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Congressman met with Dalai Lama following protests in Tibet. Trip by Inslee proves timely

(L-R) Jay and Trudi Inslee meet with the Dalai Lama in India. The couple was traveling as part of a congressional energy delegation that visited India and Great Britain last month.  -
(L-R) Jay and Trudi Inslee meet with the Dalai Lama in India. The couple was traveling as part of a congressional energy delegation that visited India and Great Britain last month.
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A visit to the Dalai Lama was supposed to be a side trip for U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, his wife Trudi, and a congressional delegation traveling in India last month.

But as their motorcade wound through the foothills of the Himalayas, and thousands of Tibetan monks dressed in traditional robes lined the roadway, many waving American flags, it was clear their sojourn to see the spiritual and political leader of Tibet had taken on new significance.

“We had no idea that we would meet at such a fortuitous time,” Jay Inslee said.

The week before, Tibetans protesting for political autonomy had clashed violently with Chinese authorities in Lhasa. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and an untold number were killed.

The Chinese government had accused the Dalai Lama of stoking a violent uprising from the headquarters of his government in exile in Dharsalama, India.

The trip to see the Dalai Lama had been planned long before chaos broke out in the Tibet, and the American delegation, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been meeting with officials in New Dehli to discuss clean energy and climate change.

In Dharsalama the group was greeted by the Dalai Lama at his Bhuddist temple and the Inslees were captivated by the leader’s outgoing nature.

“He was very personable, very gregarious, and at the same time, very somber,” Trudi said.

Despite troubled times in his homeland, the Dali Lama’s humor seemed irrepressible, they said.

Soon after arriving the delegation was seated at a table. They told the Dali Lama that they had traveled a long way to see him, and asked for his wizened guidance on how to bring resolution to the crisis Tibet.

Inslee said the monk sat silently for 30 seconds, apparently in deep thought, as the Americans waited for his enlightened opinion.

At length he looked up at his guests and said, “I don’t know.” And grinned.

The table shook with laughter, Jay Inslee said, but the Dali Lama went on to give them insight into the dilemma.

Inslee said the Dali Lama made it clear that he was not asking for independence in Tibet, but only greater cultural freedom.

“He was not asking for a geopolitical change,” Inslee said. “His message was that there should be religious tolerance in Tibet, and the Buddhist culture should be allowed to survive. Those are very reasonable expectations for the world community.”

The Dali Lama was not opposing the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as many in Tibet were, but asked that the U.S. engage China in a conversation about human rights and cultural tolerance, and called for an international investigation into the violence in Tibet.

Inslee said it was absurd to think that the Dali Lama, with his high laugh and quiet wisdom, instigated the bloodshed in Lhasa.

“If you spent a couple of hours with him you would see that (China’s accusation) was absolutely ludicrous,” Inslee said.

While in Dharsalama, the Inslees visited a school for Tibetan children who had been sent to India by their parents to escape persecution and they met refugees fresh from Tibet.

A group of monks told them that they had walked for five days across the mountains to have an audience with the Dali Lama. In Tibet, they could be jailed or tortured for carrying a photo of their exiled leader they said.

After being welcomed by thousands of monks in Dharsalama, Inslee said it seemed that the delegation’s presence had brought some measure of hope for Tibetans.

“You don’t find a lot of places in the world right now where people wave U.S. flags,” Inslee said. “But they were just so glad that someone was willing to speak out about religious intolerance.”

The Dali Lama was also interested in the main impetus of the delegations trip, climate change, Inslee said. Tibet is an already arid region, and there is worry that extended droughts will make it hard to sustain agriculture there.

Elsewhere on the trip the delegation met with Prime-minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom and in New Dehli, held discussions with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The American leaders were interested in finding ways for India to incorporate clean technology and energy production practices as it continues to industrialize and meet the needs of rampant population growth. It will be a defining challenge considering India’s population is already over 1.2 billion and nearly half live without electricity.

“The goal was to find out was would be feasible to get India involved as a partner and foster a global clean energy revolution,” he said.

Meetings with Indian leaders were promising but not altogether successful, as they did not signal a willingness to commit to international clean energy treaties yet, Inslee. Prime-minister Singh has declared that India will not exceed the average per capita carbon emissions of industrialized nations.

“If they even reach that worldwide average, the planet is doomed,” Inslee said. “So there’s a conundrum.”

Already signs of climate change are apparent in India, most dramatically the rapid recession of Himalayan glacier, which provide much of India’s drinking water.

“It showed the interconnectivity of the world,” he said. “We can’t save salmon and streams in Washington if they in India do not act. And they cannot save their drinking water and the water in the Ganges if we don’t act. So this is a very unifying time in the world.”

The delegation left India with a renewed sense of urgency to work with developing nations on climate change, as well as the need to engage China over tibet, Inslee said.

Last Thursday, Pelosi, Inslee and the other delegation members introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, calling for an end to China’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters. The Chinese government railed against resolution, calling Pelosi a “defender of arsonists, looters and killers,” according to an Associated Press report.

In the midst of the ongoing tumult, the Dali Lama will honor a speaking engagement in Seattle beginning Friday. The Dali Lama will appear at five days of concerts, speeches and workshops hosted by Seeds of Compassion, a Bellevue nonprofit.

Tickets for events featuring the Dali Lama have already sold out, but Inslee said he hopes everyone will turn out to greet him.

“I think people should line the streets of Seattle, and welcome the Dali Lama like we were welcomed in Dharsalama,” he said.

Box: The Dali Lama in Seattle

The Dali Lama will attend Seeds of Compassion events in Seattle from April 11 to April 15. Tickets for events featuring the Dali Lama are sold out, but the series will be televised and streamed online. For more information see www.seedsofcompassion.org

Hear him speak

The Dalai Lama will attend Seeds of Compassion events in Seattle from April 11 to April 15. Tickets for events featuring the Dalai Lama are sold out, but the series will be televised and streamed online. For more information see www.seedsofcompassion.org.

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