By Bhuchung K. Tsering
The International Campaign for Tibet Blog, September 26, 2011
On September 24, 2011, the fourteenth Dalai Lama made yet another statement that will have great impact on the future direction of the institution that he represents. I am of course referring to his statement about the evolution of the Dalai Lama institution and the reincarnation system.
His Holiness's statement on the issue of his reincarnation was released as part of the 11th Biannual Conference of Tibetan religious leaders on September 24, 2011 in Dharamsala, India. (Photo: DalaiLama.com)
Through a succinct explanation of historical development, His Holiness has outlined his decisive role in matters relating to the next Dalai Lama. As expected, the Chinese Government has taken this personal with its spokesman asserting on September 26, 2011 that only it that had the authority. In general, recognition of reincarnation is a spiritual process in which temporal leadership had at best only marginal roles. Even the Chinese Government, for all its claims of being the ultimate authority, sought recourse to “the golden urn” (referred to in the statement) to give it the name of their selection of the Panchen Lama in 1995. It is another matter that a witness to that ceremony subsequently pointed out how that particular process was rigged to make the preferred candidate’s name stand out.
In 2006, I wrote a column about “The Dalai Lama’s Master Plan” in which I outlined the possible master plans of his previous incarnations. I had conjectured then that based on the pronouncements that the present Dalai Lama was making he was having his own master plan. I think the September 24 statement needs to be looked at from this broader context rather than merely on the issue of the next Dalai Lama. It is about the future of Tibetan Buddhism and the role of the Dalai Lama in it.
The present Dalai Lama’s master plan, if I dare to think aloud, is to institutionalize a system whereby the essence of the Tibetan Buddhist culture is understood by Tibetan Buddhists as well as others; and to create the necessary space so that this culture that can contribute greatly to the development of the world civilization can be preserved and promoted. To me, it seems that all his actions and pronouncements over the years, including the latest statement, are geared towards fulfilling this broad objective.
His Holiness had known from an early age the negative aspect of the traditional somewhat dominant role of the clergy in the political system of Tibet. Therefore, in the immediate years after 1959 he took steps that led to the gradual diminishing of the authority of religious institutions in political matters. From the days of the Tsogdu or the National Assembly of Tibet, in which the monasteries, specifically those of Sera, Drepung and Gaden, played dominant roles, His Holiness established in exile what is known today as the Tibetan Parliament. Today, the religious institutions have 10 seats in the 44 member Parliament and there is a continuing public debate about doing away with these seats, too. The Tsogdu’s role and composition was modified in exile and existed until the 1990s when the system was discontinued. With the devolution of the Dalai Lama’s political authority to an elected leadership in May 2011, there is a separation of “Church & State” at the highest level of governance.
In order to highlight the essential benefit of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness divided it into three categories; Tibetan Buddhist religion, philosophy and science. He has said while the religion part was of concern to the believers only, the philosophical and scientific aspects have relevance for everyone. Accordingly, he has promoted dialogues between Tibetan Buddhist scholars and scientists as a way to make the case. In his implementation of his two commitments to promote human values and religious harmony, His Holiness continues to draw much from Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and science.
Even before 1959, Tibetan Buddhism had followers beyond the political boundaries of Tibet, mainly along the Himalayan regions and the Mongolian communities in Mongolia and the then USSR. Today, its practitioners are all over the world and the Dalai Lama has become their supreme source of refuge. He has literally become the “holder of the faith” as the “Tenzin” part of his formal name implies. His statement is thus a consideration of this role.
Delinking the institution of the Dalai Lama from a purely Tibetan political system is a step in line with his objectives. It may interest one to note that his September 24, 2011 statement does not have any reference to the role of the Tibetan political leadership on matters relating to the future. It specifically says, “If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust.” The Gaden Phodrang Trust is a reference to the formalization of the office that is currently the “Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama.”
Given that the Chinese Government uses religious institutions to serve its political ends and given the central role of the Dalai Lamas in Tibetan spiritual life, the statement categorically says, “Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized 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.”
China needs to understand that recognition of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism is different from selecting a Party Secretary or priest for a Church, or even an abbot for a Buddhist monastery.
However, it is my contention that while this statement very much concerns the role of the present Dalai Lama in his next incarnation, it is also a reflection of the vision that he has for the future of Tibetan Buddhism.
Originally published at: http://weblog.savetibet.org/2011/09/26/the-dalai-lama-outlines-his-master-plan/
Reprinted in TPR with permission.