US child named reincarnation of Buddhist spiritual leader by the Dalai Lama

Eight-year-old boy named 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche, inviting possible rebuke from China

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 27 March 2023 08:41 BST

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A Mongolian boy born in the US has been named as the reincarnation of the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism by the Dalai Lama.

The faith’s spiritual leader has been pictured with the eight-year-old boy taking part in a ceremony in Dharamshala in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh – where the Dalai Lama, 87, lives in exile – recognising him as the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche, according to The Times.

Mongolian media reports suggest the child is one of a pair of twin boys named Aguidai and Achiltai Altannar, sons of Altannar Chinchuluun and Monkhnasan Narmandakh, a university mathematics professor and a national resources conglomerate executive, respectively.

The boy’s grandmother, Garamjav Tseden, is meanwhile a former member of parliament.

The move to acknowledge him as the rebirth of Buddhism’s spiritual leader in Mongolia is likely to anger China, which has previously insisted it will only recognise Buddhist leaders who its own special government-approved appointees have chosen.

The development was reportedly met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension in Mongolia, with the likely animosity of Beijing considered cause for concern.

In 1995, when the Dalai Lama named a new Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in the faith, the child was swiftly arrested by Chinese authorities and replaced with a candidate of their own.

Fears persist that something similar could happen when the Dalai Lama himself eventually passes away, an event he has predicted will not take place on Chinese-controlled territory, indicating that his successor could emerge from another country in which Tibetan Buddhism is practised such as India, Nepal, Bhutan or Mongolia.

In a prelude to the present excitement, the spiritual leader visited Mongolia in 2016 and announced that a new incarnation of the Jetsun Dhampa had been born and that the search was underway to find him.

China reacted angrily to that visit and threatened Ulaanbaatar with diplomatic repercussions if it allowed him to return.

The eventual unveiling ceremony in question is understood to have taken place in Dharamshala on 8 March in front of an audience of around 600 worshippers.

“We have the reincarnation of Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche of Mongolia with us today,” the Dalai Lama told his followers.

“His predecessors had a close association with the Krishnacharya lineage of Chakrasamvara. One of them established a monastery in Mongolia dedicated to its practice. So, his being here today is quite auspicious.”

The Dalai Lama was himself recognised as a reincarnation of the faith’s previous leader in 1937 when he was just two years old.

Mao Zedong’s communist forces occupied his native Tibet in 1950 and he was forced to flee Lhasa nine years later following a failed uprising.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 in honour of his efforts to promote linguistic and cultural autonomy for his mountain homeland in the face of Chinese oppression.

Beijing, in turn, considers him a dangerous separatist and has banned his portrait from being displayed in public, although many Chinese Tibetans still revere him.

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