several that did not belong to him. In every case, the the boy correctly identified those belonging to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama saying, "It’s mine. It’s mine." It was not long before the boy from Taktser was acknowledged to be the new Dalai Lama, and was renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso - Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom. Tibetans normally refer to His Holiness as Yeshe Norbu, the Wishfulfilling Gem or simply Kundun - The Presence.

H. H. The Dalai LamaThe Dalai Lama is held by the Tibetans to be the reincarnation of each of the previous thirteen Dalai Lamas of Tibet (the first having been born in 1351 AD), who are in turn considered to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig, Bodhisattva of Compassion, holder of the White Lotus. He is also believed to be a manifestation of Chenrezig, in fact the seventy-fourth in a lineage that can be traced back to a Brahmin boy who lived in the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Lhamo Thondup then began to receive his primary education. The curriculum included Tibtean art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine and Buddhist philosophy that included Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom; Madhyamika, the philosophy of the Middle Way; Vinaya, the canon of monastic discipline; Abidharma, metaphysics; and Pramana, logic and epistemology.

Lhamo Thondup was doing extremely well for himself, and was all set to explore the path of dharma, but destiny had other things in store for him. About a fortnight before the day of his investiture, his eldest brother arrived in Lhasa. He told harrowing tales about Chinese brutality, and about their intentions of having the new Dalai Lama killed. Undaunted, the Dalai Lama stood his ground for the next nine years in spite of the oppressive policies of the Chinese Government.

On November 17, 1950, His Holiness was called upon to assume full political power that is head of the State and Government after some 80,000 Peoples Liberation Army soldiers invaded Tibet. In 1954, he went to Beijing to talk peace with Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese leaders, including Chou En-lai and Deng Xiaoping. While visiting India in 1956 to attend the 2500th Buddha Jayanti Anniversary, he had a series of meetings with Prime Minister Nehru and Premier Chou about deteriorating conditions in Tibet.

His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to Sino-Tibetan conflict received a severe setback because of Bejing’s ruthless policy in Eastern Tibet, which led to a popular uprising later. Soon the resistance movement spread to other parts of Tibet like a wild fire. On 10 March 1959 the capital of Tibet, Lhasa saw the largest demonstration in Tibetan history. The Chinese retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror, killing thousands of revolutionaries. While they were at it, they also destroyed Tibetan monasteries, and burnt thousands of ancient Tibetan books. The Tibetan National Uprising was brutally crushed by the Chinese army. In the circumstances, His Holiness was forced to escape to India where he was granted political asylum. Today, there are more than 120,000 Tibetan in exile. Since 1960, Dharamsala, known as 'Little Lhasa,' has been the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile.

In spite of his political concern for his people, the Dalai Lama has not forsaken the path for which he was born. He has been spreading the message of love and persuading people from all over the world to shed hatred and violence, and follow the path of spiritualism and dharma. Besides matters spiritual, he has a keen interest in electrical gadgets, and has a fervent interest in photography.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace. The prize money of $469,000 was used to set up a Foundation for Universal Responsibility, for needy people all over the world. While presenting the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award to the Dalai Lama in 1989, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos said, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s courageous struggle has distinguished him as a leading proponent of human rights and world peace. His ongoing efforts to end the suffering of the Tibetan people through peaceful negotiations and reconciliation have required enormous courage and sacrifice."

And people come in droves to his monastery at Dharmsala where for the last forty years or so, he has been tirelessly spreading his message, hoping to liberate his country and return to the land of his birth. Top


Tenzing Norgay
(1914 — 1886)

ON May 29, 1953, Namgyal Wangdi and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first men to set foot on Sargarmantha, the highest mountain in the world. Sargarmantha, as the Nepalese call it, or Chomolungma, as the Tibetans call it, or Mt. Everest, if you like, has always been a challenge to climbers all over the world. Remembering the historic climb to the summit, Namgyal Wangdi, better known as Sherpa Tenzing later wrote: "On the top of the rock cliff we rested again. Certainly, after the climb up the gap we were both a bit breathless, but after some slow pulls at the oxygen I am feeling fine. I look up; the top is very close now; and my heart thumps with excitement and joy."

Tenzing NorgayWhen the news reached the world the Nepalese government claimed that he was Nepalese, and the Indian government asserted he was an Indian. Tenzing's own reply to this was simple: "I was born in the womb of Nepal and raised in the lap of India." Throughout his life, people often asked him whether it was he or Sir Edmund who got on to the Everest first. Tenzing used to dismiss such unnecessary speculation with his disarming smile: "We climbed as a team, period."

Before reaching the top of Mt. Everest, Tenzing had accompanied many expeditions to the peak. A few months before he and Raymond Lambert of the 1952 Swiss expedition, had come within 1,000 feet of the summit — the highest point that anyone had reached until then.

"Norgay" means "fortunate"), and Tenzing was indeed a lucky man for when he was about 18, he left for Darjeeling in India and found himself a member of a British expedition. Ever since their first expedition in 1921, the British had drawn on Darjeeling’s large Sherpa population for help in getting to Everest as well as climbing it.That explains why he, in spite of no previous mountaineering experience, got a place in Eric Shipton’s 1935 Everest Expedition. He was 19 at the time and newly married — to Dawa Phuti, a Sherpa girl living in Darjeeling. His performance on this climb was hugely appreciated, and he was immediately hired for later British Everest expeditions. He was of such easy manner that he got along extremely well with almost everyone, even the highly eccentric and irascible Tibetologist Guiseppe Tucci whom everyone dreaded.

Although Tenzing's name is permanently associated with Everest, it is generally forgotten that he also participated in expeditions to India’s Nanda Devi, Pakistan’s Tirich Mir and Nanga Parbat, as well as Nepal’s Langtang area and India’s Garwhal, where he and fellow climbers made first ascents.

In his eventful life, Norgay received many honors, and was feted, among others, by world leaders and heads of state. He became the first Field Director of the newly-established Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a post that he held for 22 years.

For a humble Sherpa born into a poor family in the high mountain village of Thame in Nepal, it had been a long road from being a mountain coolie, to becoming an icon of his age the world over. He went on to become the ambassador for his people, the high altitude Sherpas of Darjeeling and the Khumbu. Although this humble mountain man never learnt to read or write, he spoke seven languages and dictated several books including his autobiography Tiger of the Snows.Top


Swami Chinmayananda
(May 8, 1916 — August 3, 1993)

AMONG the hundreds of young men who were thrown into jails all over India for their part in the struggle for Independence, there was one Balakrishna Menon. After languishing for months in prison, he had contracted typhus fever. The jail officials were anxious that he did not die on them, so they literally threw him out on the streets to die. But the prisoner was saved by a kindly Indian Christian woman. She nursed him and helped him come back to normal. She reminded him of his mother he lost when he was barely five.

Swami ChinmayanandaBalakrishna Menon grew up in Ernakulam, Kerala, in an aristocratic family. As a child he was very naughty with an excellent sense of humour which he did not lose all his life. After his school education he went to Lucknow University were he studied English literature and law. Being articulate and outspoken, he was very active on the campus, and took part in plays. He was member of the literary club, the debating club, and was also in the the university tennis team.

But those were turbulent times. The year 1942 particularly witnessed important revolutionary movements, and Balakrishna jumped into the fray. He was involved in writing and distributing leaflets, organising public strikes and giving speeches. All this did not go unnoticed by the police, and soon he was behind bars.

In 1945, he moved to Delhi to join the editorial staff of the The National Herald. About this time, he came across some books by Swami Sivananda, Vivekananda, Ram Tirtha, Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi and others. Acetic life had its attractions, but being the skeptic that he was, he decided to go to the Himalayas to see it for himself. Thus in the summer of 1947, we see Balakrishna arriving at Swami Sivananda’s ashram eager to find the Eternal Truth. After a few deliberations, he renounced the world on the 25th of February 1949 assuming the name of Swami Chinmayananda Saraswati. He spent the next decade visiting various sages, and discussing eternal questions with them. He also studied the scriptures at the feet of Sri Swami Tapovan in the high Himalayas in Uttarkashi.

Swami Chinmayananda was appaled by the fact that majority of Indians had no appreciation of their religious heritage, and that spiritual learning was given to only the privileged classes. From then on his only mission in life was to take religion from classes to the masses, and to "convert Hindus to Hinduism". He told his guru, "I feel the immense urge to go down to the plains and share the wealth of the holy scriptures with my fellow countrymen. I want to run down like a Ganga which nourishes and inspires with its refreshing waves."

If he thought the task was going to be an easy one, he was wrong for he faced stiff opposition from the orthodoxy. But he was not the man to be baffled by such obstacles, and he carried on with his goal of the democratisation of religion. For 42 years, braving ill health and opposition, he relentlessly carried on giving lectures in India and the rest of the world teaching the importance of spiritual knowledge in everyday life. He wrote simple easy-to-understand commentaries on major Vedantic texts, besides writing a number of books.

In order that Vedantic knowledge was brought to every corner of the world and every avenue of life Swamiji started The Chinmayananda Mission, and opened ashrams in India and America where a number of young spiritual teachers were trained in the gurukul tradition. The Mission sponsors 62 schools in India, where apart from the normal school curriculum, children learn about the Vedic heritage. The main ashram in India are in Bombay, and in Himalayas in Siddhabari. In America ashrams are in Piercy, San Jose, Washington, Chicago, Flint, New York State, and Florida. All his life, he taught the importance of spiritual knowledge in everyday life., and reminded the world that spirituality was our birthright. He explained philosophy of ancient scriptures with logic of science laced with humour.

Swamiji paid special attention and affection to children, for He saw them as the builders of the future. For them he organised the Bal Vihar and Yuva Kendra classes, which he called children’s clubs.

In 1992, Swami Chinmayananda gave an address at the United Nations titled "Planet in Crisis". He was selected president of Hindu religion for the Centennial Conference of the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, where Swami Vivekananda had captured hearts about a hundred years ago.


(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman