Now His Holiness is based in Dharamsala, in northern India, given refuge and status there by the Indian government, then (in 1959, when he fled from Tibet to India) led by Prime Minister Nehru. The Dalai Lama has come to stand for wisdom and compassion to many, but is still named a trouble-maker and worse by the Chinese authorities. I can say, after spending a good hour with him a few days after his birthday in 1978, that he is a vibrant good-humoured highly focussed and very disciplined man.
What a privilege that was, to talk with him (I was so nervous of course, when I first presented him with a kata, but then he laughed and put me and the two others I was with at ease, and the rest went smoothly and timelessly). My mother had died the previous November, and somehow that time with His Holiness and the other Tibetans in exile, together with a long trek that I did into Ladakh over the Baralacha La, were an unbelievable restorative. They were a reminder that it's up to us to make our way, up to us to find meaning in life.
The date of his birthday is a good time for those of us who live in relatively secure freedom to contemplate the places, and the people who live in them, where oppression and unfreedom are the rule. People lose a sense of their own ability to take risks, they learn to play it safe.
Those of us who are free, with health and life before us, can take occasions like His Holiness's birthday to remind outselves to take our freedom and use it in an engaged way.
We truly have little to complain of, especially if we compare ourselves to Tibetans or Somalis or Sudanese or people of any one of many other nationalities who are in exile from their place of birth, or alternatively living in fear in their homeland and trying to survive with dignity from day to day...