"I wish those wealthy Tibetans would spend their money on schools and clinics and on living Buddhism better," he said. "Certainly these people have a very important role in the preservation of Tibetan culture. But when I think of culture, I think of internal things, like the quality of the mind, honesty, compassion, peacefulness. These are the qualities of our culture."
These are the qualities he himself drew on after escaping to India in 1959. He was 24 years old, the 14th Dalai Lama in a line stretching back to the end of the 14th century. Although he had traveled to China and India, he was largely sheltered from the rough and tumble of politics and remained naive of the world beyond the Himalayan barrier. He'd been raised to be a demigod, worshiped from afar by his people. To Tibetans he was divine, the direct reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the ancestor of the Tibetan people. As far as the outside world was concerned, the Dalai Lama, like Tibet itself, was more myth than reality.
While his earthly power then was based on the immense army of monks he commanded, the Dalai Lama said he disagrees with those who argue that the smaller number of monks today prevents them from strengthening religion. "I always emphasize quality over quantity. Numbers are not so important." He readily acknowledged that during his time in Tibet "too many people became monks just to earn a living."
Although at 66 he appears healthy and vigorous, the time is coming when a successor must be found. In accordance with tradition, after a Dalai Lama dies, he is reincarnated in an infant who is sought out by a team of senior lamas. In the interim a regent has run Tibet. Since years may pass before the reincarnation is discovered, and still more before the boy reaches maturity and is enthroned, the regents have always wielded great power.
Over the centuries China periodically inserted itself into the selection process to increase its control of Tibet. It's a foregone conclusion that it will do so the next time, with China choosing its own candidate while the exile government selects another. Such interference could unleash a level of turmoil never known before in Tibet.