China has criticised the Dalai Lama and called on him to “respect” the tradition of reincarnation after the Tibetan Buddhist leader repeated his claim that he may not choose to be reborn.
In a recent interview with a German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, the Dalai Lama underscored his belief that the tradition of the post he holds could end with him. He said Tibetan Buddhism was not dependent on a single person.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying told reporters that China had a “set religious procedure and historic custom” when it came to the reincarnation of living Buddhist lamas, including the position of Dalai Lama.
“China follows a policy of freedom of religion and belief, and this naturally includes having to respect and protect the ways of passing on Tibetan Buddhism,” said Mr Hua, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history. The 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”
The 14th Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, has long been in a battle with China, having fled Tibet in 1959 after China invaded the then independent nation and establishing a government-in-exile in Dharamshala, India.
The Dalai Lama, who heads the Gelug, or “yellow hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, believes one of the ways Beijing seeks to control Tibetan Buddhists is by getting involved in the reincarnation selection process of senior Buddhist monks.
In 1995, for example, the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism. But the Chinese put that boy under house arrest and installed another, Gyancain Norbu, in his place.
Today, while China insists that Gyancain Norbu is the legitimate Panchen Lama, many Tibetan Buddhists do not recognise him. Of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama, there has been no word. He was last seen in public on 17 May 1995
Many Tibetans fear that China will try and use the issue of the succession of the current Dalai Lama, who is aged 79, to create another split among Tibetan Buddhists as a means of exerting further control on Tibet.
As a result of this, the Dalai Lama has been thinking of alternatives to the traditional procedures of succession. While China has said it is traditional for the Dalai Lama’s successor to be a male child born in Tibet, he has floated a series of other options, including the idea that his successor be born when he is still alive and that his successor could even be a woman.
He has also said there might not need to be any successor and that he could be the last of his line. What was most important, he said in 2011 after giving up his formal political role within the Tibetan exile government, was that the succession should not be used for political ends.
“Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognised through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China,” he said. In 2007, he suggested a referendum could be held to decide whether or not he required a successor.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies