London, UK, 4 March 2010 (By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, The Times) - The Dalai Lama is the latest and most senior world religious leader to appear on Twitter, the social networking site.
The 75-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, regarded by the Chinese Government as a dangerous separatist, has so far steered clear of controversy in his tweets. One recent example referred to his appearance on the Larry King show in Los Angeles, when he tweeted: “Dalai Lama Says Loves China Despite ‘Suppression’.”
Other tweets link to webcasts on his official website where he talks about the life story of the Buddha.
Beijing will be noting whether he begins using Twitter in his campaign to win autonomy for his Himalayan homeland. He has been in exile from Tibet since 1959 when he fled after a rebellion against Chinese rule.
According to a report in the Asia Times, the Dalai Lama began tweeting soon after his meeting with President Obama at the White House. The Twitter founder Evan Williams suggested it in person.
On February 22, Mr Williams tweeted: “Met the Dalai Lama today in LA. Pitched him on using Twitter. He laughed.”
That day, the Dalai Lama appeared on Twitter with a “verified” account identifiable by the blue tick box next to his profile. In the two weeks since then he has gained 140,000 followers, although he has yet to follow a single person himself. An earlier Twitter account purporting to be that of the Dalai Lama was shut down because it was fake.
Other religious leaders on Twitter include the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. Neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor his Roman Catholic colleague, the Archbishop of Westminster, is on Twitter, although the Church of England is active, along with a number of its bishops and many clergy.
Philippa Carrick, chief executive of the Tibet Relief Fund, which is planning to lobby Parliament next week to mark the 51st anniversary of the Lhasa uprising, said that the Dalai Lama had gained so many followers so quickly because of an appeal that went far beyond the politics of Tibet.
“He has an inordinate amount of followers. It is testimony to the remarkable outreach he has,” Ms Carrick said. “Whether people are Buddhist or not, they respect his spirituality and humanity. He often does talks on universal responsibility, when he says everyone is responsible for making the world a better place. This is part of living that out.”