His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, announced on Thursday that he will formally step down as political leader of the Tibetan government in exile. His predecessor, the 5th Dalai Lama assumed political control of Tibet, and instituted a theocratic form of government that endured until the Chinese invasion in the 1950s.
The Dalai Lama is the second-ranking lama of the Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism, and although highly respected, does not exercise any direct authority among the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, Jonang, and Bon orders.
“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” His Holiness said in a prepared speech on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese control. “Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”
The proposal needs to be formally approved by the Tibetan parliament-in-exile based in India. The Dalai Lama has long seen himself as “semi-retired” from political leadership with an elected prime minister already in place in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala. He advocates “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet within China.
Analysts and supporters described the decision of the Dalai Lama, whose office traditionally combines spiritual and temporal roles, as “historic,” according to a report in The Guardian newspaper of London. Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, told the Guardian that “at a perilous moment in the history of Tibet” the Dalai Lama was “expressing his faith in the Tibetan people.”
“Since I made my intention clear I have received repeated and earnest requests both from within Tibet and outside, to continue to provide political leadership,” the Dalai Lama said. “My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run.”
We wish His Holiness all happiness as he renounces temporal power and restores a purely spiritual role for the office of the Dalai Lama.
In the realm surrounded by snow mountains,
He is the source of all benefit and happiness.
May the Holy Feet of Chenrezig, Tenzin Gyatso,
Remain until the end of existence.