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A world without Dalai Lama
Tibetans and the spiritual leader himself ponder the inevitable
Question of the Day
Over the past half-century, the once-feudal king has become a master of the modern world. He is an ascetic Buddhist monk long accustomed to celebrities who want to prostrate themselves before him. He travels and lectures constantly. He has raised tens of millions of dollars for the Tibetan cause, supporting everything from orphanages to a soccer team. He has become an international symbol of peace.
In Beijing, though, he’s something different: “A jackal wearing a monk’s robe,” one China-appointed Tibetan official said. “A demon,” said another. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a “splittist” who is secretly plotting Tibet’s complete independence from China.
Tibetan exile leaders and independent human rights observers, meanwhile, say China is systematically stripping Tibet of its heritage. Ethnic Han Chinese are pouring into the region, while Beijing has arrested generations of political activists and oversees a vast military and intelligence network that reaches into nearly every village and monastery.
While the Dalai Lama still advocates talks with China - the discussions have limped along for years - he has few other choices.
“So far, dialogue failed, but that does not mean in future no possibility,” he said in the Dharmsala interview. He insists one minute that change is at hand, but then says he is always disappointed. “Eventually, all these hopes disappear.”
Today, increasing numbers of Tibetans are putting their hopes in a new generation of political leaders.
In 2011, Tibetans will choose the exile government’s next prime minister, an election widely seen as the most democratic yet for the exiles. Reflecting the constant tug here between tradition and modernity, exile politicians have long tried to do what they think the Dalai Lama wants - while the Dalai Lama says politicians need to make their own decisions.
“In a way, it’s like saying, ‘Who will be our next leader?”’ said Tenzin Choeying of the activist group Students for a Free Tibet. “Without mentioning His Holiness, this is a way of addressing the issue” of his death.
He insists the movement will succeed one day: “People say we’re dreamers, but the same thing might have been said about Indians who wanted independence [from England] in the 1890s.”
That pervading sense of hope is perhaps the strangest thing about Dharmsala, this town of Tibetans and wandering hippies, with its astrologers, crystal shops and enough yoga masters to form a small but exceedingly limber army.
The Dalai Lama, despite his occasional lapses into pessimism, is hopeful that things will improve in Tibet. The activists are also hopeful.
Even the state oracle is hopeful.
The oracle is an avuncular 52-year-old monk named Thupten Ngodup who, during trances, is said to be able to communicate with the spirit world and look into the future. He is a powerful political and spiritual adviser to the Tibetan exile government and the Dalai Lama.
Mr. Ngodup, who fled Tibet as a child, has no doubt that he’ll return.
“Perhaps my hope might sound a little stupid,” he said in his monastery office. “But in this century, the era of dictatorship is passing.
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