Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Last Time: Tawang’s dreaded phrase for Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama in Tawang. (Reuters)
Tawang, Nov.12: She had been there at the ground the last two days, too. But today was different for the 80-year-old mother of Lobsang Nima.

Frail and barely able to walk on her own, she cried and pleaded with her son to take her to the ground again so that she could listen to the last public teaching session of the Dalai Lama here this morning.

This was the last time, she thought, she would see and listen to her “God” because he might not come here again in her lifetime.

Lobsang, who worked in a hotel here, took her to the “teaching” but he had a different reason from his mother’s. He has heard people say this could be the last Dalai Lama. He didn’t have the heart to tell his mother so. She wouldn’t believe it even if he did.

“Everybody says China can put up a fake one. You know what it did with the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama,” he said in broken Hindi.
As the Dalai Lama wound up the last day of his stay in this monastery town — he leaves for other places in Arunachal Pradesh tomorrow — the question if he was the last Dalai Lama seemed to have gripped the minds of many here.
Not that ordinary people would really believe it. They simply can’t imagine a world and their own life without a Dalai Lama. But even the humblest of his flock had heard of the Chinese plan to end the institution of the Dalai Lama.

As a monk at the monastery explained it, the Dalai Lama wasn’t just their spiritual leader. “He is their God as much as the Buddha is. He is the Bodhisatta.”
For the monastic community here, too, the question about the end of the institution, as Tibetans have known it for several hundred years, could no longer be avoided. Apart from the fact that the Dalai Lama is 75 years old, his own assertions on the issue are known to have introduced many uncertain elements in a hitherto unassailable tradition.

The Dalai Lama, who is known to have a scientific and democratic mind, is known to have said many different things on the issue on different occasions. He has himself said he may be the last Dalai Lama. He has also said that his successor can be chosen in a democratic way. On another occasion, he has said his successor could be a woman, an unprecedented thing in the history of the institution.

Then there is always the question what happens if his successor — the reincarnation of his soul — is born within Tibet and the Chinese lay their hands on the child. On at least one occasion, the Dalai Lama has said that his successor could be born in India, which would again be an unprecedented happening.

A monk who lived in Dharamsala and knew about the functioning of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile there said: “Everybody in the government and the religious hierarchy will abide by whatever His Holiness decides. But for the common people, a democratically elected Dalai Lama would be such an impossible thing. You can have an elected Prime Minister of this government, but it would be hard to make Tibetan Buddhists accept an elected Dalai Lama.”

One possibility, he said, is that the Dalai Lama himself can select a “board of regents” in his lifetime to oversee the selection of his successor.

But he was confident that the Dalai Lama knew about the impossibility of letting the line die and thereby plunge the Tibetan people and their future in a worse tragedy than they are facing now.

For the 45 lakh Tibetans within Tibet and another lakh or so outside it, the end of the Dalai Lama lineage would mean a crisis not only of their religion but also of their culture.

During his visit here, the 14th Dalai Lama repeatedly emphasised the importance of keeping Tibetan culture alive. But he himself is the ultimate symbol of the hope for the continuity of Tibetan culture.

No one knows better how difficult the challenge is. In China’s Tibet, despite all the recent moves to make the promotion of Tibetan culture a tourism tool, the government and the communist party try everything to “sinicise” Tibetan culture. In India, for all the efforts of Dharamsala and Tibetan activists, the younger generation of Tibetans find it hard to survive economically without imbibing Indian mores.

Like Lobsang Nima, most people of his generation here speaks Hindi. “It came with the Indian Army. We have always been so dependent on the army for so many things. Hindi has given us much advantage. And now English-medium schools are sprouting here.”

Tibetan culture, like Tibetan Buddhism, survived unscathed for generations as long as outsiders had not climbed the mountain passes and ridges to penetrate that forbidden world.

The Dalai Lama faces a daunting task that none of his predecessors faced — to take Tibet to the world and also keep it Tibetan.

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