The Dalai Lama has served as a living emblem for what peace remains for Tibetans-in-exile from Chinese rule.
For six decades, he’s served his people and given a face to a conflict rocked by what I can’t decide is a new imperialism…or just the scraps of an outdated model. But the Dalai Lama has done more than play figurehead to a movement; indeed, he’s held an instrumental and practical role in the political process of Tibet, one he feels that he can no longer perform to Tibet’s greatest benefit.
On March 14, Tibet’s beloved spiritual-political leader announced that the time is ripe to him to step down.
The Economist reports:
The spiritual leader of Tibet reminded his audience that ever since the 1960s he has “stressed that Tibetans need a leader elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”
The Dalai Lama suggested an amendment to the current Charter for Tibetans in Exile that would transfer political power to a popularly elected parliament. Expansive as his mind and architectures have proven, the solitary (and unavoidably aging) 75-year old political leader has long coached for a stable, autonomous Tibet rooted in a democratic establishment. Though he hopes his departure will encourage such an institution to take root, the political community is widely unprepared to see their leader relinquish responsibility.
Complete overhaul of infrastructure aside, a part their reluctance stems from the contention surrounding his successor. In 1995, the Dalai Lama pointed to the 6 year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the next Panchen Lama. In response, Beijing kidnapped the boy and assigned another according to their interpretation of the ritual. By tradition, the Panchen Lama is tasked with selecting the next Dalai Lama; by Beijing’s decree, they will be in charge of the selection process.
In stepping down, the Dalai Lama has advocated for a third way—that the next power in Tibet stem from popular support driven by the tangible requirements of a people in exile, or maybe even in transition to a more sustainable political situation.
In the meantime, he will continue to foster the spiritual health of his people and provide authentically benevolent facial expressions and palms-up gestures to be silk-screened on organic tees (hopefully not Made in China) throughout the West.
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