Is this Dalai Lama the last?
LONDON — For Buddhists who follow his teachings, or to those who are simply drawn to his public message of kindness (“My religion is kindness,” the popular bumper sticker reads), the Dalai Lama has approached sainthood. He instantly sells out public appearances, and he’s featured on the “Top 10 influential figures” lists (or some form thereof) that appear regularly in periodicals or on websites.
He represents a triple threat rarely seen in contemporary culture: spiritual guru, head of the Tibetan government in exile and international ambassador. Today, the plight of his people is known around the world: the Tibetan flag, often accompanied by the slogan “Free Tibet,” has become one of the iconic symbols of our time.
While at age 79 he shows little sign of slowing down, the Dalai Lama — the 14th in a line of head monks chosen through an elaborate combination of divination, examination and coronation — won’t live forever. The Dalai Lama’s successor is a topic that’s been increasingly broached.
Yet the competing forces of politics, ethnicity and culture have muddled the process; there are even arguments over how the 15th Dalai Lama will be chosen.
Together it raises the very real question: Could he be the last in this long lineage?
Saint or splittist? The Dalai Lama has his detractors. “Saints,” George Orwell wrote, “should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.”
Among Tibetan Buddhists — particularly Western Tibetan Buddhists — there is a group of practitioners who propitiate the fierce protector-deity known as Shugden. This particular practice has been discouraged by the Dalai Lama, who believes the practice runs counter to the principles of compassion and nonviolence. Shugden practitioners routinely protest when the Dalai Lama delivers public teachings in the West because they feel that his prohibition of Shugden violates their fundamental religious freedom.
The Dalai Lama’s most visible detractor, however, has been the Chinese government, which has been working full-time to prove the Dalai Lama guilty of a host of crimes against its country.
As all political organizations do, the Communist Party of China has created a list of epithets to describe him in an unflattering light: he is “a wolf in monk’s robes” and “a splittist,” whose main goal is to divide the Chinese against themselves. Or they characterize him the leader of the “Dalai Lama clique,” a group of insurrectionists living largely in exile and dedicated to spreading false rumors about the Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people.
To China, a problem that
won’t die But why is the Chinese government so concerned about a “simple Buddhist monk” (as the Dalai Lama often describes himself)? And why has the issue of his successor — the reincarnation of the sitting Dalai Lama — been in the news recently?
Having been so successful in bringing the world’s attention to the suffering of his people, the Dalai Lama and his reincarnation represent an enormous hurdle for China: How do they deal with a problem that, simply put, won’t die?
Chinese government officials have adopted a very practical solution: They have decided that they will locate the 15th Dalai Lama. Their choice would, of course, be sympathetic with China’s goals regarding Tibet and the Tibetan people, a selection who would articulate China’s idea of Tibet as simply another ethnic region of China, subject to its laws and its domestic policy. — Newsweek.
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