When the Dalai Lama dies, his reincarnation will be a religious crisis. Here’s how it will happen



One of the best-known residing Buddhist determine on the earth stated that when he turned 90 years outdated, he would resolve whether or not he must be reincarnated — doubtlessly ending a task that has been key to Tibetan Buddhism for greater than 600 years, however in current a long time has change into a political lightning rod in China.

Whereas the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is reportedly nonetheless in good well being, he’s now 85 and questions over his succession are rising, together with fears that his demise may spark a non secular disaster in Asia.

After an unsuccessful revolt towards the Chinese language occupation of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India the place he established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, main 1000’s of Tibetans who’ve adopted him there. Whereas the Dalai Lama had initially hoped his exile would solely be momentary, Beijing’s management of Tibet has solely tightened, making a return unlikely anytime quickly.

Right this moment, Beijing views him as a separatist with the goal of breaking Tibet away from China, and is due to this fact eager for the subsequent reincarnation of his position to fall in keeping with its personal political goals.

Since 1974, the Dalai Lama has stated he doesn’t search independence from China for Tibet, however a “significant autonomy” that will enable Tibet to protect its tradition and heritage.

Over time, the Dalai Lama has floated numerous choices for his reincarnation, together with choosing a brand new successor himself in India, fairly than in Tibet — and has even toyed with the concept of a lady taking over the position.

Consultants, nonetheless, have stated that, no matter what he chooses, the Chinese language authorities will virtually definitely transfer to select a brand new Dalai Lama in Tibet — one who is predicted to assist the ruling Chinese language Communist Get together’s (CCP) management of the area.

That would result in two separate Dalai Lamas being chosen — one in China and one in India.

Tenzin Tseten, a analysis fellow on the Dharamsala-based Tibet Coverage Institute, stated the Dalai Lama was of nice significance to the Tibetan folks and a logo of their “nationalism and identification.” “The Tibetan folks won’t ever settle for a CCP-appointed Dalai Lama,” Tenzin stated.

A Tibetan activist lights a candle in front of a poster of spirtual leader The Dalai Lama as members of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC) take part in a candlelight vigil during a protest rally in Hyderabad on March 10, 2016.

Historical past of the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has been reincarnated 13 occasions since 1391, when the primary of his incarnates was born, and usually a centuries-old methodology is used to seek out the brand new chief.

The search begins when the earlier Dalai Lama passes away. Generally it’s based mostly on indicators that the previous incarnation gave earlier than he died, at different occasions prime lamas — a monk or priest of various seniority who teaches Buddhism — will go to a sacred lake in Tibet, Lhamo Lhatso, and meditate till they’ve a imaginative and prescient of the place to seek for his successor.

Then they ship out search events throughout Tibet, in search of kids who’re “particular” and born inside a 12 months of the Dalai Lama’s demise, based on Ruth Gamble, an skilled in Tibetan faith at La Trobe College in Melbourne, Australia.

“There is a heavy duty on these folks to get it proper,” she stated.

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As soon as they discover numerous candidates, the kids are examined to find out whether or not they’re the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. A few of the strategies embody exhibiting the kids objects which belong to the earlier incarnation.

In accordance with the 14th Dalai Lama’s official biography, he was found when he was two years outdated. The son of a farmer, the Dalai Lama was born in a small hamlet in northeastern Tibet, the place simply 20 households struggled to make a residing from the land.

As a baby, he acknowledged a senior lama who had disguised himself to watch the native kids, and efficiently recognized numerous objects belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama.

In his autobiography, “My Land and My Individuals,” the Dalai Lama wrote that he was handed units of an identical or related objects — together with rosaries, strolling sticks and drums — considered one of which had belonged to the earlier incarnation and one which was abnormal. In each case, he selected the right one.

However the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation hasn’t all the time been present in Tibet. The fourth Dalai Lama was present in Mongolia, whereas the sixth Dalai Lama was found in what’s at the moment Arunachal Pradesh, India.

“Crucial factor is the centuries outdated Tibetan reincarnation system is constructed on folks’s religion in rebirth,” stated Tenzin, from the Tibet Coverage Institute.

What the Tibetan government-in-exile would possibly do

In the mean time, there are not any official directions laying out how the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation will happen, if he dies earlier than returning to Tibet.

However in that important 2011 assertion, the 14th Dalai Lama stated that “the one who reincarnates has sole reputable authority over the place and the way she or he takes rebirth and the way that reincarnation is to be acknowledged.”

The Dalai Lama added that if he selected to reincarnate, the duty for locating the 15th Dalai Lama will relaxation on the Gaden Phodrang Belief, a India-based group he based after going into exile to protect and promote Tibetan tradition and assist the Tibetan folks.

The Dalai Lama stated that his reincarnation must be carried out “in accordance with previous custom.” “I shall depart clear written directions about this,” he stated in 2011. CNN reached out to the Gaden Phodrang Belief to see if new directions had been issued however didn’t obtain a reply.

One factor that has change into more and more clear is that the reincarnation is unlikely to happen in Tibet, an space the Gaden Phodrang Belief can’t even entry — particularly after the contested reincarnation of the Panchen Lama within the 1990s.

Following the 1989 demise of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second most necessary determine in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama named Tibetan youngster Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as his colleague’s reincarnation.

Gamble, from La Trobe College, stated that throughout the choice course of, the Tibetan government-in-exile was secretly involved with folks in Tibet which allowed it to seek out the reincarnation in a conventional method.

However three days after he was chosen, based on the US authorities, Gedhun and his household have been disappeared by the CCP, which then appointed another Panchen Lama. Gedhun hasn’t been seen in public since.

What the Tibetans-in-exile discovered from that have, stated Gamble, is “when you acknowledge somebody contained in the PRC they usually’re actually excessive stage, they will not be capable of get them out.”

What the Chinese language authorities will do

The Chinese language authorities has very publicly telegraphed its intentions for the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation — it’ll happen in Tibet and will probably be in accordance with Beijing’s needs.

In 2007, the Chinese language authorities’s State Spiritual Affairs Bureau printed a doc which laid out “administration measures” for the reincarnation of residing Tibetan Buddhas.

The doc stated that the reincarnations of Tibetan spiritual figures have to be accepted by Chinese language authorities authorities, and people with “significantly nice affect” have to be accepted by the State Council, China’s prime civil administration physique at the moment led by Premier Li Keqiang.

Dalai Lama's reincarnation must comply with China's laws, Communist Party says

“(Beijing) asserts management over the searches, testing, recognition, schooling, and coaching of non secular figures,” stated Tseten, from the Tibet Coverage Institute.

There are few specifics concerning the strategy of reincarnation within the Chinese language authorities’s doc, besides to acknowledge the so-called “golden urn” course of, which was launched into Tibet by the Qing Dynasty within the 1790s and sees the names of potential youngster candidates put right into a small golden urn and chosen at random.

In accordance with Chinese language state-run media, it was put in place to assist “remove corrupt practices” within the alternative of reincarnations.
Nonetheless, in his 2011 assertion, the Dalai Lama stated the golden urn was solely used to “humor” the Qing emperors, and the reincarnations have been already chosen earlier than the names have been drawn. The urn was not used within the 14th Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.

“Keep in mind that, aside from the reincarnation acknowledged by such reputable strategies, no recognition or acceptance must be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anybody, together with these within the Individuals’s Republic of China,” stated the Dalai Lama in his assertion in 2011.

An authoritative circle

In an replace of its Tibetan Coverage and Help Act in December 2020, the US threatened to sanction any Chinese language authorities officers who selected a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama over the needs of the Tibetan folks.

However consultants stated that the CCP has been utilizing a much more insidious methodology to arrange for the choice of the subsequent Dalai Lama. In recent times, Beijing has been deciding on and grooming a gaggle of senior lamas who’re pleasant to Beijing, based on consultants.

When the time comes to pick out the Dalai Lama’s successor, they may make it seem that the Dalai Lama was chosen by Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leaders, fairly than CCP officers.

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La Trobe College’s Gamble stated the reincarnation course of has been based mostly on the regular constructing of non secular authority over generations, as one lama acknowledged one other’s reincarnation, after which that lama in flip acknowledged his patron after they returned as a baby.

“Their authority lends authority to the subsequent Dalai Lama after which that Dalai Lama offers them again authority by discovering them after they’re youngsters and that is what the Chinese language authorities are attempting to get themselves concerned in, to destabilize that authoritative circle,” she stated.

Tenzin, from the Tibet Coverage Institute, stated that Beijing had been slowly elevating the profile of their chosen Panchen Lama, who has lately appeared at senior CCP conferences and went on a global go to to Thailand in 2019, to attempt to construct his authority when he selects the 15th Dalai Lama. The Panchan Lama is a part of the group of senior lamas who will do the choosing — one other instance of this group being groomed and chosen by Beijing.

What geopolitical affect the Dalai Lama’s demise may need on the Tibetans-in-exile is unclear. India has more and more considered the group in Dharamsala as a political vulnerability, and a few fear that with out the Dalai Lama there could also be stress placed on the group to depart.

However neither Gamble nor Tenzin, from the Tibet Coverage Institute, believed that having two Dalai Lamas would have a huge effect on the legacy of Tenzin Gyatso. “Individuals nonetheless hold the images of the 10th Panchen Lama round as a manner of getting round (his reincarnation). They ship his teachings and browse his books,” Gamble stated. “I do not assume the Dalai Lama’s demise will finish the devotion to him in the way in which that the CCP thinks it’ll.”

Each consultants stated they believed that whereas protests towards the CCP’s chosen Dalai Lama can be tough to hold out in Tibet with Beijing maintaining a good grip over the Himalayan area, he would have little or no affect over Tibetans in comparison with his predecessor.

Tenzin stated the CCP’s therapy of the brand new Panchen Lama, the second most necessary determine in Tibetan Buddhism, offers a sign of the stress the get together may apply to any future Dalai Lama — whether or not Beijing selects him or not.

In accordance with worldwide advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the present Panchen Lama successfully lives underneath home arrest in Beijing.

“He’s not even capable of stay in his personal monastery,” Tenzin stated.

CORRECTION: An earlier model of this story misstated the situation of the Gaden Phodrang Belief. The group is predicated in India.


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