Ti­betans pray for Dalai Lama at 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion


The Dalai Lama marked his of­fi­cial 80th birth­day on Sun­day, with prayers and cel­e­bra­tions at his home­town in ex­ile but lit­tle to show for decades of lob­by­ing seek­ing greater Ti­betan au­ton­omy.

The No­bel lau­re­ate will be in the United States when he turns 80 on July 6, but Sun­day is his of­fi­cial birth­day ac­cord­ing to the Ti­betan lu­nar cal­en­dar, and he cel­e­brated with his fam­ily, fans and fol­low­ers in Dharam­sala.

The jovial Ti­betan spir­i­tual leader told fel­low ex­iles and In­dian and for­eign dig­ni­taries that he ex­pected to live another 20 years and would con­tinue to work for the pro­mo­tion of com­pas­sion and re­li­gious har­mony.

“I hope you will join me again to celebrate my 90th birth­day,” he said in a speech at the Tsug­lakhang Tem­ple in Dharam­sala, the north In­dian hill town where he has lived since flee­ing Ti­bet in 1959 af­ter a failed upris­ing against Chi­nese rule.

The leader of the gov­ern­mentin-ex­ile wished the Dalai Lama a happy birth­day on be­half of all Ti­betans, thank­ing him for his life­long com­mit­ment to safe­guard­ing Ti­bet and its cul­ture and for his teach­ings on “uni­ver­sal re­spon­si­bil­ity to foster re­li­gious har­mony world­wide.”

“You have em­pow­ered us with democ­racy and hope ... for the peo­ple around the world, you are the bea­con of hope and light to all the peo­ple,” Lob­sang San­gay told an 8,000-strong crowd.

“For Ti­betans, you are the and the soul of Ti­bet.”

The event in­cluded tra­di­tional danc­ing and a spe­cial long-life prayer for the Bud­dhist spir­i­tual leader, who shows no sign of slow­ing down.

Although he has of­fi­cially given up his po­lit­i­cal role, the Dalai Lama main­tains a hec­tic sched­ule of for­eign travel and is due to visit Bri­tain this month be­fore trav­el­ing on to the United States.

But his re­tire­ment from pol­i­tics in 2011 was a re­minder to ex­iled Ti­betans that the man who re­mains the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized

life face of the move­ment will not be around for­ever.

“The two big ques­tions are what will hap­pen af­ter he’s gone and whether Ti­betans in­side and out­side China will look to his re­place­ment in the same way,” said Jayadeva Ranade, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tre for China Anal­y­sis and Strat­egy in New Delhi.

Sun­day’s cer­e­mony in Dharam­sala — home to thou­sands of Ti­betan refugees — is a time for cel­e­bra­tion, but also for re­flec­tion on the Dalai Lama’s push for greater au­ton­omy for Ti­bet un­der Chi­nese rule.

The el­derly monk’s pro­mo­tion of non-vi­o­lence along with his ready laugh have made him a global peace icon and kept Ti­bet firmly in the global spotlight.

He has been a uni­fy­ing force for Ti­betans in­side and out­side the moun­tain­ous re­gion, but has lit­tle to show for his decades of lob­by­ing.

For­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions with Bei­jing broke down in 2010 af­ter mak­ing no head­way, and many ex­iled Ti­betans re­main deeply scep­ti­cal about re­new­ing them.

Ques­tions over Suc­ces­sion

Bei­jing ac­cuses the Dalai Lama of try­ing to split Ti­bet from the rest of China and has called him a “wolf in sheep’s cloth­ing.”

In 2011 the Dalai Lama del­e­gated his po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to a prime min­is­ter elected by Ti­betan ex­iles in an at­tempt to lessen his own totemic sta­tus and se­cure the move­ment’s fu­ture af­ter his death.

But he re­mains the most pow­er­ful ral­ly­ing point for Ti­betans, both in ex­ile and in their home­land.

Last year he told Ger­man news­pa­per Welt am Son­ntag that doc­tors had told him he could live to 100, adding, “in my dreams I will die at the age of 113 years.”

Nonethe­less ad­vanc­ing years have raised suc­ces­sion ques­tions.

The soul of a se­nior lama is be­lieved to be rein­car­nated af­ter death in the body of a child.

Tra­di­tion­ally the search for a new Dalai Lama is con­ducted by high lamas — se­nior monks who fan out across Ti­bet to look for the child who shows signs of be­ing the rein­car­na­tion.

China how­ever has in­di­cated it will have the fi­nal say over the ap­point­ment of a new Ti­betan spir­i­tual leader — rais­ing fears of two com­pet­ing Dalai Lamas.

This hap­pened in 1995 when Bei­jing re­jected the Dalai Lama’s choice to be the next Panchen Lama, the sec­ond-high­est rank­ing Ti­betan Bud­dhist, and in­stead picked its own.

The 14th Dalai Lama has re­peat­edly said he may not be rein­car­nated — to the ap­par­ent frus­tra­tion of Bei­jing.

“The Dalai Lama in­sti­tu­tion will cease one day,” he told the BBC in De­cem­ber.

“Much bet­ter that a cen­turiesold tra­di­tion cease at the time of a pop­u­lar Dalai Lama.”

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