Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, has said on numerous occasions that there doesn’t have to be a Dalai Lama. He says it will be up to the Tibetan Buddhists to decide if there will be a successor when he dies. Sadly, when that time comes, there will most certainly be claims by the Chinese government that only a reincarnation of this Dalai Lama which is approved by them will suffice. Thus, even if Tibetans discover a reincarnation, he is likely to be swept off like the reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama in 1995, never to be heard of or from again.
The progression from the first Dalai Lama to the fourteenth has been a rocky one, at best. The first and second Dalai Lamas were actually recognized posthumously. Not until the third, did the institution of a Dalai Lama come into being. Thereafter, being the Dalai Lama was a rather risky business. The ninth thru the twelfth all died at very young ages. The tenth was only nine years old when he died and was believed to have been poisoned. Due to fear of kidnap by the Chinese, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama left Tibet for India in 1959 at age 24, settling in Dharamsala, the place which would become the seat of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet government in exile from that day forward.
It was during the tenure of the fifth that political power over Tibet was assumed by the Dalai Lama. Clearly, at times when the Dalai Lama was a child, control would actually lie with those teachers and attendants most closely associated with the child until he matured. This practice continued for over three centuries until 2011 when the fourteenth relinquished administrative and political control to democratically elected leaders, insisting on remaining, solely, their spiritual leader.
In my opinion, there is not another human being in the world that so aptly symbolizes peace, compassion, and love as does the fourteenth Dalai Lama who, in 1989, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He has become an inspiration and motivation for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. One need only watch the news to see the impact of his presence at gatherings throughout the world.
I’ve learned quite well, from the second of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, that the cause of suffering is attachment; I will suffer when he dies because I have become attached. Whether or not there is a reincarnation, I’m afraid after this Dalai Lama is gone, the little “Save Tibet” sticker on my bumper isn’t going to do much good.
“Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama.” Alexander Norman. Doubleday. 2008.
“The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.” Pico Iyer. Alfred A. Knopf. 2008.
“Why the Dalai Lama Matters.” Robert Thurman. Atria Books/Beyond Words. 2008.