While it was his second visit to the country, this visit was much more public, comprehensive and controversial than before. The Buddhist monk, Tenzin Gyatso, spent a week travelling the country, being honoured in various cities, holding meetings with politicians and giving public lectures.
The Dalai Lama was a guest of honour last weekend at Solidarity hero and former Polish President Lech Walesa’s 25th anniversary celebrations for the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was joined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the last president of apartheid South Africa Willem de Klerk, Israel’s Shimon Peres, Iranian lawyer and activist Shrin Ebadi as well as several hundreds of youth from around the world.
The Dalai Lama, addressing his audience, spoke of Poland’s remarkable embodiment of the essence of Solidarity – that is provides an example for his people seeking sovereignty as well as unity in the face of struggle.
“Poland is a nation who has experienced many difficult periods, however, no matter what difficulties, the Polish people always keep your spirit, your determination. I admire Polish people, [you have experienced] a lot of atrocities, a lot of difficulties, but you never lost your hope.”
This message of hope was a continued theme throughout the Dalai Lama’s visit and public and private meetings in Poland. The Tibetan leader was named an honourary citizen by the southwestern city of Wroclaw as well as received an honourary doctorate degree from Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
The University chose to honour the Dalai Lama based on his high ethical standards in social and public life as observed in his inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and non-violent fight for sovereignty for Tibet. At this particular meeting, the Polish professor who nominated the Dalai Lama, Professor Beata Szymanska-Aleksandrowicz, called the monk a symbol for all those who fight for his cause but remain anonymous in the eyes of the world. She also compared Tenzin Gyatso to the likes of Catholic distinguished figures such as John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Upon receipt of his doctorate in Krakow, the Dalai Lama continued what became the theme of his message for his Polish audiences: “Poles survived many difficult states in their history, but the Polish nation has kept its heart adamant.”
Upon arrival in Poland’s capital city, the Dalai Lama held an unplanned meeting with President Lech Kaczynski. The Polish President called the meeting private in nature, but, nonetheless, it compounded China’s anger at the Dalai Lama’s meetings in the country that was instigated by the meeting the Tibetan held with Sarkozy.
The French President and the Dalai Lama held a private meeting in Gdansk which angered the Chinese government so much that they cancelled an EU-China Summit that was to be held in Lyons, France early in 2009 to discuss bilateral relations. The meeting with the Polish President was also unfavourably received by Chinese officials. They expressed their “deep dissatisfaction” with the Polish side and hoped that Polish politicians would do nothing further to damage Chinese-Polish relations.
Spirit of solidarity
The Dalai Lama’s trip culminated in a lecture entitle “Personal Responsibility in Everyday Life” held at the Torwar Stadium in Warsaw – with an audience of 5,000 people.
Despite the size of the crowd and sheer vastness of the hall, as soon as the Dalai Lama entered the room, a quiet calm settled on the place. In his truly laid-back, even impish manner, the monk started by joking, “What was I supposed to talk about again?”
His speech, though rather spiritual in nature – about compassion and how the conscious practice of that value creates inner peace, which will in turn lead to world peace – spoke to everyone in the crowd. Babies and grandmothers alike listened with rapt attention as the Tibetan monk spoke of altruism and embodying an objective mental attitude.
The lecture, which felt more of like the telling of a story rather than a true lecture, concluded with the Dalai Lama espousing his general message to Poland: that of Solidarity.
“I have found a very strong spirit of Solidarity [here in Poland] with our struggle. Your solidarity has had a very important impact on [the Tibetan] problem – it gives us hope,” he stated.
Speaking to members of the audience both before and after the visit, I knew that this particular audience would not embody a typical slice of Polish society. Amongst those in the crowd, many were Buddhist – monks and nuns in traditional garb, a large representation of Warsaw’s Vietnamese community, several Tibetans residing in Poland, several Indian Buddhists as well as many young Polish people interested in alternatives to Catholicism.
Maciej Magora, a documentary film maker focusing on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Poland, claims that “this is a historic visit because it is so big and the government has taken a definite stand along with His Holiness for the Tibetan government.”
Gosia, a Pole who lives half-time in Britain, claims that we are lucky to be able to host the Dalai Lama and show our “full support” for Tibet. “We can connect in this way,” she added.
However, not all were so optimistic about his visit. Jakob, a young Polish Buddhist, expressed his disappointment at the Polish audience. “I get the feeling that the questions from the audience for the Dalai Lama represented a bit of a shallow view of Buddhism.”
The Dalai Lama, himself, perhaps sums up his visit better than I ever could. He expressed so much happiness at the welcome he received from Polish officials and the public, thanked them for sitting through his words and promised to “return again as many times as he can in this lifetime.”
His Holiness added, in speaking to his Warsaw audience, “So long as space remains and so long as sentient beings and sovereignty remains, I will live to serve.”
And so, the unassuming monk who spoke to an audience of 5,000 put his shoes back on, unwound himself from his position on the couch on which he was perched, bowed humbly before his admirers and calmly left the stage with a large smile.
From Polskie radio