As the world’s most famous Buddhist, the Dalai Lama is a monk juggling two jobs. One is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, and the other is the political head of his government in exile.
He was chosen to serve these dual callings through an arcane process based on signs that he was reincarnated from a long line of Dalai Lamas who were considered embodiments of the Buddha of Compassion, the holder of the White Lotus.
So when the 14th Dalai Lama threatened last week to resign in response to the violence in Tibet, he seemed to throw into question the ancient process that gave him power.
Whether he can quit and what that would mean remain unclear.
The only known case of a Dalai Lama who didn’t want to be one was the sixth incarnation, a man who supposedly preferred romantic poetry and courtesans over scriptures and chastity.
Staff members of the current Dalai Lama were quick to explain that the 72-year-old monk had no plans to abandon his people at a time of crisis. The revered god-king was merely expressing his commitment to peace, they said, and saying that if his people continued to commit violence he would have no choice but to relinquish his secular duties.
“He would resign as the political leader and head of state, but not as the Dalai Lama. He will always be the Dalai Lama,” said Tenzin Taklha, a top aide.
That would suggest breaking from Tibetan Buddhism’s centuries-old tradition of church and state as one and, more important, would open the possibility that a Dalai Lama could choose his own successor.
“These institutions are made by people; the rules can change from time to time,” said Lee Feigon, author of the book “Demystifying Tibet: Unlocking the Secrets of the Land of the Snows.” “If he were to resign in frustration, it will create worldwide sympathy for him. If he could choose his own successor, he would be around to help train him and give him legitimacy. Even the threat of doing it should give the Chinese government pause.”
The government in Beijing, which is officially atheist, has the final say in the appointments of high lamas and their reincarnations, a source of Tibetans’ simmering resentment of Chinese rule.... Read more