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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 16:42 GMT
Can the Dalai Lama resign?
The Magazine answers...

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama has separate religious and political roles
It's been suggested the Dalai Lama would resign if Tibetans launch an armed struggle with China. But would it be possible for him to leave a role he was born into?

China has blamed the Buddhist spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, for orchestrating violence after days of rioting by Tibetans protesting at Chinese rule.

While denying accusations of inciting violence in Tibet, the Dalai Lama - who endorses non-violent protest - has gone so far as to repeat a 20-year-old vow to "completely resign" if the Tibetans start an armed insurrection against the Chinese.

But can the man many Tibetans consider as their leader just throw in the towel?

The crux of the answer is that the Dalai Lama has two roles - religious and political - and he can only resign from one of them.

The Dalai Lama cannot resign as the Dalai Lama. He can step down only from his political role as head of the Tibetan protest movement

When he was a boy of three, Lhamo Thondup was "discovered" by a special search party to be the new Dalai Lama, and taken to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

He was given a new name, Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, and installed as the new Dalai Lama at the Potala Palace in 1940.

And, according to Tibetan tradition, he will remain the Dalai Lama until he dies, with it being impossible for him lose or give up the position in any other way.

What he has threatened is that, if Tibetans turn to violence, it would be impossible for him to be the political head of their movement and he would have to resign.

He has made this threat before. Tibet's government-in-exile in India has in recent years become more democratic in the picking of its cabinet and other key leaders. But the Dalai Lama retains overall leadership, much in the manner of a lifelong head of state. Resigning from this position would represent a major statement.

Three duties

"If they choose violence as the means to achieve their political ends then the Dalai Lama cannot lead that movement," says secretary Tenzin Taklha, speaking from Dharamsala in northern India where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

"He cannot resign as the Dalai Lama. He will die the Dalai Lama."

The "Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama" sets out three main commitments in the Dalai Lama's life.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

Firstly, "on the level of a human being", he is committed to promoting of values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.

Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, he is committed to helping bring religious harmony and understanding.

"His third commitment is to the Tibetan issue. His Holiness has a responsibility to act as the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice," his office states.

"As far as this third commitment is concerned, it will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and the Chinese.

"His Holiness will carry on with the first two commitments until his last breath."

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