The Dalai Lama and Tibet

He had nothing to say or so he said in his typically modest and often humorous manner, but then His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, proceeded to speak for more than two hours with international media.

He talked at length about his possible retirement (it's not happening) and the possibility that his next incarnation may be a as girl (he said women are more compassionate than men). He also encouraged Tibetans to create strong relationships with the Chinese people.

Earlier in the day, the Dalai Lama addressed hundreds of Tibetan delegates who descended upon this tiny mountain town from around the globe after he summoned them for a conference on Tibet's future.

The Dalai Lama, who has led the Tibetan people for nearly 50 years, was absent from the meeting because he did not want his presence to inhibit the delegates' ability to voice their opinions. He said his plan had worked.

"I'm satisfied they expressed fully what they believed without hesitation," said the Tibetan leader.

The Dalai Lama did not speak directly about the results of the conference, which included a majority decision to follow his "middle way" approach to create an autonomous region for Tibet within China. He did, however, caution his followers that there was great risk if they pushed for independence. He also encouraged them to work with the Chinese.

"My faith in the Chinese people has never been shaken," he said, explaining that he had recently discussed this idea with a group of Tibetans. "We must distinguish between the Chinese government and the Chinese people."

After years of trying to yield more autonomy for the Tibetan region, the aging Dalai Lama recently expressed frustration over the failed situation. China invaded Tibet in 1950.

The self-described "semi-retired" Dalai Lama called for the conference because he wanted the Tibetans-in-exile to learn to lead without him. Some say the 73-year-old has "begged" exiled Tibetans to take a stronger role in Tibet's future.

"His Holiness has always been encouraging Tibetans to start getting ready," said one of the conference delegates, Nima Dorjee, an engineer from Ontario, Canada. "We recognize the situation we face. We recognize the danger of becoming instantly abandoned orphans if we're not ready."

Perhaps due to rumors that the Dalai Lama may soon retire, the delegates at the conference "strongly urged" his holiness to continue his role as spiritual and political leader.

"We've seen from across the Tibetan plateau from March 10 of this year more than 125 protests, overwhelmingly peaceful," said Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet. "And with the same message that Tibetans have been saying, that the Dalai Lama represents our interests not the Chinese state. And Tibetans have risked their lives to convey this message to the outside world."

Although it was not unanimously declared, delegates at the conference echoed a desire to shift focus from autonomy to independence. Some suggested they should only give China two to three more years before changing gears.

"There was a majority for the 'middle way,'" said Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the Tibetan parliament. But she added that if China does not meet their demands, then "there is no other option left for us than to go for complete independence."

Since the protests in Lhasa last March, many younger Tibetans and supporters have called for independence from China. Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet, said Tibetans have a greater shot at winning independence than by asking for autonomy.

"Instead of thinking along the lines of 'What can China Give us?' we should think 'What can we fight for and how can we fight for it?'" Dorjee said. "By pursuing independence, by demanding independence -- I'm not saying we should pick up arms, very few Tibetans think that -- but we need to pursue nonviolent means."

There was also a call to end all dialogue with China immediately, although today the Dalai Lama said there should be no decision on that for a month. That delay is most likely due to an upcoming meeting on Tibet in Delhi.

As for why the Dalai Lama believes his next incarnation could be female, he described a long plane flight on which he observed a family sitting nearby. He noticed the father fell asleep within a couple of hours of boarding while the mother watched over two energetic children throughout the night, appearing with bloodshot eyes in the morning. This helped the Dalai Lama determine that women are more sensitive.

"Time has come for female shifting [for a] more active responsibility on world peace and promotion of human compassion. This I feel. So therefore, the Dalai Lama's reincarnation could be one female reincarnation."

The Dalai Lama discussed the future of the Tibetan religious and political domains, saying that "secularism" was the best route.

"In the future, the government will be separate from spiritual," he said.

The Dalai Lama said that the young Karmapa Lama, who is approximately 23 years old, is "necessary for the spiritual guidance and future" of Tibet. Officially known as the 17th Karmapa Trinlay Thaye Dorje and the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Karmapa made a daring escape from Tibet when he was 14 years old.

The young Lama is said to have jumped out of his monastery bedroom window and rushed into a waiting car that brought him to the mountains. He then hiked over the Himalayas disguised in a baseball hat and jeans to cross into Nepal. He lives in exile near Dharamsala.

In a recent interview, the Karmapa -- whose good looks are widely admired -- admitted he liked music, including rap, which, unfortunately, he cannot dance to because of his constrictive monk robe.

Positive as the delegates believed the conference was, it is only the beginning of a continued struggle for the Tibetan people. Earlier this week, The Associated Press translated an editorial in the official Tibet Daily newspaper, which said, "The so-called middle way is a naked expression of Tibetan independence aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history."

Most believe that this is a critical time for the Tibetan people.

"There's a true risk of the Tibetan nation and the Tibetan people disappearing," said Dorjee. "I don't say that just simply to sound good about it. I've never been so terrified of the future that holds ahead for us."