Tibet's uncharted future

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Magistad: This past week was the first time in half a century of exile that hundreds of Tibetan representatives from all over the world came together to discuss the future of their movement. They'd gathered at a time of crisis - when six years and eight rounds of talks between the Dalai Lama's envoys and the Chinese government have broken down, with China refusing to make any concessions on giving Tibetans more autonomy. Some in the Tibetan exile community say if China's going to be that way, Tibetans might as well call for independence.

Magistad: In the shadow of a temple, where Tibetan pilgrims in long braids and dusty robes spin huge painted prayer wheels, New York Tibetan community vice president Phorbu Dorjee says, independence is what he wants:

Phorbu Dorjee:"But the final say, the final strategy, has to come from the Dalai Lama, who is really the expert, who can solve the Tibetan issue, who is really the greatest, is the Dalai Lama."

Magistad: The Dalai Lama has been trying to get the Tibetan community to think of a future without him. But it didn't happen here, at the Special Session. Delegates stated their full support for the Dalai Lama. They said they'd do whatever he says, and begged him not to retire. Dalai Lama say he's already semi-retired from politics - and at age 73, that's as it should be:

Dalai Lama: I'm already 73. In the next 10 years, 83. Anyway, that's time for retirement. In 20 years, 93. Then what use? Too old. And also, I'm human being. I also have human rights. Isn't it? (Laughs.)

Magistad: That doesn't mean he's not thinking about the future. The Chinese government recently passed a law saying it has the right to choose the next Dalai Lama. This Dalai Lama says he may be the last one, if the Tibetan people decide they don't need the institution anymore. He says his successor might be a girl, or might be chosen by a vote by senior lamas, much like the Pope is chosen by cardinals. Or, he says, he might choose his own successor, someone already alive:

Dalai Lama: That we call madidusa�It is quite a common practice. Nowadays, in Tibet, at least as far as I know, two person, the same. Before death, they were chosen as reincarnation. So it's a living tradition, like that."

Magistad: The proposal to do this was put forward by a delegate to the special session, Harvard Law School fellow Lobsang Sangay:

Lobsang Sangay: "The Chinese government, at least the hardliners have declared that with the passing of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan movement will fizzle out. Now, we will make sure that they are disappointed. With the passing away of the 14th Dalai Lama, we will have a 15th Dalai Lama, an adult Dalai Lama who will carry on with the Tibetan movement and provide adequate leadership - we hope, as good as the present Dalai Lama. If not, as best as he could."

Dharamsala streetDharamsala street

Magistad: Yet another possibility is that the current Dalai Lama appoints a regent - someone to govern until the Dalai Lama's reincarnation is old enough to take over. A name often mentioned in this regard is the Karmapa Lama, who's considered number three in the Tibetan religious hierarchy. He was born in Tibet, and his appointment was approved by the Chinese government. But one cold evening eight years ago, when he was 14, he put on a baseball cap, jumped out of the second floor window of his monastery into a car, and fled to India - rather than be used as a Chinese propaganda tool. The Dalai Lama immediately welcomed him and has mentored him - some say, almost like a son -- and yesterday, he praised him:

Dalai Lama: "Karmapa, one of very important lama in our tradition�Now, among younger generation, quite well equipped, younger people, monk, mainly monk, coming. So I have no worry. These people, after me, certainly, they will carry responsibility about spirituality. So Karmapa, young, energetic, a lot of experience in Tibet and now in a free country, certainly an important role, like that."

Magistad: Some Tibetans resist the idea of the Karmapa becoming their next political leader - because he's from a different sect than the Dalai Lama. But many Tibetans feel that's a small thing, compared with the existential challenge Tibetan culture now faces.

Magistad: At the end of the special session this past weekend, Tibetan delegates sang this anthem in unison - and left more united than the Tibetan exile community has been in a long time. They still look to the Dalai Lama for guidance and leadership, but they have begun - with a little prodding - to look ahead - and to think creatively about who can lead them in their quest to save Tibetan culture within the land of its birth. For The World, I'm Mary Kay Magistad, Dharamsala, India