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How Is the Dalai Lama ‘Found’ & Will There Be Another?

Why are Dalai Lamas ‘found’, not ‘chosen’? Will the Dalai Lama choose to reincarnate this time, or is change afoot?

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Almost 60 years ago, in 1959, India granted political asylum to His Holiness Dalai Lama, who was forced to flee Tibet after Chinese suppression of a national uprising. On 31 March 1959, the Dalai Lama established a shadow Tibetan government, based in India’s Dharamshala.

Protesters in Tibet have since then have repeatedly called for the protection of Tibetan culture and identity, for freedom from China, for human rights and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has not only announced retirement from being a political head, but has also said that he wants to “voluntarily” put an end to the process of Dalai Lama succession. He has said that in the place of the Dalai Lama, he wishes for a democratically elected government for Tibet.

Here’s all you need to know about who a Dalai Lama is, how a successor is determined, and the controversies surrounding the 14th Dalai Lama’s succession.

How Is the Dalai Lama ‘Found’ & Will There Be Another?

  1. 1. Who Is the Dalai Lama?

    The name Dalai Lama is a combination of Mongolic word Dalai – which means “ocean” or “big” and the Tibetan word Bla-ma which translates to “master” or “guru”. Put together, the Dalai Lama essentially means “Ocean of Wisdom”.

    The title was created by the Ming Dynasty in the year 1578 to refer to the successors of the line of tulkus, who is considered a reincarnate of the custodian of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. They are also believed to be the manifestations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the patron saint of Tibet. They have functioned as both the political and spiritual leaders of Tibet for 369 years since 1642.

    The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th of his kind. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, at the age of two in 1937.

    However, it was only in 1950, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, that he was called upon to assume full political power. Almost a decade later, following suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, the Dalai Lama escaped the country and went into exile.

    Since then, he has been living in Dharamsala, located in India’s Himachal Pradesh. The Central Tibetan administration, under the Lama’s guidance, continues to govern the controversial Tibetan region.
    Expand
  2. 2. How Is the Dalai Lama's Successor Determined?

    In most religious sects, the successor to the high priest is most often chosen. But the Dalai Lama is actually “found”, not “chosen”.

    To put it simply, the successor is the reincarnation of the deceased Dalai Lama, and will be found by the High Lamas. The entire concept revolves around the idea of reincarnation.

    According to Tibetan belief, there is a clear difference in the way ordinary people and superior beings – referred to here as tulku – reincarnate. It is said that ordinary people have little control over their reincarnation, as it is usually the play of karma.

    As the “supreme enlightened” being, the Dalai Lamas, however, have the ability to control the time and place of their future births. The High Lamas then set out to find the next Dalai Lama.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Is the Process of Finding the Dalai Lama?

    It is believed that the Dalai Lama practices “conscious dying”, and reincarnates by choice. A committee comprising of the High Lamas and officials from the Central Tibetan Administration begin their search to find the reincarnated.

    They first consult the official ser of Tibet – known by the title Nechung Oracle. Next, they travel to Lhamo Lhatso, a sacred lake in Tibet, and meditate, hoping to experience visions that guide them in their search. If the Dalai Lama is cremated by then, the direction in which the smoke blows is also considered a signal.

    It reportedly took 4 years to find the 14th Dalai Lama.

    Once the High Lamas believe that their search has concluded and that they have found the child, they conduct a “simple test”. Several articles are lined in front of the child – a few of these articles are those that were used by the previous Dalai Lama. If the child chooses the correct items, it is considered a sign and the process progresses to the next step. If the child fails to identify the correct items, then the search continues.

    Following this, three former servants who were close to him are called upon and asked to match the child’s identity with the previous Dalai Lama’s. The High Lamas and the other officials are also required to sign on the document confirming the identity.

    If more than one child fits into all the categories, then the name of the boys are placed in a vase and a chit is drawn. In this case, the chosen one will be the next Dalai Lama.

    He is then taken to the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa to begin his spiritual education. It is said that all Dalai Lamas were born in Tibet, except the 4th of his kind – who was born in Mongolia.

    Expand
  4. 4. Has Dalai Lama Announced Retirement?

    Yes, he has retired from being the political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in India. But he continues to be the spiritual head of the country.

    In March 2011, on the occasion of 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan people’s uprising against Chinese oppression, the Dalai Lama proposed to relinquish his political powers. In a statement reflecting his decision to devolve his formal authority, he said:

    My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened. Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me that, as one among them, I am committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet. I trust that gradually people will come to understand my intention, will support my decision and accordingly let it take effect.

    In his speech, he stressed that Tibetans need a leader who was elected freely by the Tibetan people.

    Expand
  5. 5. What Has He Said About His Succession? Will He Reincarnate?

    Five months after he announced his retirement from politics, Dalai Lama categorically said that he will wants to voluntarily put an end to the succession and reincarnation. He said that it was for the people to decide whether the reincarnation practice should continue, stating that it was bound to be misused to fulfill vested political interests and the political agenda.

    In the recent past, there have been cases of irresponsible managers of wealthy Lama-estates who indulged in improper methods to recognise reincarnations, which have undermined the Dharma, the monastic community and our society. Moreover, since the Manchu era, Chinese political authorities repeatedly engaged in various deceitful means using Buddhism, Buddhist masters and Tulkus as tools to fulfil their political ends as they involved themselves in Tibetan and Mongolian affairs.

    He said that reincarnation is a phenomenon that takes place either through voluntary choice or as a result of one’s karma. The Dalai Lama added that he, as the one who incarnates, has the sole and legitimate authority on how he or she takes rebirth and how this reincarnation should be recognised, pointing out that it was particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists to meddle with the belief of Tibetans.

    He also asserted that no one has the right to force the person concerned to reincarnate or manipulate them.

    It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas.
    Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.
    Expand
  6. 6. How Has He Warned the Chinese?

    In his official statement, the Dalai Lama has said that he will consult the High Lamas and other people concerned when he is 90 to “re-evaluate” the need for the continuation of the reincarnation and the institution of Dalai Lama.

    Only if the need for a 15th Dalai Lama is recognised, will there be a reincarnation. He also said that should there be a reincarnation, he will leave clear written instructions and that no incarnation recognised other than that, including that recognised by the People’s Republic of China, will be considered legitimate.

    He pointed fingers directly at the Chinese in the statement, and accused the government of involving itself with the religious affairs of Tibet, when they claim to be communists who reject religious practices.

    He described China’s imposition of Order No. Five, which concerns the control and recognition of reincarnations as “outrageous and disgraceful”. The Dalai Lama in his statement said that:

    Moreover, they say they are waiting for my death and will recognise a 15th Dalai Lama of their choice. It is clear from their recent rules and regulations and subsequent declarations that they have a detailed strategy to deceive Tibetans, followers of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the world community. Therefore, as I have a responsibility to protect the Dharma and sentient beings and counter such detrimental schemes, I make the following declaration.

    “The enforcement of various inappropriate methods for recognising reincarnations to eradicate our unique Tibetan cultural traditions is doing damage that will be difficult to repair.”

    Expand
  7. 7. Where Does This Leave Tibetans?

    While the Dalai Lama has said that he will consult the High Lamas, and that a decision will be taken as per the wishes of the Tibetans, the final decision to reincarnate remains with the Dalai Lama himself.

    China, on the other hand, has said that its government should approve the selection and it has to be based on a combination of “historical rules” and also current “Chinese laws.”

    His holiness has said that the 15th would be born outside of Tibet, outside of China, because this 15th Dalai Lama would have to continue the work of the present Dalai Lama. If there is no genuine religious freedom inside Tibet, then it’s very hard for him to continue that work.
    Chonpel Tsering, Dalai Lama’s Europe Representative to BBC

    Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu, also speaking to BBC said:

    A revolution is certainly coming to Tibet. We’ve had series of uprisings since the 1980s, and it’s culminating now. So I cannot predict what will happen, when it’ll happen but I know, it’s a gut feeling – and you can see it through the progression of uprisings and acts of opposition to China – that a big revolution is surely overdue.
    Jamyang Norbu

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Who Is the Dalai Lama?

The name Dalai Lama is a combination of Mongolic word Dalai – which means “ocean” or “big” and the Tibetan word Bla-ma which translates to “master” or “guru”. Put together, the Dalai Lama essentially means “Ocean of Wisdom”.

The title was created by the Ming Dynasty in the year 1578 to refer to the successors of the line of tulkus, who is considered a reincarnate of the custodian of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism. They are also believed to be the manifestations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion, and the patron saint of Tibet. They have functioned as both the political and spiritual leaders of Tibet for 369 years since 1642.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th of his kind. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, at the age of two in 1937.

However, it was only in 1950, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, that he was called upon to assume full political power. Almost a decade later, following suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, the Dalai Lama escaped the country and went into exile.

Since then, he has been living in Dharamsala, located in India’s Himachal Pradesh. The Central Tibetan administration, under the Lama’s guidance, continues to govern the controversial Tibetan region.
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

How Is the Dalai Lama's Successor Determined?

In most religious sects, the successor to the high priest is most often chosen. But the Dalai Lama is actually “found”, not “chosen”.

To put it simply, the successor is the reincarnation of the deceased Dalai Lama, and will be found by the High Lamas. The entire concept revolves around the idea of reincarnation.

According to Tibetan belief, there is a clear difference in the way ordinary people and superior beings – referred to here as tulku – reincarnate. It is said that ordinary people have little control over their reincarnation, as it is usually the play of karma.

As the “supreme enlightened” being, the Dalai Lamas, however, have the ability to control the time and place of their future births. The High Lamas then set out to find the next Dalai Lama.

0

What Is the Process of Finding the Dalai Lama?

It is believed that the Dalai Lama practices “conscious dying”, and reincarnates by choice. A committee comprising of the High Lamas and officials from the Central Tibetan Administration begin their search to find the reincarnated.

They first consult the official ser of Tibet – known by the title Nechung Oracle. Next, they travel to Lhamo Lhatso, a sacred lake in Tibet, and meditate, hoping to experience visions that guide them in their search. If the Dalai Lama is cremated by then, the direction in which the smoke blows is also considered a signal.

It reportedly took 4 years to find the 14th Dalai Lama.

Once the High Lamas believe that their search has concluded and that they have found the child, they conduct a “simple test”. Several articles are lined in front of the child – a few of these articles are those that were used by the previous Dalai Lama. If the child chooses the correct items, it is considered a sign and the process progresses to the next step. If the child fails to identify the correct items, then the search continues.

Following this, three former servants who were close to him are called upon and asked to match the child’s identity with the previous Dalai Lama’s. The High Lamas and the other officials are also required to sign on the document confirming the identity.

If more than one child fits into all the categories, then the name of the boys are placed in a vase and a chit is drawn. In this case, the chosen one will be the next Dalai Lama.

He is then taken to the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa to begin his spiritual education. It is said that all Dalai Lamas were born in Tibet, except the 4th of his kind – who was born in Mongolia.

ADVERTISEMENT

Has Dalai Lama Announced Retirement?

Yes, he has retired from being the political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in India. But he continues to be the spiritual head of the country.

In March 2011, on the occasion of 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan people’s uprising against Chinese oppression, the Dalai Lama proposed to relinquish his political powers. In a statement reflecting his decision to devolve his formal authority, he said:

My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened. Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me that, as one among them, I am committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet. I trust that gradually people will come to understand my intention, will support my decision and accordingly let it take effect.

In his speech, he stressed that Tibetans need a leader who was elected freely by the Tibetan people.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Has He Said About His Succession? Will He Reincarnate?

Five months after he announced his retirement from politics, Dalai Lama categorically said that he will wants to voluntarily put an end to the succession and reincarnation. He said that it was for the people to decide whether the reincarnation practice should continue, stating that it was bound to be misused to fulfill vested political interests and the political agenda.

In the recent past, there have been cases of irresponsible managers of wealthy Lama-estates who indulged in improper methods to recognise reincarnations, which have undermined the Dharma, the monastic community and our society. Moreover, since the Manchu era, Chinese political authorities repeatedly engaged in various deceitful means using Buddhism, Buddhist masters and Tulkus as tools to fulfil their political ends as they involved themselves in Tibetan and Mongolian affairs.

He said that reincarnation is a phenomenon that takes place either through voluntary choice or as a result of one’s karma. The Dalai Lama added that he, as the one who incarnates, has the sole and legitimate authority on how he or she takes rebirth and how this reincarnation should be recognised, pointing out that it was particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists to meddle with the belief of Tibetans.

He also asserted that no one has the right to force the person concerned to reincarnate or manipulate them.

It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas.
Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.
ADVERTISEMENT

How Has He Warned the Chinese?

In his official statement, the Dalai Lama has said that he will consult the High Lamas and other people concerned when he is 90 to “re-evaluate” the need for the continuation of the reincarnation and the institution of Dalai Lama.

Only if the need for a 15th Dalai Lama is recognised, will there be a reincarnation. He also said that should there be a reincarnation, he will leave clear written instructions and that no incarnation recognised other than that, including that recognised by the People’s Republic of China, will be considered legitimate.

He pointed fingers directly at the Chinese in the statement, and accused the government of involving itself with the religious affairs of Tibet, when they claim to be communists who reject religious practices.

He described China’s imposition of Order No. Five, which concerns the control and recognition of reincarnations as “outrageous and disgraceful”. The Dalai Lama in his statement said that:

Moreover, they say they are waiting for my death and will recognise a 15th Dalai Lama of their choice. It is clear from their recent rules and regulations and subsequent declarations that they have a detailed strategy to deceive Tibetans, followers of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the world community. Therefore, as I have a responsibility to protect the Dharma and sentient beings and counter such detrimental schemes, I make the following declaration.

“The enforcement of various inappropriate methods for recognising reincarnations to eradicate our unique Tibetan cultural traditions is doing damage that will be difficult to repair.”

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Where Does This Leave Tibetans?

While the Dalai Lama has said that he will consult the High Lamas, and that a decision will be taken as per the wishes of the Tibetans, the final decision to reincarnate remains with the Dalai Lama himself.

China, on the other hand, has said that its government should approve the selection and it has to be based on a combination of “historical rules” and also current “Chinese laws.”

His holiness has said that the 15th would be born outside of Tibet, outside of China, because this 15th Dalai Lama would have to continue the work of the present Dalai Lama. If there is no genuine religious freedom inside Tibet, then it’s very hard for him to continue that work.
Chonpel Tsering, Dalai Lama’s Europe Representative to BBC

Tibetan writer and activist Jamyang Norbu, also speaking to BBC said:

A revolution is certainly coming to Tibet. We’ve had series of uprisings since the 1980s, and it’s culminating now. So I cannot predict what will happen, when it’ll happen but I know, it’s a gut feeling – and you can see it through the progression of uprisings and acts of opposition to China – that a big revolution is surely overdue.
Jamyang Norbu

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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