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The Next Reincarnation Is Chosen

March 8, 2009

March 7, 2009


The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and was the political leader of Tibet until the Chinese government took control in 1959. Up to that time, his official residence was Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The dalai lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, 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 and the first and second dalai lamas were given the title posthumously. According to Buddhist belief, the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama who decided to be reborn to continue his important work, instead of moving on from the wheel of life. A person who decides to be continually reborn is known as tulku. Buddhists believe that the first tulku in this reincarnation was Gedun Drub, who lived from 1391-1474 and the second was Gendun Gyatso. However, the name dalai lama, meaning ocean of wisdom, was not conferred until the third reincarnation in the form of Sonam Gyatso in 1578. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.


When a dalai lama dies the high lamas of the Gelugpa tradition and the Tibetan government have traditionally been charged with finding his reincarnation. The high lamas search for a boy born around the time of dalai lama's death. It can take two to three years to identify the dalai lama, and for the current, 14th Dalai Lama, it was four years before he was found. There are several ways in which the high lamas might find out the location of where the next reincarnate will be found.

Dream: One of the high lamas may dream about some mark or location that will identify the boy.

Smoke: If the previous dalai lama was cremated, high lamas will watch the direction of the smoke and search accordingly.

Oracle Lake: High lamas go to a holy lake, called Lhamo Lhatso, in central Tibet and watch for a sign from the lake itself. This may be either a vision or some indication of the direction in which to search. The home and village of Tenzin Gyatso, was identified in a vision from this lake.

Once the high lamas have located the home and the boy, they present a number of artifacts that they have brought with them in preparation, to the child.

Among these artifacts are a number of items that belonged to the deceased dalai lama. If the boy chooses the items that belonged to the previous dalai lama, this is seen as a sign, in conjunction with all of the other indications, that the boy is a reincarnation.

This procedure however, as Tenzin Gyatso has said himself, is not set in stone and if two-thirds of the Tibetan people wish to change the method of identifying the next reincarnation, this would be just as valid.

The search for the dalai lama has usually been limited to Tibet, although the third tulku was born in Mongolia. However, as Tibet has been taken by the Chinese government, Tenzin Gyatso said that if he is reborn it will not be in a country run by the People's Republic of China, or any other country that is not free.
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