The Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th birthday as the spiritual leader of Tibet on Saturday, a function he has almost entirely held in exile, under constant attack from China.
Hundreds of kilometers from the immense Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Buddhist leader has been speaking since 1959 to his Tibetan companions in exile from Dharamsala, at the foot of the Indian Himalayas.
But it remains against all odds the universally recognized face of the autonomy of Tibet, which has become a full-fledged Chinese province since 1951. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the old Buddhist leader is now less in sight.
The charismatic fourteenth Dalai Lama slowed the pace of his movements, formerly supported, and was hospitalized in April for a lung infection, but his aura also suffered from the growing influence of China, and the reprisals that it regularly agitates towards all those who are tempted by a rapprochement with the old Buddhist leader.
Beijing accuses the 84-year-old Dalai Lama of wanting to divide China and considers him a “wolf in a monk’s robe”.
– Without commemoration –
His office has already warned that this anniversary would be without commemoration, after canceling a rally of its followers, scheduled for March, because of coronavirus.
Born on July 6, 1935 under the name of Lhamo Dhondup, son of a couple of modest farmers from the hills of northeast Tibetan, the child was two years old when an expedition arrived in his village in search of the new spiritual leader of Tibet.
Able to designate objects that belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, who died in 1933, the boy is proclaimed as his reincarnation. Separated from his family, he was taken to a monastery and then to Lhasa, where he received an austere theological and philosophical education, before being inducted into the fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1939.
In 1950, then aged 15, he was hastily inducted into the Tibetan state after the Chinese army entered Tibet. Despite his efforts to protect Tibetans, he was forced to flee in 1959 to neighboring India, after the bloody repression launched by the Chinese army against Tibetan demonstrators.
Since then, at the head of a government in exile, he has tirelessly sought a compromise with Beijing on the fate of the Tibetans, based first of all on a demand for independence which has slowly evolved into a demand for greater autonomy.
Tibetan activists like Beijing know that the death of Tenzin Gyatso, the most famous Buddhist monk on the planet, could put an end to the quest for autonomy in the Himalayan region.
The way in which his successor will be chosen also remains open.
Tibetan Buddhists traditionally choose the Dalai Lama through a ritual quest, which can take several years, with an itinerant committee looking for signs that a young child may be the reincarnation of the last spiritual leader.
The fourteenth Dalai Lama could nevertheless decide on a non-traditional process that would prevent China from having its say: he could choose himself, during his lifetime, his successor, perhaps a girl, or decree that he is the last Dalai Lama.
bur-rm / I / ob / plh