As the Dalai Lama reached the age of 80 on July 6, the question of his succession seems to be more than ever clouded with uncertainties related to the situation of Chinese-Tibetan relations. It’s unclear due to tensions between the Tibetan exile government seeking a diplomatic solution with the Chinese and Tibetans (especially the Tibetan Youth Congress) who continue to seek full independence for their country, writes journalist and Tibet expert Klemens Ludwig in the journal Materialdienst der Evangelischen Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen (July). After the Dalai Lama retired from his political position on behalf of the Tibetan community in 2011, he stated that there might not be a 15th Dalai Lama after him. If there is one, the current Dalai Lama has already ruled out that it could take place on territory under Chinese control. On the opposite side, not only does the Chinese Communist government want to see a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, but Chinese officials also claim that their government holds the ultimate authority for deciding such issues. As early as 2007, the agency in charge of religious affairs in China decreed that tulkus could only be recognized if they would be found on territory controlled by China.
From a communist viewpoint, maintaining such institutions is important because they allow for potential of control in the religious field; without central institutions, this could prove much more difficult. While a communist Dalai Lama would find no acceptance among Tibetans, such a successor might still have some international impact at a time when so many countries are courting China for economic reasons. The institution of the Dalai Lama was born in the 16th century and assumed both religious and political power in the 17th century. While the Dalai Lama leaves open the issue of a successor — who would probably never be able to enter his country — or ending the institution, recent research conducted among exile Tibetans shows that a huge majority of them consider the continuation of the institution of the Dalai Lama as very important. On the other hand, they see the role of the Dalai Lama as having evolved: it is no longer limited to Tibet, and the Dalai Lama now has a worldwide mission, something emphasized by the Nobel Peace Prize he received, in their view. Thus a role for the promotion of global peace is now attributed to the Dalai Lama by his followers.
(Materialdienst der EZW, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany – www.ezw-berlin.de