The Dalai Lama’s succession rests with Tibet, not China
There are many things most 85-year-olds cannot do — run, climb mountains, stay awake the whole day long — and no one begrudges them for that. There are things they do well — provide sane advice, take care of the grandchildren — and everyone thanks them for that. However, running circles around the second largest economy in the world is not what most 85-year-olds do, with the exception of Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama. And everyone except China respects him for that.
Having dealt with all Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, the Dalai Lama is in the unique position to not only have a deep understanding of the complexities of the Chinese leader’s mind, but also to stay at least two steps ahead of them in the geopolitical chess game between Beijing and Dharamsala.
And he has only further stepped up his game over the past few years. As China prepares in its own thorough manner to identify the 15th Dalai Lama — the reincarnation of the current, 14th Dalai Lama — the simple monk has let loose a series of statements meant to confuse, and Beijing seems to be reeling from the impact.
China, very confidently, has been planning to use the archaic Golden Urn process (draw of lots) to identify the next Dalai Lama, as if choosing the head of the religion with the largest following in China is a matter of a lottery. Enough evidence has been put in the public domain by serious and respected authors to undermine this process, the latest being a book titled “Forging the Golden Urn” by Max Oidtmann.
But it is the denunciation of this process by the Dalai Lama himself that is most pointed. He has noted many times the irony of an atheist regime expending significant energy and resources to identify the head of just one sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He has gone on to advise the CCP to first try to locate the reincarnations of Mao and Deng Xiaoping.
As long ago as 2011, the Dalai Lama pointed out that the Golden Urn process would not apply to his reincarnation, and that the traditional method of leaving a letter containing signs would be followed.
But back to confusing the Chinese. The Dalai Lama has, in interactions with media and common devotees, said variously that the institution might end with him (which the atheist China opposes), or there might be a female Dalai Lama, and even that the system of reincarnation is a feudal one.
Beijing, as per information coming from the Buddhist Association of China (BAC), the officially sanctioned body dealing with the religion, has asked it to dive into the archives of Tibetan Buddhism, in all parts of China, to gather documents relating to the reincarnation process.
Given the importance of the issue to the CCP, the BAC researchers have fanned out to the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-inhabited provinces to look for the documents, just as they also have been tasked to collect information supporting China’s contention that Tibet always had been a part of China.
The problem: Some of the most important documents on these issues are not in Red China at all. They today nestle in the national archives and libraries in Taiwan, as these were taken by the nationalist Kuomintang government when it fled the mainland and made Taiwan its base. Scholars have been studying these documents, and revealing the weakness of Chinese arguments, both on the issue of Tibet’s status and the issue of reincarnation. These studies, for example, repeatedly have belied the Chinese assertion that the 14th Dalai Lama was himself chosen by the central government of the Republic of China.
On Jan.28, the U.S. House made an important move in passing The Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) that is intended to, among other things, sanction Chinese officials for interfering in the Dalai Lama’s succession. The Dalai Lama institution has existed for more than 600 years, during which there have been changes. On the religious level, the U.S. does not have, and neither do Chinese who are not Tibetan Buddhists, the right to interfere with the decisions regarding the succession of the Dalai Lama, which absolutely rests with the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders and the people of Tibet. But on the human rights level, we all have the duty to defend a religious group and people from unspeakable bullying by a governmental despot.
For now, the Dalai Lama is in good physical and mental health, having declared at the end of last year during the Long Life offering ceremony at Gaden Jangtse Monastery in India that he will be living until the age of 113 — by which time another couple of generations of the Chinese Communist leadership will have come and gone. Scientific ground aside, maybe His Holiness’s declaration of his living for another 22 years is a subtle way to express his confidence that he will outlive the Chinese communist regime.
Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, and a former political prisoner in China.
Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, he was one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, as legislative counsel and policy director for three senators.