I can’t imagine a secular Western government today saying, “We have the right to appoint the time and place of the next pope” not to mention, “We have the right to dictate when the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen and who it will be.” Therefore I have to stretch out of my non-Chinese cultural mindset to try to appreciate a simmering clash in the Far East.
Buried in the article “Two Tibetan Monks Set Themselves on Fire in Protest,” Edward Wong of the New York Times writes:
Further underscoring the political tensions, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing on Monday rejected an assertion made by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, that he will decide how his reincarnation is chosen.
The Dalai Lama, 76, said on Saturday that he would leave clear written instructions on how the reincarnation will be found. Around age 90, he said, he will consult with other Tibetan Buddhist leaders to see whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue.
In recent years he has suffered bouts of ill health, which have stirred concerns among Tibetans about his future role. Tibetans in exile recently elected a layperson, Lobsang Sangay, as prime minister; he is in charge of the political side of the exile movement.
The Chinese government, ruled by the Communist Party and officially atheist, has long asserted that it has the right to approve any reincarnations of the Dalai Lama.
“I would like to point out the title of the Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is otherwise illegal,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at a news conference on Monday, according to The Associated Press. “There has never been a practice of the Dalai Lama identifying his own successor.”
The Xinhua News Agency provides additional context in an article today:
According to the Dalai Lama, his reincarnation could be chosen when he’s still alive, or be stopped altogether. His reincarnation could be designated, or elected in a papal-style conclave, and could be a girl, inside or even outside China.
The issue has been brought up nearly every month since the Dalai Lama transferred his political role to Lobsang Sangay, the new prime minister of the “government-in-exile” in April.
On the latest occasion on Saturday, he said he will consult Buddhist scholars — 14 years from now — to evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue at all.
The reincarnation of Living Buddhas has always followed strict historical conventions and religious rituals, and all the Dalai Lamas have been approved by China’s central regime since 1653.
Now the 14th Dalai Lama, eager to pass on his “Tibet independence” attempt, is ready to defy these rituals.
From a distance it looks like the spiritual tradition of a major branch of Buddhism is approaching a watershed. The result could be the end of the institution of Dalai Lama or a turf battle of major historic proportions, according to the article.
I have many questions about what I’ve read. I have to wonder why it is that both the Buddhists and Chinese government officials believe they can control the process of reincarnation (or at least convince people that they can so that they retain political power over religious adherents).
I’m curious about their reasoning and how it aligns or doesn’t with traditional teachings. I wonder what possible basis they appeal to, and how much of it is sincere religious belief and how much of it is cynical or intentionally manipulative of Buddhist opinion. Or are these questions irrelevant. Anyone out there know?