He explains to the Hindustan Times how a decision on whether there will be a next Dalai Lama or not will be taken.
On December 25, 2018, the Dalai Lama gave an interview to the Hindustan Times, whose authority was enhanced by its publication on the Web site of the Central Tibetan Administration.
The current 14th Dalai Lama, who is 84, ruled out a visit to the United States and a meeting with President Trump due to his physical conditions, although he stated that his prostate cancer has been successfully cured through radiotherapy. He did not seem very concerned about the refusal of some countries to let him visit them. He explained that there are no contacts with the Chinese government, “there is only an informal channel open with Chinese retired officials and private businessmen coming to see me from time to time.” The semi-official contacts during the chairmanships of Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) and Jiang Zemin seem to be a thing of the past.
The most important part of the interview is about whether there will be a 15th Dalai Lama and, if yes, how he will be selected. The background of the Dalai Lama’s statements includes a number of statements and writings in the last decades, where he stated that the fact that he will have a successor should not be taken for granted, and the law passed by the Chinese regime in 2007, reserving (paradoxically) to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) the right to decide which Tibetan lamas may be reincarnated and how the reincarnations will be identified.
The 14th Dalai Lama reiterates in the interview doctrinal positions he has expressed in previous theological writings, not necessarily familiar to a non-specialized audience. Hundreds and even thousands of Tibetan and Mongol lamas are part of reincarnated lineages. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that a high lama can transfer his essence to a successor before dying (in this case, there is “emanation” rather than reincarnation), and that one lama may reincarnate in more than one persons, or not reincarnate at all. It is basically his decision.
In the interview, the Dalai Lama made three important statements. The first answered a request for his opinion about the fact that, in addition to two Panchen Lamas (one recognized by the Tibetan diaspora and one by the CCP, although nobody has seen the diaspora-acknowledged Panchen Lama after the CCP took him into custody in 1995 at age 6), there are now two rival Karmapas. The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu Buddhist school in Tibet, while the Panchen Lama is the second highest authority in the Geluk school, whose leader is the Dalai Lama. The latter stated that “a high lama in the 19th century had five reincarnations. It is possible for the 16th Karmapa to have few reincarnations but the holder of the seat should be one.” He, however, added that it has been suggested that, for political reasons, he should not insist on this theological point: “… then some group told me that I should not be talking about the possibility of two or three reincarnations. I said, OK, then I will keep quiet.”
The second point is that it is possible that there would not be a 15th Dalai Lama. A Dalai Lama was needed when the Geluk school also had political control of Tibet. “I made it clear as early as in 1969 that it was up to the Tibetan people to decide whether the very institution of Dalai Lama should continue or not. They will decide. I have no concern. Since the 5th Dalai Lama, the (person holding the) title was the head of both temporal and spiritual affairs. Since 2001, I have proudly, voluntarily and happily given up the political role. We have already achieved elected political leadership (Centralized Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala) and they carry their full responsibility about our temporal affairs. I have totally retired since 2011.” The Dalai Lama added with a chuckle that on this point, “my thinking is more liberal than Chinese thinking which is more orthodox,” as the CCP believes that another Dalai Lama should be identified (obviously by the CCP itself).
Third, the 14th Dalai Lama forcefully stated that a 15th Dalai Lama selected by the CCP as his own reincarnation will have no credibility. And that, before he dies, whether there would be this reincarnation will not be decided by him alone, but by a large consultation of Tibetan and Mongolian lamas and lay leaders, excluding those controlled by the CCP. In fact, an important part of this process should have been the 13th Religious Conference of the Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon Tradition (November 29–December 1, 2018) in Dharamshala, but it was postponed. The Dalai Lama stated that the reason was that “one important lama (Kathok Getse Rinpoche, Head of Nyingma school) all of a sudden passed away. The conference had to be postponed as it was a period of mourning,” and that this “has nothing to do” with the situation determined by the coexistence of two rival Karmapas. He also denied contrasts between himself and the Central Tibetan Administration.