Choosing Dalai Lama’s successor involves spiritual process

New Delhi (IANS) China may insist that only it can appoint the next Dalai Lama but it chooses to ignore that it involves a certain spiritual process.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans, is traditionally chosen by senior monastic disciples, based on spiritual signs and visions.

According to the current Dalai Lama, who is 84 years old, the process to choose his successor will begin only after he turns 90 in the year 2025.

He will then consult Tibetan Buddhist high Lamas on the need for continuing the institution of the Dalai Lama.

In his 2011 statement, the 14th Dalai Lama had clearly said: “Bear in mind, apart from the reincarnation recognised through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”

While the Dalai Lama did not specify the nature of the ceremonies that would be held to choose his successor, scholars say it is likely to be prayers and tantric rituals in Buddhist monasteries asking for his reincarnation.

There would also be another significant departure – the 15th Dalai Lama, unlike the 14 preceding ones, would be chosen while his predecessor was still alive.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has already passed laws banning reincarnations without prior approval from the government. These laws are titled ‘New Regulations on Religious Affairs’ and the ‘Rules on the Management of the Reincarnation of Tibetan Living Buddhas’. They state that the highest level of living Buddhas — such as the Dalai Lama — must be approved by Beijing, and the reincarnation of less senior Buddhas can be approved by the local government.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama had named a six-year-old boy living in Tibet – Gedhun Choekyi Nyima — as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, or the second-holiest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. However, the Chinese government picked its own choice. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has been missing since 1995 and is regarded as the world’s youngest political prisoner.

According to the process of choosing a successor to the Dalai Lama, the High Lamas may have a vision or dream. If the previous Dalai Lama is cremated, they watch the direction of the smoke to indicate the direction of rebirth.

They often meditate at Lhamo La-Tso, central Tibet’s holy lake, and wait for a vision or indication of the direction in which to search. They believe that the female guardian spirit of the lake promised the first Dalai Lama that she would protect the reincarnation lineage.

When a boy is found, there are a series of tests to ensure that he is the rebirth. The child is assessed against a secret set of criteria. The boy is also presented with a number of items to see if he can select those which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama.

If only one boy is found, the High Lamas confirm their findings with other top religious and secular figures, and if more than one boy is found, a public lot is drawn by officials and monks.

The boy is then put through the study — the Buddhist sutra — to relearn knowledge accumulated in previous lives in preparation for spiritual leadership.

The current Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Thondup to a family of farmers and horse traders in the Tibetan hamlet of Taktser on July 6, 1935. When he was two years old, a search party of Buddhist officials were led to his village by a series of omens and visions after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama.

They came upon the boy, who appeared to recognize one of the men in the party and a number of possessions which had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. They were convinced they had found the 14th Dalai Lama.

The search party did not show who they were to the villagers, to prevent any manipulation of the process.

In his memoir, “My Spiritual Journey”, the 14th Dalai Lama recounts about his early life and how he remembered recognizing one of the monks in the search party though he was dressed as a servant.

He remembers asking for the rosary beads the monk wore around his neck. These beads were previously owned by the 13th Dalai Lama. The search party returned again to test the young boy with further objects of the previous Dalai Lama.

He was able to correctly choose all items including a drum used for rituals and a walking stick.

At the age of four, he was taken to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where he has ceremonially conferred the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan people. He became known as Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso — or Tenzin Gyatso.

The Dalai Lama’s lineage, which has existed for more than 600 years, is central to Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama is able to choose the body into which he is reincarnated.

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