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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The burden of being Dalai Lama

November 5, 2009

Shobhan Saxena
Times of India
October 31, 2009

The monk was unsmiling as he sat in the lotus
position, legs crossed and back straightened up
in nervous tension. And when the Dalai Lama
stroked his furrowed brow, a collective shiver
passed through the group of people sitting in
front of him in the banquet hall of a Delhi
hotel. An almost immediate, disquieting hush fell
on the crowd as Tenzin Gyatso began to speak.

"I am worried. My mind is in Lhasa,'' he said.
"It's just like those days in March 1959, when
Chinese army convoys kept coming into Lhasa. But
there's one difference . In 1959, there was risk
to my life. I am quite safe now in this country."
This was March 2008: the Olympic torch was on its
global journey and Tibet was on a boil, with dead
bodies piling up on Lhasa's streets.

In the past 17 months since that day in Delhi,
the infectious smile - which has become his
trademark - has left the Dalai Lama's face many
times. Now with his visit to Tawang in Arunachal
Pradesh inching closer by the day, and the
Chinese government badgering India on the border
issue - an indirect way, most Tibet watchers
agree, of pressuring New Delhi to shut for good
the Dalai Lama's seat at Dharamsala - questions
are being raised about the future of the Tibetan
spiritual master who is also the political head
of six million people both inside and outside his troubled country.

In fact, the Dalai Lama himself sparked this
debate in 2007 when he told a Japanese newspaper
that he might select his successor in his
lifetime. Since then there has been endless talk
and speculation on the multiple ways in which the
incarnation of the Dalai Lama could be selected,
on what he is up to and if he is going to pick a
successor himself. Is he going to make it an
elected position on the lines of the Catholic
Pope? Is he going to give his seat to a little
girl who may grow up to become the Dalai? Or is
he going to hold a referendum in Tibetan society
on whether he should be reborn at all and if it
is time that the institution of the Dalai Lama came to an end?

There are no easy answers.

Choosing the Dalai Lama has never been easy.
Tenzin Gyatso was himself found amid mystical
signs and dreams way back in 1937. First, a
regent at the Potala Palace saw three Tibetan
alphabets floating in a turquoise lake. Then a
small house with blue-tiled roof near a mountain
with a monastery on top appeared in the dreams of
a senior abbot. Simultaneously, a huge
star-shaped fungus began to grow on a pillar in
the eastern side of the hall in the Potala where
the 13th Dalai Lama's embalmed body was kept. And
one day the deceased monk's head turned towards
the east. All these pointed at a hamlet in the
east where the 14th Dalai Lama was later born in
1935. The latest incarnation had been found,
keeping the wheels of dharma turning as it had
been since 1391 when Gendun Drup became the first
Dalai Lama - believed to be an incarnation of the
Bodhisattva of Compassion. Since then, his
successors have been discovered by high lamas
following a complex process of dreams and signs.
Not that political machinations haven't played
their part in what's possibly the biggest event
for a Tibetan anywhere in the world.

Now, though, the signs are of a different kind,
with nothing to suggest that any of it would put
the smile back on the Dalai Lama's face. The
biggest worry is the faint rumble of young
Tibetans born in exile growing into a roar for
independence. Already, in November 2008, it was
decided during a special conclave called by the
Dalai Lama that his 'middle path for autonomy
within China' would be given just a little more
time before independence began being considered
an option for the near future. "If the middle
path fails in the short term, we will be forced
to opt for complete independence or
selfdetermination as per the UN charter," said
Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the
parliament-in-exile , as international media
representatives gasped aloud and wondered if the
Young Turks, whose loud noises didn't go
unnoticed at the conclave, were putting the
monk's policy towards China on notice.

"I have nothing to say," the Dalai Lama simply
said the next morning. Then, after a deep breath,
he said everything indicated it was time to pass
on the political role to the Tibetans in exile
and choose his successor, probably a young girl, in his life time.

Nobody knows where and when the Dalai Lama would
make this decision, but everybody agrees that the
Tibetan leader's talk of choosing his successor
has something to do with the growing
disillusionment among young Tibetans. Last year,
amid the Olympic frenzy, as the new leaders'
'Return march to Tibet' received an overwhelming
response from the exiled community, there were
fears that a new generation of Tibetans might be
turning to radical elements within the movement
who don't want anything short of "complete
independence" . The Chinese even talked of
terrorism and the Tibetan Youth Congress's links with Al Qaeda.

Still, poet-activist Tenzin Tsundue says violence
is not an option for them. "We may not agree with
him on everything but the Dalai Lama is our
leader and nonviolence is our path." His position
in the community may be unchallenged but there
are things that are bothering the Dalai Lama like
never before, the biggest of them being the
Chinese government's diktat last year which says
all future incarnations of living Buddhas related
to Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lama,
"must get government approval" . China has also
barred any "outside source" from wielding
influence in the selection process. To the Dalai
Lama, it is more than apparent that the target of
this new attack by the Chinese is not just him
but his future reincarnation as well.

Alarm bells, in fact, began to ring in Dharamsala
in 1995 when the Dalai Lama chose six-year-old
Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama,
the second most important figure in Tibetan
Buddhism, but learnt of the monk's mysterious
disappearance soon after the announcement. The
Panchen Lama plays the most important role in the
selection of the Dalai Lama. In his place, the
Chinese planted Gyaltsen Norbu, the son of a Communist party official in Tibet.

Though all the talk about choosing his successor
or making it an elected position may probably be
the Dalai Lama's way of getting out of the
Panchen dilemma , and the options he has talked
of sound appealing, the Tibetan community at
large doesn't want to see the Dalai Lama - the
present incarnation as well as the institution -
fade away. Writer and scholar Jamyang Norbu, for
one, wants it to continue. He also hopes the
manner in which the incarnation is selected
remains unchanged. "I can think of a number of
reasons, historical, psychological, even
sentimental, why we should do this. But the most
important reason right now would be that the
Dalai Lama is the living symbol of a free and
independent Tibet," the US-based writer said.

As the "symbol of Tibet's freedom" goes to
Tawang, the Chinese would be watching closely all the expressions on his face.

TWISTS AND TURNS IN TIBET

1949:
After victory in the civil war, Mao Zedong
proclaims the founding of the People's Republic
of China and threatens Tibet with "liberation"

1951:
China draws up a 17-point agreement legitimizing
Tibet's incorporation into China

1959:
Full-scale uprising against the Chinese in Lhasa.
Thousands die in the Chinese crackdown. The Dalai
Lama and most of his ministers flee to India,
followed by some 80,000 other Tibetans

1962:
As tension mounts between India and China over
border dispute, PLA attacks India and occupies
the Aksai Chin area in Jammu & Kashmir's Ladakh region

1966:
Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution reaches Tibet
and results in the destruction of hundreds of
monasteries. Thousands of Tibetans are killed in the ten-year period (1966-76 )

1978:
Cultural Revolution comes to an end, Mao dies and
Deng Xiaoping takes charge of China. Repression
in Tibet eases somewhat though the large-scale
relocation of Han Chinese to Tibet continues

1987:
The Dalai Lama calls for Tibet to be declared a
zone of peace and continues to seek dialogue with
China, with the aim of achieving "genuine selfrule" for Tibet within China

1988:
China imposes martial law after riots break out

1989:
Tiananmen Square massacre by the PLA. The Dalai
Lama is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace

1996:
China names its own Panchen Lama and the boy
selected by the Dalai Lama disappears from public view

2000:
The Karmapa Lama escapes to India and takes
shelter at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh

2007:
The Dalai Lama says he is considering breaking
with centuries of tradition and naming his own
successor, instead of awaiting rebirth

March 2008:
Anti-China protests escalate into the worst
violence Tibet has seen in 20 years, just five
months before Beijing hosts the Olympics

November 2008:
A special conclave of Tibetan representatives
called by the Dalai Lama puts his middlepath
approach on notice, saying the exiled community
may go for "complete independence" in future

October 2009:
The Dalai Lama announces plan to visit Arunachal
Pradesh. China turns heat on India on the border issue
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