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How will the next Dalai Lama be chosen?

The status of Tibet remains contentious today, and with the Tibetan leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, the choice of his reincarnation — which Beijing wants to control — is likely to cause a global controversy.


Tibetan Buddhism has four major schools, namely Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. The Jonang is a smaller school, and the Rimé movement is a recent nonsectarian movement which cuts across the different schools. Each school is independent and has its own monastic institutions and leaders.


The Dalai Lama is a senior leader in the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism and the former head of state of Tibet, he wields tremendous influence in Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Dalai Lama does not have authority over the other three major schools of Tibetan Buddhism — Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma — which all have their own reincarnation lineages.

So The Dalai Lama alone does not have the authority to make such a change to wether there will be next Dalai Lama or not in Tibetan Buddhism. On Friday the Dalai Lama said it may be time for the tradition of recognizing reincarnate lamas to come to an end. The Dalai Lama made the statement in a meeting with students in Northern India.

According to a statement from the Office of the Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama suggested that “the custom of recognizing reincarnate lamas may have had its day.” The Dalai Lama says that the reincarnation system has never existed in India, and there are no recognized reincarnations of great Indian Buddhist masters like Nagarjuna, or the Buddha himself.


The selection process may prove controversial, as the officially atheist Chinese government has expressed unusual interest in choosing the next Dalai Lama and claims it has the right to do so, something contested by Tibetan Buddhist religious authorities.


In 2015, the Tibet regional governor Padma Choling (白玛赤林) said:

Whether [the Dalai Lama] wants to cease reincarnation or not ... this decision is not up to him. When he became the 14th Dalai Lama, it was not his decision. He was chosen following a strict system dictated by religious rules and historical tradition and also with the approval of the central government. Can he decide when to stop reincarnating? That is impossible.


What is happening in Tibet?


In comparison with the horrifying reports coming out of Xinjiang, what’s happening in Tibet now seems, in one scholar’s words, “invisible, unspectacular, numerically small.”

On a more detailed level, it is difficult to verify what happens in Tibet, because foreign journalists have been barred from the region since 2011.


According to a report by Freedom House, Tibetan Buddhists are among the most persecuted religious groups in China along with Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners.

In 2016, President Xi announced his five-year plan of religious affairs (2016–2020) to “sinicize” (make more Chinese) all religions and make religions adaptive to socialist values. Under this policy directive, administrative offices run by Communist cadres are established in Tibetan monasteries and monastics are put through strict training to become “patriotic religious professionals” under the “Four Standards” policy.


Monks and nuns who have refused to do so have been arrested, tortured and expelled from their monasteries.

Religion is one of the most distinctive and important aspects of Tibet’s unique culture. For the Chinese government, however, religion in Tibet is a political and security issue.


Mandarin is promoted as the primary instruction language in Tibetan schools to encourage assimilation.


In 2012, the government established an elite Tibetan Buddhism Higher Studies Institute to train select monks and nuns from across the Tibet Autonomous Region, and other provinces with Tibetan populations have established similar institutes. These are designed to produce a new generation of “patriotic religious professionals,” teachers qualified both in religious studies and commitment to the party’s ideology and mission.

And the most important thing that the culture is dying in Tibet!


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