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A world without Dalai Lama

June 21, 2010

Tibetans and the spiritual leader himself ponder the inevitable
To his followers, the Dalai Lama is the Presence,
the Holder of the White Lotus, the Absolute
Wisdom, the Ocean.To his followers, the Dalai
Lama is the Presence, the Holder of the White
Lotus, the Absolute Wisdom, the Ocean.
By Tim Sullivan
The Washington Times
June 17, 2010

DHARMSALA, India (AP) -- The question looms over
this raggedy hillside town, a place where ancient
mysticism constantly brushes against the
realities of modern geopolitics. The monks who
fled across the Himalayas ask it quietly, as do
the exile politicians. Even the angry young
activists are careful how they raise the issue.

But as the man at the center of the Tibetan exile
movement approaches his 75th birthday, the
question has become inescapable: What happens after the Dalai Lama dies?

The issue echoes far from Dharmsala, the Dalai
Lama's home since he fled Tibet after a failed
1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Implications
range from policy decisions in Beijing to
widespread fears within Tibet and among its
150,000 exiles that their struggle for autonomy
may collapse with the death of their icon.

It is something the Dalai Lama himself thinks about all the time.

"When I pass away, when I die, of course [there
will be] a setback. Very serious setback," the
Dalai Lama said quietly in a recent interview in
his private hilltop compound, speaking in his
often-tangled English. His words spilled out in
bursts, and he could veer suddenly between
resignation and determination. "But then, this
younger generation will carry this on. There is no question."

That younger generation, however, isn't so sure.

"Right now we are under His Holiness'
leadership," said Tenzin Norlha, a 29-year-old
Tibetan genetics researcher in Dharmsala, her
face creased with worry. Although the Dalai Lama
is thought to be in reasonable health, he has
struggled with a series of ailments in recent
years and turns 75 in July. "After he passes
away, then what will we see? ... Who can take
care of us as His Holiness has done?"

It is hard to exaggerate the hold that the Dalai
Lama, like his predecessors over the centuries,
has over Tibetans. To them, he is a king, the
leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the embodiment of
compassion. He is the Presence, the Holder of the
White Lotus, the Absolute Wisdom, the Ocean. His
presence often reduces his followers to speechless weeping.

For nearly 500 years, the tradition has
continued, with each Dalai Lama reincarnated
after his death into the body of a Tibetan boy.
But with Tibet's leadership in exile and an aging
Dalai Lama, Tibetan history is at a precipice.
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