The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, has said it was possible that once he dies his incarnation could be found in India, where he has lived in exile for 60 years, and warned that any other successor named by China would not be respected.
Sat in an office next to a temple ringed by green hills and snow-capped mountains, the 14th Dalai Lama spoke to Reuters a day after Tibetans in the town of Dharamshala marked the anniversary of his escape from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, disguised as a soldier.
He fled to India in early 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and has since worked to draw global support for linguistic and cultural autonomy in his remote and mountainous homeland.
China, which took control of Tibet in 1950, brands the 83-year-old Nobel peace laureate a dangerous separatist. Pondering what might happen after his death, the Dalai Lama anticipated some attempt by Beijing to foist a successor on Tibetan Buddhists.
“China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” said the Dalai Lama, swathed in his traditional red robes and yellow scarf.
“In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas come, one from here, in free country, one chosen by Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen,” he added, laughing.
China has said its leaders have the right to approve the Dalai Lama’s successor, as a legacy inherited from China’s emperors. But many Tibetans – whose tradition holds that the soul of a senior Buddhist monk is reincarnated in the body of a child on his death – suspect any Chinese role as a ploy to exert influence on the community.
Born in 1935, the current Dalai Lama was identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor when he was two years old.Many of China’s more than 6 million Tibetans still venerate the Dalai Lama despite government prohibitions on displays of his picture or any public display of devotion.
He said the role of the Dalai Lama after his death, including whether to keep it, could be discussed during a meeting of Tibetan Buddhists in India later this year. He, however, added that though there was no reincarnation of Buddha, his teachings have remained. “If the majority of (Tibetan people) really want to keep this institution, then this institution will remain,” he said. “Then comes the question of the reincarnation of the 15th Dalai Lama.”
“China – great nation, ancient nation – but its political system is totalitarian system, no freedom. So therefore I prefer to remain here, in this country.”
The Dalai Lama was born to a family of farmers in Taktser, a village on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, in China’s Qinghai province.
China on Tuesday rejected the assertion by the Dalai Lama that his successor could be found in India — a move that could undermine the legitimacy of the next in line chosen by Beijing. In its response, the Chinese foreign ministry was unequivocal in rejecting the Dalai Lama’s assertion. Reacting to the interview, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the reincarnation of Dalai Lama should pursue Chinese laws, regulations as well as established religious principles.
“I knew you were going to ask this question. Well, here is the answer: Reincarnation is the unique way of Tibetan Buddhism. It has fixed rituals and systems. The Chinese government has a policy of freedom of religious beliefs. We have the regulation of religious affairs and regulations on the reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism. We respect and protect such ways of Tibetan Buddhism,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.
He added: “The reincarnation system has been there for hundreds of years. The 14th Dalai also was recognized in the religious rituals and was approved by the Central government. So the reincarnation of Dalai Lama should be following the national laws and regulations and the religious rituals.”
China has insisted that it reserved the right to appoint the Dalai Lama’s successor, pursuing the long established tradition set by Chinese emperors. Tibetans hold the belief that the soul of the Dalai Lama will reincarnate in the body of a child after his death, who has then to be identified as his successor following a set of rituals.