Sun After Dark

Sun After Dark by Pico Iyer Read Free Book Online

Book: Sun After Dark by Pico Iyer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pico Iyer
Tags: Fiction
almost like prisoners” as they meditate. “Wonderful!” he pronounced, leaving it to his visitor to deduce that, left to his own devices, that’s how he’d like to be.
    At this point, after two Dalai Lama autobiographies and two major Hollywood films telling the story of his life, the otherworldly contours of the Dalai Lama’s life are well known: his birth in a cowshed in rural Tibet, in what was locally known as the Wood Hog Year (1935); his discovery by a search party of monks, who’d been led to him by a vision in a sacred lake; the tests administered to a two-year-old who, mysteriously, greeted the monks from far-off Lhasa as their leader, and in their distant dialect. Yet what the mixture of folktale and Shakespearean drama doesn’t always catch is that the single dominant theme of his life, a Buddhist might say, is loss.
    To someone who reads the world in terms of temporal glory, it’s a stirring story of a four-year-old peasant boy ascending the Lion Throne to rule one of the most exotic treasures on earth. To someone who really lives the philosophy for which the Dalai Lama stands, it could play out in a different key. At two, he lost the peace of his quiet life in a wood-and-stone house where he slept in the kitchen. At four he lost his home, and his freedom to be a regular person, when he was pronounced head of state. Soon thereafter, he lost something of his family, too, and most of his ties with the world at large, as he embarked on a formidable sixteen-year course of monastic studies, and was forced, at the age of six, to choose a regent.
    The Dalai Lama has written with typical warmth about his otherworldly boyhood in the cold, thousand-roomed Potala Palace, where he played games with the palace sweepers, rigged up a hand-cranked projector on which he could watch Tarzan movies and Henry V, and clobbered his only real playmate—his immediate elder brother Lobsang Samten—in the knowledge that no one would be quick to punish a boy regarded as an incarnation of the god of compassion (and a king to boot). Yet the overwhelming feature of his childhood was its loneliness. Often, he recalls, he would go out onto the rooftop of his palace and watch the other little boys of Lhasa playing in the street. Every time his brother left, he recalls standing “at the window, watching, my heart full of sorrow as he disappeared into the distance.”
    The Dalai Lama has never pretended that he does not have a human side, and though it is that side that exults in everything that comes his way, it is also that side that cannot fail to grieve at times. When the Chinese, newly united by Mao Zedong, attacked Tibet’s eastern frontiers in 1950, the fifteen-year-old boy was forced hurriedly to take over the temporal as well as the spiritual leadership of his country, and so lost his boyhood (if not his innocence), and his last vestiges of freedom. In his teens he was traveling to Beijing, overriding the wishes of his fearful people, to negotiate with Mao and Zhou En-lai, and not long thereafter he became only the second Dalai Lama to leave Tibet, when it seemed his life might be in peril.
    At twenty-four, a few days after he completed his doctoral studies, and shone in an oral in front of thousands of appraising monks, he lost his home for good: the “Wish-Fulfilling Gem,” as he is known to Tibetans, had to dress up as a soldier and flee across the highest mountains on earth, dodging Chinese planes, and seated on a hybrid yak. The drama of that loss lives inside him still. I asked him one sunny afternoon about the saddest moment in his life, and he told me that he was moved to tears usually only when he talked of Buddha, or thought of compassion—or heard, as he sometimes does every day, the stories and appeals of the terrified refugees who’ve stolen out of Tibet to come and see him.
    Generally, he said, in his firm, prudent way, “sadness, I think, is comparatively manageable.” But before he said any of that, he

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