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Dalai Lama will see resolution to 'Tibet problem' in lifetime, says exiles

July 6, 2010

On eve of spiritual leader's 75th birthday,
senior Tibetan officials in exile admit finding a successor is a major concern
Jason Burke in McLeod Ganj
Guardian (UK)
July 5, 2010

Dalai Lama The Dalai Lama's 75th birthday
celebrations take place in McCleod Ganj, India,
which has been his home since fleeing Tibet in
1959. Photograph: Mads Nissen/EPA

Senior officials close to the Dalai Lama believe
there will be a final resolution to the "problems
of Tibet" within his lifetime despite renewed
crackdowns by China and failures in successive talks with Beijing.

The prime minister of the Tibetan
government-in-exile told the Guardian that he
expected the spiritual leader, who turns 75
tomorrow, to live another 20 or 25 years and that
change would come in that time.

"It will be a long life," said Lobsang Tenzin,
better known by his title Sandhong Rinpoche. "We will see a resolution."

But officials admit that though the Dalai Lama is
in good health, the need to prepare the succession is increasingly urgent.

"This is not a taboo subject. It is a genuine
major concern," said Thubten Samphel, a spokesman
for the government-in-exile, which is not officially recognised by any country.

The Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations will take
place in McCleod Ganj, a former British Raj hill
station perched on the flank of the Indian
Himalayas that has been his home since fleeing
Tibet in 1959 after a failed revolt against
Chinese rule. The Tibetan community in McCleod
Ganj, in nearby Dharamasala and other enclaves in
India is now estimated to be more than 100,000-strong.

One possible successor to the Dalai Lama is Ugyen
Trinley who is seen by many as the 17th Karmapa,
the spiritual head of one of the most popular of
the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Only 26, he fled to India from a monastery in
Tibet in 1999, speaks Chinese and is part of a
new generation who have grown up in a Tibet very
different to that known to older leaders.

Though the Karmapa will not become Dalai Lama,
who is believed to be reincarnated, he could
become the key interlocutor of Beijing, according
to Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University.

Other succession scenarios involve leaders
effectively nominated by China or infighting
among Tibetan factions. In a rare meeting with
the press, the Karmapa said that the succession was a "heavy question".

Speaking from a monastery in McLeod Ganj, he
said: "Once the Dalai Lama is not there, there
will be lots of problems. Because of his guidance
and blessing there is a strong religious unity
among different schools of religion and … the
whole world is expressing much support. [His
absence] will mean many changes and setbacks."

The Karmapa added that attempts to pressure
Beijing would continue, referring to the major
revolt in Tibet in 2008 as an example of the kind
of "peaceful protests" which would be seen in the future.

One issue facing the Tibetan community in exile
is the need for a young and modern political
leadership to replace the current generation,
many of whom accompanied the Dalai Lama into exile more than 50 years ago.

"The age of the old monks is passing and we are
looking forward to a young, energetic, lay
leadership," said Sandhong Rinpoche. Such views have wide support.

"We need someone dynamic, modern and definitely
not from the religious community to lead the
community in exile," said Serta Tsultrim, editor
of the McLeod Ganj-based Tibet Express newspaper.

"When the Dalai Lama goes there will be setbacks
but not chaos. Democratic structures are now sufficiently strong."

Another key issue for the community in exile has
been conserving traditional Tibetan culture. Most
younger members were born outside their homeland.

"I feel sad when I cannot say what a yak is like
or how you look after one," said 16-year-old
Tenzin Norzom, a schoolgirl at a Tibetan school in McLeod Ganj.

Her friend, Dechen Wangmo, said she preferred
Bollywood films to the traditional singing and
dancing of the type that will make up much of the
celebrations for the Dalai Lama's birthday.

Tensin Jigme, of McLeod Ganj's most popular rock
group, The JJI Exile Brothers, said the band's
fusion of western and traditional music styles
helped the community "be strong".

"I am from the last generation which is strong in
both old and modern cultures," said the
30-year-old. "For the young kids, the [Tibetan]
culture is becoming very small. The world is a village."
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