Dalai Lama ponders new system of choosing successor

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Dalai Lama ponders new system of choosing successor

The Dalai Lama yesterday reiterated comments he made earlier this month to the Japanese newspaper, Sankei Shimbun, that the Tibetan people should have a role in choosing his successor. Speaking at a gathering of world religious leaders in Amritsar, India, he discussed the prospect of a referendum before he dies:

"When my physical condition becomes weak, and there are serious preparations for death, then the (referendum) should happen", he said.

China's Foreign Ministry immediately issued a condemnation of the proposal: "The Dalai Lama's statement is in blatant violation of religious practice and historical procedure", it said.

Selection, instead of reincarnation, of a Dalai Lama is not contrary to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, however. A central tenet of Tibetan Buddhism holds that a lama can choose the circumstances under which his reincarnation is reborn or his successor is chosen. The Dalai Lama has consistently stressed that reincarnation or succession of the institution of the Dalai Lama is not necessarily automatic, and is ultimately to be decided by the Tibetan people.

The Chinese Government has recently sought to consolidate its control over Tibet's political future by strengthening its grip over the process for recognising reincarnated lamas, including the Dalai Lama. In September it announced new regulations which state that only the Chinese authorities can approve the recognition of all reincarnated lamas. The new regulations and China's assertion of "historical procedure" (a reference to the 17th Century Golden Urn system whereby names of proposed reincarnated lamas would be drawn from an urn and sent to the Chinese Government for the final decision) indicate China's determination to be seen as the ultimate authority over Tibetan Buddhism.

Free Tibet Campaign comments:

"The Dalai Lama has made it clear that, whatever China may say, the decision on his successor is for the Tibetan people, both inside and outside Tibet. It is clearly preposterous that the Chinese Communist Party, an avowedly atheist organisation, can consider itself competent to recognise the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, or any lama."