August 28, 2008

Dalai Lama, Exhausted, Calls Off Some Foreign Trips

By Somini Sengupta

The Dalai Lama is exhausted.

So announced his office in a statement Wednesday, which added that, on the advice of his personal physicians, he had canceled foreign trips for the next three weeks.

The declaration of fatigue should come as no surprise to anyone aware of the rigorous schedule the 73-year-old monk keeps. It should, however, raise an alarm, to both the Chinese authorities and the millions of Tibetan Buddhists worldwide who consider him their spiritual leader.

Time is not on the side of either camp.

The Dalai Lama has no chosen successor yet. He will not live forever. For nearly 50 years, since living in this country in exile, he has been unable to reach a settlement on Tibet with Beijing. Whoever comes after him will probably face considerably more pressure from a new generation of Tibetans to demand much more from the Chinese.

The Dalai Lama gave up calls years ago for Tibet's secession from China, saying instead that he favored greater autonomy for Tibetan areas within the framework of the Chinese Constitution.

Although many of the younger Tibetan exile groups in India and elsewhere are far more radical, the Dalai Lama enjoys extraordinary loyalty.

"If anything, after the death of the Dalai Lama, the issue will become even more complicated and radicalized," Tsering Shakya, a Tibet expert at the University of British Columbia, said in an e- mail. "For China, also, it is better to resolve the problem before the Dalai Lama passes away. It would mean whatever follows after his death the Chinese can claim some degree of legitimacy both internationally and with the Tibetan people."

The Dalai Lama's relations with Beijing have been particularly strained in recent months, since violent protests erupted in March inside the Tibetan areas of China and were met with swift repression.

The Dalai Lama himself admitted at the time to feeling helpless to stop the troubles, and yet the unrest, coming just before the Olympic Games in Beijing, clearly gave the Tibetan cause the greatest impetus it had seen in many years.

Beijing repeatedly called him the instigator of the troubles and said he was trying to split the country. Yet it agreed to reopen talks with his envoys in May and June. There have been no breakthroughs yet, and the next round of talks, the first since the end of the Olympics on Sunday, is scheduled to take place in October.

Earlier this summer also came what one of the Dalai Lama's aides called a vague third-party "floater" about a memorial service that China was planning to organize in November for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. The aide, Chhime Chhoekyapa, said there had been no official invitation to the Dalai Lama to participate in the service, and therefore no question of his either accepting or rejecting an offer to go to China.

Officials in the Tibetan government in exile in the north Indian town of Dharamsala have repeatedly said that China would have to ease up on restrictions inside Tibet before the Dalai Lama could visit.

In the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, which he endorsed, the Dalai Lama kept up an especially grueling travel schedule, meeting world leaders to drum up support for the Tibetan cause and conducting teaching on Tibetan Buddhism. He flew to the United States in April, Britain and Germany in May, Australia and Jordan in June, the United States again in July and France this month.

"The doctors said it is mainly because of fatigue," Chhoekyapa said Wednesday. "It is piling up on one upon the other."

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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