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Dalai Lama: Q&A

March 14, 2011

Who is the Dalai Lama and why does he fear Chinese interference?

By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor 1:41PM GMT 10 Mar 2011

Who is the Dalai Lama?
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is Tibet's head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Tibet in 1935, ruled briefly following China's 1949 invasion but took his government into exile in India after Beijing's brutal suppression of the Tibetan uprising in 1959.
He has been credited with spreading the appeal of Buddhism throughout the world. He is the reincarnation of his predecessor and recognised as the embodiment of compassion.

How is a Dalai Lama chosen?
After the death of a Dalai Lama, his 'midstream' transfers to his 'reincarnation.' A search then begins among his senior lamas to find the reincarnation. Dreams, visions, the direction of cremation smoke can all lead them in the right direction, but the current Dalai Lama has said his reincarnation will not be born in China if Tibet is not free.

Why is he stepping down?
He has long stated his wish to retire one day to Tabo Monastery in the Himalayan Spiti Valley, but fears a leadership vacuum following his retirement and death will weaken the Tibetan cause and leave its people more vulnerable to Chinese interference. China appointed its own successor to the Panchen Lama, the second highest monk after the Dalai Lama and is suspected of kidnapping the successor named by the Dalai Lama. By encouraging the Tibetan people to choose a new leader, he hopes to groom someone who can assume the high-profile role he has created and retain the global influence he has won.

Who will succeed him as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism?
He has reportedly told Indian officials he supports the Karmapa Lama to succeed him as Tibetan Buddhism's next second most influential monk living in freedom. He wants to build up the role of the Karmapa Lama to keep the flame alive.

Who will lead the Tibetan movement in the interim?
In his speech to mark the anniversary of the Chinese suppression of the 1959 Tibetan rising, he said he believed his successor should be freely elected by the Tibetan people. That will be put to the Tibetan parliament in exile in Dharamsala next week. It is not clear whether the parliament will accept his wish or whether his choice as successor, the Karmapa Lama will be a candidate.

What is at stake in his succession for Tibetans?
The Dalai Lama has raised the profile of the Tibetan campaign for autonomy within China throughout the world and has been a powerful voice for peaceful resistance. His stature has given Tibetans living under Chinese rule and those around the world, hope they will one day return to live freely in Tibet. Without a leader of his stature, their cause could lose its clout.

Why does the Dalai Lama fear Chinese interference?
He knows Beijing does not trust him and that it has weakened the movement for Tibetan autonomy by influencing or hijacking the 'reincarnation' process for senior monks, like the Panchen Lama.

Why does China care who succeeds the Dalai Lama?
The Dalai Lama remains the most influential figure for the world's 5.6 million Tibetan people, who remain the dominant group within China's Tibetan Autonomous Region and a large minority elsewhere in the country. His persistent pressure for genuine autonomy for Tibet and democratic reforms in China are seen as a threat to Beijing's authoritarian government. If Beijing can manipulate the selection of the next Dalai Lama or leader of the Tibetan movement, it may be able to silence an influential enemy.

Who is the Karmapa Lama?
He is the head of the Kama Kagyu sect, one of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Which Karmapa Lama is the rightful heir?
There are however two claimants for the role: Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the Dalai Lama's favoured successor who has the support of most Karmapa monasteries and Trinley Thaye Dorje, who is backed by Shamar Rinpoche, the most influential figure in recognising the reincarnation of a Karmapa.

Why is the Dalai Lama's Karmapa Lama controversial?
He is currently under investigation after more than a £600,000 in cash, including Chinese Yuan, were discovered in police searches of his cars and monasteries.

Why is India suspicious of him?
He has been suspected of being a Chinese spy since he fled Tibet for Dharamsala 11 years ago at the age of 14. Some Indian security officials fear Beijing may manipulate him to control and weaken the Tibetan movement and influence the large Tibetan exile community in India.

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