Dalai Lama turns 86: debate over reincarnation accelerates


“The reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow religious rituals and historical conventions.”

By Lieutenant-General SL Narasimhan (retired),

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) celebrates his 86th birthday on July 06. His advanced age and China’s intransigence in negotiating with him brought to light the question of Tibet and its reincarnation. HHDL escaped the Chinese annexation of Tibet in March 1959 and entered India. That he was granted asylum and that a Tibetan-in-exile government was formed in Dharamsala is history. He was and is the face of Tibetans around the world. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He propagated the middle path for rapprochement with the Chinese government. The middle path approach implies that the Tibetan people do not accept Tibet’s current status under the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, they are not seeking independence for Tibet. Halfway between the two lie the policy and the means to achieve true autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government has rejected this position. From 2002 to 2010, representatives of the HHDL held talks with the Chinese government to no avail. Thereafter, the talks fell silent.

When HHDL came to India, he had both temporal and religious powers. In 2011, he renounced temporal powers and retained only the religious role. Even that did not help to change the position of the Chinese government. In 2017, the Tibetan Central Administration announced the Five-Fifty Vision which aimed to solve the problem of Tibet over the next five years, while maintaining and strengthening the resilience of the Tibetan administration and people as well as the Tibetan freedom movement and the unique identity and culture of the Tibetan people for the next fifty years, as needed. This decision has also fallen on deaf ears. Overall, the Tibetan movement to gain independence first and autonomy within China later has not progressed. The Chinese government seems to have lingered on the issue of Tibet. China has also changed its stance on the treatment of HHDL. Initially, he said the HHDL should accept that Tibet is part of China. This position has now changed to that of HHDL accepting that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times.

The international community has spoken out on the issue of Tibet. However, those voices seem to be diminishing, except for the United States. The United States enacted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act in 2019 which makes it official United States policy that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the succession of the Dalai Lama, be left to Tibetan Buddhists alone to decide, without interference from the Chinese government. Additionally, in July 2020, it imposed visa bans on Chinese officials that restrict foreigners’ access to Tibet. While the US position on the reincarnation of HHDL has been made clear by the act mentioned above, China has also hardened its position on the issue of reincarnation. A new regulation, titled “Measures for the Administration of Religious Personnel,” published in February 2021 and entered into force on May 1, stipulates that the succession of a living Buddha must be carried out in accordance with relevant China’s regulations. Even earlier, in April 2019, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that “the reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, must comply with Chinese laws and regulations and follow the rituals. religious and historical conventions ”. China seems to be making it clear that the reincarnation of HHDL will be in line with its government’s decision.

HHDL himself has made a number of statements regarding reincarnation. In 2004, he said that if the Tibetan people felt that there was no need for the next Dalai Lama, then this institution might not continue. He again made a similar statement in 2019 when speaking to some students that “the custom of recognizing reincarnated llamas may have had its day.” In 2011, he said he would leave clear written instructions on his reincarnation. In April 2013, he said in an interview that “if the circumstances are such that a Dalai Lama woman is more useful, then automatically a Dalai Lama woman will come”. In March 2019, he added that in the future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas coming, one from here (India), to a free country, one is chosen by the Chinese, and then no one will trust, no one will respect (the one chosen by China). So this is an additional problem for the Chinese. It’s possible, it can happen ”.

One thing seems to be clear about reincarnation though. Things are always fluid and any of the above options can be done. There have also been claims that the golden urn method to select the next Dalai Lama could be followed. There has been no official reaction or statement from India on the issue of reincarnation. This does not mean that he did not consider the various possibilities and reactions to them.

(The author is a member of the National Security Advisory Council. Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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