The future of post-Dalai Lama Tibet

Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamsala is the seat of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the eight Tibetan exile settlements in India. To establish their refugee status in India, each of the 180,000 Tibetans is given a personal audience with the Tibetan spiritual Leader.

Over the last decades many young Tibetans have trekked across the Himalayas to India. This process was anecdotally recorded in the moving documentary The Cry of the Snow Lion, made by mountaineers who were licensed by Chinese authorities in Lhasa to hold a trekking camp. There in the Himalayas the mountaineers witnessed the Chinese Army’s interception and murder of a 17 years old Tibetan woman, in one of the groups that flee across the snow from Tibet

This tragic process of defection was also illustrated to a delegation of Australians who recently met the Dalai Lama, by the 2,800 children living in boarding schools at Dharmasala’s Tibetan Children Village. Generations of Tibetan children have been cared for and educated here. They are sent by their parents to India, often without the hope of the seeing them again. 

Tibetans everywhere are agitated about the recent crackdown at Kriti Monastery in Tibet, where the authorities have enforced a “patriotic re-education campaign” and imposed an indefinite ban on religious activities at the monastery. Three hundred monks have been “removed”. On April 21 a large group of Tibetans stood guard at the monastery to prevent the Chinese forces removing monks — the crowd was dispersed by the police. Two elderly Tibetans were beaten to death. 

At Dharamsala, the Central Tibetan Administration attempts to replicate all the functions of a state. These include the Kashang (Tibetans’ elected parliament) a Tibetan education system, state archives, medical institutes, and the Norblinka Institute of Art, where 400 sponsored artists keep up traditions of their ancient civilization. 

As the Dalai Lama withdraws from front-line leadership (he is 75), Tibetans have a plan to ensure their immediate political future.

The Guardian recently reported on the election of a new Tibetan Prime Minister, “Tibetans around the world have voted a Harvard law professor as their political leader, in the first election since the Dalai Lama, 75, announced that he would give up the political leadership of the Tibetan community in exile. The new prime minister, the 42-year old Lobsang Sangay, polled 27,051 votes, 55 percent of the total electorate, to beat two other secular candidates.” 

Sangay was declared as the third Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister). This is part of the wider Tibetan community’s plan to survive outside Tibet in the event of the Dali Lama’s death. 

The new Kalon Tripa has previously hinted he could move beyond the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” policy of negotiating for autonomy for Tibet from China. As a student in New Delhi, he was a leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which demands complete independence.

His Holiness acknowledged to our delegation that his moderate Third Way which sought Tibetan authority within a Chinese Federation had not been successful but that the uprising in March 2008 showed the Chinese had to deal with “the issue”. He told us that the crackdown at the Kriti Monastery may be part of the Chinese leadership fear of the implications of the Jasmine revolution in the Middle East and that mistrust underlines the communist regime. His Holiness claimed the Chinese budget for internal security was more than the budget for external security. 

What is the future for the Tibetans?

After the “disappearing” of the 5-year-old Panchen Lama 15 years ago, the Chinese government now says it has to approve all reincarnations of living Buddhas, or senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, including the choice of the next Dalai Lama. (What would Karl Marx say?)

The Tibetan exiles expect that when the Dalai Lama dies, the Chinese will try to control the discovery of his successor, so that the next Dalai Lama will be under their control, as the Panchen Lama now is. Their plan to develop new forms of leadership outside Chinese control is designed to circumvent this.

Both the Tibetan institutions in Dharamsala, and re-invigorated Tibetan political are part of the Tibetan exiles plans to outlast the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The Dalai Lamas alternative plans for his successor as spiritual leader shows the old fox, His Holiness, has a multilevel strategy to outlast the seemingly awesome power of the Chinese communist party. 

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