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A recent article in The Times Union discusses the impending complexity of choosing the successor to the 14th Dalai Lama:
For more than six centuries, the next Dalai Lama has been chosen by regents who, it is said, through omens and portents found the deceased Dalai Lama’s reincarnation in a young boy they would choose as the next Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet.
But selecting a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 74 on July 6, is complicated by China’s claim that it has the right to select the next Dalai Lama, outside of Tibet, which it rules. The last interregnum — the time during which a leadership position is vacant between two successive reigns — was a perilous time for Tibet. In the 17-year breach between the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and the hurried November 1950 assumption of political power by his successor, Tenzin Gyatso, at the age of 15, China invaded Tibet.
As the full article divulges, the Dalai Lama has suggested various breaks with tradition in choosing the next leader of Tibet. He’s suggested that his next successor could be a lady, or voted for by the Tibetan people, or that the position of Dalai Lama could shift to a spiritual leadership position, allowing the Tibetan people to vote on their own head of state.
I saw the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall in the Fall of 2007. He seemed like a great, down to earth guy. He did physical comedy schtick with that visor he always wears, and when someone asked the question, “If you could say one thing to the world, what would it be?” he replied, “That’s a silly question. I don’t think I will answer that question.” He also, less surprisingly, spoke insightfully and profoundly about that thing we call the Human Condition.
Yet, while I believe in reincarnation in my own Western, cellular way, the idea of plucking out a six year old who happens to try on Tenzin Gyatso’s visor to lead Tibet while the country is in the midst of such a complex political situation seems at best insane and at worst extremely dangerous.
Then again, would it be an unfortunate concession to de-spiritualize the Tibetan head of state? Or as the time to choose number 15 approaches, should tradition be sacrificed in the hopes of improving the chances for Tibetan autonomy?