Sunday, June 7, 2009

China Creates Specter of Dueling Dalai Lamas

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

The Karmapa, left, of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, is seen as a possible interim communal leader after the death of the Dalai Lama, right.

Published: June 6, 2009

DHARAMSALA, India — For centuries, the selection of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama has been steeped in the mysticism of a bygone world.

On the windswept Tibetan plateau, his closest aides look for divinations in a sacred lake. A mountain god transmits oracular messages by possessing a high lama. Monks scour villages for boys precocious in their spiritual attunement.

All that is about to change, as the current Dalai Lama and his followers in exile here in India compete with the Chinese government for control of how the 15th Dalai Lama will be chosen. The issue is urgent for the Tibetans because the current Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of all Tibetans and the charismatic face of the exile movement, has had recent bouts of ill health. He turns 74 in July.

Both the Chinese and the Tibetan exiles are bracing for an almost inevitable outcome: the emergence into the world of dueling Dalai Lamas — one chosen by the exiles, perhaps by the 14th Dalai Lama himself, and the other by Chinese officials.

“It’s a huge but ultracritical issue, with no clear outcome or solution except one: trouble,” said Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University. “It is going to end up with two Dalai Lamas and thus with long-running conflict, unless the Chinese agree to a diplomatic solution pretty soon.”

The jockeying has put the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Communist Party in surprising positions. The Dalai Lama said late last month in an interview with The New York Times that all options for choosing his reincarnation were open, including ones that break from tradition. That could mean that the next Dalai Lama would be found outside Tibet, could be a woman or might even be named while the 14th Dalai Lama was still alive, before his soul properly transmigrated. Meanwhile, the party, officially atheist and accused of ravaging Tibetan culture, insists that religious customs must be followed.

A traditional selection process would be easily controlled by the Chinese government, since the process is rooted in the landscape of Tibet, which the Chinese seized in 1951. China has already positioned itself in other ways, including enacting a law in 2007 that says all reincarnations of senior lamas must be approved by the government.

Here in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives, religious leaders have been debating whether to bypass the traditional process. Meanwhile, many Tibetans say they will honor whatever the Dalai Lama decides to do.

“This is a religious matter,” the Dalai Lama said in the interview. “Of course there’s a political implication there, but it’s mainly a religious matter, spiritual matter, so therefore I have to discuss it with leaders, spiritual leaders.”

The figure of the Dalai Lama, head of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, is without rival in influence among Tibetans and many Buddhists worldwide. He is revered as the reincarnation of Chenrezig, a deity who has chosen to remain on earth to help people achieve enlightenment. Many of China’s six million Tibetans keep photos of him in their mud-walled homes, monasteries and nomadic tents, or hidden in the folds of their clothes, even though the government has outlawed all images of the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959.

The Chinese government accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist, though he demands only genuine autonomy for Tibet.


No comments:

Post a Comment