China’s response to comments made by the Dalai Lama in recent weeks concerning his successor indicates a continued intention by Beijing to position itself as the arbiter of Tibetan Buddhist culture and follows new measures to control reincarnate lamas introduced in Tibet earlier this year.

Reacting to the Dalai Lama’s comment that he was looking at “different methods or ways” of selecting a successor, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said last week that the process would “violate religious rituals and historical conventions of Tibetan Buddhism” (Xinhua, November 22).

The Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, said: “Such an uninformed response from Beijing betrays its own lack of legitimacy in this area. His Holiness was referring to options that exist in the future and that are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhist practice.”

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly asserted that should he die while Tibetans are still in exile and Tibet is still under Chinese control, “then logically my reincarnation would come from outside Tibet”. This is a view that His Holiness has expressed before, and is based upon the belief that a lama who is reincarnated is intended to continue the work of his predecessor.

The Dalai Lama told journalists yesterday (November 27) that his successor could be selected possibly in his lifetime. This is an apparent departure from the way in which previous Dalai Lamas were recognized but is not contrary to Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Tibetan Buddhists believe that all enlightened beings have the ability to choose the mode, the nature, and the timing of their rebirth, and/or succession. The Dalai Lama has also said that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama or not continues is up to the Tibetan people.

Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, who is based in Washington, DC, as the Special Envoy to His Holiness, said: “This is a religious matter, and His Holiness and Tibetan Buddhist leaders are far more competent to interpret Buddhist traditions than atheist members of the Communist Party of China. His Holiness has a historical and moral responsibility to the Tibetan people to safeguard the authenticity and purity of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and in order to fulfill that duty he is sharing some of the possibilities for the future regarding the institution of the Dalai Lama. His Holiness has shared such views on other occasions over the past few decades since he arrived in exile.”

Speaking in an interview with the Voice of America yesterday, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari said: “The strident reaction from Beijing to His Holiness’ remarks exposes China’s hidden agenda behind the recently announced regulations on controlling reincarnate lamas.”

The Chinese authorities announced new measures earlier this year stating that they must approve the recognition of all reincarnate lamas (tulkus). The measures, which are targeted at one of the core belief systems of Tibetan Buddhism, indicate the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda to undermine and supplant the Tibetan religious hierarchy and weaken the authority of legitimate Tibetan religious leaders including the Dalai Lama.