While the 85-year-old 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, still in excellent health, curiosity over his succession is growing, along with fears that his death could spark a religious crisis in Asia. Tenzin, from the Tibet Policy Institute, said that Beijing had been slowly raising the profile of their chosen Panchen Lama, who has recently appeared at senior CCP meetings and went on an international visit to Thailand in 2019, to try and build his authority when he selects the 15th Dalai Lama.
The 14th Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama “should continue or not”. He has given orientation to a possible vote stirring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth.
The 14th Dalai Lama supported the possibility that his next incarnation could be a woman. As an “engaged Buddhist” the Dalai Lama has an appeal straddling cultures and political systems making him one of the most recognized and respected moral voices today. Despite the complex historical, religious and political factors surrounding the selection of incarnate masters in the exiled Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is open to change.
In response to the possibility that the PRC might attempt to choose his heir, the Dalai Lama said he would not be reborn in a country strained by the People’s Republic of China or any other country which is not free. There were assumptions that the next Dalai Lama might come from the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, presumably making him even more pro-Indian and anti-Chinese.
For your information, the name “Dalai Lama” is a combination of the Mongolic word Dalai meaning “ocean” or “big” (coming from Mongolian title Dalaiyin Qan or Dalaiin Khan, translated as Gyatso or rgya-mtsho in Tibetan) and the Tibetan word (laa-ma) meaning “master”. The Dalai Lama is also known in Tibetan as the Rgyal-ba Rin-po-che (“Precious Conqueror”) or simply as the Rgyal-ba.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama-the spiritual leader of Tibetans and he is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet until the Chinese government took control in 1959. Before 1959, his official residence was Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism, was born on July 6, 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. Now he lives as a refugee in India. The Dalai Lama is also considered to be the successor in a line of Tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The traditional function of the Dalai Lama as an ecumenical figure, holding together disparate religious and regional groups, has been taken up by the present fourteenth Dalai Lama. He has worked to overcome sectarian and other divisions in the exiled community and has become a symbol of Tibetan nationhood for Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile.
From 1642 until 1705 and from 1750 to the 1950s, the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government (or Ganden Phodrang) in Lhasa which governed all or most of the Tibetan Plateau with varying degrees of autonomy under the Qing dynasty of China, in which Tibet had been under non-Tibetan suzerainty, and a period of disputed “de facto independence” between 1913 and 1951.
This Tibetan government also enjoyed the patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings of the Khoshut and Dzungar Khanates (1642–1720) and then of the emperors of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720–1912).
In 1913, several Tibetan representatives including Agvan Dorzhiev signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China; however, the legitimacy of the treaty and declared the independence of Tibet was rejected by both the Republic of China and the current People’s Republic of China. The Dalai Lamas headed the Tibetan government afterwards despite that, until 1951.
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet. The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
The political landscape of China started changing in the 1950ies. Plans were made to bring Tibet officially under Chinese control. But in March 1959, Tibetans took to the streets demanding an end to Chinese rule. Chinese People’s Republic troops crushed the revolt and thousands were killed.
The Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India with thousands of followers during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, where he was welcomed by former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who permitted him to form the ‘Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala.
The Dalai Lama, and the refugees who followed him, created a society in which Tibetan language, culture, arts, and religion are promoted. In 1989 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for maintaining a policy of non-violence with the Chinese government. He has travelled the world and has spoken about the welfare of Tibetans, environment, economics, women’s rights, nonviolence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality, along with various topics of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist teachings.
Because of the threat from China, the 14th Dalai Lama has made several statements that would make it difficult for a Chinese-appointed 15th Dalai Lama to be seen as legitimate. According to him, the institution of the Dalai Lama might not be needed anymore.
However, he has also said it was up to the people if they wanted to preserve this aspect of Tibetan Buddhism and continue the Dalai Lama lineage. Another option the Dalai Lama has proposed would be for him to appoint his reincarnation before he dies. In this scenario, the Dalai Lama would transfer his spiritual realization to the successor.
The Dalai Lama has also stated that if he dies outside of Tibet, his reincarnation would be located abroad, most likely from India.