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   Date: 3/11/11 Bookmark and Share

Dalai Lama Steps Down from Political Leadership

Q & A with Jay Garfield, professor of philosophy

The Dalai Lama announced this week that he would formally relinquish his role as political leader of the Tibetan exile government. The move, which had been expected, clears the way for a new prime minister of the government, which is based in Dharamsala, India.

Jay Garfield, the Doris Silbert Professor of Philosophy and an expert on Tibetan Buddhism, was instrumental in coordinating a visit by the spiritual leader of Tibet at Smith in 2007. Garfield commented on the recent announcement for the Gate.

Jay Garfield with the Dalai Lama, Sarnath, India, 2006.

Grécourt Gate: What does the Dalai Lama's announcement mean for Tibetan Buddhism?

Jay Garfield: For Tibetan Buddhism it means absolutely nothing. His Holiness has been foreshadowing this for many years.

Gate: Would this potentially move Tibet closer to China?

JG: It will make no difference at all. The government of the People’s Republic of China is not interested in exactly what form of government the Tibetan exiled government has and will not respond positively to anything that His Holiness the Dalai Lama says or does. The spokesperson for China this morning called his announcement “another one of his tricks,” whatever that means.

Essentially, all he is trying to do is three things: One is to make it possible for him to devote his time and attention to the things that are appropriate for him as a spiritual leader and a religious leader. And second, to really make clear that the government is secular and democratic and that he doesn’t have any particular role in it. And third, to really grant the government the kind of autonomy and legitimacy it is going to need during a period when there is no Dalai Lama.

Gate: Is there any possibility that this announcement would have an impact on other governments in the region that are not democratic?

JG: I don’t think so. I honestly think this will be a very low-impact move. I think even the impact within the Tibetan community will be relatively small. To the degree that there is impact it will be that Tibetans will recognize more legitimacy and autonomy in their government. But even a lot of Tibetans are going to say, “Well, he’s still the Dalai Lama.” So I honestly think that while this is a kind of important move in the gradual evolution of Tibet from a kind of theocracy when his Holiness sat on the throne in Lhasa, to a secular, liberal democracy as it is now, this is kind of the important final move in that transformation. So much has already been done. The parliament has been in place and the constitution has been in place for so long and it’s been so democratic that in the grand scheme of things this is a small move.

Gate: Do you have any sense as to who will be elected the leader of the government – the prime minister?

JG: We’ll see after the election. It’s a hotly contested race. I really don’t know who’s going to win.

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