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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Gwynne Dyer: The mortality of the Dalai Lama

June 29, 2009

straight.com June 26, 2009

The Dalai Lama equals non-violence, and without him there would be
violence," Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet,
said a couple of months ago.

In Beijing, Chinese writer Wang Lixiong agreed: "If...the Dalai Lama does
not return to Tibet before he dies, the moment that he dies will see general
riots across the Tibetan areas of China."

And he is going to die, probably fairly soon.

The Dalai Lama will be 74 next month, and he has been in hospital three
times in the past year. He presumably believes that he will immediately be
reborn as soon as he dies, but the traditional search for the child who is
his next incarnation could take years.

Waiting for that child to grow up and become the Tibetans' next leader will
take several decades. That is a big political problem.

One measure he has already taken to ease the difficulties is to announce
that he is most unlikely to be reborn in Chinese-ruled Tibet, which greatly
narrows the search area for his successor: there are only 120,000 Tibetans
in the diaspora, mostly descendants of the 1959 refugees.

Three-quarters of them live in India, and most of the rest live in Nepal
(15,000), the United States (5,000), Canada (3,000) or Switzerland (2,000).

But this almost guarantees what was already quite likely: that the Chinese
authorities will "find" a rival reincarnation within Tibet and promote him
as the next legitimate Dalai Lama. Even if that does not happen, the 20-year
gap while the current Dalai Lama's successor matures leaves a political
vacuum that must be filled one way or another, and he long ago suggested
that he might name a regent to exercise his authority during that period.

The core of the problem is that his role as defined by tradition embodies
both political and religious authority. Religious questions rarely require
instant answers, and Tibetan Buddhism has flourished for many centuries
despite these recurrent 20-year gaps in the highest leadership job.

Political decisions, on the other hand, need to be made promptly--so maybe
the solution is to separate those two roles.

The Dalai Lama has been raising this possibility for years, only to have it
repeatedly rejected by his adoring followers. He brought it up again at a
congress of the Tibetan exile community not long after last year's bloody
anti-Chinese riots in Tibet.

He said that his moderate, "middle-way" approach to the Chinese authorities
in Beijing--seeking only autonomy and not independence for the country--was
having no success.

Maybe it was time for him to take a back seat and let the younger generation
of leaders in the community deal with that thorny problem as they saw fit,
he suggested.

The congress rejected the suggestion, reaffirming him as their political
leader. They simply could not imagine a future without him.

The Dalai Lama himself, however, knows that such a future will arrive. So he
has now released a video in which he urges the Tibetan exile community to
embrace democracy and stop depending on a political leader who is
essentially (at the risk of sounding disrespectful) picked at random.

That may serve for religious purposes, but for the material world something
different is required.

"The Dalai Lama held temporal and spiritual leadership over the last 400 or
500 years. It may have been quite useful, but that period is over," he says
in the video. "Today it is clear to the whole world that democracy is the
best system despite its minor negativities. That is why it is important that
Tibetans also move with the larger world community."

It's a nicely crafted statement that does not trample on anybody's religious
sensitivities, but what it means is that political leadership of the Tibetan
exile community must move from the Dalai Lama to an elected prime minister.

Such an office has existed since 2001, but until now its holder has deferred
to the Dalai Lama in all important decisions. That has to stop, says the man
himself--so maybe now it actually will.

That is a neat solution to the succession problem, but it has implications
that should concern the Chinese government. A Tibetan prime minister elected
solely by the exile community cannot hope to have the political authority of
a "living Buddha" within Tibet.

For almost half a century the Dalai Lama has used that authority to restrain
Tibetans from open revolt against China, always seeking negotiations with
Beijing on Tibetan autonomy and discouraging talk of outright independence.
A prime minister elected only by the diaspora could not do that even if he
wanted to--which he might not.

China has never appreciated the Dalai Lama's services, of course. In classic
imperial style, it assumes that material improvements in the living
standards of its subjects will make them forget their nationalist
aspirations.

When it turns out that Tibetans have not forgotten them, as was brutally
demonstrated in last year's anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa, Beijing blames
"outside agitators" and "plotters" like the Dalai Lama, whom it calls "a
jackal clad in monk's robes."

In fact, he has been feeding tranquilizers to the Tibetan population for
decades, in the (probably accurate) belief that Tibet cannot win its
independence by violence. But a lot of Tibetans would like to try, and
Beijing will miss the Dalai Lama when he's gone.

Gwynne Dyer's latest book, Climate Wars, was published in Canada by Random
House.
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