Dalai Lama Stepping Down as Political Leader: Progress, Fear, Skillful Means, and Sadness

From work,

Below is an excerpt from a very interesting article on the Dalai Lama’s recent decision to abdicate his role as the political leader of the Tibetan people and the ongoing aftermath of the decision. In stepping down, the Dalai Lama isn’t just ending his political career, but is also ending a system of governance that has been in place in Tibet since 1642, as well as barring future Dalai Lamas from taking up the preeminent political position. While many people, particularly Tibetans, are resistant to this change and do not want to see their beloved leader step down, there are also many that see this decision as crucial for the future of Tibetan culture in exile.

As the scholar J. Watt explains,
“The Dalai Lama’s move is both progressive and also preemptive. When the Dalai Lama is no longer with us, the Chinese government will likely name a Dalai Lama of their choosing and claim he is the historical leader of Tibet. It is of critical importance that the Tibetan Government in exile enter the 21st century and become more democratic. Currently they are essentially under a benevolent dictatorship. From a Western point of view the Dalai Lama functions as a ruling king.”

The Untouchables of Dharamsala

By T. Tsundue via Phayul.com, Published in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 13, Dated 02 Apr 2011

Young Tibetans have grappled for years with the radical idea of a Tibet without the Dalai Lama. Now, as His Holiness steps down, Tenzin Tsundue traces their difficult moment of change

My Gandhian guru, Rajiv Voraji, once told me a tale of a small kingdom ruled by a brute who’d break his subjects’ backs with heavy taxes while he made merry. The poor farmers, unable to revolt, left for a jungle. When the king’s rations finished, he realised his mistake and journeyed to the jungle, knelt down and begged them to return, saying, “I am not your king but your servant.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has done the opposite: he’s decided to abdicate his political powers to an elected leadership, committing the 400-year old institution of the Dalai Lama to history. At a time when street revolutions are afoot and despots are fighting to retain their last bastions, the Dalai Lama and his people are engaged in a polite pingpong exchange. He wants his people to choose their own leadership while they — unable to rise above their emotions — are pleading with him to continue.

As a child, my first image of the Dalai Lama was on a postage stamp. He was holding a child, so we were envious and our parents said we were the unfortunate ones. For Tibetans, he is the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva who vowed to be with us until we all achieve nirvana. So when he’s making fundamental changes — terminating the Ganden Phodrang government that’s existed since 1642 — it’s a deeply emotional moment and the change is unlikely to be easy.

This revolutionary change is a continuation of the previous Dalai Lama’s reforms of the early 20th century, which were also resisted by the aristocrats and clergy. The Dalai Lama recently told the media that as a teen, he witnessed how his officials scolded people away instead of hearing them — he already felt the need for change. And in exile, aged 28 and guided by Indian leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel, he introduced democracy in 1963. After carefully nurturing this democratic culture, today as he is retiring, a system of elected leadership is already in place.

But our 43-member Parliament’s rejection of his retirement is not just an emotional gesture; it reveals a complex relationship at play. I sat through the two-day deliberations. Every member knew it was the Dalai Lama’s final decision and was bound to be returned to them — perhaps with a good scolding. And yet Parliament voted he should remain. It made me ask: Why do politicians lack confidence in carrying out the Dalai Lama’s wishes, and fear their easy acceptance will be misconstrued as over-enthusiasm?

Read the whole piece here.

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