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Buddhism, the religion of peace, love, and tolerance now looms under uncertainty as recent events point towards a possibility of an illegitimate Dalai Lama.

Chinese official think tanks have officially conceded that the next Dalai Lama needs to have Chinese endorsement as per the precedent set by a Qinlong emperor. Dalai Lama, on the other hand, believes that the appointment of the next Dalai Lama is a divine process and only the present Dalai Lama has powers to appoint him or her.

Who is Dalai Lama?

His Holiness, Present Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama is the official religious apex figure of Buddhists and the political sovereign of Tibet, which is currently under Chinese annexation.

Dalai Lama is the name of the holy seat or the position, not of the person himself, very much like the Hindu Seat of ‘Shankaracharya’. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas so far and the tradition of appointing Dalai Lamas dates back to 1400s.

Presently the seat of Dalai Lama is held by Mr. Tenzin Gyatso, who has been the Dalai Lama since 1950. He is also the last sovereign monarch of Tibet as Chinese government now does not recognize Tibet as a sovereign country but a part of the Republic of China.

How does one Become Dalai Lama?

The appointment of Dalai Lama is the most interesting process of religious processes. The idea is that Dalai Lama is not a seat of influence and leadership but also has a certain divinity attached to it. So to preserve the divinity of the seat, the Dalai Lama is found rather than elected.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama pauses as he delivers teachings in Bomdila, in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, India

It is believed that the Dalai Lamas are reincarnations of the previous Dalai Lamas. So, the present Dalai Lama meditates and often dreams to find a Penchan Lama. The Penchan Lama is trained in the Buddhist traditions by the highest of the Lamas of Tibet. When the Penchan Lama is able he plays the most important in finding the next Dalai Lama.

The Present Dalai Lama will meditate and find some relevant information about the kid he is going to reincarnate as. Penchan Lama finds the kid who will become the next Dalai Lama, who is trained in Buddhist ways and traditions. The process keeps on repeating and this is how it is ensured that there is always someone to take care of the highest Buddhist seat in the world.

The Political Conundrum

Since Dalai Lama is also the political sovereign of the land of Tibet, and therefore Chinese annexation of Tibet pushed Dalai Lama out of Tibet. He now lives in exile in Dharamsala in India. China does not recognize Tibet as a political entity but considers it to be an integral part of the country.

China Occupied Tibet

China says Tibet has officially been part of the Chinese nation since the mid-13th Century, so should continue to be ruled by Beijing.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

For example, after a brief military conflict between China and Tibet in the early part of the 20th Century, Tibet declared itself an independent republic in 1912.

Although its status did not receive widespread recognition, Tibet functioned as an independent government until China sent troops to Tibet in 1950, and summoned a Tibetan delegation the following year to sign a treaty ceding sovereignty to China.

Since then there have been periods of unrest and sporadic uprisings as resentment to Beijing’s rule has persisted

Protests to Free Tibet from Chinese Rule

Threat to Buddhism

On 15th May 1995, Dalai Lama chose a Panchen Lama, who at that time was a six-year-old boy. Two days after the announcement, on 17th May, the boy, Gedhun Chokyi Nyima, was abducted. The suspicion points towards the Chinese government as the abduction of Panchen Lama destabilizes the process of selection of the next Dalai Lama.

Abducted chosen Panchen Lama

China then put forward another 6-year-old Gyaltsen Norbu as the Panchen Lama and advocated that the Panchen Lama chosen by Dalai Lama was not legitimate as it had been chosen notwithstanding Tibetan customs.

Chinese backed Panchen Lama, now 26 years old

The Chinese Penchan Lama has been considered a puppet to control the Tibetan politics by his holiness Dalai Lama. The power to appoint to Panchen Lama gives the Chinese to appoint the next Dalai Lama, which essentially means they could control the Tibetan region with relative ease.

The Last Dalai Lama?

Considering the political and spiritual influence the Dalai Lamas’ had over Tibetans for centuries, China is keen to pick up the successor to the current Dalai Lama to firm up its hold over Tibet, which it kept under tight political, military and administrative control after it took over the area in 1951.

“Nobody knows who or where the next Dalai Lama will be born or come from. Some indication might come at the time of my death, but now there is no such indication”
– his holiness dalai lama

Dalai Lama has time and again said that if a new Panchen Lama is not found by the time he is dead, it could put an end to the Dalai Lama tradition. He has also gone on to say that he might as well be the last Dalai Lama.

“If I am taking birth again i am not going to be born in in a chinese territory”
-his holiness dalai lama

He sees himself to be living up to the age of 113 but suspects that he might not reincarnate again at the risk of being manipulated by the Chinese.

The Larger Problem

If the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama chooses a Dalai Lama, he will be an illegitimate Dalai Lama as it would be against the Tibet traditions. If the present Dalai Lama dies without choosing a Panchen Lama, there would be no one to appoint a Dalai Lama, in which case the tradition of Dalai Lama will come to an end. It cannot be decided, what is worse: An illegitimate Dalai Lama or NO Dalai Lama!