With the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday celebrations this week, a lot of people’s minds have started focusing on his successor.
Both the Tibetans and the Chinese tried to downplay this milestone in the spiritual leader’s life.
The Dalai Lama said that he hoped to live to be 100, and so wasn’t yet worried about choosing a replacement.
“I am not much concerned about these things,” he said. “Chinese Communists seem to be more concerned about the Dalai Lama institution than me. … And at a practical level, no hurry, I am quite healthy.”95
The Chinese government, for its part, claimed that it wasn’t even paying attention.
The truth is that both sides are maneuvering fast and furious to ensure that their preferred candidate be ensconced when the current Dalai Lama passes away.
The Chinese authorities have recently reissued with a straight face a surreal diktat that all reincarnations must be officially approved. “If you understand the history of Tibet, you will find that there are strict historical conventions and religious rituals for the reincarnations of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism,” Hao Peng explained.
In a countermove, the Dalai Lama has attempted to ensure that things don’t reach the netherworld stage by indicating that he may choose a living successor before he attains moksha.0
Why should all of these shenanigans matter?
Regardless of the material progress that China has brought to Tibet, there is still a lot of dissatisfaction among Tibetans. This resentment festers to the surface every few years, most recently in 2008, when more than 100 people were killed in rioting.
China feels it can maintain control by manipulating the succession to the Dalai Lama’s post. It has already done something similar in 1995 by installing its own candidate as the Panchen Lama (the second-most revered religious leader in Tibetan Buddhism) and kidnapping (!) the six-year-old child approved by the Tibetan government in exile, along with his family and the local abbot. The Dalai Lama told me five years ago that the Chinese authorities will pull a fast one again.
“The Chinese government will also appoint a Dalai Lama,” he said. “So there’ll be two Dalai Lamas. One Dalai Lama—the Chinese official Dalai Lama—the Tibetan people will have no faith in. Even the ordinary Chinese will have no faith in him.”
But the Chinese regime’s scheming will be in vain. When the Dalai Lama eventually dies, the restive next generation will come to the fore in Tibetan society, a group that barely tolerates its leader’s talk of nonviolence and “meaningful autonomy” for the homeland.
“At our meetings, some of our members have expressed frustration with His Holiness’s nonviolent approach, and have asked that why doesn’t the Tibetan Youth Congress go in for violence?” Tsultrim Dorgee Chunang, the general secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told me in 2005. “But the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign from the leadership if this happens. After him, our thinking may change.”
The Chinese administration is making all the wrong moves. It needs to start genuine negotiations with the current Dalai Lama, instead of fixating on his successor.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Afghanistan’s Mineral Bonanza May Spell Trouble for Its People."
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