Soon the Dalai Lama will mark his 60th year of exile from China. If you have not seen him in the news lately, there is a reason. Because of China’s growing economic clout, and its disagreements with the Dalai Lama, few countries want to risk hosting him out of fear that they will incur the wrath of Beijing.
But the Dalai Lama and his supporters are not giving up on their cause. Whether in life or in death. In fact the Dalai Lama’s death might pose one of the most complex challenges of all, both for China and for Tibetan Buddhism. All of this is suggested in an article by Britain’s Padraic Flanagan. Permit me to quote:
“As the 60th anniversary of his exile from Tibet approaches, the aging Dalai Lama is preparing for his final clash with China: the fight for his soul. At the age of 83, and now preferring to spend most of his remaining years teaching Buddhist disciples from his base at Dharmasala in India’s Himalayan foothills, the question of the charismatic monk’s reincarnation is proving crucial to Beijing‘s geopolitical ambitions.”
“Zhu Weiquin, the communist party official who deals with Tibet issues, has told the National People’s Congress that China has the sole right to determine who will be the 14th Dalai Lama‘s successor. To Beijing’s fury, His Holiness responded to the atheist state’s decree by suggesting he simply may choose not to reincarnate. As he [also] said: ‘there is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next’.”
The situation is even more complex if I may continue quoting:
“[This] makes the next life of His Holiness critical. His death will create a power vacuum that China will almost certainly [want] to fill. Beijing has insisted that the Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, will help to find the 15th Dalai Lama. But there are two claimants to the Panchen title: the Dalai-Lama-approved one, who was kidnapped by Chinese officials at the age of six and whose whereabouts are unknown and the China-approved one, Gyaincain Norbu, [who happens to be] the son of two Communist Party members.”
How all of this will play out is far from clear. And one wishes the Dalai Lama more good years ahead of him. But when he passes, we might, as the Chinese adage puts it, find ourselves living in interesting times.