Tibetan religious leaders oppose Chinese meddling in reincarnation issue

Tibetan religious leaders, from left: Drikung Chesang Rinpoche, Ganden Tripa Lobsang Tenzin Palsangpo, Sakya Trizin Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, and Menri Trizin of Bon tradition, at the 14th Tibetan Religious Conference in Dharamshala, India, on 27 November 2019.

Tibetan religious leaders, from left: Drikung Chesang Rinpoche, Ganden Tripa Lobsang Tenzin Palsangpo, Sakya Trizin Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, and Menri Trizin of Bon tradition, at the 14th Tibetan Religious Conference in Dharamshala, India, on 27 November 2019. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 27 November 2019

As China sets its intention on appointing the next Dalai Lama, Tibetan religious leaders oppose a Chinese version, saying that China has no role to play in the selection process.

In a major conference held in the heart of the Tibetan Diaspora in McLeod Ganj, close to 120 members of the Tibetan religious traditions unanimously adopted the “Dharamshala Declaration” — a three-point resolution that asks the Dalai Lama to reincarnate, and recognises that the process of finding the next will be solely the right of the Dalai Lama.

“No government or otherwise can have such authority. If the Government of the People’s Republic of China for political ends chooses a candidate for the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people will not recognise or respect that candidate.”

The resolution further stated that his reincarnation will be chosen by the same unique Tibetan traditional method that has been used continuously for over 800 years.

The final version of the declaration will be presented to the Dalai Lama on the last day of conference on Friday, when he will attend the gathering.

Although the Dalai Lama, 84, is in good health except for knee problems, the issue of his reincarnation has heated up due to his advancing age.

Heads, monks, and nuns of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon traditions, as well as representatives of Buddhist leaders from the Himalayan regions, gathered for the 14th Religious Conference to discuss various monastic issues, but the issue of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation had top priority.

Despite the Tibetan assertion that the issue of reincarnation is a Tibetan concern alone, China, in wanting to control the next 15th, has enacted new rules within the country for Tibetan religious leaders to reincarnate.

China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree in 2007 that required all reincarnations of Tibetan lamas to get government approval, otherwise they will be considered “illegal or invalid”.

A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang during a regular press conference on 29 October said the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must be approved by the Chinese government, and that the selection should take place within the country based on several hundred years of historical conventions.

“The institution of reincarnation of the Dalai Lama has been in existence for several hundred years. The 14th Dalai Lama himself was found and recognised following religious rituals and historical conventions, and his succession was approved by the then central government. Therefore reincarnation of lamas including the Dalai Lama must comply with Chinese laws and regulations, and follow religious rituals and historical conventions.”

During a meeting with a group of Indian Buddhists on 15 November, the Dalai Lama said, “The future of the Dalai Lama is really in my hands. Before I die, I’ll write a will. And I think I’ll probably come back to a Buddhist community.”

He has said that it is up to the Tibetan people to decide whether or not there will be a 15th Dalai Lama. “It’s not that important. There is no reincarnation of the Buddha, but his teachings survive, their writing remains. In my case, the books and recordings of my conferences will be there.”

During a Special Meeting in early October of close to 350 leaders of exile Tibetans, it was unanimously declared that only the Dalai Lama and his office will have the authority to decide on the succession of his reincarnation. No one else, whether a government, organisation, or individual, will have any role or power in the matter. They declared their opposition to anybody meddling in the process.

The US has thrown its weight behind the Tibetan people over the issue of succession. US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback met with the Dalai Lama in India at the end of October. Speaking before a gathering to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in McLeod Ganj, he said that the US stands with the people of Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

“The role of picking a successor to the Dalai Lama belongs to the Tibetan Buddhist system, the Dalai Lama, and other Tibetan Buddhist leaders. It does not belong to anybody else, not any government or any entity.”

Opposing Ambassador Brownback’s statement, Geng Shuang said, “The 14th Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaging in anti-China separatist activities using religion as a cover. China firmly opposes any form of contact between foreign officials and him. What the US official has said and done violates US commitment on recognizing Tibet as part of China and not supporting the so-called ‘Tibetan independence’. China is firmly opposed to that.”

In passing the resolution at the religious conference, a representative of the Himalayan Buddhists, Lama Chosphel Zotpa from Ladakh, said, “The Himalayan Buddhists stand with the wishes of the Tibetan People. We respect the decisions Tibetan take in the issue of reincarnation.”

He expressed confidence that the Government of India will give their support for the Tibetan choice of the next Dalai Lama.

Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibetan Administration, responding to a question from this journalist about a Tibetan and a Chinese 15th Dalai Lama in future, said that the one China will appoint will not have any legitimacy. “The other one will be called the Fake Dalai Lama.”


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