410pp, 799 rupees; HarperCollins.

The biography of the Tibetan scientist Alexander Norman about the Dalai Lama is the most detailed and complete biography to date. The author explores the spiritual and political life of the Tibetan leader and reports on his travels around the world; he travels either for spiritual service or to report on the conditions in Tibet and his vision of the country. These trips include his first two trips to China and India.

Norman talks a lot about these visits. For the young Dalai Lama, who is isolated in the Potala Palace, in a country that has no contact with the rest of the world, these two trips were a discovery and an apprenticeship. Both countries were then in a phase of transformation and revolution. During his visit to China in 1954-1955, the young Dalai Lama was informed of the merits of socialism. He’s met Mao several times. Norman’s writing: It seems that both men had the same opinion about each other as protagonists on their own turf. Mao believed that the Dalai Lama had been decisive in the defeat of the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama… realized that his strategy should be to develop a strong personal relationship with the Chinese leader…

The Dalai Lama, who fled on horseback from Tibet to India in March 1959
Francis Apestagie/Getty Images

During his visit to India in 1956, the Dalai Lama discovered a freedom that supported India’s dirty and vibrant democracy. These two visits have formed his own political perspective. After fleeing to India in 1959, the Dalai Lama devised his own two revolutions under the tolerant eyes of the Indian government. He democratized the Tibetan government in exile. These are the reforms he wanted to implement in Tibet, little by little. His plans were thwarted by Chinese gentlemen who thought it would take away their revolutionary sails. Many years later, the Dalai Lama transferred his political power to a democratically elected leader.

With these two actions, the 14. Dalai Lama Tibet all over again. Although ancient Tibet was homogeneous in ethnicity, language, religion and culture, one third of the territory was under central government control. The rest, the northeast and east of Tibet, were divided into tribal groups and had to have some form of unwavering loyalty to one capital city, Lhasa or Beijing, which was subject to lower taxes.

By giving Tibetan refugees the gift of democracy and handing over all his traditional political power to elected leaders, the Dalai Lama has brought not only his people but also his culture together in transnational efforts. This was done through intense political and cultural connections and interactions.

Norman’s writing: When he was followed by eighty thousand needy refugees in exile, he could at best hope for their rapid acceptance into Indian society, while the Dalai Lama himself founded one or more small Buddhist centers in India or elsewhere. The fact that he was in charge of creating a highly successful and largely cohesive diaspora, which today numbers perhaps a quarter of a million people around the world, and that he also conquered the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist followers from millions of people around the world, is quite amazing and of course unprecedented in the modern world.

Another achievement of the Dalai Lama is his active promotion of a lasting dialogue between Buddhism and science. He believes that ancient India, which studies the psychology and workings of the human mind, has much to offer to science, whose understanding of the relationship between consciousness and mind he teases as if it were at kindergarten level. Professor Robert Thurman, formerly of Columbia University’s Department of Religion and named one of America’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine, believes the Dalai Lama has become one of the world’s greatest scientists.

Author Alexander Norman
courtesy of Harper Collins

Alexander Norman’s book about the Dalai Lama is a great story. However, there are one or two unpleasant remarks that we hope will be corrected in future editions. During his visit to China, the Tibetan Head of State celebrated the Tibetan New Year with China’s top leaders, including Mao. In addition, Mao, the photo in the book shows the Dalai Lama and the Pancheng Lama sitting with Zhou En-lai, Prime Minister, and Liu Shaotsi, President of the People’s Republic. The signature on the photos of Liu Shaoqi bears the name of Zhu Dae, a Chinese general with the highest rank.

Continuous reading: Leisure time in Tibet outside the city: First years of refugees’ community life

Elsewhere Norman writes that Xi Jun Sun, the father of today’s Chinese Xi Jinping, was stationed in Tibet. That didn’t happen. But Senior Xi became close to the Dalai Lama during the visit of the Tibetan leader to China in the 1950s.

The biography of Alexander Norman is a tribute to the great Tibetan and to the great man who, since his exile, has breathed new life into his cultural world. Given the current disorder in our world, it is amazing that a person like him would roam the earth.

Tabten Samfel is an independent researcher and former director of the Tibetan Policy Institute.