Dalai Lama calls for secular transition; Chinese atheists demand reincarnation

The Dalai Lama announced on March 10 that he will step down as political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India. “As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” he said in a prepared speech. “Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.” At present, the 14th Dalai Lama has a dual political and spiritual role. He will now retire as political leader, while retaining his function as the head of the Gelup School of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet’s spiritual leader. The announcement came on the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. During the next session of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile on March 14, the Dalai Lama will formally propose an amendment to its constitution—known as the Charter for Tibetans in Exile—allowing him to devolve political authority to an elected prime minister, to be known as the Kalon Tripa.

Tibetan groups across the diaspora reacted with appeals to the Dalai Lama to reconsider his move and remain in power. The Chinese foreign ministry dismissed the announcement, calling the Dalai Lama a “religious crook,” who is trying to splinter China. (Reuters, CNN, Orissa Diary, March 10)

Ironically, the officially atheist Chinese state rejects this move towards secularism and is appealing to a Tibetan fundamentalist position by insisting that the new Tibetan leader can only be chosen through reincarnation—as long as the cosmic forces of reincarnation submit to the will of Beijing bureaucrats. Last month, Beijing’s State Administration for Religious Affairs disclosed plans to enact a new law forbidding the new Dalai Lama to be reborn anywhere but on Chinese-controlled soil, and giving final say to Chinese authorities when the time comes to identify his 15th incarnation. (Newsweek, Feb. 20) This is obviously a reaction to fears that the new Dalai Lama will emerge from the Tibetan exiles in India, who bitterly reject Beijing’s control of their homeland.

See our last posts on China, Tibet and the politics of reincarnation.

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  1. Chinese atheists enforce reincarnation

    More high irony from the "Communist" (sic) Beijing bureaucracy. The March annual meeting of the National People's Congress was apparently dominated by concerns over Dalai Lama's recent speculation that he might end his spiritual lineage and not reincarnate. Zhu Weiqun, the Communist Party's Tibet pointman, told reporters in Beijing: "Decision-making power over the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and over the end or survival of this lineage, resides in the central government of China." (NYT, March 12)

  2. Chinese atheists enforce reincarnation redux

    In the latest surreal development in China's reincarnation wars, it seems the State Administration for Religious Affairs has published an official list of 870 verified Tibetan monks, or "living buddhas," held to be re-embodiment of earlier ones in a system established in the 13th century. Endorsed by the Buddhist Association of China, it is intended to "to counter fake living buddhas who have been found cheating believers for money and undermining the reputation of living buddhas and Tibetan Buddhism," according to Xinhua. We think we know what that means. (PTI, Jan. 18)