Thursday, March 10, 2011

I admit it, I’m a cynic: the Dalai Lama’s politically expedient departure

It’s a mistake to think that cynics can’t enjoy good news.  That lunatic old dictator, the Dalai Lama is giving up his dictatorship and embracing democracy.  I think this has to be good news, although it’s currently unclear how much difference it will make to anyone’s daily life in the short term. 

The current Dalai Lama - Tenzin Gyatsohas been recognised as the reincarnation of the previous one since he was two years old, but has formally been on the job since 1950.  It’s interesting, therefore, that he should choose this particular moment to announce that he’s stepping down as political leader, just as dictators are toppling everywhere.  If I were more charitable I’d say now’s as good a time as any, but I can’t help thinking that 60 years ago would have been a much better time altogether.

To be fair, he announced in the 70s that he’d be the last Dalai Lama.  This – hilariously – caused consternation.  Who was he, his people demanded, to decide not to reincarnate?  Surely they the people should get to decide whether his spirit would magically posses an innocent baby after his death.  It’s difficult to imagine a more stupid complaint.

I don’t know a great deal about it, but that announcement too seemed like a politically expedient decision.  The Chinese government insisted that they approve the appointment of all powerful monks.  Since this would surely influence the selection of the next Dalai Lama, he can hardly be blamed for taking his bat in.

But despite these claimed good intentions, Tenzin Gyatso has been careful to grip onto political as well as spiritual power with his bony fingers until the last possible second.

Of course, his spiritual power trumps the political hands down anyway, so I’m not sure how or if things will change in the short term.  But let’s hope it really is part of a graceful dismount, that a democratic regime will indeed come about and that the office of Dalai Lama will quickly become an embarrassing memory.

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