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Tibetan Turning Point

Photographer: Various


At the heart of the Free Tibet movement are principals of non-violence, and a middle way towards conflict resolution with China and a return to Tibet.


Yet nearly six decades have passed since the soul of the movement and leader of the peaceful resistance, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, fled China controlled Tibet fearing his life.


Thousands of refugees followed the Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight over the Himalayan mountains to India. There are now an estimated of 150,000 Tibetans in exile.

The Dalai Lama left Tibet fearing persecution after a failed uprising in the years after the People’s Liberation Army of China entered Tibet in 1950 and exerted increasing control on the self-declared independent state.


China considers Tibet an inseparable part of mainland China and denies it was independent before China’s 1950 military campaign. The Dalai Lama has called for greater autonomy for Tibet and promotes a middle way for resolution with China for the future, but China views the Dalai Lama as calling for independence and as a separatist, creating a stalemate for ceased talks.


The Dalai Lama’s trek over the mountains to India, the establishment of a government in exile in Dharamsala and his extensive travels around the world, over many years promoting non-violence and human rights, have become one of the most dominating refugee stories of this, and the last, century, raising his status at times to that of a celebrity. He has been received and supported by politicians and celebrities throughout the world and in 1989 won the Nobel Peace Prize.


The Dalai Lama cites dreams stating that he will live until 113 years of age, but as decades pass and international attention strays to other conflicts, bringing their own heart-rendering refugee crisis, many commentators now say Tibetan Buddhism is at a crossroads.


The reality of returning to Tibet, for those wishing for return, is very distant, according to assessments by independent observers. The region is facing China’s continuing stronghold and the allegations of destruction of Tibetan culture, the militarization of the region and the migration of much ethnic Chinese to make Tibetans a minority in their own land, and China’s steadfast lack of willingness to negotiate has led to years of a political stalemate.


But many questions remain about which path the situation will take once the magnetism of the Dalai Lama, now a healthy 82-years-old, is no longer around? Can a non-violent movement be maintained, or will increasing violence dominate the fight? Will international forgetfulness about a long, peaceful struggle, turn into acceptance of the status quo, as China’s influence strengthens and more generations of Tibetans are born outside Tibet?


Lobsang Sangay, the elected president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, or Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), located in Dharamsala, is the political leader of the movement after the Dalai Lama called for a separation of political and religious power in 2011.


While the persistent drive for peace and non-violence continues as time heads towards 60 years since the Dalai Lama fled his homeland, some say China is just waiting to appoint their own chosen and sympathetic Dalai Lama in his place, as they did after the 1995 death of the Panchen Lama, the second holiest position in Tibetan Buddhism. Beijing’s insistence to have the last word on reincarnation has put into a fog the Dalai’s own reincarnation.


The Dalai Lama, in his ever-positive look on life, has referred to the worldwide spread of Tibetan Buddhism as the positive legacy of the crisis. Indeed, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism are virtually household names and Tibetan Buddhism schools are thriving in many nations.