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Dalai Lama must balance politics, spiritual role

The Tibetan leader in exile must balance his stature as a monk with the very temporal demands of politics.

Dalai Lama: He has no political power, but holds a global moral authority.

Mustafa Quraishi/AP

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Thrust inescapably into the eye of the international storm currently raging over Tibet, the Dalai Lama enjoys unique status as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibetans worldwide. That status, however, also poses him unique challenges.

As the symbol of Tibetan aspirations for greater freedom from Chinese rule, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is buffeted from one side by Chinese officials vilifying him and from the other by young Tibetan exiles urging him to be more strident.

He must balance the concerns of a wary Indian government – which hosts his government in exile – and the desperation that Tibetans in China have expressed through their recent unrest.

Beyond all that, he must, as a Buddhist monk, match his words and actions in the worldly political arena with the nonviolent philosophy at the heart of his spiritual practice.

"What the Dalai Lama is currently doing is walking a tightrope," says Srikanth Kondapalli, a Tibet expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

That balancing act, adds John Bellezza, a Tibet scholar who knows the Dalai Lama, is made all the harder because "his temporal and spiritual leadership don't always harmonize as well as they might. Many of his difficulties are due to the underlying tensions he feels between the two hats that he wears."

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