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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Succession worries unsettle Tibetans

February 21, 2009

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times, February 20, 2009

DHARAMSALA, India - Living in exile for nearly half a century, the 14th
Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is now 73. Tibetans in exile are becoming
increasingly concerned with the issue of his succession and their future
after the passage of the spiritual leader.

Hospitalized recently, living in semi-retirement from the Tibetan
movement to let the elected Tibetan government control daily affairs,
the health and future of the Dalai Lama is fodder for speculation. Many,
especially those from older generations, are afraid that once the Dalai
Lama passes away the Tibetan movement will lose steam and gradually fade
from the international spotlight.

The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile here since fleeing Tibet after a
failed armed rebellion against Chinese rule in March 1959, says he feels
attached to the northern India state where he lives. "I have spent most
of my life in this hill station. Now I feel like a citizen of Himachal
Pradesh," the Dalai Lama said.

The spiritual leader of Tibetans in exile and at home who also leads the
Tibetan government in exile is highly respected internationally. A Nobel
Peace Laureate, the Dalai Lama was also listed as one of the 50 most
powerful people in the world by Newsweek. During his recent tour of
Europe, the Dalai Lama was presented with honorary citizenship in Rome
and granted the German Media Prize.

The Dalai Lama's fame, charm and high-profile international activities
have helped make the Tibetan movement known to the world and win wide
international support. Many Tibetans in exile also believe that it is
the Dalai Lama who spiritually sustains their dream of returning to
their homeland one day.

Therefore, many Tibetans in exile are worried that without him, the
Tibet movement may gradually become forgotten by the world as his
successor, if there is one, might not be able to make the same strides.

Older generations believe that following tradition, the Dalai Lama's
successor must be a boy, the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. So it will
take time for the next Dalai Lama to take up leadership and engage in
international activities. But this is a topic too sacred for older
Tibetans to talk about, and they are afraid of making any comment when
asked.

Tibetan elders in exile simply believe that “His Holiness will make the
right decision on choosing his successor which will benefit the future
of Tibetans in exile and in Tibet".

But some young Tibetans in exile, who seek "full Tibet independence" and
increasingly see the Dalai Lama's "middle way" as a constraint on their
radical thinking and action, may feel freer to pursue their goal through
more drastic means once the Dalai Lama passes away. These young radical
Tibetans in exile, represented by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), have
become increasingly discontent with the Dalai Lama's approach to seeking
autonomy instead of independence for the Himalayan region, though
spiritually they still hold the Dalai Lama in esteem.

Although the Chinese government has labeled the Dalai Lama a traitor
intent on fomenting violent unrest in Tibet with the ambition of
achieving independence, the Dalai Lama has not given up his middle-way
approach and has made every attempt to hold a dialogue. Although he has
admitted that his faith in the Chinese government is becoming thinner
and thinner.

Compared with other active Tibetan organizations in exile, TYC has a
clearcut goal - rangzen (full independence) - on its agenda. Thus it
states that while its members will feel sad about the passage of the
Dalai Lama, they will continue to fight for their freedom.

"No doubt, no one will be able to replace the Dalai Lama and we Tibetans
won't be able to repay him. But we are struggling for an independent
nation and our struggle will continue," said TYC president Twesang Rigzin.

Therefore some analysts are increasingly concerned that once their
spiritual leader is gone, the Tibetan movement, now united under the
Dalai Lama, is very likely to split, given the differing views on how to
achieve its goals.

Many have questions on how the Tibetan movement will proceed. Some have
deep worries that the current Tibetan religious and government structure
will change after his holiness passes. Others say the Tibetan movement
will lose its direction and steam, as there will be growing frustration
among exiles with the loss of a leader to guide them and to help them
gain international support.

This is despite some of the Dalai Lama's staunch followers who believe
that international support for the Tibetan movement is growing even
though the Dalai Lama has already taken up semi-retirement to secure the
future for the Tibetan movement by allowing the democratically-elected
government in exile to play a more active role in deciding the course of
the Tibetan movement.

Tibetans in exile are also concerned with who will become the next Dalai
Lama and how the successor will be chosen. The Dalai Lama himself has
not avoided talking about the issue of his succession in recent years.
He seems to leave the question open. He once said whether Tibetans need
the next Dalai Lama is an issue to be "democratically" decided by them.

On another occasion he did not rule out the possibility of his successor
being female if Tibetans agreed on the issue, though according to
Tibetan tradition a Dalai Lama must be male. And recently, the Dalai
Lama described himself as "a simple Buddhist monk - no more, no less"
and spoke of his "retirement", though according to Tibetan tradition the
Dalai Lama is a lifetime god-king.

"If people feel that the institution of the Dalai Lama is still
necessary, then this will continue," he said. "There are various ways of
[choosing a successor]. The point is whether to continue with the
institution of the Dalai Lama or not. After my death, Tibetan religious
leaders can debate whether to have a Dalai Lama or not."

But Tibetans in exile widely believe that when their spiritual leader is
gone the Chinese government will step in to choose its own
reincarnation, as it did in case of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second
highest-ranking religious figure.

In 1995, the Chinese government forced Tibetan monks to appoint Gyancain
Norbu rather than the Dalai Lama's chosen candidate - Gedhun Choekyi
Nyima - in an attempt to further exert its authority over Tibet. And
Tibetans in exile claim the Dalai Lama's designated candidate for the
Panchen Lama is the youngest political prisoner in the world, held by
the Chinese government.

Most Tibetans believe Beijing is not sincere in its desire to talk with
the aging Dalai Lama on the Tibet issue, saying China is just buying
time, which is not on the Dalai Lama's side as he is 73. Analysts
believe that even if Beijing does not intervene in the Dalai Lama's
reincarnation (which is very unlikely), once the Tibetan god-king is
gone his successor will be a small boy and decades may pass before the
new Dalai Lama is ready to assume religious and political leadership,
making a much longer wait for Tibetans in exile. And during that long
wait, anything can happen.

Yet it may be too early to depict any true image of a post-Dalai Lama
era. As long as the Dalai Lama lives, he will continue to do his very
best to try and lead his people back to their homeland. As the spiritual
leader said, "It is my moral responsibility until my death to work for
the Tibetan cause. My body and flesh is all Tibetan. I remain committed
to the Tibetan cause."

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at info@mcllo.com.
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