. It does contain rather too many factual errors but underlines how popular and important he remains:
Life after the Dalai Lama
The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people is now 71 - and finally talking about retirement. But his successor is likely to face the same life of exile as China's persecution continues. Peter Popham reports
Published: 15 May 2007
He seems always to have been around. Was there ever a time when the Dalai Lama's chuckling, roly-poly form was not on television or in the magazines and newspapers, as familiar as Father Christmas or Terry Wogan or the Queen? And now we hear he's going to retire. It's hard to believe.
"Old friends pass away, new friends appear," the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, said once. "It's just like the days. An old day passes, a new one arrives." But in the case of the Dalai Lama himself it is not easy to be so phlegmatic. He has become part of the world's furniture, happy to attend the opening of an envelope if the word "Tibet" is written on it, available equally to be made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool University, an honorary citizen of Canada, and recipient of the Life Achievement Award of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organisation if it gives oxygen to the cause of Tibet's liberation.
He has been excoriated by Christopher Hitchens, bitterly attacked, but only in private, by Tibetan exiles who wish that he would press their cause with more aggression, damned by Qi Xiaofei of China's religious affairs administration as "a saboteur of ethnic unity and a pursuer of splittism". Mr Burns once gave Homer Simpson the task of splatting a cream pie in his face. But Homer funked it. And who can blame him?
It would take the vitriol of a Balliol dandy like Hitchens, the state-sanctioned bile of a Chinese bureaucrat, to find fault with the old geezer. And now, aged 71, he plans to fade away. The news emerged at the weekend from Brussels, where Tibet support groups from all over the world are meeting with the exiled community's Prime Minister, Dr Sandhong Rinpoche, and other members of the government to discuss the difficult months ahead, in the run-up to Beijing's Olympics.
Beijing had promised greater freedom of expression in advance of the Games, and for the first time in Tenzin Gyatso's 47 years of exile he has been in negotiations with the Chinese. Yet increasingly Tibet supporters see China's emollient words as exactly that, designed to lull the West into complacency while inside China, and in Tibet itself, the state repression intensifies. And now this: no Dalai Lama at the helm.
"He will keep his spiritual role but wants to lessen his political burden as he moves into retirement," the report went. Yesterday, Tibetans denied that they were taken aback by the news: recently in the US, they pointed out, he had told a group of students that he was already "semi-retired", and would "retire completely" within a few years.
Chhime Rigzing, the Dalai Lama's private secretary, explained from Dharamsala, the Himalayan headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile: "The political leadership will be transferred over a period of time. But he will continue to be the spiritual leader, because as the Dalai Lama the issue of relinquishing the post does not arise. The temporal part he wants to transfer but you can't transfer spiritual leadership in Buddhism, you can't change that."
Of course that begs the question, where exactly do you draw the line? As 13th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, like his predecessors, was Tibet's head of state as well as its religious leader. The unique presence he has established in the West since fleeing from China has been the result of this dual role: he spoke for the Tibetans as a people and for their suffering at the hand of the invader, and no one except the Chinese government challenged his right to do so. At the same time, and with startling directness, he told the truths of Buddhism.
The trampling of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army, the trashing of its monasteries and the brainwashing of its monks and nuns, the colonisation of its towns and cities by Chinese settlers, all of which continues, was an outrage of which the Dalai Lama spoke with unique eloquence, and because the outrage was so stark he found a huge ready audience everywhere. And then, almost without us being aware of it, he was telling us about values, about morality, about happiness, in the simplest words. And because of the way he did it, most of us lingered to listen to that message, too. Tibetan Buddhism is a fabulously exotic construct, as remote and strange a religious tradition as any in the world, ineffably far away. Yet Tenzin Gyatso has a way to make it simple, without cheapening its truths. "Happiness is not something ready made," he will say, "it comes from your own actions." "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher."
"His Holiness has expressed his wish to retire," said Yael Weisz-Rind, the director of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, "and the Tibetans say they wish he will remain ... It's not the first time we are hearing this message about semi-retirement. This is in his long-term vision, so that on the day he dies the Tibetans will be able to carry on, both those in Tibet and those in exile: there will be no need for emergency procedures. The announcement didn't come as a surprise." But who on earth will take his place? The Tibetans have an answer to that, too.
Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan activist and poet, said: "His Holiness has been making such statements [about retirement] for quite some time and he has been doing a lot to empower the Tibetan community, to democratise it. He will hand over to the directly elected prime minister, elected by Tibetans living around the world. His Holiness has been nurturing this process of becoming independent from within for a very long time. The arrival of democracy is the biggest thing that has happened to the Tibetan community in the past 50 years." Dr Rinpoche, 70, is a doctor of Buddhist philosophy but he is not a monk. Neither, sadly, despite his democratic credentials, does he have any kind of a profile outside his own community.
The Dalai Lama's authority - like that of the Pope - derives from the universal acceptance by Tibetans of his legitimacy. A democratically elected prime minister, however desirable, does not come with quite the same mystique. The Tibetans will still need their high lamas.
And that is where the Chinese have presented the Tibetans with a grave dilemma. The Dalai Lama is number one in the Tibetan religious hierarchy; number two is the Panchen Lama. It is the Dalai Lama's job to help identify, with the help of dreams and visions, the newly reincarnated Panchen Lama; and vice versa, so the hierarchy of reincarnated religious leaders leapfrogs down the ages. By abducting the newly identified Panchen Lama in 1995, and keeping his whereabouts secret ever since, the Chinese attempted to hijack this process; the puppet Panchen Lama they appointed in his place is duly expected to name a puppet Dalai Lama, once Tenzin Gyatso dies, and the People's Republic will then have the whole arcane system in its pocket.
Things might not go so smoothly for them, however. The Dalai Lama himself has said clearly that, owing to the oppressive conditions prevalent in Tibet, he expects his own reincarnation to appear outside, among the exiles. There remains of course the problem of who will identify him. "The absence of the Panchen Lama is one of the areas of anxiety in the Tibetan community," conceded Yael Weisz-Rind. "The Chinese are aware of this, and that's probably why the Panchen Lama was abducted."
But all is not lost. Another high lama is coming to ripeness just as the Dalai Lama prepares to leave the stage. Third in the hierarchy after the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, the 17th Karmapa Lama is unique in that he is recognised by the Chinese and the Dalai Lama. And, although he was believed by many in the Tibetan community to have come unhealthily under Chinese influence in his childhood, he redeemed himself dramatically in 1999 when he fled as a young teenager with a few companions from Tsurphu monastery and travelled hundreds of miles along unmarked tracks to avoid detection before turning up in Dharamsala.
This "Black Hat Lama", Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has not established a reputation in the West because Delhi has not yet allowed him to leave India. But his supporters in Dharamsala believe it won't be long before that happens. "He turns 22 next month, he now speaks six languages, and he's becoming more and more of a magnet here," said Jane Perkins, author of Tibet in Exile, from Dharamsala. "Even mainland Chinese are coming over to hear him speak, 90 came to his last appearance in southern India. There's absolutely no doubt that he is the new star: dynamic, powerful, full of young energy but with tremendous discipline and dignity, enormously sage for his age. We hope he will be free to go overseas soon. In which case he could take some of the load off His Holiness's shoulders."
She added as an afterthought: "Every teenage girl is in love with him..." And that's something not even Tenzin Gyatso can claim