DHARAMSHALA, INDIA–In the 17th century, the Fifth Dalai Lama assumed both religious and political authority. This year, the 14th Dalai Lama voluntarily relinquished it. Tibetans praise him for his humility, but they also have trepidations about the future they are facing.
“I thought I would give up my post when I entered a Free Tibet,” says the 76-year-old head Dalai Lama, “but that would have been a necessity. I want to do it now, when I do it by choice.”
While the Dalai Lama continues to be Tibetan Buddhism’s top leader, he has handed over temporal power to the Tibetan government-in-exile and its prime minister. The Tibetan Parliament had rejected his decision, but religious leader refuses to reconsider.
At the temple in Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama lives, 83,399 votes were cast on the day of the election of the new prime minister, who has the daunting task of bringing the cause of Tibet’s liberation to the powerful countries of the West.
What do the Dalai Lama’s followers think? The phrase “Bloodless Revolution” is often repeated by Tibetans to describe the transition of power. Tibetans both young and old, as well as international observers, admire his willingness to hand over power, calling it a rare quality.
“Power to the people is good,” says Lobsang Tenzing. “We already have a prime minister and 43 representatives to the Legislature.” Yet, he adds, “the people don’t [really] want him to resign.”
Tenzine Tsundue, a young writer and activist, says, “Most young Tibetans, will be supporting the Dalai Lama in this visionary move to create a new leadership to spearhead the struggle and keep the nation united.”
But some Tibetans in exile are also worried. “No, no. He must never go,” says Dolma, an employee at Western Union, who declines to provide his last name. “We are confident that he is there and will take care of us. People look up to him and respect him. If he goes, what will happen to us? What if India asks us to get out?”
To many, the Dalai Lama is the face of a people that the world would have forgotten, whose subjugation would have been accepted by states that want to appease China. Instead, today’s world leaders open their parliaments to the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Will they do the same for the prime minister-in-exile, a man with no country?
“That is the problem,” says Dorjee Rapteng Neshar, a medical professional.Â But “his Holiness wants to prepare the people to manage without him, to liveÂ without his direct patronage,” he adds. “Of course, he will always be there, whenever he is needed.”
“He has made the right decision,” insists Tserin Dorjee, general secretary ofÂ the Tibetan Medical Centre, “China says that His Holiness is only interested in his own chair, not in Tibet. The Tibet question is getting lost (in the Chinese disinformation process). Now that argument won’t stand. It is a Bloodless Revolution.”
“The Dalai Lama has spent his life keeping the issue of Tibetan independence alive,” says Pema Dorjee, fingering his beads. People often forget that he is a monk, Dorjee says, “a spiritual person who may want more time for bigger things relating to questions of existence. He would like to play a greater role in interreligious harmony, and carry the message of Universal Responsibility to all citizens of this world.”
Because the Dalai Lama has tended his flock for over 50 years, his resignation has raised many questions among Tibetans, some of whom say they feel orphaned. All parliamentary resolutions and the annual budget must be endorsed by the Dalai Lama to become law. To whom will this power now be transferred? How will the Tibetan Charter be amended?
Nevertheless, the new prime minister will be announced on April 27, and sworn in with a cabinet of eight ministers.
“The new leaders will play pivotal roles in shaping the Tibetan people’s future,” says Tsundue. “The government-in-exile will evolve as a new structure sustaining the leadership. Change is now certain, but it will come into effect gradually. The Dalai Lama is forcing the community to stand on its own feet, preparing them for a time when he will no longer be there.”
A bird pushes its chick out of the nest. The little one is terrified, but it soon learns to fly. The chicks are fearful, but they are aware that the bird is preparing them for a future without him, when they have to fly on their own.
Nanditha Krishna has authored a number of books on Hinduism and Indian culture. She lives in Chennai, India.