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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Turkey conflict: Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk
 

At last! An Education Secretary who thinks teachers should teach

Chris Maume
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food