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Will the 14th Dalai Lama be Tibet's last Dalai Lama?

March 13, 2017

India Today, March 9, 2017 - There may never be another Dalai Lama. There will certainly never be another like Tenzin Gyatso, the current, and 14th, Dalai Lama who, against all odds, has kept the flame of the Tibetan movement burning bright for six decades after he fled to India on foot. Speaking last week, he once again raised the likelihood that he may be the last of the over 600-year-old Tibetan Buddhist line. "Very possible," he said. "If I[am] the last Dalai Lama, I feel very happy."

Ending the line may be one way to prevent a dispute with China over his succession. Beijing has said it will appoint its own 15th Dalai Lama, just as it did with the 11th Panchen Lama. For his part, the Dalai Lama has in the past suggested his successor would be appointed from a "free" region, even suggesting his successor could be female. But increasingly, he has appeared to suggest that ending the institution might be the best option.

Beijing has been laying the groundwork for a succession on its own terms. It insists that previous lamas were appointed with the consent of the central government. Yet the fact is some of its recent appointees have lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many Tibetans. This is hardly surprising given that China has outlined an official "reincarnation policy" to solidify its control. In 2007, the State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a remarkable order on the "Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas", perhaps the first time that a Communist government anywhere has endorsed the phenomenon of reincarnation. It declares that Living Buddhas have to file an application with government authorities, or else their reincarnations "will be deemed illegal or invalid".

Beijing's iron grip will, however, only likely undermine its approved lama. As the Dalai Lama put it with a chuckle in a 2012 interview with this reporter, "To take responsibility for the reincarnation, the Chinese government should first accept religion, particularly Buddhism, and they should accept the theory of rebirth!" "If the Dalai Lama becomes 100 per cent pro-Chinese, then Tibetans will not respect the Dalai Lama," he said then. "I think the Panchen Lama himself knows that. During these crises, he has remained very silent. It looks like the Chinese Panchen Lama is more wise than the Chinese leaders."

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