Dalai Lama announces plans to retire as political leader of Tibetan government in exile

In Dharamsala, India today, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced plans to step down as political leader of the exiled Tibetan government, and cede power to an elected representative.

This will not come as news to those who have followed the exiled government's progress in recent years, which has trended towards popular elections for positions previously designated by appointment. Nor will it come as news to those close to the spiritual leader's activities: he has hinted in the past of plans for what should come when his time passes.

"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," the Dalai Lama said in a prepared speech. "Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect."

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 remains Tibet's spiritual leader.

Image: The Dalai Lama gestures before speaking to students during a talk last month in Mumbai. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)


  1. Until now, the Dalai Lama dynasty progressed (like Tolkien’s Durin dynasty) via reincarnation.

    When the Lama died, Tibetans would locate the child who they figured he reincarnated as. This presupposes linear, chronic, sequential reincarnation, so it invites the skepticism of those who think all time is simultaneous, but whatever…

    The current Dalai Lama was selected when he was 4. He could speak the Llassa dialect despite his town did not use it, among other signs.

    While modern life might have disrupted this succession anyway, the Chinese atheists have most certainly targeted it.

    Let’s all pray (to the god(s) or not of your choosing!) that the true reincarnated Dalai Lama gets elected – the modern way!

    1. Read the article. The post here, and the article it references, specifically reports that the plan is for his successor to be elected. No praying required.

        1. Is your point that it would be neat if the actual DL was the one who got elected? Like, what a coincidence?

    2. “The current Dalai Lama was selected when he was 4. He could speak the Llassa dialect despite his town did not use it, among other signs.”

      [citation needed]

    1. Straight from the amygdala bypassing the cortex completely! Can you do this at will or was it an accident?

  2. Given that the government is in exile, I really hope that they don’t have birthers.

    1. As I understand it, one of the chief concerns about Gyatso stepping down is that the Tibetan Government in Exile will lose what ties it has left to Tibet both inside and out.

  3. The important point is the Dalai Lama’s intention to split the spiritual leadership and political leadership into two separate entities. No-one is suggesting that the spiritual leader should be selected democratically, but the DL is definitely hoping to give the Tibetan people (exiles and at home) democratic input.

  4. Personally, I find separation of church and state to be both convenient and refreshing.

  5. I for one feel far more supportive of Tibetan independence/self-governance now that the Dalai Lama has renounced divine intervention as any sort of way to select one’s political leaders, the current Lama is a good egg, but this definitely wasn’t true in the past and might not have been true in the future. Democracy always trumps Theocracy.

  6. I get what philp sez. It’d keep everyone happy if it turned out that the elected representative had the same spirit as the Lama reincarnated – as a wonderful coincidence. Best scenario for all!

    1. “It’d keep everyone happy if it turned out that the elected representative had the same spirit as the Lama reincarnated”

      Well, for that to happen, the current Lama would have to DIE first, hence the “re-” in “reincarnation”. And I´m not all that sure it would be all that much of an improvement to elect an newborn infant into office.


    2. I get what philp sez. It’d keep everyone happy if it turned out that the elected representative had the same spirit as the Lama reincarnated – as a wonderful coincidence. Best scenario for all!

      On the contrary; that would put some serious holes in either the argument for reincarnation or the Tibetan democratic process.

      Keep god(s) out of government.

  7. If there were any object, any doctrine, that could be given to you to hold on to or understand, it would reduce you to bewilderment and externalism. It’s just a spiritual openness, with nothing that can be grasped; it is pure everywhere, it’s light clearly penetrating, outwardly and inwardly luminous through and through.

  8. This is a subtle and brilliant power play. With one swift brush stroke HH has tenderly given his power to the Tibetan people while also shining a glaring beam of light upon Beijing. That beam will be held by the rest of the world watching how Beijing handles itself. Military might is no match for true wisdom.

  9. Reminds me of one of my favourite spoken sentences:

    “… lightning-struck by the peripatetic ruminations of the Tibetan ruling class.”

    Courtesy of Utah Phillips, talking about local Buddhists.

    I have heard it said (ie I can’t remember where I got this snippet, and I’ve no intention to research it further) that there are actually two Dalai Lamas, taking it in turns to take bodily form. The story goes that one is a genuinely enlightened buddha, and that the other one isn’t, and is a bit of a fool. Apparently the current one is the one who isn’t. So, there ya go, I guess…

  10. Now if that Jesus guy and whoever the asshole is that runs things for the Muslims would follow suit.

  11. The Dalai Lama is a good man, and well worth following on Twitter (seriously). Huge respect. Wish him all the best in his retirement and next life.

      1. And the Tibetan Government in Exile is propped up by a corrupt Indian regime and the Socialist Tibetans who helped bring down the theocratic rule of the Lamas were subsequently disappeared and tortured by their one time allies in the PRC while their people were subjected to forced relocation, labor, and “reeducation” on account of being primitive and savage minorities in the eyes of the Han people. There is nobody with clean hands in this story, but I’d still much rather side with the leader of an occupied peoples rather than the occupiers.

        1. Who says the people of Tibet want a feudal dictator? The people who overthrew the regime in Tibet did so because it was a brutal feudalism. The fact that their revolution failed is hardly a reason to support the reactionary opposition. That’s like supporting the White generals in exhile because of Stalin.

      2. Unbelievable, truth is stranger than fiction. He already had my admiration as a spiritual leader. I never suspected he was also a spy. AWESOME. I guess that’s why it’s called clandestine.


  13. Also, why would anyone vote for Dalai Lama? If you vote, its a president. or is he suggesting, they elect 4 year old boys to be leader for life.

    Now that is some crazy ass reform.

  14. I just find it refreshing to see a person with substantial political power ceding said power of his own volition. Most public figures only give up power due to retirement, term limits or overwhelming popular sentiment (violent or otherwise).

  15. Like most discussions of Tibetan issues, this one looks to be devolving….

    (1) The Tibetan Government-in-Exile has an elected prime-minister, named Samdhong Rinpoche, who was elected in 2001. At the time of that election, the DL made it clear that he was technically no longer the *political* head of Tibetans in exile. (That is what the article means by “not new news.”)

    (2) Because the Government-in-Exile has an elected head, this does not mean (as Xeni suggested) that the DL himself will be elected. The political head of the government and the Dalai Lama are now different people. The DL “devolving power” to someone else means that he formally hands over political power to an elected representative (who does not become a Dalai Lama).

    (3) The DL has made several statements about how the next DL will be selected. (And this is different from selecting an elected head of the government.) So, among the DL’s suggetions are: (a) the traditional reincarnation method, (b) electing a new DL, (c) the current DL appointing a new DL before dying. None of these have been settled upon; the Chinese government favors reincarnation, as they can then play a hand in selecting the reincarnate child.

    (4) The DL was not “on the CIA’s payroll.” However, the CIA did have a long and well documented history of supporting the Tibetan resistance. The CIA was not able to make direct contact with the DL before he came to India. In the 1960’s, the CIA support for rebels (especially in Mustang) was much greater and more open. Good info is here: http://kefiblog.com/

    (5) The DL appears to agree with all of you about the problems of theocracy, as he witnessed the terrible corruption and implosion of his own government. This was especially evident at the time of Reting Rinpoche, the regent for the current DL when he was in his minority. Tibetan people are also clearly aware of the limitations of their traditional government (which ended in 1959), as they watched it implode, and they experienced the effects of the government remaining so conservative that it could not change to protect them.

      1. In Rome, every eligible voter had to return to the city to cast a vote, which was a bit inconvenient if you were in Illyricum or Gaul.

      2. The election is among Tibetan exiles, so the leader they select really just has an effect on the exile community. Tibetans in India and other countries will be the ones voting. Tibetans living in the US, Australia, etc. can vote as long as they pay (small) taxes to the exile government. The leader they select will not be governing, or having much of an effect at all, within Tibet itself.

        So, you are right that the name is strange. They are called “Government-in-exile” as the initial desire was to be seen as the legitimate government of Tibet (in the early days of exile). Now that everyone agrees that China is the legitimate government of Tibet, they are sort of the “Government-for-exiles.”

  16. I once ate lunch at the commissary at the Paramount studio lot back in 2001 or so. Fella in the orange robe above was seated two tables away. And on the other side of me, a couple tables away? Mick Jagger.

    True story. My celebrity sightings have been entirely lame ever since.

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