Succession of the 14th Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama has suggested different possibilities to identify the next (15th) Dalai Lama, but he has not publicly specified how the reincarnation would occur.[1][better source needed] The selection process may prove controversial, as the officially atheist Chinese government has expressed unusual interest in choosing the next Dalai Lama and claims it has the right to do so,[2][3] something contested by Tibetan Buddhist religious authorities.[1]


Following the Buddhist belief in the principle of reincarnation, the Dalai Lama is believed by Buddhists to be able to choose the body into which he is reincarnated. That person, when found, will then become the next Dalai Lama. According to Buddhist scholars it is the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelgupa tradition and the Tibetan government to seek out and find the next Dalai Lama following the death of the incumbent. The process can take a long time. It took four years to find the 14th (current) Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The search is generally limited to Tibet, although the current Dalai Lama has said that there is a chance that he will not be reborn, and that if he is, it would not be in a country under Chinese rule. To help them in their search, the High Lamas may have visions or dreams, and try to find signs. For example, if the previous Dalai Lama was cremated, they can watch the direction of the smoke to suggest where the rebirth will take place. When these signs have been interpreted and a successor found, there is a series of tests believed to ensure that they are the genuine reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. They assess the candidate against a set of criteria, and will present the child with various objects to see if they can identify those which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. If a single candidate has been identified, the High Lamas will report their findings to eminent individuals and then to the Government. If more than one candidate is identified, the true successor is found by officials and monks drawing lots in a public ceremony. Once identified, the successful candidate and his family are taken to Lhasa (or Dharamsala) where the child will study the Buddhist scriptures in order to prepare for spiritual leadership.[4]

According to Tibetan Buddhism the Tulkus do not have to take rebirth in a continuous sequence of lives in this world.[5]

Statements by 14th Dalai LamaEdit

In a 2004 interview with Time, the current Dalai Lama stated:

The institution of the Dalai Lama, and whether it should continue or not, is up to the Tibetan people. If they feel it is not relevant, then it will cease and there will be no 15th Dalai Lama. But if I die today I think they will want another Dalai Lama. The purpose of reincarnation is to fulfil the previous [incarnation's] life task. My life is outside Tibet, therefore my reincarnation will logically be found outside. But then, the next question: Will the Chinese accept this or not? China will not accept. The Chinese government most probably will appoint another Dalai Lama, like it did with the Panchen Lama. Then there will be two Dalai Lamas: one, the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan heart, and one that is officially appointed.[6]

The Dalai Lama stated in 2007 that the next Dalai Lama could possibly be a woman, remarking, "If a woman reveals herself as more useful the lama could very well be reincarnated in this form".[7] On 24 September 2011, the Dalai Lama issued a statement concerning his reincarnation giving exact signs on how the next one should be chosen, the place of rebirth and that the Chinese appointed Dalai Lama should not be trusted.[8]

In October 2019, the 14th Dalai Lama stated that because of the feudal origin of the Dalai Lama reincarnation system, the reincarnation system should end. [9]

Statements by Chinese governmentEdit

In 2015, the Tibet regional governor Padma Choling (白玛赤林) said:

Whether [the Dalai Lama] wants to cease reincarnation or not ... this decision is not up to him. When he became the 14th Dalai Lama, it was not his decision. He was chosen following a strict system dictated by religious rules and historical tradition and also with the approval of the central government. Can he decide when to stop reincarnating? That is impossible.[10]

Regarding this issue, in an article from Vice Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman said:

The Dalai Lama is not breaking his vow as the bodhisattva of compassion, reincarnate as the politically responsible and empowered institution governing Tibet, (...) He has previously announced he'll just be a monk in a monastery. He'll have no governing or political role.(...) It's like if the Italian government said: 'we don't like Pope Francis, we're going to replace him with a new one,' (...) That wouldn't go down so well with Catholics.[11]

The apparent contradiction that an atheist government is involved in the afterlife and re-incarnation did not go unnoticed.[12] As described by Jonathan Kaiman for the Los Angeles Times: "In China, it's not easy to become a "living Buddha". First come the years of meditation and discipline. Then comes the bureaucracy. (...) Although the ruling Communist Party is an officially atheist organization – officials are barred from practicing religion – it is perennially uncomfortable with forces outside of its control, and has for years demanded the power to regulate the supernatural affairs of Tibetan Buddhist figures, determining who can and cannot be reincarnated."[13]

On August 3, 2007, State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 was issued by China which states that all the reincarnations of tulkus of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are "illegal or invalid".[14] Rule 8 says approval for request is required if lot-drawing process using Golden Urn is exempted.[15][further explanation needed]

Further analysisEdit

Several analysts have stated that even if China picks a future Dalai Lama, it will lack the legitimacy and popular support needed to be functional, as Tibetan Buddhists all over the world would not recognize it.[16] According to Tibetan scholar Robert Barnett "This is one of the chief indicators that China has failed in Tibet. It's failed to find consistent leadership in Tibet by any Tibetan lama who is really respected by Tibetan people, and who at the same time endorses Communist Party rule."[16] Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong (prime minister) of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said: "It's like Fidel Castro saying, 'I will select the next Pope and all the Catholics should follow'".[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Pistono, Matteo (March 9, 2011). "China and the (Next) Dalai Lama". The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 10 March 2011. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  2. ^ Lu, Kang. "Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang's Regular Press Conference on May 26, 2017".
  3. ^ O'Brien, Barbara (March 11, 2011). "The Dalai Lama steps back, but not down". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  4. ^ Dalai Lama: a spiritual leader who is found, not chosen, The Guardian, 27 August 2008
  5. ^ Rinpoche, Penor (1999). "Statement by H.H. Penor Rinpoche Regarding the Recognition of Steven Seagal as a Reincarnation of the Treasure Revealer Chungdrag Dorje of Palyul Monastery". Retrieved 13 December 2019. As for how these gaps come about, while tulkus are understood to have vowed to be continually reborn to help beings, it is not necessary for them to take rebirth in a continuous sequence of lives in this world.
  6. ^ Perry, Alex (October 18, 2004). "A Conversation with the Dalai Lama". Time. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  7. ^ Spencer, Richard (December 7, 2001). "Dalai Lama says successor could be a woman". London: Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  8. ^ Statement of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on the Issue of His Reincarnation Website of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet September 24, 2011. Accessed December 26, 2014. Archived December 30, 2014.
  9. ^
  10. ^ McDonell, Stephen (March 10, 2015). "China accuses Dalai Lama of profaning Buddhism by signalling end to reincarnation". Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  11. ^ Fields, Liz (12 May 2015). "China Decries the Dalai Lama's 'Double Betrayal' and Demands He Reincarnate". Vice. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  12. ^ BUCKLEY, CHRIS (March 11, 2015). "China's Tensions With Dalai Lama Spill Into the Afterlife". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  13. ^ Kaiman, Jonathan (March 8, 2016). "In China, the state decides who can come back from the dead". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  14. ^ 国家宗教事务局令(第5号)藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法 [State Religious Affairs Bureau Order (No. 5) Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas] (in Chinese). Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China. n.d. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
  15. ^ 《藏传佛教活佛转世管理办法》第八条 历史上经金瓶掣签认定的活佛,其转世灵童认定实行金瓶掣签。请求免予金瓶掣签的,由省、自治区人民政府宗教事务部门报国家宗教事务局批准,有特别重大影响的,报国务院批准。
  16. ^ a b Wong, Edward (June 6, 2009). "China Creates Specter of Dueling Dalai Lamas". New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  17. ^ Beech, Hannah (Mar 12, 2015). "China Says It Will Decide Who the Dalai Lama Shall Be Reincarnated As". Retrieved 5 October 2017.