Although every year has its share of happenings and developments that make it different from previous ones, 2011 can definitely be considered the Year of Great Transformation for Tibetans. It is so on account of the following reasons.
First of all, this year witnessed a paradigm shift in looking at the historical relationship between the institution of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people as political authority was devolved (“voluntarily, proudly and happily”) to the elected Tibetan leadership. For the first time since the time of the fifth Dalai Lama, the present Dalai Lama ceased to be the temporal leader of the Tibetans. The ramification of this change is being seen not only among Tibetans, both inside and outside of Tibet, but also among the broader Tibetan Buddhist community. It will also have an impact on the future of the institution of the Dalai Lamas. In the past six decades, followers of Tibetan Buddhism have expanded from the immediate neighbors of Tibet to the broader international community. Given the role of the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of all followers of Tibetan Buddhism, all these followers have also become stake holders in the institution of the Dalai Lama.
Secondly, the self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet is a great transformation in the mode of Tibetan activism in recent decades. The path adopted by these courageous Tibetans to express their grievances against Chinese misrule was certainly something unexpected by the Chinese leadership. The impact of this development is still being felt in the Tibetan society as well as among the Chinese people.
Thirdly, the Tibetan political system in exile completed the circle of its transformation; from rule by incarnation to rule by elected leadership. This development will certainly have a great impact on the future of Tibetan polity. It not only strengthened Tibetan democracy, but also heralded the establishment of a stable system of Tibetan political transition henceforth.
In all 2011 witnessed developments that epitomized His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s philosophy, “Hope for the best while preparing for the worst.” Thus, 2012 is a “new” year for the Tibetan community in more ways than one.