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Searching for a spiritual successor

October 31, 2007

When the time comes, finding a new Dalai Lama will be a lengthy process

The Ottawa Citizen
October 29, 2007

The Dalai Lama has served as spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists for seven decades, ever since he was recognized as the reincarnated Dalai Lama at age two.
And the day he dies, the search for his successor will begin.

"In Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, a certain type of person who develops very highly in a previous life, can consciously choose the circumstances of their reincarnation,"
says Robert Thurman, a professor in the Department of Religion at New York's Columbia University and an expert in Tibetan Buddhism. "The Dalai Lama is
believed to be one such person."

Several months after the death of a Dalai Lama, a committee will begin the search for his successor.

Using clues left by the prior Dalai Lama, information gained from psychics, rituals, and religious signs, the committee will narrow its search to a specific area.

It can be a lengthy process, Mr. Thurman says, because of the challenges of searching the vast Tibetan landscape.

"Tibet is huge. It doesn't look like it on the map of Asia ... but it's almost a million square miles."

The search committee will then interview area people to identify potential candidate children, who are then tested. Typically, candidate children must look at a
collection of objects. The child who instinctively selects objects that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama is his successor.

The chosen child is believed to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion -- roughly equivalent to an archangel type of deity in
Christian beliefs, Mr. Thurman says -- who is also known as the patron saint of Tibet.

Any Tibetan Buddhist of any background could potentially be named the next Dalai Lama, Mr. Thurman says, but it is unlikely that a female would be chosen.

"There are some female reincarnations ... but the Dalai Lama has always been male," he says.

According to the official website of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government has said the next Dalai Lama will be born in Tibet and chosen by them.

The Dalai Lama, however, says he expects he will most likely be reincarnated outside of Tibet.

While some have speculated that there will not be another Dalai Lama, Mr. Thurman says that is simply not the case.

"The guy will not get out of a job just by dying," he jokes.

Online: Visit

'... We all have the same potential for compassion.'

The Dalai Lama

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