November 30, 2010
The recent media statements by the Dalai Lama about his desire to announce complete retirement has create a buzz among Tibet watchers at all levels. I have no doubt that the Chinese government, primarily, and all concerned governments are studying the implication of such a development. China is already testing the waters by having “scholars” comment on the statement. The Chinese seem to be closely following the development, as they should be, and have publicly outlined the chronology of the Dalai Lama’s statements relating to his retirement.
At the onset, when the Dalai Lama talks about “retirement” it should not be taken in the way a conventional politician or international figure retires from public life. The Dalai Lama’s latest statement has to be understood in the context of his description of the historical responsibility of the institution and how it has changed in recent years. As he explains it, historically, the Dalai Lamas have been both the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. While the temporal leadership was limited to the Tibetan people, the spiritual authority expands to almost all followers of Tibetan Buddhism who regard him as the manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. His spiritual followers have traditionally been the Tibetans, the Buddhists along the Himalayan region, as well as the Buddhists in Mongolia and the Russian republics of Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva (as I write this the Dalai Lama is giving teachings to several hundred Buddhists from these places in the Russian Federation who have gathered in Dharamsala). In the post 1959 period there are several thousand followers of Tibetan Buddhism throughout the world who also revere him as a spiritual leader. Continue reading “Understanding the Dalai Lama’s Retirement Statement”