The second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism was seized by China in 1995 and hasn't been seen since. Why does it matter?Read more
Cambridge anthropologist David Sneath examines the past, present and future of the institution of the Dalai Lama. He reports from the Himalayan foothills of India, home of the exiled Tibetan leader. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet is one of the world's most famous religious figures. He has tens of thousands of followers around the world, even though his image and name is banned in his native Tibet. As the Dalai Lama prepares to celebrate his 83rd birthday, David Sneath travels to Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas in India. He meets the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, in his residence overlooking the plains of India and talks to leading members of the Tibetan community in exile. David explores the colourful history of the Dalai Lama from the 14th Century. He describes the significance of Mongolia in the creation of the Dalai Lamas. He looks at the traditional role of the Dalai Lamas inside Tibet and considers the extraordinary transformation of the current Dalai Lama, as he became the rallying point for exiled Tibetans following the Chinese military takeover of Tibet in the late 1950s. The present Dalai Lama has wide-ranging interests - from environmental issues to women's rights. He takes a passionate interest in science and in promoting secular ethics and interfaith dialogue around the world. He is famed for his humour and for his work as a scholar monk with a rigorous and sometimes austere spiritual regime. There is much speculation on whether the title of Dalai Lama might end with the current incumbent. He has both hinted that there will be another Dalai Lama and also suggested that the title might finish with him. Either way, the death of the present Dalai Lama would almost certainly cause anguish around the world and provoke new conflict with China. The Chinese controversially chose their own version of Tibet's second most prominent religious figure - the Panchen Lama - even though the Tibetans had already selected someone else. That Tibetan choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has mysteriously disappeared. A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.