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The Dalai Lama’s Devolution of Power and What it Means to the Issue of Tibet

posted Jun 6, 2011, 6:10 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jun 6, 2011, 6:19 AM ]
By Jamyang Dorjee

The devolution of political powers by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to the elected representatives in exile has aroused mixed reactions within the Tibetan community. It would be interesting for the Tibetans in Tibet and to those related to Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalayan region of India, Nepal, Mongolia and Bhutan to understand the impact of this historic decision.

Gaden Phodrang, the Government of Tibet established by the great 5th Dalai Lama some three hundred plus years ago, served the people of this land of snow by providing both spiritual and temporal guidance. Dalai Lama has been referred to by them as ‘Kyab-gon’, meaning both the protector and the guide.

Fifty years in exile, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, has consistently worked hard and finally established a true democratic institution in exile, which has earned moral recognition and support from the international community. This government is run by 44 members of Tibetan parliament and its executive head who are democratically elected by the people irrespective of their faith and social or economic status. Election of Lobsang Sangay, a commoner, to the post of Kalon Tripa, highest post of Tibetan administration in exile is an example of democracy.

It is interesting to note that despite repeated requests from the Parliament and the General Body meeting of Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama declined to remain even as a ceremonial head of the Government in Exile. Finally the resolution of the special session of Parliament on 29th May revised the charter to finally end the 370 year long temporal rule of Gaden Phodrang.

This historic event, of winding up of the institution of Gaden Phodrang marks a watershed in the history of Tibet. For all those who are emotionally and historically connected with & generations of patriots who have remained loyal and served the Government both inside Tibet and in exile till this day is a mind numbing experience. However, it is also to be noted that those who are in Tibet today and served the Gaden Phodrang Government at one time have already crossed 70 years of age. During this period Gaden Phodrang in exile has already transformed itself into a democratic institution. Gaden Phodrang institution belongs to the Dalai Lamas whereas the Dalai Lama belongs to all the Tibetan people as well as the Himalayan Buddhists outside Tibet. Therefore, the impact of the devolution of power by His Holiness needs to be assessed from a wider angle.

To the six million Tibetans in Tibet and to the Himalayan Buddhists, His Holiness is the incarnation of Chenresig, the embodiment of Buddha of compassion or Thamche Kyenpa, meaning ‘all knowing’ and most commonly as Kundun, meaning The Presence. His presence rules over the minds and hearts of the people. Any change in his political or executive role will not have any impact on their beliefs. He is engrained in the DNA of their minds. China very much realizes this phenomenon.

The impact of His Holiness’s devolution of power and delinking himself from the political establishment has made it even more easy for the non-Tibetan Buddhists of Himalayan region which includes Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan and India to come forward more openly to his teachings or to invite him to their places. China keeps on harping on his political role and this has often been an obstacle, especially for the weaker countries who find it difficult to stand up to the bullying tactics of China. However, the leaders of most powerful nations like America have been meeting with His Holiness officially as a spiritual leader and the trend should now spread to others in view of his new status.

Prior to coming into exile, there have been some small groups in Tibet who either due to some sectarian allegiance or because of some influence from China tried to destabilize Tibet and expressed dissent from time to time against the institution of Gaden Phodrang. Also during the transition period of each of the Dalai Lama, especially when they were still minor and not enthroned, some vested interests in power did play roles that were not accommodative to different faiths but as soon as His Holiness resumed power, things would come back to normal.

Nevertheless, Gaden Phodrang remained a binding force and legitimate Government of 6 million Tibetans for centuries on the roof of the world. Yet, even despite the best efforts and intentions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, some individual elements expressed their opposition to Gaden Phodrang from time to time, even in exile, by habit, often forgetting that very platform to disagree is provided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.!.

Officially, hitherto the administration in Dharamsala was always known as the CTA or Central Tibetan administration. CTA is referred to as 'Tsanjol Boe Shung' which is also translated literally as 'Exile Tibet Government'. The Dalai Lama, however, noted that the Tibetan word 'shung' might not necessarily translate into English as 'government'. Indeed, the word 'shung' also denotes 'centre' and by extension 'central' and the chosen English translation is: 'Central Tibetan Administration.. However, during the amendment of the exile charter by the Parliament, the change of the word in Tibetan from ‘Shung’ to ‘Driktsuk’ meaning an organization or a discipline has caused some shock to the participants of the General Body meeting, whose mandate was overruled by the parliament.

The international Tibet support groups have always supported the issue of Tibet in the light of human rights, rule of law, religious freedom and democracy in Tibet. Their support was never conditioned to the existence of an exile government and therefore, any change in nomenclature may not make so much difference to the support groups across the world.

As far as the resolution to Tibetan issue is concerned, China has been always insisting that His Holiness is the only issue and any solution has to be Dalai Lama oriented. In spite of all their rhetoric against him, they still say that that the dialogue can continue only with the representative of the Dalai Lama. Contact with China in the new millennium has not shown any tangible progress yet the fact remains that the dialogue today is institutionalized and also internationalized and has reached a new level where Chinese leaders acknowledges these official dialogues. Tibetans delegates have put the ball squarely on China’s court and there is no ambiguity.

The Tibetans also have full faith with His Holiness and believe that he will never abandon the interests of his people. Even Mahatma Gandhi did not have any political powers when he forced the greatest empire of that time to leave India. He would usually say that ‘mein to Congress ka char ana ka member bhi nahin hun’ ( I am not even a quarter Ana member of Congress). Yet he was the greatest inspiration of Indian freedom movement and later too.

The biggest impact will be felt by the exile administration. The new situation provides an opportunity and a challenge. There is no time for them now to be lethargic and bask in the glory of the Dalai Lama but work hard to ensure continuity of the exile administration until the issue of Tibet is resolved successfully, to articulate the aspirations of the Tibetans in Tibet and tell the world of the real situation inside Tibet and look after Tibetans in exile. One of the strongest voices, especially by the younger Tibetans in exile during the recent election to the post of Kalon Tripa was - change. His Holiness has now unleashed both an opportunity & a clear path for change and a tryst with destiny.


The writer is and editorial consultant to Radio Free Asia and Asia Regional Coordinator for the Conservancy of Tibetan Art and Culture (CTAC), an international NGO based in Washington DC, USA.

Reprinted in TPR with permission.

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