Claude B. Levenson: From the Star of David to the White Lotus

- through Sophie Solere

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On December 13, 2020, it will be ten years since Claude B. Levenson (1938-2010) disappeared: a committed intellectual, survivor of the Shoah, close to the Dalai Lama and spokesperson for the Tibetan cause in France. His action has been central to making the general public aware of the drama that has been unfolding in Tibet since the invasion of China in 1959.

The origins of an indignant woman

Claude Levenson was born in Paris in 1938. One day in 1941, the militia knocked on the door of the family home. His father, denounced by a neighbor, is arrested. Transferred to Drancy, he is part of the first convoy sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp, from where he will not return. Claude is then hidden in a family of peasants of Nièvre while her mother engages in the Resistance. They will not meet again until the Liberation in 1945. A traumatic experience that forges her character. To testify to the fortitude of his wife, her husband Jean-Claude Buhrer, journalist at the daily Le Monde, written in the preface of the reissue ofSo says the Dalai Lama "Since the age of three, Claude has never cried again".

Pupil of the nation, a brilliant student, in the mid-50s she received a scholarship which sent her to the prestigious Lomonossov University in Moscow, where she learned, among other things, Russian, Sanskrit, Hindi and Persian. . It was also there that she met young Buryats and Kalmouks – minorities from eastern Russia, close to Mongolia – who introduced her to Tibetan Buddhism. Moscow was then the crossroads of world struggles, and Claude met survivors of the Gulag, veterans of the Spanish Civil War and Eastern, African or Latin American exiles. From there doubtless dates his awareness that “beyond even the Dalai Lama, the silent drama of Tibet concerns our own freedom. That of saying no to the denial of justice and yes to the principle of self-determination of a people”. From the 60s, alongside her husband, she never stopped fighting for the survival of an entire people by alternating journalism and literary translations.

A meeting that seals a destiny

It was in 1981 that she first met the Dalai Lama, invited by the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac. At that time, the aura of the spiritual leader of Tibet did not go beyond the circle of people interested in Tibetan Buddhism. This meeting marks a turning point for Claude. During their next meeting in Geneva in 1982, Claude asked the Dalai Lama for his opinion on the situation in Tibet. In response, He invites her to go and see on the spot. She went there in 1984 as soon as the Pays des Neiges opened its doors. This trip is the first of a dozen stays on the Roof of the World. Claude is shocked by what she discovers there: a ravaged country where only a dozen monasteries remain out of the six thousand that the country had before 1959. But she realizes the importance of the Dalai Lama in the hearts of Tibetans: “From that moment on, I wanted to get to know this character better, understood until then through the vision that his people sent back to me,” she explained.

In 1986, Claude told the Dalai Lama that a publisher offered him to write the biography of the holy man. His Holiness replies: "Let's do it together!" ". Fruit of long encounters with the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetans, The Lord of the White Lotus is the first book in a long series. In total, there will be no less than twenty-five stories, including fifteen on Tibet and two on Buddhism, interviews with the Dalai Lama and numerous articles in favor of the Tibetan cause. These writings have been published in some twenty languages, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese (Taiwan) and Arabic.

"Once grasped, understood and accepted that all that exists is subject to birth, transformation and extinction, that is to say, impermanence, life becomes an experience from which no one, of course, emerges unscathed. , but certainly worth living. »

Very attached to Tibet and Buddhism, embodied by the Dalai Lama in the eyes of the general public, Claude Levenson was "Buddhist in his own way", as her husband says. He adds that for her “Buddhism represented a grid for reading the world and could compensate for the excess of materialism”. Also, when asked if she is a Buddhist, she answers with a pirouette: "I may have been in a previous life and may be in another life..." When Claude's words were reported, the Dalai Lama exclaimed, "I think that's a very good definition! She remained no less observant: her bedside book was Nagarjuna and the doctrine of emptiness, reports her husband.

“Become philosophically Buddhist”, as described by Philippe Picquier, one of her editors, she seemed to have captured its essence. She said, recalls her husband: "Once grasped, understood and accepted that all that exists is subject to birth, transformation and extinction, that is to say impermanence, life becomes an experience whose no one, of course, comes out unscathed, but which is certainly worth living for”.

At the time of his disappearance in December 2010, Claude Levenson held in his hands, like a symbol, a statuette of the Buddha that the Dalai Lama had given him. Who could dream of a better travel companion?


At the request of Jean-Claude Buhrer, husband of Claude Levenson, this text was translated by Marie-Louise Broch and sent to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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