China to Dalai Lama: you must reincarnate

Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures as he speaks during a students gathering at the Mumbai University in Mumbai on February 18, 2011. The Dalai Lama on February 18 said that recent popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia sat firmly in the tradition of non-violent protest espoused by the likes of India's independence icon, Mahatma Gandhi
Credit: Punit Paranjpe

History dictates that when the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism dies, his successor is reborn as a child. The highest monks then begin a multi-year search for the reincarnated Dalai Lama so they can unveil their new leader.

And that's how it better go down when the current 76-year-old Dalai Lama dies, senior Chinese communist party officials say.

As Reuters reports, Tibet's governor insists the current Dalai Lama follow tradition and reincarnate. The party is clearly uneasy with the Dalai Lama's suggestion that he might select the next leader himself or even put it to a vote. He's previously said the next Dalai Lama could also be female.

Why would the communist party care? Because they've controlled Tibet since a 1950 invasion. They abhor the influence of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile as an icon of Tibetan independence.

China reserves the right to approve all high monks within the faith. That's why the second-highest ranking monk is disputed. There's a Chinese appointment, who is not acknowledged by most followers and lives in protective custody, and a person chosen by the current Dalai Lama.

Selection of the next Dalai Lama will likely suffer the same confusion. It's quite likely world governments will be forced to choose which Lama they acknowledge: China's selection or the senior monk's proclaimed Lama.

When the current Dalai Lama came along, China was not yet the world power it has become. His sympathy within the Western world's halls of power was well entrenched by the 1970s -- several decades before China's big boom.

In the future, it will be interesting to see whether international heads of state, including the U.S. president, are willing to risk insulting China by backing a Dalai Lama the communist party hasn't approved. 

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