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Conversation: Getting Back the High Ground

[Editor's Note: Chinese authorities have declared a "war against secessionist sabotage" against the "Dalai Lama clique" in response to a wave of unrest in and around Tibet. In 2012 alone, there has been least six Tibetans shot dead by Chinese forces and nine self-immolations.

In the Winter 2011/2012 issue  Tibet's first political secular leader in hundreds of years, Lobsang Sangay, spoke with World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman and managing editor Christoper Shay about his vision for Tibet's future and the separation of religious and political authority.]

A Conversation with Lobsang Sangay, the Kalon Tripa of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile

For half a millennium, since the Mongol ruler Altan Khan, descendant of Genghis and Kublai Khan, bestowed the title of Dalai Lama on the first ruler of the Yellow Hat Buddhists, the Dalai Lama has represented the spiritual and temporal states of the Buddhist nation that dominates Tibet and Mongolia. This summer, the 14th Dalai Lama stepped down from his role as secular ruler to focus on his functions as religious leader. For the first time, Tibetan Buddhists in Asia and around the world have a new political leader—the Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, who hopes one day to be able to return to rule the nation of Tibet, now firmly under Chinese control. Lobsang Sangay was chosen last summer—elected by all Buddhists able to cast ballots (largely outside of tightly-controlled Tibet itself). From his headquarters in Dharamsala, India, he spoke with World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman and managing editor Christopher Shay.



World Policy Journal: We are especially interested in the nexus of religion and politics. Tibet and the Dalai Lama are uniquely positioned in that respect. So perhaps, you could start out by helping us understand where the spiritual and the secular converge or diverge in your view.

LOBSANG SANGAY: In 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama took over the political leadership of Tibet. Since then, both the spiritual and political leadership have been united in the institution of the Dalai Lama. On March 10 of this year, the current Dalai Lama transferred his political power to an elected leader. On August 8, the day of my inauguration, he said that had been his long, cherished goal. And this is very important, because some people call it the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter, but his statement makes it very clear it is simply a continuation of the same chapter. Now we have, constitutionally and institutionally, separated the spiritual from the political leadership of the institution of the Dalai Lama. We have done that by amending the constitution and various legal provisions where His Holiness had political or administrative authority. In the long-term interest of Tibet and the Tibetan people, it is best that the Tibetan people stand on their own feet and run the Tibetan movement themselves, rather than lean on one person. His Holiness did it in the interests of Tibet and the Tibetan people, because he thought it undemocratic to have one leader with both spiritual and political leadership. I think this will withstand and sustain the movement for a long period of time.

[To read the rest of the conversation, click here ]

 [Illustration: Miguel Jiron]


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