The Dalai Lama traveled to the Himalayan Indian town of Tawang this week to begin days of important teachings that some observers see as a message to China that he may not be reborn within China’s satellite of influence, diluting its control over the next Dalai Lama.
Under Tibetan beliefs, the spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhist religion is always the Dalai Lama, who is reincarnated in the body of child on his death. This Dalai Lama is the 14th in his line.
Tibetans fear that the Chinese will attempt to choose who the next Dalai Lama is so that they can control him through any political and land disputes with Tibet. China has insisted that the Dalai Lama be reborn where China has control and be approved by Chinese leaders.
The trip this weekend by the Dalia Lama, 81, is a “message on reincarnation,” China and Tibet expert Jayadeva Ranade told The Wall Street Journal. Tawang is a place that the monk, who resides in exile in India, could be reincarnated, but not a location supported by China.
Aging lamas sometimes travel late in life to locations where they expect or hope to be reincarnated, The New York Times reported.
Traveling to Tawang now “is a way of getting under the skin of the Chinese, of probing them, and reminding them that they have no control over where the next reincarnation occurs,” historian Robert Barnett of Columbia University told the Times.
The place of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation might not be the only surprise in his rebirth. He may return as a female, he said.
He said in Tawang that he had no indication where his successor might be born. The Associated Press reported that when asked if he could be succeeded by a woman, he responded: “That might also happen.” (He said in 2015 that a female successor would have to be “attractive,” which ignited a firestorm of controversy. It wasn’t entirely clear then, however, if he was being serious that he could be succeeded by a woman.)
He said in Tawang that it’s up to the people to decide whether to preserve the reincarnation tradition for their leader.
But in an interview in March with comedian John Oliver, he said: “As far as my own rebirth is concerned, the final authority is my say, no one else’s — and obviously not Chinese communists.”
The Dalai Lama could turn to a less traditional method of choosing his successor, and pick a child — or an adult — before his death.
The Dalai Lama and his followers have been living in India in Dharamsala since fleeing Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against the Chinese.