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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."

Tibetans dispute China's claim that it has right to select next Dalai Lama

May 7, 2009

By BRIAN ETTKIN
ALBANY TIMES-UNION
May 5, 2009

As the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has aged, he's taken to publicly
musing about the future incarnation of his successor -- assuming there
is to be another Dalai Lama.

For more than six centuries, the next Dalai Lama has been chosen by
regents who, it is said, through omens and portents found the deceased
Dalai Lama's reincarnation in a young boy they would choose as the next
political and spiritual leader of Tibet.

But selecting a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 74 on July
6, is complicated by China's claim that it has the right to select the
next Dalai Lama, outside of Tibet, which it rules. The last interregnum
-- the time during which a leadership position is vacant between two
successive reigns -- was a perilous time for Tibet. In the 17-year
breach between the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and the hurried November
1950 assumption of political power by Tenzin Gyatso, then 15, China
invaded Tibet.

An interregnum could prove perilous for the next Dalai Lama as well.

In 1995, China kidnapped the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-ranking
religious leader, and his family days after the Panchen Lama was
selected. He was 6 years old. Neither the Panchen Lama nor his family
has been heard from since.

China's government selected its own Panchen Lama in China.

"The fake Panchen Lama, that's what Tibetans call him: 'Substitute
one,'" said Gander Thurman, executive director of Tibet House, a New
York City nonprofit Tibetan cultural organization.

No wonder the Dalai Lama has said he might choose his reincarnation in
his own lifetime, though that would seemingly defy the laws of metaphysics.

Trying to guess what will happen after the 14th Dalai Lama dies would be
a popular parlor game among Tibetan Buddhists if the stakes weren't so
serious.

"We're looking at conflict, two Dalai Lamas, and the Chinese have said
the Dalai Lama can only be born inside Chinese borders," said Robert
Barnett, the director of the modern Tibetan studies program at Columbia
University. "So we're heading for another phase of disagreement, a
really quite serious conflict if this issue isn't resolved before the
Dalai Lama dies."

At various times the Dalai Lama has said he's amenable to his people
breaking with tradition and choosing to vote for his successor -- or
voting to do away with the institution of Dalai Lama.

He's even mused the next Dalai Lama could be a girl.

The Dalai Lama, who has described himself as semiretired, has said he's
agreeable to surrendering his position as head of state if
Tibetans-in-exile choose to elect their top government leaders. The
Dalai Lama would maintain his role as spiritual leader.

"He's trying to intimate that he'd like to do that or threatening that
he might not reincarnate so a kid does not get turned into a hot
potato," Thurman said.

Meanwhile, Tibetan Buddhism experts say China doesn't intend to engage
the Dalai Lama in fruitful negotiations.

"The Chinese are waiting out the death of the Dalai Lama," Thurman said.
"They'd like to waste time. There's no solution if you keep dithering
around."

There will be "extraordinary levels of recrimination and bitterness
within Tibet if the Chinese let him die outside Tibet without the
situation resolved," Barnett said. "That will be a terrible political
legacy for China to bequeath his successor."

If there's a successor.
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