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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Chinese checker: Dalai's new succession plan

November 26, 2007

25 Nov 2007,

Shobhan Saxena,TNN
Times of India

The signs were everywhere. A regent saw three Tibetan alphabets 
floating in a turquoise lake; a small house with blue-tiled roof near 
a mountain with a monastery on top appeared in the dreams of a senior 
abbot; a huge star-shaped fungus began to grow on a pillar in the 
eastern side of the hall in the Potala Palace where the 13th Dalai 
Lama's embalmed body was kept in lotus position; and one day the 
deceased monk's head turned towards the east. All signs and dreams 
pointed towards a hamlet in the east.

Chasing the signs, cracking the dreams and rejecting potential 
candidates, when a party of Tibetan monks and officials, travelling 
in the disguise of traders, reached a door in a cluster of houses in 
eastern Tibet, a toddler welcomed them with a warm smile, identified 
the prayer beads, walking stick and reading glasses of the 13th, and 
pleaded with the group to take him to his palace in Lhasa.

The 14th incarnation of Dalai Lama had been found, keeping the wheel 
of dharma turning as it had been since 1391 when Gendun Drup became 
the first Dalai Lama - believed to be an incarnation of the 
Bodhisattva of Compassion. Since then his successors have been 
discovered by high lamas by following a complex process of dreams and 

Now, the signs are changing as Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is 
talking of naming his successor even before he departs from the 
scene. "If the Tibetan people want to keep the Dalai Lama system, one 
of the possibilities I have been considering with my aides is to 
select the next Dalai Lama while I'm alive," he told a newspaper 
during his trip to Japan this week.

The Tibetan leader also talked of other options like electing the 
successor "democratically" from among the high-ranking Tibetan 
Buddhist monks. His words sent a shiver through the millions of 
Buddhists around the world. It also caused a few ripples in Beijing's 
corridors of power from where the Communist Party mandarins maintain 
a red star over Lhasa. It also sparked a debate in the blogosphere: 
Why is the Dalai Lama going against centuries of tradition? Any guess 
who would be the next Dalai Lama? Will democracy work among the 
Tibetans living in exile? Will the wheel of dharma cease to turn?

There are no easy answers. "He is talking of some options before the 
Tibetan people. He has always talked about changes and democracy in 
the community. He is just throwing ideas," says Tempa Tsering, head 
of the Dalai Lama's Bureau in New Delhi. "We should not forget that 
it was the Dalai Lama who started the democratisation process among 
the Tibetans in exile," says the official who has been a senior 
advisor to the Tibetan leader for many years.

In 1959, soon after he escaped the PLA troops going on a rampage in 
Lhasa and arrived in India seeking political asylum, Tenzin Gyatso 
began to work on the constitution of a democratic Tibet. He devised a 
plan for elections, government headed by prime minister, voluntary 
tax system and even a clause for the impeachment of the Dalai Lama as 
the Chinese leaders led by Zhou En Lai spat fire on him for 
"promoting a feudal-religious system" in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama's proposal in Japan could be a political move to 
defeat the Chinese efforts to control the religious affairs of 
Tibetans. In the past few months, as he travelled around the world 
giving talks, meeting politicians and activists, the intensity of 
fire from Beijing increased manifold.

In September, the Chinese government issued a diktat in Tibet saying 
all future incarnations of living Buddhas related to Tibetan 
Buddhism, including the Dalai Lama, "must get government approval". 
China also barred any "outside source from having influence in the 
selection process". To the Tibetan government-in-exile in 
Dharamshala, the signal was clear: the target of this new attack by 
the Chinese was just not the present Dalai Lama but his future 

In fact, the alarm bells began to ring in Dharamshala in 1995 when 
the Dalai Lama chose Gendun Choekyi Nyima, a six-year-old boy as the 
11th Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan 
Buddhism. Soon after the announcement, the Panchen Lama, who would 
play the most important role in the selection of the Dalai Lama in 
the future, vanished.

In his place, the Chinese planted Gyaltsen Norbu, the son of a 
Communist party official in Tibet, as the 11th Panchen Lama. "Now, 
both the boys are suffering. The real Panchen Lama and his family are 
suffering in detention and the boy pretending to be the reincarnation 
of the Panchen Lama enjoys no respect from the Tibetan people," says 

As the Dalai Lama, 72, grows older and the Chinese harden their stand 
on granting even cultural autonomy he has been seeking for Tibet, one 
question has begun to bother the government-in-exile: After Tenzin 
Gyatso, who? With both the Panchen Lamas in their pocket, the Chinese 
would not wait even for a day before installing their Dalai Lama in 
the Potala.

Probably, the 14th realised this long time back as he has always said 
if he were reborn it would not be in a country ruled by China. "If 
China selected my successor after my death, the people of Tibet would 
not support him as there would be no Tibetan heart in him," he told 
the Japanese newspaper.

As the Tibetan leader talked about choosing his next successor, Tibet 
watchers started to guess the most important question: where will he 
be born? In India - his home since 1959 or in the West, where 
Buddhism is the fastest growing religion now? "He can take birth 
anywhere. The Dalai Lama has said that his next reincarnation could 
be even a female," says Tsering.

This is the first time in the history of the lineage that a Dalai 
Lama's next reincarnation is being discussed while he is still 
around. The reasons are not too difficult to understand. Tenzin 
Gyatso is not an ordinary monk.

In the past 48 years he has assumed many roles: a living Buddha, the 
voice and face of Tibet, the conscience-keeper of the world, a Nobel 
laureate; a healer of minds, and a crucial diplomatic factor between 
India and China. The most photographed man on this planet has a 
following that cuts across continents and religions. The modern world 
has known Tibet and Buddhism through Tenzin Gyatso.

It will not be easy for anyone to step into his shoes. But, according 
to Tibetan officials who are working on many options for the post-
Dalai scenario, any plan chalked out by the spiritual leader will be 
accepted by the majority of the people. "Maybe he decides to make it 
an elected office like that of the Pope," says an official, adding 
that Tenzin Gyatso has often said that his present birth could be the 
last reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Though there are prophecies that say that the Dalai Lama's 14th 
incarnation would be his last, in Tibetan Buddhism a high lama keeps 
coming back till his work is complete. Tenzin Gyatso's work is not 
yet over. He is still involved in high-level talks with the Chinese.

He is still fighting for the dignity of ordinary people in Tibet. He 
is still seeking "genuine autonomy" for Tibet. But there are no signs 
of that happening anytime soon. He knows the fight is long and hard 
and may need drastic changes. For that he may change the traditions 
and end old institutions. But he won't give up. The signs are 
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