Sunday, March 13, 2011


GIVE UP HIS POLITICAL ROLE - News of the 14th Dalai Lama’s retirement from politics was no surprise to those of us who follow his “career”. He has said many times he planned to relinquish his role in government to democratically elected leadership.  For years, detractors have accused the Dalai Lama of scheming to retake Tibet and restore the old feudal theocracy, in spite of his public statements in favour of secular, democratic government.  And those of us inclined to defend him could only say, he’s going to step down eventually. It’s a relief that eventually has arrived.  On the other hand, Tibetans aren’t sure they are ready to let go of their political lama. Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibet’s prime minister in exile, told the Hindustan Times that without the Dalai Lama, the legitimacy of the Tibetan government in exile might be undermined. The Tibetan exile community, he said, had been functional largely because its members accepted the Dalai Lama’s authority.

So Tibetans are considered as people in diaspora.  For centuries, its geography isolated Tibet from the rest of civilisation. The Chinese occupation and the failed Lhasa uprising of 1959 drove the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders into exile, with monks and lay people following.  When the long isolation was ruptured, Tibetans’ culture and religion abruptly spilled out into the modern world.  The Dalai Lama’s leadership has been a source of stability and cohesion for the Tibetans, but he is 75.   This week’s announcement may be his way of telling the exiles they need to find stability and cohesion without him, and sooner rather than later.

The Dalai Lama has been a source of cohesion for Tibetans.  The present Dalai Lama’s most important legacy is the preservation of religion and culture in exile, the creation of a non-sectarian and inclusive Tibetan nationalism and keeping alive the link between the diaspora and homeland.  On the religious side, the Dalai Lama is not named but he must be recognized as a reincarnated Lama.  The Panchen Lama is the highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama, and he bears part of the responsibility for finding the incarnation of the Dalai Lama, and vice versa.

Mahayana tradition is found in Tibet, China, Japan and Korea.  This school is much more sympathetic to reincarnation (perhaps because it is more indebted to original Indian Buddhism), which is particularly apparent in the Tibetan form of the religion, where the doctrine of rebirth remains a central teaching.  Tibet was originally known as Ti-Boutta - Ti, in Chinese, means “deity” and Boutta, which comes from the Sanskrit “buddha”, means “wisdom”.  So Tibet is known as the Land of the Wisdom Deity or Incarnations of Wisdom, referring to the successive incarnations of the two highest Lamas, the Dalai and the Panchen.  Only the highest monks are called Lamas, accepted throughout the Buddhist community as highly evolved souls who incarnate again and again to help others attain enlightenment.

Bhakti Shastri Śrīpad Radheshyam Das, M.Tech. (NT, Mumbai) :
“Your Secret Journey” - Director Vedic Oasis for Inspiration, 
Culture & Education (VOICE) - Pune President, ISKCON, Pune.

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