Dalai Lama Holds Taiwan Prayers

September 1st 2009

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gesticulates as he asks his followers to sit down during a Buddhist ceremony for the survivors and victims of last month
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gesticulates as he asks his followers to sit down during a Buddhist ceremony for the survivors and victims of last month's massive mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009, in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 1 September 2009 (BBC) - The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has held a prayer ceremony in southern Taiwan in memory of the victims of last month's typhoon.

It was the Dalai Lama's first major public appearance since he arrived on the island on Sunday.

He has described his trip as non-political, but China has condemned it.

It has reportedly postponed several delegations to Taiwan, at a time when relations between Beijing and Taipei have otherwise been improving.

China considers the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist who is seeking Tibetan independence, and often criticises his official foreign visits.

The trip to Taiwan is especially sensitive given that Beijing considers Taiwan - along with Tibet - as part of Chinese territory.

Remembering the dead

About 20,000 people assembled in the arena in the southern city of Kaohsiung on Tuesday to see the Dalai Lama.

Many of the people there were Tibetan Buddhists from all over Taiwan, but a lot were also typhoon victims, according to the BBC's correspondent in the country, Cindy Sui.

Believers of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama attend a Buddhist ceremony to pray for survivors and victims of Typhoon Morakot , Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Believers of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama attend a Buddhist ceremony to pray for survivors and victims of Typhoon Morakot , Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009, in Kaohsiung County, southern Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
The 74-year-old monk said he shared the sorrow of those who lost their loved ones during Typhoon Morakot, which hit Taiwan on 7 August and left more than 600 people dead or missing.

The people prayed and chanted with the Dalai Lama in unison. At one point he even cracked a joke, saying: "I'm chanting in Tibetan and you'll be chanting in Mandarin, but it's going to sound like chaos."

According to our correspondent, nobody in the Kaohsiung arena was thinking about politics - they were simply very eager to get the spiritual message the Dalai Lama wanted to give them.

But the trip is undoubtedly causing strain on Beijing-Taipei relations.

On Sunday a statement from China's Taiwan Affairs Office said the Dalai Lama's visit was "bound to have a negative influence on the relations between the mainland and Taiwan".

Chen Shu-rong, spokeswoman for Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, told reporters that a senior Communist Party official had already cancelled a visit to Taipei, and a Chinese delegation would not take part in Saturday's opening of the Deaf Olympics.

Ms Chen told the Associated Press that while she could not confirm that that these actions were taken directly because of the Dalai Lama's visit, "we do not exclude the possibility".

Little choice

Apart from the Dalai Lama's visit, Taiwan's KMT Party has actually been strengthening its ties with China in recent months.

The Chinese government considers President Ma Ying-jeou's administration far easier to deal with than the island's previous pro-independence leadership.

But according to our correspondent, Mr Ma had little choice when the opposition party requested an invitation to the Dalai Lama to pray for typhoon victims.

His government had been accused of offering a slow and inefficient response to the typhoon, and our correspondent says he could not afford to hurt his and his party's image any further.

 

 

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