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Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu: Two Shining Icons of Love and Friendship


The 14th Dalai Lama and South African anti-apartheid leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu have become known as two bosom BFFs for many years. Although the two great leaders come from two different planets, they are like two peas in a pod with their mutual humanitarian mission and beliefs. Their meetings go beyond the threshold of strengthening ties and assuaging discrepancies as the two pillars relish teasing each other mischievously. They were determined to maintain their friendship even when they got governmental tides running against them in order to tear them asunder.


With cricketing enthusiasm, the two epitomes of love regularly meet to throw some light on many key topics that the world is wrestling with, such as finding joy. In their mutual book, The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu both agree that finding joy does not hinge on the vicissitudes of external circumstances but, rather, on the inward quest one goes through daily. The Dalai Lama narrates how he experienced joy even when he was in dire straits as an exiled activist against the Chinese invasion of Tibet, his home country. The Buddhist master states that suffering under the Chinese grip has ennobled him as he learnt the strategy of not fighting back when fighting is pointless: “When you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there is no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. I practice that,” The Dalai Lama indicates. The Dalai Lama’s strategy of fighting depression was shifting in perspective as he decided to think about the suffering of his Hui Muslim brethren in communist China. In a similar fashion, although Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been diagnosed with cancer, he never dwells on his illness. On the contrary, he travels to many places on his wheelchair to preach the message of love and unity.

The Archbishop is marked by his genuine compassion that captures people’s hearts wherever he goes. He is admired for his twinkling eyes and his voice that always has an emotional edge to it. The Archbishop always jokes about how he exhibits emotions so easily as he cries and laughs in a flash and in the open, which is a sweet glimpse into his golden heart. Similarly, The Dalai Lama loathes formality and rejects showing up to the crowds with a poker face, preferring to expose his true feels. The two leaders share a deep-seated belief that a public figure is nothing but an ordinary human being who got an opportunity to have a wide platform to serve others. That’s why, the two BFFs prefer to let the current of their emotions take them away to the fullest extent; as a manifestation, the two leaders were once caught by press’ cameras while they were getting ready to ascend the stage to give a talk together and suddenly the Dalai Lama started to choke The Archbishop who said to The Lama: “Hey, the cameras are on. Behave like a holy man.”

The two religious leaders have always stressed the importance of laughter and humour to break the barricades that our disparities create. Humour is a deep-rooted characteristic woven into the fabric of our humanity, and we should always hold onto it. When The Dalai Lama greets his loving fans, he doesn’t merely smile and shake hands, but he pours his heart out completely to each and every person in the multitudes. He takes one’s hands and rubs them as one might do to his prized son or daughter. In the same vein, The Archbishop is marked by his photographic memory of the people he meets despite his old age. One of his editors narrates that when his grandson got sick, he asked The Archbishop to put him on his prayer list. After many years, the child got sick again, so the editor asked the Archbishop if he could pray for him again, to which The Archbishop replied: “I never stopped praying for him.”

There comes a point in any friendship when hardships start submerging to test the fibre of such a friendship. Correspondingly, the friendship of these two sentient beings was tested more than once and, nevertheless, endured. To exemplify, when The Archbishop was celebrating his 80th birthday in Cape Town, in South Africa, he invited The Dalai Lama to be his party’s guest of honour. However, the Chinese government was not pleased by such an invitation: The communist government placed its South African counterpart under pressure to prevent The Dalai Lama from obtaining his visa, and South Africa had no choice but to accede not to lose its economic ties with such a world hegemon. The Archbishop no sooner took to the press making headlines and criticizing his own government for preventing The Dalai Lama from his rightful prerogatives. The Archbishop even ridiculed the Chinese government, saying that he can’t fathom why The Dalai Lama is so threatening to their dominion while he has no weaponry and no army divisions. Eventually, the Archbishop resorted to hosting the full ceremony on google and celebrated with his friend online. Moreover, after the party ended, the Archbishop treaded on the Chinese government’s loss, saying “We had google hosting our conversation, and there was a lot more press interest that there might have otherwise been. Wherever the Dalai Lama is, there is a lot of interest. And, I’m not jealous,” The Archbishop comments mischievously.

The Archbishop has always been a fighter since his early youth. In 1984, he earned Nobel Peace Prize with flying colours for his efforts in resolving and ending apartheid. By adopting Nelson Mandela’s strategy of the non-violent protest as the central tenet of his mission, Archbishop Tutu called international attention to the heart-wrenching state of his home country. He was appointed by Mandela as the head of The Truth & Reconciliation Commission. No matter what hardships The Archbishop witnessed, be it his imprisonment or the devastating experience of witnessing his dearest friends killed one after the other in police rallies, he continued to fight for human rights. When asked what helped him the most to endure such bleak days of suffering, the Archbishop replied, “my sense of humour”. He even taught his fellow activists to laugh in the mid of shootings and to turn funerals into a means to voice their own opinions. By keeping your smile on, you are urging your inner-being not to admit defeat.

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It is difficult to tell how these two veritable icons contributed to the betterment of our world. Seeing two great leaders working in such an old age to cater to the needs of the dispossessed leaves no option for us but to examine our paradigm and make every day of our youth count. Although their benevolence speaks for itself, the two friends have never claimed sainthood; rather, they revel in their friendship like two innocent children and relish being related to as unvarnished human beings, not as starring figures.


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