Exile and succession: The Dalai Lama turns 80 | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 03.07.2015
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Exile and succession: The Dalai Lama turns 80

The Dalai Lama is revered all over the world. The Nobel peace laureate is one of the most respected global personalities. His birthday is being celebrated in many parts of the world, but not in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama's birthday falls on July 6, but the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists has already been reborn 14 times, which means that the date of his actual birthday may not be accurate.

In April, the Dalai Lama celebrated with his friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. On June 21 - his birthday according to the Tibetan lunar calendar - was celebrated in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala at the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. A week later, the Dalai Lama graced the Glastonbury Festival in England where over 100,000 people wished him "Happy Birthday" before he talked about love, forgiveness and tolerance. On July 6, the spiritual leader will participate in a global summit of compassion in Irvine, California.

The Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th Birthday with Patti Smith on The Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Pilton in England

The Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th Birthday with Patti Smith at the Glastonbury Festival

No celebration in Tibet

While his birthday is being celebrated all over the world, there will be no such festivity in the Dalai Lama's homeland, Tibet. In Lhasa, even pictures of the Dalai Lama are prohibited. At the most, the Tibetans might be secretly lighting a candle and praying for their leader, who is also called "the refugee of the world" after fleeing to India in 1959.

Chinese authorities have long demonized the Dalai Lama for his demand for a greater autonomy for Tibet, and called him a "wolf in sheep's clothes." Every statement made by him is denounced by the communist regime in Beijing. The situation has not improved in the past decades.

In an interview with the BBC in 2014, the Tibetan leader said there would be no Dalai Lama after him, hence it would be better for China to resolve the Tibetan conflict as long as there is a popular Tibetan leader rather than await his successor.

Beijing calls for reincarnation

But ironically, it is the "atheistic" government in Beijing which now calls for the Dalai Lama's rebirth. In March, during the last session of the country's parliament, the National People's Congress, several politicians attacked the Dalai Lama.

"The authority to decide over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and on his successor rests with the Chinese government," Zhu Weiqun, a high-ranking Communist Party official, told The New York Times newspaper.

The issue of the Dalai Lama's succession is not just religious; it is also highly political. It is about controlling the Tibetans. It is true that China has been ruling Tibet since its troops invaded the land in 1951. It is also a fact that the Tibetan government in exile is not recognized by any country in the world. But even after more than half a century of the communist rule in Tibet, the fact remains unchanged that a majority of Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama and await his return.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama rally outside the site of the National Prayer Breakfast at which he is attending at the Washington Hilton in Washington, February 5, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The Dalai Lama has supporters all over the world

The 80-year-old Dalai Lama's demise is just a matter of time. After that the Chinese government would try to engage with cooperating monks to put an "agreeable" Dalai Lama on the throne, with whom Beijing can control Tibetan Buddhism as well as Tibet. It is likely that the Tibetan people will eventually recognize the new Dalai Lama against the will of their present leader.

For now the Dalai Lama appears to be in good health. In the aforementioned BBC interview, he said that he expected to live for at least another "fifteen to twenty years." So he will possibly be able to celebrate many more birthdays before the question about his rebirth and succession pops up again.