Deity Goes into Retirement: Tibetans Face Uncertainty in Post-Dalai Lama Era

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His advisers informed him that the Communist Party in Beijing characterized his retirement as a "malicious trick." "I will not stop praying for the party," the Dalai Lama says in response. And he tells SPIEGEL that he sees progress being made in China, despite the current wave of repression: "Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has advocated more transparency several times, and he has even said that democracy is a necessary development. I am pinning my hopes on the reasonable forces."

The 14th Dalai Lama will undoubtedly pore over the old religious texts once again, the scriptures that grant him, should his people be faced with an emergency situation, the right of "madey tulku," or choosing a "reincarnated" successor while he is still alive. He intends to set the course of his spiritual succession at an important conference in Dharamsala in September.

"The Communist Party should concern itself with the reincarnation of Mao or Deng Xiaoping," he says. "I find it touching that the politicians in Beijing are concerned about my reincarnation, and yet it doesn't make any sense, given that the Communist Party calls me a 'demon.' Do they want to have a demon forever? No, I can assure you, and Beijing, that I will decide on my successor entirely on my own." Although there are several potential options, he says, "as long as I am in exile, we will only search for the successor in exile, as well."

Perhaps the all-important moment of inspiration will come to him while he is trimming his rose bushes or pursuing one of his other hobbies, taking apart and reassembling old cameras, or perhaps while running on his treadmill in the early morning hours.

He will continue to strongly discourage his Western followers from rushing at Buddhism and expecting it to offer instant salvation, as a sort of lifestyle religion. And he will continue to repeat his standard admonition: "Try a religion from your own cultural environment first, like Christianity." And he will also continue to promote world peace and interfaith dialogue, using the same universal, sometimes overly vague, esoteric language.

And, once again, his fans will stylize the Tibetan king without a country into their postmodern angel, as they have always done. They will turn him into a symbol that he never wanted to be: the last common denominator between believers and skeptics in the East and West, between the impotent and the overly powerful, a spiritual consolation for a world fragmented between the winners and losers of globalization. But they will also continue to worship him in his native Tibet and hang on his every word, as if he had the power to bring freedom, and they will wonder if there can be a life after the Dalai Lama.

That is the crux of gods: They can go into retirement, but they cannot abolish themselves -- if only because the incorrigible faithful would never allow it.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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