Peter Popham: He held his people together – but they must move on

The Dalai Lama has exasperated many young Tibetans in recent years by his refusal to yield on non-violence

Share
Related Topics

Tibetans are by no means overjoyed that the Dalai Lama has decided to relinquish his role as their political leader. In the southern Indian town of Mundagod, where exiled Tibetans have built a monastery, they told The Times of India yesterday: "We are shocked and pained... the mood in all families here is gloomy. The Lamas are now worried over the future of displaced Tibetans who are fighting for freedom from the clutches of China."

Their distress is easy to understand: Tibet has been ruled by the high Buddhist clergy for centuries. The Dalai Lama's legitimacy goes back to his childhood, when he was "revealed" as the 14th incarnation. The legitimacy of rulers is a fragile commodity, as the world has witnessed in North Africa: it's the glue that holds a nation together, but unless a ruler enjoys not only opinion of interest, as Hume put it, but also opinion of right – unless people agree that he has the moral right to rule – even a tyrant can lose traction fast.

The Dalai Lama has exasperated many younger Tibetans in recent years by his refusal to yield on non-violence and his decision to make autonomy rather than independence his government's goal. But even the Tibetans who criticise his politics would not question his right to do what he does. It is only that unquestioned legitimacy, and the charisma of his personality, that has succeeded in holding his impoverished, oppressed and scattered people together.

Tibetans educated in the West may share some of our scepticism about their homeland's reincarnation traditions, but even they are united in their respect for what Tenzin Gyatso has achieved in raising the profile of their struggle.

The Tibetan parliament, which meets later this month to pick a leader represents 80,000 Tibetan exiles. That means the Dalai Lama is the leader a community smaller than the population of Basingstoke – yet he is one of the most famous people in the world. Their elected prime minister will have a job matching that.

For years the Dalai Lama has been trying to get Tibetan exiles to accept that the time for them to be ruled by reincarnated High Lamas is over; that they must enter the modern world and shoulder the responsibilities of power. It's an uphill task. He will remain his community's ultimate spiritual authority until he dies, but the danger is that the Chinese, who have "discovered" and raised a Panchen Lama obedient to their rule, will succeed in their long-term aim of usurping Tibet's reincarnation rituals to impose High Lamas of their own choosing.

One defence against that may be the exiled 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, now 25 and the best prospect for a charismatic successor to the Dalai Lama. But eventually the Tibetans will have to join the modern world, with all its pitfalls. If they succeed it will be the Chinese Communist Party that looks like a quaint anachronism.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?