By Vijay Kranti
The Pioneer, May 31, 2011
By giving up his political and executive powers to elected representatives of the Tibetan ‘Government-in-Exile’, the Dalai Lama has struck a blow to China’s hopes of using a puppet as his successor to assume temporal authority over the people of Tibet. That Beijing is both nervous and frustrated is demonstrated by the statements that have followed the Dalai Lama’s twin decisions
The Dalai Lama has finally succeeded in introducing changes in the Tibetan Constitution for which he has been working for over 50 years. Last Sunday morning he appended his signature to these changes, bringing to an end a 469-year-long chapter of theocracy in world history. Now he is neither the Head of State nor the Chief Executive of the Gaden Phodrang — the Tibetan Government.
Ironically, after giving up his political and executive powers to elected representatives, the 76-year-old ‘Humble Monk’ has emerged as a far stronger match for his Communist detractors in China than he used to be until a week ago. The Tibetan ‘Government-in-Exile’ now has a much more powerful Prime Minister and Parliament to take Beijing head on.
The Communist rulers of China cannot but be frustrated and miserable to find that in one stroke this monk-statesman has knocked out their hopes of finding a ‘permanent solution’ to their Tibetan problem by installing a puppet as the successor to the Dalai Lama. That move would be meaningless now.
The Dalai Lama’s colleagues in the ‘Government-in-Exile’, who are used to taking commands from him and have been pleading with him since March 14 not to give up his temporal powers, will take their own time to understand the real impact of his decision. From Monday, May 30, onwards, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, will have only an advisory role as far as the ‘Government-in-Exile’ is concerned and much more time for international travel and meetings.
The Gaden Phodrang has been in place since 1642 when the second Dalai Lama was made the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet. Under this system the Dalai Lamas enjoyed enormous powers, collectively equivalent to those of the British Monarch, the US President, the Prime Minister of India, the Pope and the North Korean Communist President in their respective systems.
The original Ganden Phodrang labrang, Drepung Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet
The latest reform concludes the first of the two historic tasks the Dalai Lama had set for himself in 1959 when he fled his occupied country and became its exiled ruler. His next task will be replacing the current reincarnation-based selection process for his successor as Dalai Lama to one by nomination.
As per his plans, his successor will be nominated during his own lifetime and will be an acknowledged scholar and an enlightened monk. This means that unlike the previous 14 Dalai Lamas, the 15th Dalai Lama will not be a child discovered through a traditional religious process and certified by a team of designated senior lamas as the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama.
In the amended Constitution the provision of the traditional all-mighty ‘Council of Regents’ — a group of senior monks, Ministers and bureaucrats that takes over all powers of the Dalai Lama in the event of his death — also stands abolished. This change will automatically protect the ‘Government-in-Exile’ from any possible machinations by the Chinese during the 20-year-long ‘bardo’ — the period between the death and rebirth of a person. There are instances when China interfered in Tibet’s affairs using its influence on individual members of the ‘Council of Regents’.
The real significance of these developments would be better understood from China’s reaction since the Dalai Lama announced the changes on March 10 and 14. Angry and almost abusive statements emanating from Beijing reflect the level of the Chinese leadership’s nervousness and helplessness. China has been hitting at the Dalai Lama, the ‘Government-in-Exile’ and the Prime Minister to vent its anger.
On the Dalai Lama’s plan to change the system of selecting future Dalai Lamas, Beijing used its most prominent Tibetan collaborator, Pema Choeling, Governor of Tibet Autonomous Region, to talk to the international media during the National Congress. Pema Choeling chose to give the Dalai Lama a lesson in Tibetan culture and tradition.
Advising the Dalai Lama to honour “Tibetan traditions and rituals”, he said, “We must respect the historical institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism... Tibetan Buddhism has a history of more than 1,000 years, and the reincarnation institutions of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have been carried on for several hundred years... I am afraid it is not up to anyone whether to abolish the reincarnation institution or not.”
Reacting to the Dalai Lama’s decision to hand over his political and administrative powers to elected representatives, a Chinese spokesperson declared the ‘Tibetan Government-in-Exile’ an “illegal entity which was formed only to split China...” Commenting on the election process among exiled Tibetans and the prospects of Lobsang Sangay becoming the new ‘Prime Minister’, the spokesperson branded him a “terrorist” as he was an active leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress during his days in Delhi University.
These reactions reflect China’s anger and frustration over the Dalai Lama preempting and jeopardising their future plans on Tibet. Following the 1989 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa and their subsequent strategy meeting on Tibet in 1991, Beijing has been pursuing a dual policy on religion in Tibet. In addition to maintaining controls in Tibet, it has been promoting China’s “pro-Buddhism” image abroad by presenting Tibet as an international tourist destination; aggressively sponsoring and participation in international Buddhist conferences; sponsoring Buddhist events in Buddhist countries; winning over as many as possible Tibetan ‘living Buddhas’ (incarnate lamas) inside Tibet; and, making inroads among the Tibetan religious institutions set up in foreign countries.
As part of this strategy, Beijing has already undertaken an exercise to select two prominent Tibetan incarnate lamas – the Karmapa (1993) and the Panchen Lama (1995) in Tsurphu and Shigatse respectively. Although the Karmapa has since sought shelter in India, five-year-old Gedhun Choeky Nyima is till under arrest. Tibetans have refused to accept the Chinese sponsored Panchen Lama. But that has not deterred Beijing from undertaking a similar exercise to find a successor to the present Dalai Lama.
Beijing today enjoys the privilege of having two Panchen Lamas under its physical control. It is in a position to parade dozens of ‘living Buddhas’ in front of Chinese and international TV from Tibet. It can also secure the services of senior Buddhist scholars and leaders from client countries who would happily endorse any Chinese sponsored ‘reincarnation’ of the Dalai Lama whenever the necessity arises.
But by giving up his temporal powers and proposing to change the succession system, the Dalai Lama has demolished the hopes of Beijing.
-- The writer is a commentator on Tibetan affairs and the author of several books on Tibet.